Read The Trial

The Trial (German: Der Process,[1] later Der Proceß, Der Prozeß and Der Prozess) is a novel written by Franz Kafka in 1914 and 1915 and published posthumously on 26 April 1925. One of his best known works, it tells the story of Josef K., a man arrested and prosecuted by a remote, inaccessible authority, with the nature of his crime revealed neither to him nor to the reader. Heavily influenced by Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov, Kafka even went so far as to call Dostoevsky a blood relative.[2] Like Kafka’s two other novels, The Trial was never completed, although it does include a chapter which appears to bring the story to an intentionally abrupt ending.

After Kafka’s death in 1924 his friend and literary executor Max Brod edited the text for publication by Verlag Die Schmiede. The original manuscript is held at the Museum of Modern Literature, Marbach am Neckar, Germany. The first English-language translation, by Willa and Edwin Muir, was published in 1937.[3] In 1999, the book was listed in Le Monde’s 100 Books of the Century and as No. 2 of the Best German Novels of the Twentieth Century.

I remember reading The Trial when I was younger. It remember it for its sense of dystopia and paranoia, but also the way in which it lingers.

‘Everyone wants
access to the law,’ says the man, ‘how come, over all these years,
no-one but me has asked to be let in?’ The doorkeeper can see the man’s
come to his end, his hearing has faded, and so, so that he can be heard,
he shouts to him: ‘Nobody else could have got in this way, as this
entrance was meant only for you. Now I’ll go and close it.'”

I like how Benjamin Winterhalter captures it as ‘unnervingly real’:

I’m here to suggest, following Werckmeister, that this feeling results from the fact that Kafka’s stories, despite their bizarre premises, are unnervingly real. Although there is undoubtedly an element of the absurd in the worlds Kafka creates, his style—unpretentious and specific, yet free from slang—renders those worlds with such painful accuracy that they seem totally familiar while we’re in them, like déjà vu or a memory of a bad dream

I guess it is an example of the Kafkaesque.

There are, of course, as many definitions of the Kafkaesque as there are readers of Kafka. There are also those readers who admit they cannot define it but know it when they see it — or know it when they see it in someone else’s definition. As one of those readers, I find that one of Kafka’s many biographers, Frederick R. Karl, seems to get it right. We enter the Kafkaesque, he writes, when “we view life as somehow overpowering or trapping us, as in some way undermining our will to live as we wish.”

Read Stranded: The Secret History Of Australian Independent Music (Expanded) by Clinton Walker

One of the very gratifying things for me about the book coming out again now 25 years after its original publication is that it perhaps finally puts paid to a lot of petty carping that has long dogged it. The two main gripes always were that a) the author himself is present as ‘I’ in the narrative, and b) the author’s choices, in terms of the emphases the book places. Well, umm, a) like you’ve never heard of the new journalism, and, umm, like, the author wasn’t a player in this story? This criticism, as Des Cowley put it in Rhythms, was “outdated even [in 1996], given the so-called ‘new journalists’ like Hunter S. Thompson, Joan Didion, Norman Mailer and Robert Christgau had been doing it for years. Having long been a part of the independent music scene as a journalist, Walker was well-placed to write about this music from the inside…[his] proximity to his subjects is a fundamental strength of his book.” As for my choices and emphases, I think for most people who didn’t like them it was because they were my choices and not theirs. And besides, I will still argue, the prescience of those emphases have been borne out…

Clinton Walker provides an insight into the Australian music between 1976 and 1992 beyond the pub rock scene and Countdown. Walker also created a series of playlists to go with it on YouTube and Spotify.

I have written an extended review of the book here.

Marginalia

In fact, it was this extension of one of the few rules the Velvet Underground had—as Lou Reed recounted many times: ‘No blues licks’—it was this abandonment of the last shreds of the blues that so distinguished punk rock, that and the fact that its song lyrics avoided opulence and riddles of the Dylan type in favour of the spare gutter poetry of the aforementioned Reed or Iggy. So there, by default, is a definition of punk as a genre.

This is in the nature of history, or rather historiography: it is an ongoing enquiry, and at every step of the way, it goes or should go beyond the previous step, even if sometimes it has to take a step back or sideways for every two forward. This is what has happened in the further investigation of this field via the flood of books, films and other documents I mentioned earlier.

Stranded is, for better or worse, simply my version of a history.

It’s hard to convey now just how hard it was to hear a lot of this type of music at that time. Bob Farrell rang everybody up to announce the news, and I went round to his place to hear it, as did Ed Kuepper. I think it was one of the Tate brothers who first turned up a copy of Funhouse. The Velvets’ Verve albums and Loaded were actually still readily available on import in the early ’70s; I’ve still got my peelable-banana copy of the first album and black-on-black embossed copy of White Light/White Heat. But everything else was all but impossible to get your hands on. It was only when I hitchhiked to Melbourne in 1975—saw Lou Reed there on his second Australian tour (now with natural dark, curly short hair)—that my mate Russell and I found a little cache of buried treasure at Batman’s record store, multiple copies and so we both got the first copies we’d ever even seen of the Velvets’ third album (a UK copy on MGM) and the MC5’s Back in the USA (still-shrinkwrapped American Atlantic cutouts). I also picked up a copy of Love Revisited. I’d never heard of Love but quickly fell in love with them. Russell picked up a couple of the Pretty Things’ mid-’60s albums on Philips. I was dead jealous. When I cottoned on to buying records by international mail-order, the first delivery I got from San Francisco included copies of the first Stooges album, Kick Out the Jams, and one of the early Flamin’ Groovies’ albums, must have been Teenage Head. They weren’t even expensive, because no-one wanted them at the time. Subsequently got the other Groovies’ albums, and other records, like Troutmask Replica, I remember having an impact on me. Others I can’t remember because they had less impact. But that’s how much you had to scrabble around back then to just hear this music that went against the grain, before punk incited an explosion of reissues.

Pioneers get arrows in their back—never was that cliché more apposite.

The rise of alternative radio in the ’80s went hand in hand with the emergence of independent music. FM radio was first called for in Australia in the late ’60s. In 1971, the ABC introduced Chris Winter’s ‘Intelligent non-commercial pop’ show Room to Move, a response to scattered commercial stations’ forays into ‘album music’. This sowed the seeds of 2JJ. At the same time, Rod Muir programmed 2SM in the tighter format of US radio. This sowed the seeds of commercial FM radio. The commercial AM stations had hoped to step straight over to the FM band. But Australian classical music lovers, aware that in America FM radio was as much the province of public stations as commercial, formed Music Broadcasting Societies in both Melbourne and Sydney to lobby for space. 2MBS and 3MBS were granted the first FM licences in 1974, and went to air just a few weeks after 2JJ was launched in Sydney in January 1975.

Robert Forster: The climate changed to suit me. I was interested in songs, I was interested in impact, I was interested in energy, just a concept, which wasn’t based on how much gear you had or how big your lightshow was. It was ideas based.

Michael Gudinski has admitted that two of the gaffs he regrets most in his long career lording it over the Australian music industry were that he didn’t sign either Cold Chisel or Men At Work. But surely it was a greater gaff—and a more costly one in the long term—to have signed Nick Cave but then to have let him go! Gudinski is one of the sacred cows of Australian music and there is no doubt he did an enormous amount to make the industry what it became, but like his good mate Molly Meldrum, he was also a prohibiting force—he stymied a lot of music, too.

Putting on and taking off blinkers is a perpetual process.

They say that if you remember the ’60s you can’t have been there. So much about the ’80s I can’t remember either. My journalism brings a lot back; I can’t help wondering if the rest isn’t best forgotten.

Drugs, I can say, fucked up that band, they’ve fucked up every band I’ve ever been in actually. Every single one. Still fucking them up. Anyway, so the Bush Oysters dissolved, and that’s when I got Thug together.

In contrast to Nick Cave’s growing up in public, Dave Graney is a self-made myth. Talk about media manipulation; Dave cunningly co-opted the media into playing the game the way he wanted by feeding it headlines and appellations it finds irresistible: ‘The Golden Wolverine’. ‘The Son of the Morning Star’. ‘As Dave Graney as I wanna be’. . . Dave’s monologues became infamous. On TV talk show appearances, his musings far too far out for the masses, he was often cut short.

It took time before my analysis of grunge came together, before I could see what had been under my nose all along—that its roots were Australian as much as anything! That’s perhaps why it never did much for me, because I’d sort of heard it all already. Grunge, the defining Sub Pop/Seattle Sound of Mudhoney, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam and Nirvana, was basically the sound of Australia’s ’80s underground—the Scientists, the Cosmic Psychos, even the Birthday Party, and bands like Feedtime, Grong Grong, Lubricated Goat and Bloodloss—mixed up with classic early metal, classic early punk and, I’d now add, AC/DC and Neil Young’s Crazy Horse.

In music, as in so much else in life, we are perhaps forever trying to recapture that feeling, that exhilaration of the first time. Which is, of course, a futile pursuit. But for me, a new band like the Dirty Three that sounds like no other came close.

Stranded doesn’t offer much by way of critique or analysis of the music itself: because anyone can do that, it’s just opinion. I see that quite clearly now, but even then I must have intuited that I could offer something much more valuable, because I was in a (privileged) position to do so—I could tell the backstories behind the creation of that legacy. Because I suppose I assumed that the legacy would eventually get its due. When I wrote the book in the mid-’90s, when the jury was to an extent still out on this legacy (one reason for the book’s partly hostile reception back then), I still believed strongly in the worth of this sidelined music that had started twenty years earlier in the late ’70s. I was convinced that the world would sooner or later catch up . . .

Read Flesh Wounds

Flesh Wounds My Books Flesh Wounds Publisher: HarperCollins Fancy a game of Who’s Got the Weirdest Parents? Sit back as Richard Glover describes his mother’s Tolkein-inspired nudist colony, her invented past as a British aristocrat and her insistence that Richard was Australia’s first child bo…

Flesh Wounds is Richard Glover’s memoir of the weirdest family. This covers his immaculate conception, his alcoholic father, his mother’s false past and his Tolkien loving step-father. Although weird, I think that the success of these stories are in the humorous manner in which they are conveyed. I like how Mandy Sayer captures this.

In the hands of a lesser writer these scenes could have descended into caricature or, even worse, self-pity, but Glover maintains a tone so tragicomic that the effect is both poignant and wildly entertaining.

This tone reminded me in part of Tony Martin’s Lolly Scramble.

This was also another book I stumbled upon via the ABC Listen app.

Read The Shortest History of Europe
I attended the course that this book is based on while at Latrobe, although I must admit I am not exactly sure how much I took in. I really like the way in which Hirst tells the same tale from multiple perspectives. He summarises the European miracle as follows:

German warriors support Roman Christian Church which preserves Greek and Roman learning.

I read this book a few years ago, but never remember it being so dry. I also enjoyed Julian Elfer’s reading of the book.

Read Alice Pung’s Books

This story does not begin on a boat. Nor does it contain any wild swans or falling leaves.

In a wonderland called Footscray, a girl named Alice and her Chinese-Cambodian family pursue the Australian Dream – Asian style. Armed with an ocker accent, Alice dives head- first into schooling, romance and the getting of wisdom. Her mother becomes an Aussie battler – an outworker, that is. Her father embraces the miracle of franchising and opens an electrical-appliance store. And every day her grandmother blesses Father Government for giving old people money.

Unpolished Gem is a book rich in comedy, a loving and irreverent portrait of a family, its everyday struggles and bittersweet triumphs. With it, Australian writing gains an unforgettable new voice.

I came upon Alice Pung’s book Unpolished Gem via the ABC Listen app. I was interested in Pung’s work after hearing her episode of the Earshot podcast, Greetings from Footscray.

Although there are books, such as First They Killed My Father, which address life in Cambodia under Pol Pot, Pung’s book shares of life after Cambodia. It provides great insight into the clash of cultures and the challenges faced by refugees. What I enjoyed most was honest self-deprecating humour which carried throughout.

Read Johnno

Johnno is written in the first person past tense and the narrator is only ever known by the nickname “Dante”. Johnno is heavily autobiographical.[2][3] The novel is centred upon the friendship between Dante and a schoolmate known as “Johnno” in their adolescence and early adulthood in the 1940s and 1950s in Brisbane.

Johnno is David Malouf’s first novel. It tells the story of Johnno through the relationship with the narrator of the novel, Dante.

The relationship between Johnno and Dante is never straightforward, it changes like the city around them. The surviving landmarks from their wartime childhood and the memory of others having made way for newer structures. Both characters search for acceptance, intially with Dante awkwardly seeking Johnno’s childhood friendship. However, as they grow into men the relationship is inverted with Johnno reaching out to an isolated and emotionally distant Dante. As they enter university their paths cross infrequently, Johnno’s wildness having evolved into bouts of public intoxication and a voracious appetite for classical literature, albeit while studying geology. Dante meanwhile withdraws into his study of Latin prose and observes the peccadilloes of his friend and the evolving city around him.

It is Malouf’s reimagining of the life of his childhood friend Johnny Millner. The mystery and unknown elements that are always present between the two reminds me of other literary relationships, such as Nick Carraway and Jay Gatsby in The Great Gatsby and Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty in On the Road. As much as we may want to know the truth, it is always something outside of our grasp.

In addition to the relationships, the book is also a means of capturing a particular place in time. As David Malouf has said:

The parts of the book I like best are not about either of the central characters, but all the stuff about Brisbane. It really is a history of Brisbane [in the 1940s and 1950s] which had never been written, and it’s an attempt to produce for readers all the detail of what it was like to live in that atmosphere, with that weather, and with that particular social structure. There is a huge amount of detail in the book and I treat that detail as if it were in a poem, so that there is something sensuously felt and emblematic of something larger. I think that’s probably the most successful aspect of the book.

Malouf also captured this in his autobiography, 12 Edmondstone Street.

As a side note, I listened to this via ABC Listen app where they have made a number of audiobooks available.

Marginalia

the fact remains, he had me hooked. As he had, of course, from the beginning. I had been writing my book about Johnno from the moment we met. Page 18

We were appalled and delighted by him. He gave our class, which was otherwise noted only for its high standards of scholarship, a dash of criminal distinction. Page 21

History was The Past. I had just missed out on it. There was nothing in our own little lives that was worth recording, nothing to distinguish one day of splashing about in the heavy, warm water inside the reef from the next. Page 25

Was I a war child, I sometimes asked. Was there anyone in those days who was not? “Before the war” was a hazy, rose-coloured period I could only vaguely recall. I associated it with the smell of oil-cloth picture books and the little spring chickens we used to eat, a whole chicken on each plate so that everyone had a wishbone. It was simply the earliest things I could remember. The clop of the milkman’s horse in Edmondstone Street just before dawn, and our blue-ringed jugs on the doorstep, their crochet covers weighted round the border with Reckitts-blue beads. Or waiting out front for the iceman to come with his hook, and the huge block dripping all over Cassie’s floor. Was it the war, I wondered afterwards, or some change in me, that made everything in the years before I went to school seem different from the khaki and camouflage years that came after, when even the flowers we made out of plasticine were a uniform grey, the result of a dozen colours that could not be replaced being patted and squeezed into a single colour that was like the dirt-rolls in your palm. Was it only the war that made things change? And what would happen when the war was over? I knew the lights would come on again, all over the world. Even in Queen Street. But what else? Page 26

It had been ruined. Like our girls. Who had been ruined by the high wages they were paid in munitions factories and by the attentions of foreign servicemen, but most of all by their passion for nylon. Things had gone to pieces. Children had been allowed to run wild under the special conditions of Australia at war, and now there was no holding them. For all this and a good deal more Johnno was the perfect model, and other parents than mine must have shaken their heads over him and thanked their stars that they weren’t responsible for the windows he broke or the words he shouted Page 34

For all this and a good deal more Johnno was the perfect model, and other parents than mine must have shaken their heads over him and thanked their stars that they weren’t responsible for the windows he broke or the words he shouted Page 34

The continent itself is clear enough, burned into my mind on long hot afternoons in Third Grade, when I learned to sketch in its irregular coastline: the half-circle of the Great Australian Bight, the little booted foot of Eyre’s Peninsula, Spencer’s Gulf down to Port Phillip, up the easy east coast, with its slight belly at Brisbane, towards Sandy Cape and Cape York; round the Gulf of Carpentaria and Arnhem Land to the difficulties of King Sound and the scoop towards North West Cape where I always go wrong, leaving the spurred heel of Cape Leeuwin so far out in the Indian Ocean that it would wreck every liner afloat, or so close in to the Bight that far-off Western Australia looks as if it’s been stricken with polio. I know the outline; I know the names (learned painfully for homework) of several dozen capes, bays, promontories; and can trace in with a dotted line the hopeless journeys across it of all the great explorers, Sturt, Leichhardt, Burke and Wills. But what it is beyond that is a mystery. It is what begins with the darkness at our back door. Page 52

The library had its own people. You never saw them anywhere else in the city, except there, or on the buttoned-leather couches at the School of Arts: old men with watery red-rimmed eyes and no collar to their shirt, who settled somewhere as soon as the library opened at ten in the morning and stayed put till it was time to queue at the Salvation Army Refuge or the St. Vincent de Paul, about an hour before dusk. Page 59

“I’m going to shit this bitch of a country right out of my system,” he told me fiercely. “Twenty fucking years! How long will it take me, do you think, to shit out every last trace of it? At the end of every seven years you’re completely new — did you know that? New fingernails, new hair, new cells. There’ll be nothing left in me of bloody Australia. I’ll be transmuted. Page 90

I had broken through into my own consciousness; and Paris — Europe — was a different place. Page 109

In the summers I went to Europe, and got to know one or two towns as well almost as I knew Brisbane — better perhaps since the Brisbane I knew was already changing (my mother’s letters kept me informed of old places torn down and of new ones emerging, the Grand Central replaced by a shopping arcade, a whole block in front of the Town Hall ploughed up to make a parking station, the old markets cleared out of the city into a distant suburb, new bridges, new highways); the Brisbane I knew had its existence only in my memory, in the fine roots it had put down in my own emotions, so that a particular street corner would always be there for me in a meeting that had almost changed my life, or in the peculiar fact, half-sweet, half-sad, that it was from there that a certain tram had left, the scene of sentimental adolescent partings. It was the town I would always walk in, in my memory at least, with an assurance I could know nowhere else, finding my way by the smells — a winebar, the fruit barrow in a laneway, a hardware shop, the disinfectant they used in Coles. I could have made my way through it blindfold, as I often did in my sleep, amazed to discover that in my Brisbane the old markets hadn’t been removed at all, and the Grand Central, that extraordinary three-ring circus of my youth, was still in full swing. I could see my own reflections in its mirrors. And Johnno’s as well. It would always be there. Page 115

It is a sobering thing, at just thirty, to have outlived the landmarks of your youth. And to have them go, not in some violent cataclysm, an act of God, or under the fury of bombardment, but in the quiet way of our generation: by council ordinance and by-law; through shady land deals; in the name of order, and progress, and in contempt (or is it small-town embarrassment?) of all that is untidy and shabbily individual. Brisbane was on the way to becoming a minor metropolis. Page 132

Well, the seven years were up. Like a bad charm. And it was Johnno who was gone. Australia was still there, more loud-mouthed, prosperous, intractable than ever. Far from being destroyed, the Myth was booming. There were suggestions that it would soon be supporting thirty million souls. Australia was the biggest success-story of them all. Page 135

Read Within a Budding Grove

The Narrator’s parents invite M. de Norpois, a diplomat colleague of the Narrator’s father, to dinner. With Norpois’s intervention, the Narrator is finally allowed to go see the Berma perform in a play, but is disappointed by her acting. Afterwards, at dinner, he watches Norpois, who is extremely diplomatic and correct at all times, expound on society and art. The Narrator gives him a draft of his writing, but Norpois gently indicates it is not good. The Narrator continues to go to the Champs-Élysées and play with Gilberte. Her parents distrust him, so he writes to them in protest. He and Gilberte wrestle and he has an orgasm. Gilberte invites him to tea, and he becomes a regular at her house. He observes Mme. Swann’s inferior social status, Swann’s lowered standards and indifference towards his wife, and Gilberte’s affection for her father. The Narrator contemplates how he has attained his wish to know the Swanns, and savors their unique style. At one of their parties he meets and befriends Bergotte, who gives his impressions of society figures and artists. But the Narrator is still unable to start writing seriously. His friend Bloch takes him to a brothel, where there is a Jewish prostitute named Rachel. He showers Mme. Swann with flowers, being almost on better terms with her than with Gilberte. One day, he and Gilberte quarrel and he decides never to see her again. However, he continues to visit Mme. Swann, who has become a popular hostess, with her guests including Mme. Bontemps, who has a niece named Albertine. The Narrator hopes for a letter from Gilberte repairing their friendship, but gradually feels himself losing interest. He breaks down and plans to reconcile with her, but spies from afar someone resembling her walking with a boy and gives her up for good. He stops visiting her mother also, who is now a celebrated beauty admired by passersby, and years later he can recall the glamour she displayed then.

Two years later, the Narrator, his grandmother, and Françoise set out for the seaside town of Balbec. The Narrator is almost totally indifferent to Gilberte now. During the train ride, his grandmother, who only believes in proper books, lends him her favorite: the Letters of Mme. de Sévigné. At Balbec, the Narrator is disappointed with the church and uncomfortable in his unfamiliar hotel room, but his grandmother comforts him. He admires the seascape, and learns about the colorful staff and customers around the hotel: Aimé, the discreet headwaiter; the lift operator; M. de Stermaria and his beautiful young daughter; and M. de Cambremer and his wife, Legrandin’s sister. His grandmother encounters an old friend, the blue-blooded Mme. de Villeparisis, and they renew their friendship. The three of them go for rides in the country, openly discussing art and politics. The Narrator longs for the country girls he sees alongside the roads, and has a strange feeling—possibly memory, possibly something else—while admiring a row of three trees. Mme. de Villeparisis is joined by her glamorous great-nephew Robert de Saint-Loup, who is involved with an unsuitable woman. Despite initial awkwardness, the Narrator and his grandmother become good friends with him. Bloch, the childhood friend from Combray, turns up with his family, and acts in typically inappropriate fashion. Saint-Loup’s ultra-aristocratic and extremely rude uncle the Baron de Charlus arrives. The Narrator discovers Mme. de Villeparisis, her nephew M. de Charlus, and his nephew Saint-Loup are all of the Guermantes family. Charlus ignores the Narrator, but later visits him in his room and lends him a book. The next day, the Baron speaks shockingly informally to him, then demands the book back. The Narrator ponders Saint-Loup’s attitude towards his aristocratic roots, and his relationship with his mistress, a mere actress whose recital bombed horribly with his family. One day, the Narrator sees a “little band” of teenage girls strolling beside the sea, and becomes infatuated with them, along with an unseen hotel guest named Mlle Simonet. He joins Saint-Loup for dinner and reflects on how drunkenness affects his perceptions. Later they meet the painter Elstir, and the Narrator visits his studio. The Narrator marvels at Elstir’s method of renewing impressions of ordinary things, as well as his connections with the Verdurins (he is “M. Biche”) and Mme. Swann. He discovers the painter knows the teenage girls, particularly one dark-haired beauty who is Albertine Simonet. Elstir arranges an introduction, and the Narrator becomes friends with her, as well as her friends Andrée, Rosemonde, and Gisele. The group goes for picnics and tours the countryside, as well as playing games, while the Narrator reflects on the nature of love as he becomes attracted to Albertine. Despite her rejection, they become close, although he still feels attracted to the whole group. At summer’s end, the town closes up, and the Narrator is left with his image of first seeing the girls walking beside the sea.

Some talk about the way in which In Search of Lost Time has the same pace as conversation. One of the things that has come to the fore is the way in which the wandering prose leads to dallies of self-reflection.

Marginalia

Proust on writing as a reflection of labour, rather than personality

And then I asked myself whether originality did indeed prove that great writers were gods, ruling each one over a kingdom that was his alone, or whether all that was not rather make-believe, whether the differences between one man’s book and another’s were not the result of their respective labours rather than the expression of a radical and essential difference between two contrasted personalities.

Proust on the beauty of great writers.

So it is with all great writers, the beauty of their language is as incalculable as that of a woman whom we have never seen; it is creative, because it is applied to an external object of which, and not of their language or its beauty, they are thinking, to which they have not yet given expression.

Proust on the genius of the writer.

Similarly the men who produce works of genius are not those who live in the most delicate atmosphere, whose conversation is most brilliant or their culture broadest, but those who have had the power, ceasing in a moment to live only for themselves, to make use of their personality as of a mirror, in such a way that their life, however unimportant it may be socially, and even, in a sense, intellectually speaking, is reflected by it, genius consisting in the reflective power of the writer and not in the intrinsic quality of the scene reflected.

Proust on love of fellow creatures

So that—or such, at least, was my way of thinking then—we are always detached from our fellow-creatures; when a man loves one of them he feels that his love is not labelled with their two names, but may be born again in the future, may have been born already in the past for another and not for her. And in the time when he is not in love, if he makes up his mind philosophically as to what it is that is inconsistent in love, he will find that the love of which he can speak unmoved he did not, at the moment of speaking, feel, and therefore did not know, knowledge in these matters being intermittent and not outlasting the actual presence of the sentiment.

Proust on regret and desire

For, like desire, regret seeks not to be analysed but to be satisfied. When one begins to love, one spends one’s time, not in getting to know what one’s love really is, but in making it possible to meet next day. When one abandons love one seeks not to know one’s grief but to offer to her who is causing it that expression of it which seems to one the most moving.

Proust on unhappiness leading to morals

As soon as one is unhappy one becomes moral. Gilberte’s recent antipathy for me seemed to me a judgment delivered on me by life for my conduct that afternoon. Such judgments one imagines one can escape because one looks out for carriages when one is crossing the street, and avoids obvious dangers. But there are others that take effect within us. The accident comes from the side to which one has not been looking, from inside, from the heart.

Proust on memory

That is why the better part of our memory exists outside ourself, in a blatter of rain, in the smell of an unaired room or of the first crackling brushwood fire in a cold grate: wherever, in short, we happen upon what our mind, having no use for it, had rejected, the last treasure that the past has in store, the richest, that which when all our flow of tears seems to have dried at the source can make us weep again. Outside ourself, did I say; rather within ourself, but hidden from our eyes in an oblivion more or less prolonged. It is thanks to this oblivion alone that we can from time to time recover the creature that we were, range ourself face to face with past events as that creature had to face them, suffer afresh because we are no longer ourself but he, and because he loved what leaves us now indifferent. In the broad daylight of our ordinary memory the images of the past turn gradually pale and fade out of sight, nothing remains of them, we shall never find them again. Or rather we should never find them again had not a few words (such as this “Secretary to the Ministry of Posts”) been carefully locked away in oblivion, just as an author deposits in the National Library a copy of a book which might otherwise become unobtainable.

Proust on noticing and space

It is our noticing them that puts things in a room, our growing used to them that takes them away again and clears a space for us. Space there was none for me in my bedroom (mine in name only) at Balbec; it was full of things which did not know me, which flung back at me the distrustful look that I had cast at them, and, without taking any heed of my existence, shewed that I was interrupting the course of theirs.

Proust on pleasure being like photography.

Pleasure in this respect is like photography. What we take, in the presence of the beloved object, is merely a negative film; we develop it later, when we are at home, and have once again found at our disposal that inner dark-room, the entrance yo which is barred to us so long as we are with other people.

Proust on memory like a shop

Our memory is like a shop in the window of which is exposed now one, now another photograph of the same person. And as a rule the most recent exhibit remains for some time the only one to be seen.

Proust on modifying our surrounds over time

All our lives, we go on patiently modifying the surroundings in which we dwell; and gradually, as habit dispenses us from feeling them, we suppress the noxious elements of colour, shape and smell which were at the root of our discomfort.

Read The Book of Laughter and Forgetting

The Book of Laughter and Forgetting (Czech: Kniha smíchu a zapomnění) is a novel by Milan Kundera, published in France in 1979. It is composed of seven separate narratives united by some common themes. The book considers the nature of forgetting as it occurs in history, politics and life in general. The stories also contain elements found in the genre of magic realism.

I felt there was something haunting about this book. As the stories come and go, they seem to linger, always somehow incomplete whether it be in their telling or the actual story itself.

Marginalia

We write books because our children aren’t interested in us. We address ourselves to an anonymous world because our wives plug their ears when we speak to them.

LOCATION: 1203

The irresistible proliferation of graphomania among politicians, taxi drivers, childbearers, lovers, murderers, thieves, prostitutes, officials, doctors, and patients shows me that everyone without exception bears a potential writer within him, so that the entire human species has good reason to go down into the streets and shout: “We are all writers!” For everyone is pained by the thought of disappearing, unheard and unseen, into an indifferent universe, and because of that everyone wants, while there is still time, to turn himself into a universe of words. One morning (and it will be soon), when everyone wakes up as a writer, the age of universal deafness and incomprehension will have arrived.

LOCATION: 1404

In one of his pensées, Pascal says that man lives between the abyss of the infinitely large and the abyss of the infinitely small. The voyage of variations leads into that other infinitude, into the infinite diversity of the interior world lying hidden in all things. Beethoven thus discovered in variations another area to be explored. His variations are a new “invitation to the voyage.”

LOCATION: 2166

Karel Klos represented music without memory, the music under which the bones of Beethoven and Ellington, the ashes of Palestrina and Schoenberg, are forever buried. The President of Forgetting and the Idiot of Music were two of a kind. They were doing the same work. “We will help you, you will help us.” Neither could manage without the other.

LOCATION: 2396

Arousal without climax is Daphnis. Climax without arousal is the salesgirl at the sporting goods rental shop.

LOCATION: 2664

Read In Search of Lost Time

In Search of Lost Time (French: À la recherche du temps perdu), first translated into English as Remembrance of Things Past, and sometimes referred to in French as La Recherche (The Search), is a novel in seven volumes by French author Marcel Proust. This early 20th-century work is his most prominent, known both for its length and its theme of involuntary memory. The most famous example of this is the “episode of the madeleine”, which occurs early in the first volume. The novel gained fame in English in translations by C. K. Scott Moncrieff and Terence Kilmartin as Remembrance of Things Past, but the title In Search of Lost Time, a literal rendering of the French, became ascendant after D. J. Enright adopted it for his revised translation published in 1992.

In Search of Lost Time follows the narrator’s recollections of childhood and experiences into adulthood in the late 19th-century and early 20th-century high-society France, while reflecting on the loss of time and lack of meaning in the world.[1] The novel began to take shape in 1909. Proust continued to work on it until his final illness in the autumn of 1922 forced him to break off. Proust established the structure early on, but even after volumes were initially finished, he continued to add new material and edited one volume after another for publication. The last three of the seven volumes contain oversights and fragmentary or unpolished passages, as they existed only in draft form at the death of the author; the publication of these parts was overseen by his brother Robert.

There were a number of things that converged with me deciding to read the first volume in Marcel Proust’s epic Remembrance of Things Past / In Search of Lost Time. Firstly, there was mention of Proust in the BBC In Our Time episode on Bergson and time. Secondly, Stanley Kim Robinson mentioned his love of Proust in an interview. Lastly, the anti-hero of Damian Cowell’s series Only the Shit You Love is named Marcell Proust and although I felt I understood the association also wondered what I was missing.

I am not sure if I really ‘read’ Swann’s Way? I did not give up after the first few pages. I think it helped listening to the text. For me, Swann’s Way was one of those texts that lingers long after.

Meandering through the relationship of Swann and Odette felt like watching a car crash that you know is going to happen long before the point of impact. Although he comes out of it suggesting that she was not his type, it still feels like a case of one of those stories we tell ourselves to get to sleep at night.

Marginalia

[S]he spoke to Swann once about a friend to whose house
she had been invited, and had found that everything in it was ‘of the period.’ Swann could not get her to tell him what ‘period’ it was.

It shewed me finally, the new arrangement planned by my unseen weaver, that, if we find ourselves hoping that the actions of a person who has hitherto caused us anxiety may prove not to have been sincere, they shed in their wake a light which our hopes are powerless to extinguish, a light to which, rather than to our hopes, we must put the question, what will be that person’s actions on the morrow.

It was to me like one of those zoological gardens in which one sees assembled together a variety of flora, and contrasted effects in landscape; where from a hill one passes to a grotto, a meadow, rocks, a stream, a trench, another hill, a marsh, but knows that they are there only to enable the hippopotamus,
zebra, crocodile, rabbit, bear and heron to disport themselves in a natural or a picturesque setting; this, the Bois, equally complex, uniting a multitude of little worlds, distinct and separate—placing a stage set with red trees, American oaks, like an experimental forest in Virginia, next to a fir-wood by the edge of the lake, or to a forest grove from which would suddenly emerge, in her lissom covering of furs, with the
large, appealing eyes of a dumb animal, a hastening walker—was the Garden of Woman; and like the myrtle-alley in the Aeneid, planted for their delight with trees of one kind only, the Allée des Acacias was thronged by the famous Beauties of the day. As, from a long way off, the sight of the jutting crag from which it dives into the pool thrills with joy the children who know that they are going to behold the seal, long before I reached the acacia-alley, their fragrance, scattered abroad,
would make me feel that I was approaching the incomparable presence of a vegetable personality, strong and tender; then, as I drew near, the sight of their topmost branches, their lightly tossing foliage, in its easy grace, its coquettish outline, its delicate fabric, over which hundreds of flowers were laid, like winged and throbbing colonies of precious insects;

[R]emembrance of a particular form is but regret for a particular moment

Criticism

School of Life

Proust’s goal isn’t that we should necessarily make art or be someone who hangs out in museums. It’s to get us to look at the world, our world, with some of the same generosity as an artist, which would mean taking pleasure in simple things – like water, the sky or a shaft of light on a roughly plastered wall.

Reading group: Bogged down on Swann’s Way? (Sam Jordison)

Meanwhile, it isn’t just the prose style, the long sentences, the great piles of subordinate clauses, the Mississippi-wide meanderings, the slow-flowing course of the narrative that might cause problems. You could easily be forgiven for taking against the narrator himself. At first glance, he seems a tremendous egotist and snob. Who is he to imagine that every aspect of his life is so precious and important that he has to share it in such detail? Who is he to suggest that his family know so much about life well-lived? Who cares about his precious hawthorns? Why does he make so much of social niceties and conventions? Why does it matter to us who his relatives do and don’t snub? Why should we care why?

Mind you, ChrisIcarus has a warning:

“If there are Guardian readers who have not yet swum in the deep ocean of Proust’s full masterpiece then I offer this advice: read no more than one paragraph at a sitting and no more than three paragraphs in a day. This is the CRACK COCAINE of art and if you want to stay on the sane side of Dionysian madness imbue this nectar sparingly.”

How to read Proust – A guide to getting through Remembrance of Things Past (Matthew Walther)

Proust should be read slowly, 20 or so pages at a time. (When you are a thousand or so pages in and cannot help yourself from pressing on to learn what Brichot has to say about the death of Swann, you will have reached the stage at which it is probably acceptable to lie down with Proust.) Sooner or later readers will discover that the novel unfolds not slowly per se but at something that approximates the pace of life itself — or, better yet, that “real life” is blissfully Proustian.

William C. Carter

I always tell anyone who might be intimidated by the many pages to be read that, although In Search of Lost Time is rich and complex and demands an attentive reader, the novel is never difficult. In spite of its length and complexity, most readers find it readily accessible.

I think he helps us to see the world as it really is, not only its extraordinary beauty and diversity, but his observations make us aware of how we perceive and how we interact with others, showing us how often we are mistaken in our own assumptions and how easy it is to have a biased view of another person. And I think the psychology and motivation of Proust’s characters are as rewardingly complex as are those of Shakespeare’s characters. Just as the Bard describes Cleopatra, many of Proust’s characters are creatures of “infinite variety.” Speaking of Shakespeare, Shelby Foote, in an interview, placed Proust in the top tier of writers he most admired: “Proust has been the man that hung the moon for me. He’s with Shakespeare in my mind, in the sense of having such a various talent. Whenever you read Proust, for the rest of your life, he’s part of you, the way Shakespeare is part of you. I don’t want to exaggerate, but I truly feel that he is the great writer of the 20th century.”

Oliver Munday

The novel’s obsession with perception is part of why so many people find reading Proust to be profound: the philosophical interrogation of time, the discursive meditations on art, the musicality of its structure. Yet beneath these lofty ambitions is the beauty of his descriptions. Characters, emotions, and ideas are all rendered with such precision that the reader never suspects a hierarchy. Take this view of a balcony: “I saw it attain to that fixed, unalterable gold of fine days, on which the sharply cut shadows of the wrought iron of the balustrade were outlined in black like a capricious vegetation.” These visual encounters felt like intimate revelations.

Read The Storyteller

Having entertained the idea for years, and even offered a few questionable opportunities (“It’s a piece of cake! Just do 4 hours of interviews, find someone else to write it, put your face on the cover, and voila!”) I have decided to write these stories just as I have always done, in my own hand. The joy that I have felt from chronicling these tales is not unlike listening back to a song that I’ve recorded and can’t wait to share with the world, or reading a primitive journal entry from a stained notebook, or even hearing my voice bounce between the Kiss posters on my wall as a child.

I found The Storyteller an intriguing meditation on the life of a musician. As has been said about other pieces, such as What Drive’s Us, there is something about reading about someone who can fly half way around the world to attend a school dance in the middle of a tour. However, with all that set aside, it was an enthralling read. I quickly lost count of name drops, whether it be ACDC, Barack Obama, Elton John, Iggy Pop, Trent Reznor, Tom Petty, Joan Jett, Paul McCartney, Pantera etc… One thing is for sure, Dave Grohl is connected. The title storyteller is interesting in that like any good narrative it is as much about what has been left out as it is about what has been included. Although there is much reference to Kurt Cobain and Nirvana, it feels like there are a lot of tales that have been left out about that time. Maybe they do not fit with the vibe Grohl was going for. Also, with so many name drops, it is always notable when Grohl chooses not to mention somebodies name. For example, there is no mention of Louise Post. Maybe this is out of respect, maybe it does not matter, not sure. I also need to add, listening to Dave Grohl read the book I think made it better too.

Marginalia

“Define a lot of coffee . . . ,” I said, knowing that my caffeine consumption would probably make Juan Valdez pack up his donkey and run for the hills of Colombia. I was almost embarrassed to admit the amount of coffee I would drink in one day, for fear that he would 5150 me and send me off in a straitjacket to the nearest Caffeine Anonymous meeting. I had recently come to terms with this addiction, realizing that maybe five pots of coffee a day was slightly overdoing it, but I hadn’t accepted the dire consequences until now. Unfortunately, I’m THAT guy. Give me one, I want ten. There is a reason why I still to this day have never done cocaine, because deep down I know that if I did coke the same way I drink coffee, I’d be sucking dicks at the bus stop every morning for an eight ball.

I was driving Harper to school and she asked, “Dad, what’s the longest flight you’ve ever been on?” I smiled and said, “Well . . . remember that time I came home for one night to take you to your first daddy-daughter dance?” She nodded. “That was about twenty hours in the air,” I said. She looked at me like I was crazy. “Twenty hours??? You didn’t have to do that!!!”

We smiled at each other, and after a long pause, she turned to me and said, “Actually . . . yes you did.”

Violet was devastated by the news that her friends would not join her for the show. As we sat on the couch together and I watched the tears roll down her cherubic little face, the protective father in me kicked in. “Hey, what if you and I perform ‘Blackbird’ together? I’ll play guitar and you sing!” She looked up and wiped her face, and her expression instantly changed as she nodded excitedly with a relieved smile. I ran to fetch my guitar, sat down before her, and began to play the song. Without even a moment of rehearsal or lyric sheet to refer to, she came in on time, in tune, and we played it together perfectly, first try. It was beautiful. I would say that I was surprised, but I wasn’t. I knew that she could do it. But . . . could I? We high-fived and made a plan: we would rehearse every morning before school and every night before bed until the gig, ensuring that we’d be more than ready by the time we hit the stage.

Read The Plague

The Plague (French: La Peste) is a novel by Albert Camus. Published in 1947, it tells the story from the point of view of a narrator of a plague sweeping the French Algerian city of Oran. The narrator remains unknown until the start of the last chapter, chapter 5 of part 5. The novel presents a snapshot of life in Oran as seen through the author’s distinctive absurdist point of view.[1]

Camus used as source material the cholera epidemic that killed a large proportion of Oran’s population in 1849, but situated the novel in the 1940s.[2] Oran and its surroundings were struck by disease several times before Camus published his novel. According to an academic study, Oran was decimated by the bubonic plague in 1556 and 1678, but all later outbreaks (in 1921: 185 cases; 1931: 76 cases; and 1944: 95 cases) were very far from the scale of the epidemic described in the novel.[3]

The Plague is considered an existentialist classic despite Camus’ objection to the label.[4][5] The novel stresses the powerlessness of the individual characters to affect their destinies. The narrative tone is similar to Kafka’s, especially in The Trial, whose individual sentences potentially have multiple meanings; the material often pointedly resonating as stark allegory of phenomenal consciousness and the human condition.

I finally got around to reading (or listening to) Albert Camus’ The Plague. What stood out to me about Camus’ account was the way in which he captures the everyday. As Matthew Sharpe captures:

Camus became increasingly sceptical about glorious ideals of superhumanity, heroism or sainthood. It is the capacity of ordinary people to do extraordinary things that The Plague lauds.

Another interesting point was the idea that ‘the plague’ is as much about a disease as it is about politics and life itself. As Tarrou asserts, “each of us has the plague within him; no one, no one on earth is free from it.” This reminds me of Norman Swan’s discussion of COVID-19 being a political pandemic.

I am glad that I waited to read this as it was interesting to reflect and consider everything that has occurred.

Marginalia

“The plague.” “Ah!” Rieux exclaimed. “No, you haven’t understood that it means exactly that—the same thing over and over and over again.” (Page 151)

“To make things simpler, Rieux, let me begin by saying I had plague already, long before I came to this town and encountered it here. Which is tantamount to saying I’m like everybody else. Only there are some people who don’t know it, or feel at ease in that condition; others know and want to get out of it. Personally, I’ve always wanted to get out of it. (Page 226)

I know positively—yes, Rieux, I can say I know the world inside out, as you may see—that each of us has the plague within him; no one, no one on earth is free from it. And I know, too, that we must keep endless watch on ourselves lest in a careless moment we breathe in somebody’s face and fasten the infection on him. What’s natural is the microbe. All the rest—health, integrity, purity (if you like)—is a product of the human will, of a vigilance that must never falter. The good man, the man who infects hardly anyone, is the man who has the fewest lapses of attention. And it needs tremendous will-power, a never ending tension of the mind, to avoid such lapses. Yes, Rieux, it’s a wearying business, being plague-stricken. But it’s still more wearying to refuse to be it. That’s why everybody in the world today looks so tired; everyone is more or less sick of plague. But that is also why some of us, those who want to get the plague out of their systems, feel such desperate weariness, a weariness from which nothing remains to set us free except death. (Page 233)

“Oh, for no particular reason. Only—well, he never talked just for talking’s sake. I’d rather cottoned to him. But there you are! All those folks are saying: ‘It was plague. We’ve had the plague here.’ You’d almost think they expected to be given medals for it. But what does that mean—‘plague’? Just life, no more than that.” (Page 282)

He knew what those jubilant crowds did not know but could have learned from books: that the plague bacillus never dies or disappears for good; that it can lie dormant for years and years in furniture and linen-chests; that it bides its time in bedrooms, cellars, trunks, and bookshelves; and that perhaps the day would come when, for the bane and the enlightening of men, it would rouse up its rats again and send them forth to die in a happy city. (Page 283)

Read Lolly Scramble

Lolly Scramble: A Memoir of Little Consequence, published in 2005, is collection of autobiographical essays by New Zealand-Australian comedian Tony Martin. A second volume, A Nest of Occasionals, appeared in 2009.

Tony Martin manages to make the mundane somehow magical in his often self-deprecating memoirs. My favourite story was his time in the advertising industry. “Are you asking or are you saying?” The book was all made better with Martin’s reading.

I always wondered about the association between Tony Martin and Damien Cowell, but they both have the skill to put a spotlight on the everyday and leave the world forever different. Personally, it had me thinking about my own past and how sometimes life is about perspective.

“Damian Cowell” in Episode 10: Keith Richards In A Time Machine Part 3 | Damian Cowell ()

Read The Metamorphosis

Metamorphosis (German: Die Verwandlung) is an allegorical novella written by Franz Kafka which was first published in 1915. One of Kafka’s best-known works, Metamorphosis tells the story of salesman Gregor Samsa, who wakes one morning to find himself inexplicably transformed into a huge insect (ungeheures Ungeziefer, lit. “monstrous vermin”) and subsequently struggles to adjust to this new condition. The novella has been widely discussed among literary critics, with differing interpretations being offered. In popular culture and adaptations of the novella, the insect is commonly depicted as a cockroach.

I found The Metamorphosis intriguing. For me, the story is less about waking an insect, as it is about coping with change.

With all the worry they had been having of late her cheeks had become pale, but, while they were talking, Mr. and Mrs. Samsa were struck, almost simultaneously, with the thought of how their daughter was blossoming into a well built and beautiful young lady.

It reminds me of Peter Carey’s The True History of the Kelly Gang, which could be interpreted as much about the way in which history is told as it is about Ned Kelly.

This sense of change reminded me of when my mother passed. I was so focused on her last days that I had overlooked how the world had continued to go on changing around me.

In getting the backyard organised for my daughter’s birthday this morning, it dawned on me that during the last month when the last thing on my list of things to do was cutting things back and nurturing the garden, that the garden didn’t care, it just kept on growing. Whether it be the passionfruit vine stretching out even further along the fence line or the lemon tree growing even taller, the garden had kept on going.
To me this is all a part of something bigger that I have come to realise. Whether it be illness, mourning or even extended holidays, the world around us does not stop.

Marginalia

No English translation disputes that Gregor wakes from troubled dreams to find himself transformed in his bed. But into what, precisely?

The adjective ungeheuren means “huge”, the noun Ungeziefer some form of “creepy-crawly” but also “vermin” – obviously more suggestive of rodents than insects, yet applicable to both, the shared characteristic being pestilent, repugnant qualities.

“Some kind of monstrous vermin” is how it was rendered by the story’s first English translator, AL Lloyd. “A gigantic insect” was the reading of Edwin and Willa Muir. “A monstrous cockroach” is how Michael Hofmann phrased it more recently.

Read https://daveeggers.net/the-every
The Every is Dave Eggers’ companion to The Circle. It imagines a future merger between The Circle and ‘The Jungle’, The Every continues Eggers’ exploration of the world of technological solutionism.

The Every revolves around Delaney Wells and her efforts to take down the company from within, one bad idea at a time. The problem is that these bad ideas are so bad that they are good. What is disconcerting is how many of these ideas actually already exist in their infancy in the world around us.

Like Thomas More’s Utopia, the novel serves as a dystopian thought experiment. It explores what if the ideas of algorithmic organisation were taken to the nth degree. To communicate this, Eggers uses Delaney’s rotations through the different departments to systemically explore the workings at the company. Some have been critical of bias:

I wished, often, to be allowed to come to my own conclusions, exercise my own subjectivity — that same endangered faculty the novel mourns.

However, as Lea suggests, that does not seem to be Eggers’ purpose to ‘scare us straight’.

It is also interesting to consider the way in which Eggers’ addresses the challenge of global warming and compare this with something like The Ministry for the Future. Although The Every’s cancellation of travel and purchasing of goods which are not in season achieve the desired outcome in regards to global warming, the stripping of free will makes this problematic. In an interview for the book, Eggers argues that:

Meaningful change isn’t achieved with torches and pitchforks. It happens with reason, with evidence, with compassion and with long conversations.

For Kim Stanley Robinson, there is a place for certain incentives, restrictions and technological solutions, however it all seems a little less crude.

In the end, the book is hopeful. As Daniel Gumbiner touches on, the book is hopeful that maybe there is another way:

Strangely, this is a hopeful book. Though it often feels like our technological straightjackets are inevitable, non-negotiable accessories of modern life, The Every reminds us that they are not, that we are born into this world every day with choices, and that collectively, we have been choosing one way of being, and continue to choose it. What would it look like to continue on this path? What would it look like to choose something else? These are the questions at the core of The Every, a book which makes a real argument, and serves to remind us, as all great books do, of something we already knew, ourselves, to be true.

For Cory Doctorow, it serves as a uncomfortable reminder that stays with us a long time afterwards.

Eggers is doing something hard and weird and important here, making us confront the degree to which crisis makes us willing to accept authoritarianism, making us face up to the warm comfort of subjugating ourselves to someone else’s automated will.

For a book that is often hilarious, and always a page-turner, this is an awfully uncomfortable read, and it stays with you afterward, lingering and surfacing every time you brush up against the technology in your life.

In the end, the only question I was left wonder is the ‘straight’ this novel is scaring us to? I guess that might be for another novel.

Marginalia

For his new book, The Every, Dave Eggers and art director Sunra Thompson are doing 32 separate covers, with more to come “in perpetuity”.

Read Heart of Darkness

Heart of Darkness (1899) is a novella by Polish-English novelist Joseph Conrad about a narrated voyage up the Congo River into the Congo Free State in the Heart of Africa.[1] Heart of Darkness tells the story of Charles Marlow, a sailor who takes on an assignment from a Belgian trading company as a ferry-boat captain to lead an expedition into Africa. The novel is widely regarded as a critique of European colonial rule in Africa, whilst also examining the themes of power dynamics and morality. Although Conrad does not give the name of the river, at the time of writing the Congo Free State, the location of the large and economically important River Congo, was a private colony of Belgium’s King Leopold II. Marlow is given a text by Kurtz, an ivory trader working on a trading station far up the river, who has “gone native” and is the object of Marlow’s expedition. Marlow, a recurring character and alter ego of Conrad himself, describes that journal as “a beautiful piece of writing” or “vibrating with eloquence”, among others.

Central to Conrad’s work is the idea that there is little difference between “civilised people” and “savages.” Heart of Darkness implicitly comments on imperialism and racism.[2] The novella’s setting provides the frame for Marlow’s story of his obsession with the successful ivory trader Kurtz. Conrad offers parallels between London (“the greatest town on earth”) and Africa as places of darkness.[3]

The Heart of Darkness is a fascinating exploration of place, character and context. There is something mesmerising about Kurtz, is he a bad person himself or a product of his surrounds?

I also found a reading by Kenneth Branagh on Audible.

Marginalia

Once, I remember, we came upon a man-of-war anchored off the coast. There wasn’t even a shed there, and she was shelling the bush. It appears the French had one of their wars going on thereabouts. (Page 18)

“No use telling you much about that. Paths, paths, everywhere; a stamped-in network of paths spreading over the empty land, through long grass, through burnt grass, through thickets, down and up chilly ravines, up and down stony hills ablaze with heat; and a solitude, a solitude, nobody, not a hut. The population had cleared out a long time ago.(Page 26)

It was as unreal as everything else—as the philanthropic pretense of the whole concern, as their talk, as their government, as their show of work. The only real feeling was a desire to get appointed to a trading-post where ivory was to be had, so that they could earn percentages.(Page 33)

We live, as we dream—alone. . . . (Page 37)

Going up that river was like traveling back to the earliest beginnings of the world, when vegetation rioted on the earth and the big trees were kings. An empty stream, a great silence, an impenetrable forest. The air was warm, thick, heavy, sluggish. There was no joy in the brilliance of sunshine. The long stretches of the waterway ran on, deserted, into the gloom of overshadowed distances. On silvery sandbanks hippos and alligators sunned themselves side by side. The broadening waters flowed through a mob of wooded islands; you lost your way on that river as you would in a desert, and butted all day long against shoals, trying to find the channel, till you thought yourself bewitched and cut off for ever from everything you had known once—somewhere—far away—in another existence perhaps. There were moments when one’s past came back to one, as it will sometimes when you have not a moment to spare to yourself; but it came in the shape of an unrestful and noisy dream, remembered with wonder amongst the overwhelming realities of this strange world of plants, and water, and silence. And this stillness of life did not in the least resemble a peace. It was the stillness of an implacable force brooding over an inscrutable intention. It looked at you with a vengeful aspect. I got used to it afterwards; I did not see it any more; I had no time. I had to keep guessing at the channel; I had to discern, mostly by inspiration, the signs of hidden banks; I watched for sunken stones; I was learning to clap my teeth smartly before my heart flew out, when I shaved by a fluke some infernal sly old snag that would have ripped the life out of the tin-pot steamboat and drowned all the pilgrims; I had to keep a look-out for the signs of dead wood we could cut up in the night for next day’s steaming. When you have to attend to things of that sort, to the mere incidents of the surface, the reality—the reality, I tell you—fades. The inner truth is hidden—luckily, luckily. But I felt it all the same; I felt often its mysterious stillness watching me at my monkey tricks, just as it watches you fellows performing on your respective tight-ropes for—what is it? half-a-crown a tumble—”(Page 46)

I was within a hair’s-breadth of the last opportunity for pronouncement, and I found with humiliation that probably I would have nothing to say. This is the reason why I affirm that Kurtz was a remarkable man. He had something to say. He said it. Since I had peeped over the edge myself, I understand better the meaning of his stare, that could not see the flame of the candle, but was wide enough to embrace the whole universe, piercing enough to penetrate all the hearts that beat in the darkness. He had summed up—he had judged. ‘The horror!’ He was a remarkable man. (Page 99)

He had faith—don’t you see?—he had the faith. He could get himself to believe anything—anything. He would have been a splendid leader of an extreme party.’ ‘What party?’ I asked. ‘Any party,’ answered the other. ‘He was an—an—extremist.’ (Page 102)

“‘His last word—to live with,’ she murmured. ‘Don’t you understand I loved him—I loved him—I loved him!’ “I pulled myself together and spoke slowly. “‘The last word he pronounced was—your name.'”(Page 108)

Read The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby is a 1925 novel by American writer F. Scott Fitzgerald. Set in the Jazz Age on Long Island, near New York City, the novel depicts first-person narrator Nick Carraway’s interactions with mysterious millionaire Jay Gatsby and Gatsby’s obsession to reunite with his former lover, Daisy Buchanan.

The novel was inspired by a youthful romance Fitzgerald had with socialite Ginevra King, and the riotous parties he attended on Long Island’s North Shore in 1922. Following a move to the French Riviera, Fitzgerald completed a rough draft of the novel in 1924. He submitted it to editor Maxwell Perkins, who persuaded Fitzgerald to revise the work over the following winter. After making revisions, Fitzgerald was satisfied with the text, but remained ambivalent about the book’s title and considered several alternatives. Painter Francis Cugat’s cover art greatly impressed Fitzgerald, and he incorporated aspects of it into the novel.

I (re)read The Great Gatsby. It is another book that I have on the shelf and read in what feels like another lifetime. Reading it now, I feel I can appreciate the dangers of overreach and the self-made man:

Gatsby is a fable about betrayal – of others, and of our own ideals. The concept that a New World in America is even possible, that it won’t simply reproduce the follies and vices of the Old World, is already an illusion, a paradise lost before it has even been conceived. By the time Gatsby tries to force that world to fulfil its promise, the dream is long gone. But that doesn’t stop him from chasing “the green light” of wealth and status, the dangled promise of power that can only create a corrupt plutocracy shored up by vast social inequality.

Similar to Mrs Dalloway, The Great Gatsby is a novel that is prone to rereading:

To an impressive degree, however, the renewed attention brought by the change in law shows not just how relevant and seductive the text of Fitzgerald’s novel remains, but how very alive it’s always been. Pick it up at 27, and you’ll find a different novel to the one you read as a teenager. Revisit it again at 45, and it’ll feel like another book altogether. Copyright has never had any bearing on the impact of the words it governs.

I feel that it provides enough space to be other worldly, while at the same time being strangely familiar. This is something Wesley Morris captures in a new introduction for the book:

In one day, you can sit with the brutal awfulness of nearly every person in this book—booooo, Jordan; just boo. And Mr. Wolfsheim, shame on you, sir; Gatsby was your friend. In a day, you no longer have to wonder whether Daisy loved Gatsby back or whether “love” aptly describes what Gatsby felt in the first place. After all, The Great Gatsby is a classic of illusions and delusions. In a day, you reach those closing words about the boats, the current, and the past, and rather than allow them to haunt, you simply return to the first page and start all over again.

For example, the way in which Fitzgerald captures character:

Her husband [Tom Buchanan], among various physical accomplishments, had been one of the most powerful ends that ever played football at New Haven—a national figure in a way, one of those men who reach such an acute limited excellence at twenty-one that everything afterward savours of anticlimax.

Or the hollow nature of extravagance.

Attempting to pass himself off as a patrician, Gatsby tries too hard, his every gesture and word a dead giveaway to the people around him. Tom Buchanan doesn’t believe that Gatsby went to Oxford because he wears a lurid pink suit. The marginal character Owl-Eyes, who has been drunk for a week, can see clearly that Gatsby is putting on a show. Gatsby is not merely a fake, he is an obvious fake.

One of the things I took from my recent reading, especially after rereading Mrs Dalloway recently, was considering that both Gatsby and Carraway had served in World War I and the subsequent impact of shellshock.

On a side note, not sure if it is because of my current circumstance, but who looked after the children in these middle-class environments? They seem to do whatever they like with any reference to the children at all.

I also found an audio version on Spotify, as well as a reading by Jake Gyllenhaal on Audible.

Marginalia

“You said a bad driver was only safe until she met another bad driver? Well, I met another bad driver, didn’t I? I mean it was careless of me to make such a wrong guess. I thought you were rather an honest, straightforward person. I thought it was your secret pride.”
“I’m thirty,” I said. “I’m five years too old to lie to myself and call it honour.”
She didn’t answer. Angry, and half in love with her, and tremendously sorry, I turned away.

And as I sat there brooding on the old, unknown world, I thought of Gatsby’s wonder when he first picked out the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock. He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it. He did not know that it was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.
Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms further… And one fine morning—
So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

Read The Phantom of the Opera (Gaston Leroux)

The Phantom of the Opera (French: Le Fantôme de l’Opéra) is a novel by French author Gaston Leroux. It was first published as a serial in Le Gaulois from 23 September 1909 to 8 January 1910, and was released in volume form in late March 1910 by Pierre Lafitte.[1] The novel is partly inspired by historical events at the Paris Opera during the nineteenth century, and by an apocryphal tale concerning the use of a former ballet pupil’s skeleton in Carl Maria von Weber’s 1841 production of Der Freischütz.[2] It has been successfully adapted into various stage and film adaptations, most notable of which are the 1925 film depiction featuring Lon Chaney, and Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1986 musical.

With The Phantom of the Opera, I continued listening to Christopher Lee’s readings of horror.

One of the things that stood out to me was The Persian. Along with the strangeness of Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights, it has me wanting to reread Edward Said’s Orientalism.

I was also intrigued by the description of Erik as having a ‘death’s head’:

As Raoul once more passed through the great crush-room, this time in the wake of his guide, he could not help noticing a group crowding round a person whose disguise, eccentric air and gruesome appearance were causing a sensation. It was a man dressed all in scarlet, with a huge hat and feathers on the top of a wonderful death’s head. From his shoulders hung an immense red-velvet cloak, which trailed along the floor like a king’s train; and on this cloak was embroidered, in gold letters, which every one read and repeated aloud, “Don’t touch me! I am Red Death stalking abroad!”

I was interested to read that there is debate about this description:

There is debate among both English and French speakers as to whether the original French word used here, sentir, was intended by Leroux to mean “smells like” or “feels like,” as the French word is used for both feel and smell depending on the context.

Read Dracula

Dracula is a novel by Bram Stoker, published in 1897. As an epistolary novel, the narrative is related through letters, diary entries, and newspaper articles. It has no single protagonist, but opens with solicitor Jonathan Harker taking a business trip to stay at the castle of a Transylvanian noble, Count Dracula. Harker escapes the castle after discovering that Dracula is a vampire, and the Count moves to England and plagues the seaside town of Whitby. A small group, led by Abraham Van Helsing, hunt Dracula and, in the end, kill him.

Dracula was mostly written in the 1890s. Stoker produced over a hundred pages of notes for the novel, drawing extensively from Transylvanian folklore and history. Some scholars have suggested that the character of Dracula was inspired by historical figures like the Wallachian prince Vlad the Impaler or the countess Elizabeth Báthory, but there is widespread disagreement. Stoker’s notes mention neither figure. He found the name Dracula in Whitby’s public library while holidaying there, picking it because he thought it meant devil in Romanian.

It is interesting to return to the original text after living life through various interpretation, such as Hotel Transylvania. One thing that stood out to me in reading Dracula was the place of technology throughout the novel and what that might it might mean for the novel to be written today.

The entire novel is presented in the form of letters, diaries and newspaper cuttings: so the scientific method of observing and recording information is integral to both the structure of the book itself, and to the attempts of Van Helsing and his friends to destroy Dracula. Set against this atmosphere of scientific advance, however, are the intangible concepts of religious faith and the supernatural. Van Helsing may use blood transfusions in an attempt to keep Lucy alive, but he also resorts to garlic flowers and crucifixes to hold the vampire at bay.

It was also interesting to read about some of the history associated with the novel and the removal of so many pages.

When the novel was finally released on May 26, 1897, the first 101 pages had been cut, numerous alterations had been made to the text, and the epilogue had been shortened, changing Dracula’s ultimate fate as well as that of his castle. Tens of thousands of words had vanished. Bram’s message, once concise and clear, had blurred between the remaining lines.

In the 1980s, the original Dracula manuscript was discovered in a barn in rural northwestern Pennsylvania. Nobody knows how it made its way across the Atlantic. That manuscript, now owned by Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen, begins on page 102. Jonathan Harker’s journey on a train, once thought to be the beginning of the story, was actually in the thick of it.

This raises a question: what was on the first 101 pages? What was considered too real, too frightening, for publication?

Another book read by Christopher Lee.

Read https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strange_Case_of_Dr_Jekyll_and_Mr_Hyde

Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is a Gothic novella by Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson, first published in 1886. The work is also known as The Strange Case of Jekyll Hyde, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, or simply Jekyll and Hyde.[1] It is about a London legal practitioner named Gabriel John Utterson who investigates strange occurrences between his old friend, Dr Henry Jekyll,[2][3][4] and the evil Edward Hyde. The novella’s impact is such that it has become a part of the language, with the vernacular phrase “Jekyll and Hyde” referring to persons with an unpredictably dual nature: outwardly good, but sometimes shockingly evil.[5][6]

I continued listening to Christopher Lee’s readings of various classics. It was intriguing to think about Stevenson’s discussion of dualism and Freud’s discussion of the Ego and Id.

With every day, and from both sides of my intelligence, the moral and the intellectual, I thus drew steadily nearer to that truth, by whose partial discovery I have been doomed to such a dreadful shipwreck: that man is not truly one, but truly two. I say two, because the state of my own knowledge does not pass beyond that point. Others will follow, others will outstrip me on the same lines; and I hazard the guess that man will be ultimately known for a mere polity of multifarious, incongruous and independent denizens. I for my part, from the nature of my life, advanced infallibly in one direction and in one direction only.

Read Animal Farm

Animal Farm is a satirical allegorical novella by George Orwell, first published in England on 17 August 1945.[1][2] The book tells the story of a group of farm animals who rebel against their human farmer, hoping to create a society where the animals can be equal, free, and happy. Ultimately, the rebellion is betrayed, and the farm ends up in a state as bad as it was before, under the dictatorship of a pig named Napoleon.

I remember reading Animal Farm a long time ago. However, I am not sure I appreciated the historical context. Although there seems to be some debate about whether this actually matters or not.

I found a reading on Spotify:

As well as a reading by Stephen Fry on Audible.

Marginalia

The Seven Commandments:

Whatever goes upon two legs is an enemy.

Whatever goes upon four legs, or has wings, is a friend.

No animal shall wear clothes.

No animal shall sleep in a bed.

No animal shall drink alcohol.

No animal shall kill any other animal.

All animals are equal.