The Birdcage Archives

Thursday 24 February 2011

Palace Walk

Hello Gentle Reader

Today, as was tomorrow, as it was weeks ago. The Middle East has erupted into an unstable part of the world. Yet one has to question, has it ever been stable for long – and at what cost was that stability brought on? Egypt had erupted into revolution. Demanding that their dictator whose name is Hosni Mubarak, leaves so they can have freedom and democracy, one can sense that there is something in the wind. Something that smells like people demanding a say in their own lives. That is where the first novel in “The Cairo Trilogy,” comes from. We get to see a family, during the First World War – though not explicating stated at first, unless one knows some details of the Egypt in the First World War – I didn’t realize it until, one of the characters I can’t remember which I presume was Fahmy; had mentioned Kaiser Wilhelm II had surrendered. But this means really nothing, to the general book. It gives the novel a time period so to speak, but it’s about that, really, it’s really if anything about this family and its day to day life. The miracles of everyday life, the troubles and trivial events as well.

The edition of the book that I have for “The Cairo Trilogy,” by Egyptian Nobel Laureate in Literature of 1988, is an omnibus edition, that has all three books of “The Cairo Trilogy,” in one complete volume. I have completed book one: Palace Walk. But let’s go through this book for a second shall we. The inside flaps of this book; give a general description of these novels, for you. Which helps in a way review this novel.

The Book Jacket says the following:

“Naguib Mahfouz's magnificent epic trilogy of colonial Egypt appears here in one volume for the first time. The Nobel Prize—winning writer's masterwork is the engrossing story of a Muslim family in Cairo during Britain's occupation of Egypt in the early decades of the twentieth century.

The novels of The Cairo Trilogy trace three generations of the family of tyrannical patriarch Al-Sayyid Ahmad Abd al-Jawad, who rules his household with a strict hand while living a secret life of self-indulgence. Palace Walk introduces us to his gentle, oppressed wife, Amina, his cloistered daughters, Aisha and Khadija, and his three sons–the tragic and idealistic Fahmy, the dissolute hedonist Yasin, and the soul-searching intellectual Kamal. Al-Sayyid Ahmad's rebellious children struggle to move beyond his domination in Palace of Desire, as the world around them opens to the currents of modernity and political and domestic turmoil brought by the 1920s. Sugar Street brings Mahfouz's vivid tapestry of an evolving Egypt to a dramatic climax as the aging patriarch sees one grandson become a Communist, one a Muslim fundamentalist, and one the lover of a powerful politician.

Throughout the trilogy, the family's trials mirror those of their turbulent country during the years spanning the two World Wars, as change comes to a society that has resisted it for centuries. Filled with compelling drama, earthy humor, and remarkable insight, The Cairo Trilogy is the achievement of a master storyteller.”

(This edition is from the everyman’s library edition, of the trilogy)

When I first read the line: “The novels of [“] The Cairo Trilogy [,”] traces three generations of the family of tyrannical patriarch Al-Sayyid Ahmad Abd Al-Jawad. I was expecting truly the worst. But going through the pages, of the first chapter, I was surprised to see this “tyrannical patriarch,” acting human. He appeared to be nice and even human, and really didn’t act like, my first preconceived ideas of what he was going to look like. In fact, I was expecting some monster, of a man, beating his wife, and children. I did not see that. But easy come easy go. For the term “tyrant,” I started to see was a bit of understatement if anything, of this man’s character. Consider the following statement:

“If you were forget to wash them before, eating I’ll cut them all off to spare you the trouble of looking after them.” (I hope I got that down right . . . I can see that my late night hand writing isn’t as elegant as I first thought in the dim light of the kitchen in the late night, and early morning hours.) But it doesn’t end there. Al-Sayyid even calls his son (Kamal) a: “son of a bitch.” – a phrase that I can say with a light hearted tone, is used quite often throughout the book.

Needless to say such cruel examples come to quite a shock and a surprise to someone from a different side of the world – in this case the west. However throughout the book, I started to see and in many ways feel that Al-Sayyid is really what a father is, in a normal world, or what is normal portrayed as a father. I mean, it’s traditionally thought of as the father to be the bread winner, and the one that supports the household with his income. Even the threat: “Wait until your father gets home.” Appears to be something of a traditional sense of what a father is: a tyrant, or an unforeseen force that changes the political or normal dynamics of the household. So Al-Sayyid – no matter how shocking his behaviour or words can be, or how his character knows no bounds, really comes off as, a typical father. The person that disciplines, and is feared by the children throughout the household, because he is the unforeseen force, who disappears during the day, and then come back in the evening, and things change, and may disappear again in the night – in this case Al-Sayyid.

Amina is shall we say a sparrow, of sorts. While Al-Sayyid is best described as a falcon or eagle or hawk, Amina is a sparrow, gentle, naive and heart warming. Though throughout the novels, my admiration for Amina staying with Al-Sayyid through thick and thin, forgiving him for his own transgressions, against her, and all the things he stands for. Yet her naivety and good natured love, and religious devotion start to show me, that she is good natured, and a lovely character, but one that I pity not admire any more. Her naivety and her ignorance causes such pity. Her worldview is limited. She’s dutiful and everything else and it’s sad, to watch. She’s admirable because she does everything that is asked of her, and more, and is always worrying about such things, but at the same time, my pity for her, becomes something of sadness. Amina is not a strong willed woman, just a dutiful house wife, who does everything she can and more, and is modest, and lives her life for her family and her husband. Those qualities that make her admirable make her also a source of great pity.

Before I continue with talking about the other characters of this novel, I’d like to say this. Naguib Mahfouz is a readable author, above anything else. He does not make things difficult, his beautiful writing of everyday lives, and his earthly humour, can be seen throughout the novel. He does not make his work more complicated then necessary. In fact this realist novel, is one that truly delves deep into the psychology of the characters. Al-Sayyid’s paradox of the two lives he lives; to Amina’s tragic devotion to her husband and family. Naguib Mahfouz’s characters are people we may even see on the street. This is what makes Naguib Mahfouz such an interesting author. He doesn’t make his book complicated, he doesn’t really experiment with style, which can make a novel really important at times, he uses the traditional narrative really, and it just works. His story telling skills are what keeps me captivated, and I am sure they keep others who read his works captivated as well. It’s entertaining, and is beautifully written, and sophisticated. It appears traditional, it appears, and yet it is a novel of idea’s, and of life, and of people. It truly appears to be a classic to me, and I think it is probably one of the best novels I have read, and I look forward to reading the others, as well. I can truly see why Naguib Mahfouz won the Nobel Prize in Literature. When the Swedish Academy announced that Naguib Mahfouz had won the Nobel Prize for Literature for the following reasons, they were not kidding:

“Who, through works rich in nuance - now clear-sightedly realistic, now evocatively ambiguous - has formed an Arabian narrative art that applies to all mankind.”

The next characters we meet are the children. In order they go as following Yasin, Khadija, Fahmy, Aisha, and Kamal. First let’s talk about the two daughters. Khadija is the oldest. She is not paticullary beautiful, and her nose is often made fun of, by her siblings – especially Yasin. But where she lacks in beauty, she makes up in with a fierce wit, and a tongue stronger than any sword or pen. In fact, for some reason or another Khadija reminded me a lot of Beatrice from William Shakespeare’s comedic play “Much Ado About Nothing.” (On a quick note I can’t believe that I made that distinction. Seeing as how much I dislike Shakespeare.) She’s not easy on the eyes or the ears in this case, but there is something about her wit, and something about her character, that one finds enjoyable. I don’t think the female characters – more specifically the female daughters, have had as much characterization as I would like to see, accordingly, but at the same time, it’ll do for now. Khadija though a confident woman and a heart as big as or bigger than the world, falls to human emotions like jealousy. Though her duty to her family and her love of them, make her an enjoyable character. Even though she’s quick to love them, she’s just as quick to chide them and point out their short comings. However, perhaps the most enjoyable seen of Khadija was seeing her help taking care of her father, while her mother was, unable to. Her reluctance and even fear, were shown, giving this confident woman great depth, into the soul, and to show just how far, and shall we say legendary Al-Sayyid’s tyranny is and just how far reaching it is in his own household. The other part of real depth we see with Khadija is when she openly admits to herself or to the reader, that she is jealous of her sister Aisha. But fret not, Khadija besides her wit, tongue, is talented at woman in that culture should have. She’s hard worker devoted, house wife. Aisha on the other hand is the complete opposite of Khadija (naturally). Here’s something really interesting though. Aisha has blonde hair and blue eyes, and is naturally beautiful. Though she’s lazy, and vain. However she is good hearted and loves her family and loves to jest with her sister. Though if anything Aisha, is nothing more than a character foil to Khadija.

Yasin is an interesting character. He is in fact not Amina’s child. In fact Amina is his step mother. Now of course, at first I thought, in an Middle Easter country. But it is. What is also interesting is that Amina loves Yasin as her own son, and Yasin is treated as one of the family, so when I found out that he was a child of a or rather the previous marriage of his father, it came as a shock to me. But after a while, that too passes. Yasin also deals with demons with his mother, and her often “shameful way of events,” that poison is own honour and dignity. Yet he also does that quite well on his own. Yasin I would say has a lot of his father’s traits. He goes out at night – in some ways this also a glimpse into his father’s night outings; and often socializes and enjoys a good party. However, his hedonistic pleasure seeking often gets in the way of his life, and unlike his father who has two lives one of his family where he is a tyrant, and one with his friends, where he is soon as a jolly social person; Yasin cannot separate these two lives and this often leads to him getting into large trouble, and putting a great amount of grief and guilt on him, because he cannot control his urges – or rather doesn’t want to.

Kamal, the youngest is perhaps my favourite character. This is where the humour comes from. His childish attitude is his greatest charm, is naivety is not, something to pity but something to smile at. Who could forget some of his memorable lines?

“Darling, when can we go out together again?” (That is Kamal speaking to his mother.)

Kamal however, does not know a lot of things, and this sometimes lack of life like knowledge, such as kissing and where children come from, sometimes leads him to getting into trouble from his mother, when he asks a simple and even innocent question. But because of it being deemed inappropriate, he is reprimanded for it. I pity him for those moments, and wish him the best of luck. Perhaps one of the greatest and funniest moments, I have seen about Kamal is his observations and child like freedom with the world. When the English make camp outside of his home (this is during the Egyptian Revolution) he remarks:

“What handsome faces they have!”

Even though the English strike fear into his family, and resentment to some form or another, he openly admires them, and enjoys them. His first encounter with the English troops was when he sung for them. Something Kamal, takes great pride in, but he fears to do because of his tyrannical father. Which comes to mind that Al-Sayyid denies his family some of the most beautiful earthy pleasures, that he himself enjoys, like wine, music, song and dance. Kamal is the one that probably fears his father the most, but is also the one who spoke out against him, and paid for it as well. However his delight with the English troops, and his love for his mother, and his admiration for the other, and fear for his father, make him an interesting character. Certainly a character that I would like to see age, and become a man, and to see just how different he’ll become. Thought that also become a sad day as well, to see the child that I admire, grow up into a man, and the innocent remarks will leave. But truly Kamal is perhaps the most fun loving character – in a good way, of the novel so far, and one I particularly enjoyed.

The last character is Fahmy the tragic ideological and rather intelligent character. His planning on becoming a lawyer and perhaps a judge. Fahmy’s intelligence however alienates him from his family on many levels. When the Egyptian revolution for sovereignty happens, he immediately takes a firm stance towards the nationalists and openly supports them. However his family members, apathy at times, and desire to stay away from the demonstrations puts Fahmy in a rather awkward position. Because he loves his family, but he feels a duty towards his country to take part in the demonstrations which puts his life at risk, and this causes Fahmy to openly disobey his father. This is all quite a pity really. This idealistic, young man, hopes for the best, but really is isolated and alienated from his family because of his intelligence. It’s sad really. I feel bad for him, and it’s a real pity of what happens. It truly is. I think we all expect it to happen, but it doesn’t lessen the impact that it does have on a person. Fahmy is a tragic character because of his ideals, and his desire to make a difference in the world, and for his country. This separates him from his family who are openly alright with, letting others do the work, and staying away from the fighting and the battling. These causes get strife and anger from Fahmy who think it’s every Egyptians duty as citizens to stand up and fight for sovereignty to fight for freedom, to fight for all these things.

I remember reading a interview that Naguib Mahfouz, did with the magazine “The Paris Review,” which asked a interesting question, and which Naguib Mahfouz, gave an interesting answer that relates to the events of today and back then during the Egyptian Revolution:


Do you think the Egyptian people are ready for full democracy? Do they really understand how it works?


In Egypt today most people are concerned with getting bread to eat. Only some of the educated really understand how democracy works. No one with a family has a free moment even to discuss it.

Perhaps democracy can happen today, in Egypt. Perhaps the people are ready to demand, freedom, and rights, and to live as human beings. That is what Fahmy’s character stood for in “Palace Walk,” he stood for the Egyptians ready to stand on their own, and be ready to finally make their own decisions, and have freedoms. But as today’s events – that is in the present; point out it appears that it is all in vain. Perhaps though now days some democratic solution can be met. Rather than just one dictator handing over the power to another. That is what Fahmy’s character stands for, the people’s right and demand for change, and to be treated like civilized people. Through reading the first book of “The Cairo Trilogy,” I do not see, Naguib Mahfouz, as a political writer. In fact, I see him as a man, who wrote about the family life, and its connection with society as a whole. Truly a great novelist, and one that I have enjoyed so far, now, and look forward to continue to read.

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read



For more information on Naguib Mahfouz please follow the following link:

Also “The Paris Review,” interview with Naguib Mahfouz

Thursday 17 February 2011

The Trolley (Not much of a book review) and The New Novel

Hello Gentle Reader

Well I've finished the relatively short novel by Claude Simon called "The Trolley," -- even though short, its a difficult novel to talk about. Claude Simone, is best described as a person who was influenced by the Modernist writers of the early 20th century. However the one that can best be described as having the most influence over this Nobel Prize in Literature winning author, is Marcel Proust. Obviously this novel "The Trolley," pays great respect, to Marcel Proust and also shows just how much, Marcel Proust had influenced the author (Claude Simone). Claude Simon however, is not a modernist. Modernism had its rein in the literary world, and once Claude Simon had started to publish his own novels, Modernism had already been declared a literary movement of the past. However its influences by such authors as Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, and Marcel Proust, were felt all over the literary world.

Modernism as we know, rejected the "Traditional," way of telling a story, and often tried to take the novel and other literary forms to new levels, places where they have never been taken before. So started James Joyce's "Ulysses," and Virginia Woolf's "Ms. Dalloway," "To The Lighthouse," "The Waves," and others novels, and Marcel Proust momentous novel "In Search of Lost Time." These novels pushed the limits of the novel and other literary forms. However Modernism was declared a "last season," outfit after the deaths of both Virginia Woolf and James Joyce.

However in the mid fifties and the early sixties, another literary theory, flourished. Much like Modernism, in the way that it argued that writers should be pushing the boundaries away from the traditional novel and storytelling, this new form of literary theory was called "The Nouveau Roman," or in English "The New Novel." This "Noveau Roman," flourished in France, in this period, and was stuck to such authors as:

Alain-Robbe Grillet
Maurice Blanchot
Michel Butor
Phillipe Sollers
Claude Simon
Robert Pinget ("Mahu or The Material,")
Nathalie Sarraute
Marguerite Duras

These authors went on the same idea that Modernism that Woolf, Joyce and Proust proclaimed was necessary in literature. This new literary movement is often characterized by its, "austere narrative tone which often eschews metaphor and simile in favour of precise physical descriptions, a heightened sense of ambiguity with regards to point of view, radical disjunctions of time and space, and self-reflexive commentary on the processes of literary composition." Sounds slightly similar to Post-Modernism as well doesn’t it?

But Alain-Robbe Grillet; shall we say the most outspoken of these novelists and authors and some where even film makers/directors, also said the following about the "Noveau Roman,":

"the traditional novel, with its dependence on an omniscient narrator, and adherence to the unities of time and place, creates an illusion of order and significance which is inconsistent with the radically discontinuous and aleatory nature of modern experience."

In other words, Mr. Robbe Grillet, was basically saying that the traditional novels (like Charles Dickens, the Brontë sisters , Honoré de Balzac, Emile Zola, and others) gave a false view of the world. They showed the world had a "natural," order that kept everything in balance and that everything had significance in the world. However Mr. Robbe Grillet, says that is not true, especially in the "modern world." So Grillet argues that, with the acute physical descriptions and lack of metaphor, and the lack of order regarding time and space, the "New Novel," is able to convey the modern experience of its characters; and this is my favourite aspect of the "New Novel," is that it welcomes re-reading and free interpretation that traditional story’s and novels may lack.

But this is the most important aspect of the "Noveau Roman," or "New Novel." It is seen by literary theorists and scholars and historians as standing in between the gap between "Modernism," and "Post-Modernism," so the "New Novel," in some way or another has attributes of both of these literary movements and theories.

Where does Claude Simon, fit into this though? Well seeing as he was to young to be a Modernist and to old to be a Post-Modernist in some sense or another, he was placed in the French Literature category called the "Noveau Roman," or the "New Novel," however Claude Simon, openly rejected this term.

In an interview with "The Paris Review," Claude Simone was asked:

Some have said that it was after you wrote Le Sacre du printemps in the fifties that you became a “new novelist.”

Claude Simon quickly responded to this question with the following:

"Since the majority of professional critics do not read the books of which they speak, mountains of nonsense have been spoken and written about the nouveau roman. The name refers to a group of several French writers who find the conventional and academic forms of the novel insupportable, just as Proust and Joyce did long before them. Apart from this common refusal, each of us has worked through his own voice; the voices are very different, but this does not prevent us from having mutual esteem and a feeling of solidarity with one another."

Claude Simon also in the interview further points out what separates him from the "New Novelists," like Alain-Robbe Grillet, Robert Pinget, and Nathalie Sarraute when answering the following questions:

What distinguishes your voice from those of the other new novelists?

"Beginning with The Grass, my novels are more and more based on my life and require very little fiction—in the end, really none at all."

Other sources (in this case wikipedia) also state that while Claude Simon shares some simple similarities with the "Noveau Roman," he also had a very defined sense of character and narrative, which the other novelists, could easily be lacking or out right not use.

However, Mr. Claude Simon was unable to escape the term "New Novelist," and the label "Noveau Roman," being applied to him. Even in the 1985 press release by the Swedish Academy (the ones that award and announce the Nobel Prize in Literature) the opening line states the following:

"Claude Simon began to be noticed in earnest at the end of the 1950s in connection with the great interest in the so-called "new novel" in France."

As much as Claude Simon wished to escape the label of being called a "New Novelist," he was in fact seen by many critics and people as a "New Novelist," and I can certainly see where they get such an idea. Just by reading this short novel "The Trolley," alone, by Claude Simone, there are beautiful paintings and pictures painted in his world. From the descriptions, of a cigarette butt (hand rolled) translucent by the saliva; or describing a Intravenous (IV) rack, or anything else, with the beautiful, language, and the hints of memories. This novel was beautiful for its descriptions, and its long sentences, but sadly there was often a lack of understanding of what was going on sometimes. I understand that there are two different plot lines, of a man in a hospital his memories of being a youngster, and all that, but it became difficult to follow during the last bit.

However the beautiful descriptions for me, made this novel worthwhile. Especially the scenes of the hospital. Where the narrator, realizes that as a patient he is no longer really seen as an adult, or a human being in some sense or another. He realizes this, when the nurse uses the word "caca," which I admit I had to look up, because I had never heard or even read the word before but upon looking it up I realized what it meant (and for those that do not know what it means -- it means feces). More or less this profound realization, and his treatment of being kept in an ignorant state of a "child," or even "infant," in the confides of the grey bleak and dour hospital walls and chambers, lead him to the realization that he came in search of help for whatever reason, but in other finds only finds degradation. Disgusting, really. But I really don't have much of a nice relationship with doctors or hospitals -- they're kind of pompous and piss me off.

Even with the lack of traditional literary conventions, of characterization, rising and falling action, and other traditional works of literature that we would see in "Popular Literature," and "Literary Realism," of Charles Dickens, The the Brontë sisters, Emile Zola, Gustave Flaubert, and others. It’s still a interesting piece of work, not rewarding in any memorable characters, or sense of thought, but its descriptions are beautiful and are painted perfectly -- I think if I recall correctly Claude Simon painted. It certainly is a beautiful book in its only trait of beautiful pictures. But it is also in many ways or another, a kind of way of showing his love and admiration for Marcel Proust.

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read



Wikipedia (specifically wikipedia's page on Claude Simon.)

Thursday 10 February 2011

Wikileaks and News Media

Hello Gentle Reader

Welcome to the two people that are following this blog. Thank-you for choosing to follow this blog, and I am grateful for their time.

Wikileaks, the website that takes classified information, and makes them open to the world, uncensored, and shows them for what they are, is arguably the most controversial, website, in the world, for its use of taking classified information from governments and making them public. The question comes to some people is this journalism or whistle blowing? Is the founder Julian Assange a form of hero for democracy, or is he a cyber terrorist, puting national security of countries at risk? These are questions that many people, ask. Some dismiss the website as nothing more then liberal, actions to try and destroy democracy. Others applaud wikileaks for it, showing information that others would want kept out of sight of the public, because of just how damaging it can be.

Some say that wikileaks is a new kind of journalism, that remains unbiased (if that is possible) and that it shows sources, and information, that is deemed sensitive or classified, and opens them up for the world. This however is seen as dangerous by many people. Those against the website called Wikileaks a forum that puts people and soldiers at risk for some serious retaliation. Others praise Wikileaks for its use of making governments become transparent, and shows how some governments and some countries, are a bit uncivilized in the way that they attain information.

When I watched a documentary on wikileaks the other day on the television, in the early hours of the morning, I was struck by how polarized Wikileaks is. Not the website itself, but how it is either agree with what it is doing, or you don't. There appears to be no neutral ground in this argument. What some call freedom of speech, and freedom of the press, others say is terrorism, and a form of treason. Others question, how it is a form of treason when it show documents and video's in which others do not want the public to see because of it content. So arguably the real organization in the wrong by many is the people, who are hiding the documents and video's from the public. However, those against Wikileaks say that it puts national security at risk, and that its way of obtaining, such documents is like thievery. Which I am sure Wikileaks has compared to the same with the military has attained information, via the use of torture. This subject certainly is polarized for sure.

But all one needs to do now days is merely look outside, turn on the news, among other forms of information, and one can see that the world truly is in a polarized state.

Lets American news media shall we? Obviously MSNBC -- an American news media outlet; is biased towards the liberal side of things. While its arguable that FOX news, is more intersted in the conservative side of the news media. So in the day and age of conservative, vs. liberal news media, what is Wikileaks? Liberal? Conservative? Could it possibly neither, and simply posts documents as a form of whistle blowing, to make injustices heard of and to encourage people to take action.

However Wikileaks is not one, that has been without some very known criticism. Some have said that the founder Julian Assange should be assassinated, while others have bluntly said that he should be killed.

Yet Wikileaks still appears to remain strong. Posting documents, and videos that others would deem far to sensitive for the public eye. But the public seems to have taken an interest in what is being posted, and is interested to see what there tax money is being used for, and how the war is being fought, for better or for worst. From posting cabals of diplomats uncensored, observations on political states of offices, in foreign countries. Everything appears, to be open in this new day and age. I suppose one does not call this the "Information Age," for no reason at all. Perhaps Wikileaks is a fore runner, for a new form of media, while others, see it as a form of cyber terrorism.

Its hard to say where I stand on this subject. I understand where wikileaks is coming from, and of course I am not having much of a problem with what is being posted, because information is a powerful, object in today’s world. Everyone now needs to learn that privacy is becoming something of the past, but also, that information, is becoming more and more open to the people. Whether organizations want it be or not. The question is how much is to much, and where does one cross the line. This is a new age seen by many, but also in some aspects or another it is just the beginning of how things may be going in the future. Though there will certainly be lots of criticism, plenty of outrage people, and plenty of protests, et cetera, this new aspect of reality will probably be accepted. Wikileaks might be the new form of journalism, and it will certainly be interesting what the future holds.

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read
and Once again Welcome to both of the two followers.


Monday 7 February 2011

Mondays with Mr. K (No. II)

Hello Gentle Reader

Two birthdays in February have passed. Whose they are, of no importance. But I was in such a good mood, that I decided that I would post "Mondays with Mr. K (No. II)," because I feel like I am in a good mood right now, so I decided that it would be nice to post, this vignette or whatever its called for the sheer enjoyment of your reading pleasure -- that is if you do enjoy "Mondays with Mr.K," so far. If not there is certainly no need for you to read them. Any how, please enjoy "Mondays with Mr. K (No. II),"


Mondays with Mr. K (No. II)

When proceeding to Mr. K’s narrow apartment, door, everyone who knew him (therefore everyone) knew the etiquette and the customary way of proceeding to the door, to knock on it, to have Mr. K welcome them in. When one knocks on the door, the person who knocks then must step down at least three steps, of the narrow stairway. There the person is to wait until and that is even at certain times “If,” Mr. K would open the door.

However, Mr. K always did say:

“When someone knocks on the door. One should answer it. Mothers don’t teach their children manners for the sheer enjoyment or purpose of teaching a, child manners. No mothers certainly do not do that indeed. It is also highly considered that mothers teach their children manners, because that is what expected of them. Also quite truly false. One learns though that as they get older, the world itself shows its false facades more and more clearly. In fact, it’s not the falsities that become hard to distinguish in the world. It’s to find the honesty in the world. But mothers teach their children manners, because it is necessary. If a child does not even know the simplest of manners or the rituals of polite and sophisticated society, then the poor child is doomed to a life outside of the sophistication of societal walls. That is these walls are invisible – or rather far from taking shape in physical shape, but one certainly does understand what it is like to be on the outside of those walls when they are there. So it is a mothers duty her child to teach the child the proper manners, and rituals of society. It’s not easy, and sometimes the manners contradict themselves, but they are the most well known and polite form of laws. They tell people how to act. What utensil to use at dinner; how to dress on a certain occasion; what is to be accepted of them for their job; how to greet another person on the street; how to treat family. One could almost say that the free will that people think they have, are really just the forms of manners, coming through. Through the teachings of one mother to child and the chain continued on and on.”

So if Mr. K was home, he would most certainly always happily answer the door. However Mr. K had a certain form of manners when doing so. When he heard the door knock he would of course walk towards the door. Then he would wait a few seconds and then kindly open up the door for the guest. Upon opening the door. Mr. K would happily welcome the guest to his small apartment. Where upon getting the guest comfortable into a sofa, or a chair, Mr. K would happily begin brewing tea, of the guests choice. Even when the guest declines having tea Mr. K will not take no for an answer, and would happily pick out a popular and tasty kind of tea, for the guest. Mr. K then would bring the tea pot and however many cups over to the guest, and begin pouring the tea and continue the conversation.

Most people knew Mr. K for his rather famous stories. Most guests loved to listen to the grand stories that Mr. K could tell. Weaving what he claimed was the truth with the fictional and falsities that he spoke against. However always aware of contradicting himself Mr. K always did say that using false attributes in his stories made them far more interesting than just realistic stories.

“If one wanted to listen to realistic stories, they would listen to the gossip of a house wife, or read the tabloids or listen to the news or read the news paper. My stories concern the world away from here. Sometimes the world away from here though is optimistic and sometimes pessimistic. However, even though there are wonderful elements of magic in my story. Sometimes the world outside in the foreign world is as magical as it is in the stories.”

Thursday 3 February 2011

Nohow On: Company, ill seen, ill said; and Worstward Ho

Hello Gentle Reader

Its a book review. I finally got off my lazy ass and decided it is time to do a book review. "Nohow on: Company, Ill see, Ill Said; and Worstward Ho," are three novella's by Samuel Beckett. Though Samuel Beckett refused to call these three novella's a trilogy, or a trinity or a triptych or a trifle or whatever. They are often considered to be a trilogy in their own right. Much like Samuel Beckett's earlier prose work or rather his mature trilogy of novels: "Molloy," "Malone Dies," and "The Unnamble." The novellas of "Nohow On," are also considered a trilogy -- even though Samuel Beckett often said otherwise. But that is not what matters. The trilogy or trinity or triptych or trifle of "Nohow On: Company, Ill seen, Ill Said, and Worstward Ho," are written in what is considered Samuel Beckett's later period. This period, is where Samuel Beckett, had stripped down his working prose, to the bare essentials -- even falling into repetition of repetition. These novella's are often noted as being called "Closed Space," stories, in which Samuel Beckett's work has got more and more and more, minimalist, and preoccupied his stories with memory and its effects on those (the characters) who are confined in these "Closed Space," stories.

The idea of memory perhaps best shown in the first novella, called "Company." This short novella (though I think it is the longest of the three novella's collected here.) is the first novella that gives the reader the taste of what they are in for, for sure. I think in most cases the novella is going to be a like it or don't like it. But it expertly shows the use of memory. I would like to wonder, if these memories, that are being used, are autobiographical in some sense or another . . . perhaps I am wrong, but it does appear, that they could be. As the introduction to this slim book of novella's says, Samuel Beckett, had wrote a letter to a friend or someone about a nightmare he was having (I believe this was all recorded during his last days) where he explained that he kept having a nightmare, when he was younger and his father urged him to jump off the diving board (or whatever they are called) down in the pool below. Needless to say I think the younger Samuel Beckett was quiet frightened by this. Quite frightened indeed, and this passage was latter recorded in the novella called "Company."

The Novella called "Company," shows many of these memories. But they are presented t the man laying in the dark on his stomach or was it his back (?) -- by a voice. This voice speaks to this man who is lying in the dark, about the past and the present and sometimes (as we can guess) the future. All of this is done to the man who is sitting in the dark. Now that is appears rather straightforward doesn't it? But it isn't. Samuel Beckett's use of language, and structure, is what gives his stories, and his works such a odd edge. The first paragraph of "Company," really gives you the understanding of what you are in for. and if you do not like it, then sorry to say, I would recommend returning the book, or giving it to someone as a present, because it is not going to get any better from there on out.

"A voice comes to one in the dark. Imagine. To one on his back in the dark. This he can tell by the pressure on his hind parts and by how the dark changes when he shuts his eyes and again when he opens them again."

And so is the brief summarization of "Company," by Samuel Beckett. We assume the first character in this first "Closed Space," story/novella, is a male.

The next novella or perhaps best seen as anti-story is "Ill Seen, Ill said."

Well this novella or story or anti-story takes place in a rural unspecified area. It focuses on a nameless woman. She is old, and her body is decaying because of her old age. Everything about her is failing. Her eye site is the most predominate physical trait that is failing. Her sense of direction is gone. East, West, North, South no longer matters. Her eye site is gone, and her body is failing. She lives alone. She has nothing really. She has a few rustic items. So far as the reader you know, this old woman's eyes and health and body is failing her. It’s fair to say that her mind is failing her as well. Most of this novella centers and revolves around the questioning of what is often seen as "universal truths." Pleasure and pain; right and wrong; good and evil. All these notions, this old woman questions. Now that she is older, and everything is failing her, she finds herself questioning in the meaning of these notions. Sure they are in place, and people believe them, but the old woman wonders, if anyone -- even herself; has ever understood these notions. She later just determines, that no one -- not even herself; knows what these ideas mean or even what these words mean. This novella really just relies on this woman and her three activities and her questions and suspicions. In the end all these activities, questions and suspicions, are all meaningless, and have no meaning, no value, nothing. Much like real life. Every action, every question, every theory, and every wonder, never has much meaning, and all -- much like this old woman, in this novella or anti-story "Ill Seen, Ill Said," the day to day activities, and questions, suspicions, and wonderings, are all meaningless. For much like this old woman, we are also waiting for death. Some have shorter time to wait, while others have a longer time to wait.

"Worstward Ho," is the last novella of this collection. This last story is perhaps the best example of Samuel Beckett's best example of, his use of minimalism, and use of repetition and repetition of repetition.

Here is an example of Samuel Beckett's use of minimalism from page 89 (eighty-nine) paragraph Four (4).

"All of old. Nothing else ever. Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better."

That is perhaps one of my favourite lines from the entire collection, of these novellas. I love the quote: "Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better." Is it fair to say its inspiring. Sure why not. But what I like the most of it, is its contradiction. Try? and you failed? Oh well fail better next time. Failure is not always the end.

But with that line one can certainly see Samuel Beckett's use of minimalism. The very short sentences. The repetition. The very choice economy of words. This is what minimalism is. Its taking . . . splinters of a scene or a event, or something and then just gluing this splinters back slowly. I think (and I could be wrong) that Samuel Beckett was the first man to really use this type of a style in such an odd and ambiguous way. He ripped apart scenes, and took slivers off the scene, and then placed them back together. Minimalism, is often noted for stripping not only the prose but even characters, and other forms of literary conventions down to the bare essentials. Eugene Ionesco’s plays (or rather his earlier plays) where often noted for their use of characters speaking in odd ways. such as: "One should always take an umbrella when it rains." the use of the word as "one," replacing "I," or "You," or "They," is what Eugene Ionesco wanted to do, by creating puppets of play characters, via the use of dialogue or its failure.

The use of minimalism is most predominantly put to its radical form in Samuel Beckett's, latter works. While reading all of these novella's or tales, I found it difficult to really find the characters in these works. Especially "Ill Seen, Ill Said," but they were all good, in their form of style and structure. I personally loved the use of repetition, which can adequately be displayed in the following, paragraph or passage, from page one hundred and six (106) paragraph/passage number one (1):

"Worse less. By no stretch more. Worse for want of better less. Less best. No. Naught not best worse. Less best worse. No. Least. Least best worst. Least never to be naught. Never to naught be brought. Never by naught be brought. Never be naught be nulled. unnullable least. Say that best worse. With leastening words say least best worse. Fow want of worser worst. Unlessenable least best worse."

While reading the work -- every one of these novellas; but especially "Worstward Ho," it felt a lot like, poetry. Reminded at times, like Herta Muller's work . . . but it is also quite different then her work. Which is also quite interesting to say the least because both Samuel Beckett and Herta Muller are Nobel Prize in Literature winners. Samuel Beckett one the prize in 1969 and Herta Muller won the prize in 2009.

In all these novella's are a great example of Samuel Beckett's prose in his late period, where his work was stripped down to the bare essentials, even borderline poetic at times, and all much different than his early and middle period work. Its certainly though work of: if you do like it or if you don't like it. That is for sure, a big question, and if you don't, you don't, that’s fine, and if you do, you do. Samuel Beckett, is certainly no easy author to read, but he is an enjoyable author to read also, once you get past certain things, and he can be quite funny at times. But these works appear a bit more hopeless and despairing then comedic. But still they are good, and I enjoyed them nonetheless.

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
And As Always
Stay Well Read

Take Care
My Dear Gentle Readers