The Birdcage Archives

Thursday 26 January 2012

Erik, Gwen, and D.H. Lawrence’s Esthetic of Unrectified Feeling

Hello Gentle Reader

Childhood is both prison and paradise. A place of adventure but only because of the ignorance of one’s own small grasp of life, itself. Never truly an adventure for what one would hope or demand it to be. And yet childhood is that state of life that we all have to go through once in our life; and sometimes when it passes, one misses that sense of freedom – limited freedom yes; but that ignorance of the freedom that one has. That sense that once upon a time as a child, you were not looked on with such a suspicious attitude; but rather looked on with a more as a cute little pet. Something adorable that people were more than happy to gawk at rather then, want to take home. But then as one gets older, they tend to lose that childhood charm. Where once people admired you, you now have that look of suspicion falling on to you. When your parents, were once guardians and gods, you now seem them as pests. Cockroaches who do not understand you and are there to be tyrant and dictators, enacting their will upon your own sense of freedom. Your friends become allies; but are also quick to turn on you to up their own social game or move up the social ladder, only to leave you at the bottom rung. Childhood is a place of paradox’s and confusion. Friend and allies become our rivals and our enemies. Parents become the tyrants and the jailers who hold the key to ones freedom. Alcohol becomes an escape route. The sensation of being drunk and intoxication, that blissful feeling of euphoria becomes something of a desire. Achieve it over and over again. It is then that one realizes there is a conspiracy against them. That the police and other authority figures are all against them. That there is nothing else for them to do but to ruin the good fun, impose their values upon ones younger self. But then as one grows older, there comes that realization that maybe they were right. Maybe they were all right in there authority, being pushed down upon us. Telling us to get home, when were on the verge of alcohol poisoning. Maybe they were all right, and us as so young were to blind by our own arrogance to truly see it. To truly see the fact that maybe they were right. Childhood though still remains a nostalgic paradise but also a deep and resentful prison. A place that we wish we had achieved more, or had a bit more time with, but also a place that we were happy to get out of there as soon as possible. To be done with the ignorance. To be over with it all.

In Samuel R Delany’s “Erik, Gwen, and D.H. Lawrence’s Esthetic of Unrectified Feeling,” he explores childhood, profanity, experimentation with the body, the scatology and profanity of the English language – more of a bastardized form of it; and art. It would be interesting to call this “autofiction,” (autobiographical fiction – yes an oxymoron) or a work of fiction with autobiographical elements. All of which it’s easiest or best to say is that it does not really comprehend the entire concept of the novella. Really in fact, what Samuel R Delany has done, is a fictional snippet of memory, of growing up, of experimentation and the discovery of sex and masturbation. But Delany also discusses art – and by art I mean the artistic achievement of the visual pleasure of something painted or drawn; it also discusses his enjoyment of music, and his violin lessons that lead to a completive measure with his own father, and may have left them both bruised and scraped and begrudgingly blaming the other for the others own defeat in the matter. Then there is his growing enjoyment of science but his own bone laziness of the subject and seeing it as interesting but nor comprehending the entire work of it more or less or not being able to really do the work of it.
There were no postmodern writing techniques. No fireworks, no experimentation in the literary form. But it was still a nice read. Why it was a nice read, was the poetic even literary form in which Delany wrote in. His discussion of childhood moments that are written in, about Eric the milkman and the art teacher Gwen – both of which are discussed in the title.

Discussing Eric the milkman is perhaps the most homoerotic one in this entire novella. The man himself speaks the most bastardized language of the English language, with such profanity is perhaps the most times that I have ever read something so disturbing with such profanity. Eric puts a new spin on the concept of swearing like a trucker. None of which I’ll ever repeat on this blog, because it’s just rather well . . . a profanity and destruction of the English language.

However the language in which Eric uses around the boys in his truck is perhaps the most interesting part of this novella, on the discussion, of Sam – the main character; and his growing budding sexuality he is beginning to recognize as his own. The language that Eric uses is important; it’s a form initiation into an entirely different use of language and the profanity of it. The most important part of it, though for the young Sam is when Eric pulls over to take a piss on the side of the road, and talks to the boys and challenges them to a piss fight which the boys back away from though, in good humour. However Eric tells them to get out of the truck and relieve themselves, as a, percussion so they do not have to take a piss down the way where there weren’t any place for them to go. Which both boys do accordingly – perhaps it’s about the authority of Eric in which they do. Samuel R Delany best describes the experience as follows:

“Eric did not have an iota of the child molester in him….. But if he had been so inclined, the sad and simple truth (at least I thought so then) is that I would have been the happiest, most willing, most gratefully molested child one might have asked for. There was simply no sexual act, whether or not I'd tried it already with the guys after swimming, I wouldn't have happily performed with him.”

Then there is the art Gwen. She’s eccentric and to be frank in many ways an oddity in her own right. She gets rid of all things that most “artistic,” people know and are taught in how to draw and paint. The rules and laws of artistic achievement and art itself with the use of a horizon, and depth and dimensions are the basics of artistic drawing and artistic achievement. They are like the laws of nature. Gravity keeps us down. The water rises when is put in it. One plus one equals two. However with Gwen the odd and eccentric art teacher, there is nothing more wrong then these fundamental artistic laws and rules.

The most important rules for Gwen in her art class is not horizon or dimension – its colour and shapes. Shapes and colours. Circles, squares, triangles of all different sizes can create a picture; but that’s just a picture. Colour that is what brings life to the photo. If Prometheus the Greek Titan, who created human beings from clay, and stole fire from Zeus in order to sustain the life he had created; then so is Gwen’s shapes and lines the clay of her creations and the colour the fire that brings the life to the skeletal structures.

Both Eric the milk man and Gwen the art teacher have incredible influences on the young Sam, whose enjoyment of the artistic and the aesthetics help shape him for who he is. The innocent though profane language of Eric, and the childlike structures in which she paints and finds herself to have the greatest artistic achievements all help shape the young Sam. But also there are other moments that shape same. His after swimming class, where he and the other boys participate in a little game – though very sexual in nature. There is the competitiveness (to the point of holding a grudge against each other) simply over music and the violin.

All of these aspects of childhood and early adolescents all shape the young Sam, and his realization of the aesthetic world. Especially when he sees a painting painted by Gwen, at the school and he realizes there that she is great painter and an artist. Compared to the other paintings by the other teachers. There were impressionist paintings, realistic paintings, and so on. Yet it was Gwen’s that evoked the strong understanding of the art itself, and he himself declared she was an artist.

Not to mention Gwen’s discussion of Roberts (a friend of Sam’s) painting where lines, colour and shape were abandoned to reveal just a swirl of intense colours as “pure sex,” and it is there that Delany first realizes that sex is just the movement and vibrations and energy of life – and art should not truly try to depict the surface detail of reality and life, but rather to evoke the movements swirls and vibrations and intensity’s of life itself.

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
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Stay Well Read
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Thursday 19 January 2012

The Short Story Review No. IX

“Toward Winter,” by Yasunari Kawabata Nobel Laureate in Literature of nineteen-sixty eight – From “Palm-of-the-Hand Stories.”

Currently at the moment, I am reading “The Sound of the Mountain,” by Yasunari Kawabata, the chapters and the layout of the novel itself, often feels like his “Palm-of the-Hand Stories.” Each chapter has an interesting title: “A Dream of Islands,” or “The Bell in Spring,” “A Blaze of Clouds.” Each title of the chapter sounds like some poetic revelation of a story within the novel itself. And yet each chapter feels like a story, which revolves around the larger plot of the novel. Each one adding a new perspective and depth to the novel as a whole.

Yasunari Kawabata’s talents are shown in complete force and grand scale with all of his novels, and his shorts stories. His ability to completely miniaturize but not understate, is one of his greatest talents. Another great talent of his writing is his wonderful ability to write and show subconscious world, in the world around his characters.

The Swedish Academy awarded the Nobel Prize to Yasunari Kawabata back in nineteen-sixty eight one of the reasons for his win was his ability to express the essence of the Japanese mind. M. Zotterman of the Royal Veterinary College, had made an introduction to Yasunari Kawabata when the Nobel Laureate had stepped up to make his Nobel Banquet speech – his remarks, are no longer revelations as they are accepted facts about Yasunari Kawabata and his writing:

“We admire the exquisite artistry and sensibility which you have displayed in your deep analysis of the Japanese character.” (You can find that quote at the Nobel Prize website, under Literature, in nineteen-sixty eight, Yasunari Kawabata’s banquet speech at the bottom)

Yasunari Kawabata chose to probe the human mind and the human condition – however he specialized in the Japanese mind and their very character(istics). With “Toward Winter,” Yasunari Kawabata writes about a man playing a game of Go with a priest. The man often muses about fate. He himself is rather fatalistic himself, and feels or rather is stuck in a place that he neither cares for nor does he belong, with a woman, who is equally trapped in the hopeless and rather dire situation.

The priest of the temple, tells the man of this story, a fable or tale about the samurai who had founded the temple way back the Tokugawa period (also known as the Edo period – taking place between the years 1603 - 1867). The priest reveals the story of how the samurai had an imbecile child, the chief retainer of the clan, had ridiculed the child. The samurai had killed both the chief retainer and the child. From there on out the samurai who had fled the estate, had been having prophetic dreams of his own death, and a waterfall. Yet the samurai decides that he will fight back – and change the course of his fate. He will not die so easily by the hand of the retainer’s son. The samurai however successfully changed his fate. But it proved to the man and the priest that the outcome of the game of Go could always change – and to call each other “fools,” was always delightful. However throughout this ambiguous and yet long for a “Palm-of-the-Hand story,” there is something compelling about all the same. Maybe just the traditional feeling of hopelessness with the character trapped in a hot spring village with a woman; and whom his feeling of such melancholy has taken hold of even her as well. It is to the point where neither one has the feeling or energy to even bother to get underneath the quilt. Their fatalistic tendency to accept their situation as nothing more then what it is, and makes no attempt at fixing it, in the least bit is rather annoying to read. Especially when it’s pitted against the samurai and his ability to change his own fate, from seeing it in his prophetic dreams. Perhaps that is what the priest wanted to share with the man. Never accept a situation purely or solely for what it is. Always work at changing it.


“The Last Voyage of the Ghost Ship,” by Gabriel García Márquez the Nobel Laureate in Literature of nineteen-eighty two – From “Leaf Storm: and Other Stories.”

Reading a new story by the Nobel Laureate in Literature of nineteen-eighty two, is always a new and enjoyable experience. The prose are more lucid in how they are told. There is the sense of religious mystery. With the surreal mixing in with the religious mystery, and the characters experiencing the human drama, the stories become such great tales.

This story is particularly interesting. There is no paragraph break – however what makes that interesting is that I did not even notice such a thought until the very end of the story. Scanning it now, there is no period. The entire story is just one long beautiful lucid and lush monologue that quickly changes perspective that it becomes difficult to notice. But what is most interesting is that even though its one large paragraph and one run on sentence – the kind of sentence your teacher in grad school, told you not to write with in school – it is all hardly noticeable. What becomes even more interesting is that throughout reading this story, it does not feel like a gush of words coming out all at once. In fact it just feels like, a person’s monologue going through their head. With that monologue the reader automatically locates and adds pauses in to the speech. That is some kind of writing. This is one of those rare books that allows the reader to actually interact into the story without really noticing it at first. This special stream of consciousness writing that does not come across as overtly poetic or too clever for its own good. It comes off as just like anyone else just sitting there on the beach thinking in their head. Telling a story to them self. This kind of writing that allows the story succeed. It’s complicated, yet is written with a sense of ease to it. Other authors would fail miserably at this kind of writing. But Gabriel García Márquez has really done something special with this story.

There is not a sense or a hint of any self-doubt while reading this story. I can only imagine that Gabriel García Márquez the Nobel Laureate in Literature of nineteen-eighty two sitting at his desk, slightly tired, and yet having that urge – that sudden feeling and desire wishing to writing; a craving that will not be suppressed; already the story takes it shape in his head, with pen in hand he begins to grasp the first line and only line in the story and begins writing. Non-stop for eight pages, he writes the wonderful story that becomes “The Last Voyage of the Ghost Ship.”

There is just that feeling of strength and confidence in this writing. That sense that he knows what he is doing and that he is a good writer, and that he can write worth a damn, and that he does not care if anyone likes it or not. It was just a great story. The style itself, even though it looks similar to Thomas Bernhard’s, it doesn’t have that manic frantic feeling to write everything and get it off, out now, like a character giving a long speech, or a monologue or a person on their death bed screaming, yelling, and whispering whatever is on their mind. That desire that need to tell that final story to tell their own story and to make everyone or anyone listen to their final testament. It might as well be the last word or story they have yet to say. Gabriel García Márquez’s does not come off like that, at all. It’s peaceful and it runs at a leisurely pace. There is no feeling of frantic desire to get it all out before the last breath is drawn; it takes its time in reciting its story.

It’s a peaceful story at times, and yet at other times, there is the sense of something barbaric. That of course speaking there is the characteristic of living in a small town. When the young man made a lot of noise to wake up the town, and show proof of the ghost ship, and they beat him for his insolence, and disrespect there is no doubt that it does come off as barbaric, however small towns have a sense of collective punishment to them as well. Disturb one you disturb them all – much like a bee’s nest or wasp nest. There is just the sense that it takes a village to raise a child – and with a small town or village that mentality can be true. Yet the description of the ghost ship and that beautiful feeling that it brings back the thoughts of some of the great moments of childhood. The thought of seeking something – both horrifying and yet new. Like the time a cousin and I went walking out in a field when I was very young and we came across the bones of a cow or something. Of course we thought they were human – children are selfish creatures; and we thought was discovered a murder, and we told each other never to tell anyone what we had found or saw. For years the guilt or pseudo-guilt of that “dead person,” had lived inside me but now the realization that it was a cow most likely killed by coyote’s or by a winter snow storm, I can simply laugh at that very scary experience of my childhood.


“Little Misunderstands of no Importance,” by Antiono Tabucchi – From “Little Misunderstandings of No Importance,” by Antiono Tabucchi.

There are little misunderstandings that have no importance, everywhere, all the time. When one accidentally buys brown eggs, rather than white eggs. What about when you accidentally grab the wrong coffee and someone grabs yours. These are all misunderstandings. But none of them have any real importance to them. They are all superficial. These misunderstandings have no importance, because they are not balancing acts that are juggled between someone’s life and another person’s life, or the outbreak of complete civil war. These misunderstandings are more or less just simple inconvenience. An individual asks for cream and sugar in their coffee, and instead end up getting a hot steamy black coffee.

These little misunderstandings of no importance are what are important for Antonio Tabucchi’s short story that shares the same name as the title of this collection of stories “Little Misunderstandings of No Importance.” The very atmosphere of this short reminds me of a warm Italy day. The cirrus clouds up in the pale blue sky. The grass on the ground, lush and green swaying in the slight breeze blowing off from the Mediterranean Sea. The sounds of the low hums of scooters, in the distance are reminiscent of the call of cicadas. There are people walking about. Fashionable sun dresses. Beautifully tanned. Designer sunglasses and polo shirts. The sound of expensive pumps, click on the pavement. The lazy and arrogant laugh of young men. The flirtatious giggles of women. All around there are those little misunderstandings of no importance. From a misunderstanding of price. To the misunderstanding of someone who cut someone off, on the road. The misinterpretation of a painting by a master. Life buzzes with the misunderstandings, like it buzzes with the sound of the bee, pollinating the flower. In the distance song birds chirp. Mourning the loss of their comrades, stuck in cages, who sing for the pleasure of their prison guards. It is a day like any other. A lazy quiet afternoon, much like any other one. People everywhere go out on their own business. The young men show themselves off, in their designer clothes. There white or pale yellow or pastel green polo shirt. There faded khaki pants, their designer shoes. Their hair carefully immaculately placed. Every strand carefully sculpted with great attention and detail. Their eyes, arrogant and cocky hidden behind their sunglasses. Then there are women, dressed in sundresses open toed high heels, showing off their legs, and giggling and flirting with the men. Knowing full well that later that night, in the cooling off in the day, as the sun sets, and the evening reigns in, they will all meet at the club or bar.

The subtle part of all the relationships, the sensitive strings that tie the families and friends together and the misunderstandings that happen between them – these ambiguities and the uncertainties of the relationships, the failed dreams and the treacherous memories – especially shown here in this first story; are of great interest to Antonio Tabucchi. The interest can clearly be shown as well in this story. How the long lost friends, have seen how time has passed, and now once again face each other – under very unfortunate circumstances.

Leo is on trial, and his judge is his old friend Ferderico. The narrator is also an old friend, and now a reporter, watching the trial, with a heavy heart, and melancholic eyes. He watches the court procession; all the while remembering their times, that each of them had shared at youth with each other. That sense of freedom, that they had all shared. Now Leo is locked in the cage like some wild animal and common criminal. Ferderico is forced, to past the sentence that will surely fall on his once beloved friends head. The narrator is forced to watch a sense of hopelessness, and can only remember their time spent together. It all could have been avoided if only because a misunderstanding of no importance.

If one ever reads this story that is something that they will learn about. There is a great feeling of ambiguity to this story. What move the story is the present and the memories of the past, and their place in the present. There is the feeling of chance. But also the sense that, the story is light and soft like a cloud, but moves around like a dream. As if nothing is quite what it seems.

In all a story that shows, Antonio Tabucchi’s strengths in the short story form, which often leads to the novella form – a particular enjoying literary form in my opinion, because of its closeness to the novel, but its constraint that needs to be placed on it. It often feels more like an atmospheric tale, then that of something that is moving towards, anything else of telling a tale or moving in telling a story or morally engages the reader. It’s just a brooding tale, focusing on the memories and the present of the characters.


“(Spring) The Wasp Treatment,” by Italo Calvino – From “Marcovaldo or The Seasons in The City” by Italo Calvino

Italo Calvino is a lot different than Antonio Tabucchi. Both authors from Italian heritage, and even though both have a dream like quality to their work, both authors however write on two different extremes of two different spectrums. Where Italo Calvino’s writing is light hearted, and even ironic, and playful with the form of his writing. While Antonio Tabucchi takes on more political stances, and uses dreams and atmosphere to run his stories and novella’s. Italo Calvino’s use more of a sense of mystery and magic in his, with an almost light hearted stinging irony his stories, which cause a bit of laughter. Yet his light enjoyable fables are much different than the ambiguities then that of Antonio Tabucchi.

There have always been those folk medicines around. The thought or belief that if one did something with an herb or a vegetable or even with the venom of an animal can cure illness, joint and muscle pain, and other ailments. I remember once being stung by a bumble bee when I was rather young. My grandmother had informed that it was good for me though. The sting is a healthy cure for sickness and pains. She said the bumble bee gave its life for me. Of course, I was still quite miffed over the fact that the bumble bee felt it necessary to sting me. If the venom was supposed to numb pain, it certainly wasn’t numbing the pain that was left behind from the bee’s sting itself.

This is where, Italo Calvino’s “(Spring) The Wasp Treatment,” comes from. Once again Marcovaldo the poor general labourer, whose admiration of nature and his constant desire to harvest nature as well – for his own means, often lead for him to be taught a rather painful lesson. “(Spring) Mushrooms in the City,” taught Marcovaldo to be careful of the mushrooms that grew on the ground. They turned out to be poisonous. “(Autumn) The Municipal Pigeon,” Marcovaldo learned not to put glue trappings on the roof of his apartment building. His very desire, to harvest the very beauty and power of nature, back fires on him constantly. Yet even though his schemes fail, even though his life does not change, Marcovaldo still finds himself attuned to the very nature around him.

He spends his lunch break sitting on a park bench. Devouring it. Watching the new leaves bud in, on the trees. Signor Rizieri a beggar of an old man is his only companion and friend who sits on the park bench with Marcovaldo. As Marcovaldo’s lunch is packed and wrapped in a news paper, he often passes it along to Signor Rizieri to read. This is where; the entire thought and treatment of using wasp venom come into play, to cure the rheumatic arthritis aches. However as Marcovaldo should learn – but does not; such power or such attempts at using such methods for money and wealth – fame or fortune; never turn out well. Though after a while it certainly did its own good. However in time it all backfired. Only with the usual Italo Calvino ironic humour.


“The Occasional Garden,” by Saki (H.H. Munro) – From “The Complete Saki,” by Saki – Section: “Toys of Peace.”

I had reminisced about Saki, when I had reviewed “The Strangers Child,” by Alan Hollinghurst – at least that is to say in the beginning of reading “The Strangers Child,” when, Hollinghurst, used the period England to discuss the golden afternoon, and show just how easy life was or felt like back then. The garden parties, the general feeling of peace. Something that the world hasn’t known since World War II, had ended. Since the end of both World Wars, the legacies of war, and fighting and conflicts have continued on and on, throughout the twentieth century and even now into the twenty first century war and conflict continues. From the Korean War to the Gulf War. From the gulf war, to this “War on Terror,” to the Arab Spring revolutions, that have continued on and the uprising that is going to continue from there until a happy medium is going to be matched. The author Saki (H.H. Munro) had died in the First World War. He did not live to see the collapse of the colonial world, and the English Empire that he decided to join the army and fight for. Saki himself was born in Akyab, Burma – part of the English empire. His later stories, show his experiences in the trenches of the Great War.

The settings and scenes of most of Saki’s stories are lush and serene. Like some pastoral scene where one would expect to find some Sheppard’s sitting on the grass, a bit of straw hanging out of their mouth discussing some matter – but take away those sheep and Sheppard’s and replace them with the high society and upper middle class people. Take away the straw and place in the hands of these lavishly dressed people martini’s and other beverages. These people are stuck up and are only interested in few things other than themselves, and those that they can compare themselves too, and be better then.

Saki’s protagonists – if you could call them that; are not all that better, they are dandy’s and idlers. They are young, self-absorbed, and usually have a finely sharpened keen sense of observation. They make notes and comments past their years. But that does not change the fact of their life, and they themselves, are selfish creatures. Their comments and observations however are venomous to the extreme. There is no happy medium. The puritan, the Jew, the Quaker, the candlestick maker, the woman, the man – no one is safe from their eyes and their vicious words. Saki’s characters, are his little bits of himself, personally coming through and showing his own distaste and disgust with the middle class life, and its self-absorption, but realizes that his characters themselves are self-absorbed making themselves the same as the people they mock and have such high distaste for.

“The Occasional Garden,” is just such a tale by Saki. How does one have a wonderful garden to impress their neighbours or the people of the street, at some garden party. How does one keep their garden better then everyone else’s, when the damn thing refuses? Such is the problem with his story. A household has a garden, or might be better to put a lawn – or a lot a vacant lot as a garden behind their house. Of course how are they to impress their neighbours – and by impress, that means make them feel inferior. Walk with one’s head held up, and smile at everyone and explain that yes those are row’s of all colours of tulips. Oh you did notice my tea rose? It’s called a ‘Peace,’ rose. However in Germany it was called ‘Glory to God,’ and in France ‘Madame A. Meilland,’ while in Italy it was called ‘Joy.’ It is all rather fascinating really isn’t it? Oh Jonathan, how are you, yes she did just have kittens, and when they are read you will have the first pick.

This is what a garden party is all about. It’s about showing off, it’s about making that, that impression. It also about making sure that no one can upstage you at such an event. At least that is the kind of world that Saki provides. In other matters, it kind of looks like a place that one gets drunk at, and yet still holds a respectable air about them. In the end though Saki was called “Reactionary,” but his stories were rather funny, and certainly knew how to disturb the status quo. All in good fun and with his razor sharp and piercing observations.


“Breathing Jesus,” by Amy Hempel – From “The Collected Stories,” by Amy Hempel – Section: “Reasons To Live.”

Amy Hempel is an interesting author, not just because of how she can say so much, with so little. Her short stories are barely stories. For example “Memoir,” is just in short one sentence. Not like “The Last Voyage of the Ghost Ship,” by Gabriel García Márquez the Nobel Laureate in Literature of nineteen-eighty two, at all. It just literally is just one conventional sentence. That’s it that’s all. There is nothing to it. In many ways I look at that “story,” or rather sentence that just happens to have a title and is called a story – a play about nothing – or rather just an empty black screen, which the audience can stare at for thirty seconds. Something which the minimalist writer and grand playwright of the twentieth century had done with his short play – “Breath,” where there was no character, and no dialogue. Just trash scattered about the stage, dim lighting and a person who inhales and exhales, and that’s it. “Memoir,” by Amy Hempel comes across as. Just a minimalist piece of work no importance whatsoever. It’s hard to say if it’s just something that is just trying to clever or is just put there to irritate one. Personally both Beckett’s play and Amy Hempel’s sentence story “Memoir,” irritate me in the sense of some “artistic selfishness,” that comes across the work of both authors. But this is not about either “Breathe,” by Samuel Beckett, nor is it about “Memoir,” by Amy Hempel.

Amy Hempel’s style feels more stream of consciousness than anything else. But instead of the likes of stream of consciousness writing like Virginia Woolf, where the writing becomes poetic and shifts with such uncertainty that it feels like, its going nowhere, yet it must head somewhere. Though how you got to that somewhere as a reader can be somewhat confusing. Hempel’s however is the same way – minus the poetic fluffiness, and fat around the edges. Hempel’s stories are lean ground beef. They are written in chunks or episodes so to speak. The entire story is just one large fragment written of many different fragments, down the basic fragments of the entire story. Hempel focuses on feeling, the day to day life – and the ever constant dealings with grief and sadness, that encompass day to day mundane life. There are those disappointments, which everyone must deal with. Secretly a person wanted macaroni and cheese for dinner, and ended up having pork chops with pea’s instead for supper. These subtle and mundane disappointments become the conflicts of the stories. There’s that date that no one wants to go on. Yet that one person, that really good hearted person agrees to go on in your place – however they become self-conscious of their hair, or that pimple on their forehead. They have ‘nothing,’ to wear, and all these small little conflicts start to add up. Then the door bell rings. Their hasn’t grown in the last ten minutes. The pimple looks more like a bulbous balloon then just a red dot on their forehead; and they are still dressed in their towel from when they had a shower. They just know they are not going to have a good date tonight. But it’s a favour. They owe to their friend. So they do it regardless.

What becomes Amy Hempel’s strength is also her weakness. Her minimalism and desire to leave out certain points can become difficult to comprehend the stories, themselves, based on how the sentences might be wrote, and how they work in. Minimalism can be great, but it can also fail. Its word games, and bit of cleverness and fun, can also be its downfall – like it has been proven with both Amy Hempel’s story “Memoir,” and Samuel Beckett’s play “Breathe.” Sometimes I think that Hempel’s writing can use a bit of fat pumping in around the edges. At other times, I think maybe she should stop writing stories, and move towards writing plays and movie scripts or maybe even poetry. She has the great sense of minimalism down pat. She knows how to say so much with such little words; perhaps she should try her hand at poetry and work from that, or movies and that. Yet at the same time Amy Hempel’s stories, become unique in their own right. Though like any short story collection they hit and miss. They rise up to such a grandeur and they also risk failing miserably as well.

“Breathing Jesus,” by Amy Hempel could use some fat around the edges – it has the well written sentences that all of Hempel’s work contains, but it does not feel like a true story. It’s missing something. It always feels like it is missing something. There is something not right. There are those moments, but those quotable moments (like from pool night about girls saving his chewing gum) are not there. They just don’t creep up on you. Perhaps a four-hundred and thirty-two page of her stories is a bit much. I think that Hempel would be the kind author – and is the kind of writer; whose work is best approached without much notice. There the kind of stories, which should be read in magazines. Like at the doctors or dentists office, and as you listen to the old eighties songs over your head, and the coughs around you or the drills in the distance (along with the sucking sound) you might need something to take your mind off the fact that you are surrounded by other people. So you pick up a magazine flip through and there is this story “Pool Night,” or “Breathing Jesus,” or “Three Popes Walk into a Bar,” or something along those lines. You read the quick story, your name is called, and yet you are haunted by the story that you just read. Mauling it over in your head. Churning it. Swishing it around in your mouth like fine wine. You can hear it in your ears. The sounds of the story just whispering in the caves and honeycombs of the crevices of your ears. It helps pass the time as you wait a bit longer, as you think about it. Those are the stories that Amy Hempel writes, and those are the stories that she should continue to write – and hopefully such little treasures find their way into your lap, Gentle Reader.

Wednesday 18 January 2012

The Short Story Review No. IX Introduction

Hello Gentle Reader

With the busyness of the Christmas season come and gone – thankfully; it is about time that life and the rest of the world got back to normal. Last week, I forgot to post a blog, and upon the realization that I had forgotten to post a blog, I went to rectify that mistake, and the computer froze on me, and would not let me do anything. Not the best way to start the New Year, I told myself. However life moves on and forward. With the Christmas season over, and the partying over, and the early mornings for the late nights, done and over with, everyone is back to normal. Which also means “The Short Story Review,” continues on as normal.

It has recently become some common knowledge now that the first fifty years of the archives have been opened up, that the British fantasy writer of the twentieth century was nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature, far back in nineteen-sixty one. Nominated by his friend and companion in fantasy writing C.S. Lewis (who was a professor of literature, making it possible for him to actually nominate his friend) however J.R.R Tolkien never received the prize for his prose “"has not in any way measured up to storytelling of the highest quality", wrote Anders Österling a jury member. Eventually the actual nineteen-sixty one author had won. Ivo Andrić the nineteen-sixty one Nobel Laureate in Literature had walked away with the prize for: “for the epic force with which he has traced themes and depicted human destinies drawn from the history of his country" – to the readers of Tolkien that appears to be a bit of attack on his great use of fantasy and taking it to the greatest and epic portions that he had done. He did such a good job, that there are numerous authors that follow his same formula. However no matter, Anders Österling and the other members of the Swedish Academy had agreed that J.R.R. Tolkien’s prose just were not up to snuff.

No matter though, Tolkien was not the only author to have been debated. Robert Frost was nominated and eventually died without an award. E.M Forster was also nominated for a prize as well, but again he did not win a prize either. Graham Greene, was also nominated for the prize – he had been favoured along with Vladimir Nabokov, and Saul Bellow who eventually did win the prize; and yet Greene never did win. Karen Blixen the author of the book out of Africa was nominated but did not win.

Considering though, to the authors that have been awarded the prize, Tolkien did not match them. It is true, that he had some interesting ideas, themes, and astounding images, but the prose over all were never up to snuff. It is true that the Swedish Academy has made some snubs before. James Joyce being famously one of them. However, as someone had pointed out on a message board, that Tolkien probably would not all, be all that bothered by the snub. He himself stated that his work would not appeal too many, but that it would appeal to some. In that way it, is if Tolkien had grown a tough enough skin, in order, to bounce off the comments and award snubs. Then again was he ever really a serious contender?

Considering all that authors that have won, throughout the years? Two of which, whose stories are reviewed are on “The Short Story Review.” It comes to no surprise that Tolkien did not win the prize at all, based on the fact that other authors have far greater prose, then he had. That’s just a mere fact. There is no doubt in my mind that Tolkien is a popular author, but so is J.K. Rowling and she won’t win the prize either. Neither will Stephen King or James Patterson or other authors, of great popularity.

Also in the news of literature, The International IMPAC Literary Award has also announced its long list. At the end of this blog there will be a link where you can check out all the nominated long listed authors. All the books nominated for this award have all been published in two thousand and ten. If you go through the long list you will notice many familiar faces, such as Paul Auster and his novel “Sunset Park.” David Mitchell and his novel “The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet.” Paul Murray “Skippy Dies,” among many other authors from around the world. Dacia Maraini from Italy with her novel “Train To Budapest.” Jo Nesbo’s novel “The Snowman,” all the way from Norway. José Luis Peixoto from Portugal with his novel “The Piano Cemetery.” “The Patience Stone,” by the French author Atiq Rahimi. David Grossman the Israeli author novel “To the End of the Land,” has also been nominated.

The short list will be interesting to see who comes up on top. Admittedly there are some authors I do see that are not really that deserving to be on such a place. “Mocking Jay,” a young adult novel by Suzanne Collins, should not have made it there – not when such wonderful authors of such international renown are to be placed there. However may the shortlist show a variety of international authors, of different stories, and perspectives.

It’s good to be back Gentle Reader, and to have a normal routine without the thoughts of running around and shopping – and having to deal with the god awful holiday shoppers.

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read
*And Remember: Downloading Books Illegally is Thievery and Wrong.*

Thursday 12 January 2012


Hello Gentle Reader

The Swedish Academy had summarised the two-thousand and six Nobel Laureate in Literature’s win of the Nobel Prize with the following statement: “In the quest for the melancholic soul of his native city, [Pamuk] has discovered new symbols for the clash and interlacing of cultures.” Snow is such a book that represents such a clash of interlacing cultures, and the divide of east and west, and more specifically Turkey’s interesting role in both Europe and the Middle East. Both a bridge, and a swirling whirlpool, of clash of east and west, cultures, which causes many problems and issues for the country itself and its citizens. Forced between the freedoms and scientific acceptances of many western countries, and their democratic process of life – but also their lack of being in touch with the roots of their society; or the traditional home and values of their ancient civilization, based on the Islamic religion – however which stifles freedom, personal growth in newer areas of life (like science and democratic functions). Turkey is placed in the middle, of both Middle East and North Africa, and Europe. In the time of the Ottoman Empire, which is now modern day Turkey – the empire played greatly in the game of imperialism, and world politics along with many other great empires of the time like: Great Britain, France, Russia, Germany and Japan. However after the first World War, the Ottoman Empire began to collapse. In its wake it has left many displaced people. The Kurdish people, Armenians, Arabs, Assyrians/Syriacs, Roma people, Georgians, and Circassians. The Nobel Laureate in Literature of two-thousand and six, Orhan Pamuk is a political author. Whether or not he wishes he was or decided to be or not, he is. As his translator (into English) Maureen Freely had said in the Nobel documentary that Orhan Pamuk as a Turkish novelist of prominence, he has a public role. This makes him a political writer. He speaks of the displacement of the people of Turkey and the clash of Islamic traditions and the western mass culture that has slowly been seeping into the country through the years.

The novel “Snow,” does not take place in Istanbul like “The Black Book,” or “My Name is Red,” had done previously. “Snow,” takes place in Kars – a city a bit farther from Istanbul, and shows the displacement of people. The unemployment and how the men play cards in the coffee shops. Ka, a Turkish poet living abroad (mainly Germany) for the past decade returns to Turkey, for a few reasons, one to find an old classmate and love interest Ipek as well as to report on the suicide girls that have been happening in the far east border town. The suicide girls are the group of martyrs, of girls who refuse to take off their head scarves in school, as the educational system has since banned the wearing of them in their institutions. What proceeds is a novel about spirituality, and Turkey’s secularism and the issues arousing from it, and the clash between Islamic fundamentalism and the Turkish Secularists.

As one reviewer and fellow reader, had said, compared to “My Name is Red,” “Snow,” is far more accessible, for the average or general reader. Which is true, it is more accessible, then “My Name is Red,” however “Snow,” does not really compare to the wonders of the great novel “The Black Book,” and the journey for identity that takes place within the novel. “Snow,” on the other hand “Snow,” deals more politically in its elements of Islam and the Western Ideologies that Turkey is forced to face. However this novel, while reading it felt more like Orhan Pamuk spiritual yearning or that the author himself dealing with some form of spiritual crisis. At times, I wondered if Ka was Orhan Pamuk in many ways, trying to make sense of his life, and background, as well his spiritual necessities and coming to terms with his ambivalent and sometimes troubled relationship with his own country. It felt like Orhan Pamuk had lamented his spiritual collapse, as well as his complicated relationship with his country. Who could forget the charges brought on Orhan Pamuk by his own government for insulting Turkishness when recognized his own countries genocide of the Armenian people between nineteen-fifteen and nineteen-eighteen.

With “Snow,” tension can already be seen rising. The snow storm that has attacked Kars, has isolated the city. A municipal election is in the workings – for mayor; and there is a strong police presence within the city. At first Ka does his best, to stay out of the entire situation – at least on a political situation. For the most part Ka, does his journalistic duties. He talks to many people of the town about the Suicide Girls. However over time, Ka is engulfed in more than just the regional problems. He is engulfed in the political issues, being suffered in his homeland. Though viewed as an outsider Ka, is seen as something both of corrupted Western influence, but also as something of keen interest. Someone who has seen the outside world, and its workings. The authority of the police are weary of being too rough with Ka mostly because of his connections with Istanbul and Germany, and the Islamists see him as corrupted and as a infidel, however someone they can use to get the message across. Eventually Ka finds himself like Turkey itself the go between, the two factions.

Even though Ka is a atheist and is usually brought into question, as well as his self-doubt and maybe even a desire to once again have a relationship with God, he finds that even a moderate belief or desire – or to have a belief in God like a Westerner will never be enough to impress the fundamentalist of the Islamic though that have infiltrated Kars, as seen by the passage below:

“Before I got here, I hadn't written a poem in years," he said. "But since coming to Kars, all the roads on which poetry travels here have reopened. I attribute this to the love of God I've felt here."

"I don't want to destroy your illusions, but your love of God comes out of Western romantic novels," said Blue. "In a place like this, if you worship God as a European, you're bound to be a laughingstock. Then you cannot even believe you believe. You don't belong to this country; you're not even a Turk anymore. First try to be like everyone else. Then try to believe in God.”

This war between Islamic traditions and its puritan nature, and strict laws, can be seen everywhere. Even in the family lives of characters. Ipek’s family itself is suffering from the divide as well. Ipek’s marriage broke up over her husband unreasonable demand that she wear a head scarf. While her sister Kadife is active in the Islamic movement that has its hold on Kars. Though Kadife seems to me as a reader, arrogant and even at times overtly devote in her cause and her religious beliefs, which cause extreme tension in the home.

However the tension finally goes from bad, to worst, for Ka and the city of Kars. After a televised event – where Ka performs a poem he did, a group of people, perform a play condemning the head scarf. The leader of the theatre group receives a message, and announces the death – or more specifically the murder of the director of the Educational Institute who was murdered by an Islamic fundamentalist. Immediately after (as soldiers had taken the stage) they open fire on the audience – Necip a young Muslim man, that Ka meets is killed in the line of fire, along with others. With the soldiers in place, a coup is in effect. Ka now meets Sunay Zaim the theatre director and a avid Turkish Republican, who has played prominent authoritarian figures over the years like Napoleon and Lenin. Though his real wish is to play Ataturk the founder of the Turkish Republic. With the coup in place, and Kars being isolated away from the rest of Turkey, Sunay has become the revolutionary dictator, which he plays on the stage – because of his friendship with the senior military officer. Ka now is thrown into the political engagements of the Islamists and the Republican Secularists. What unfolds is a political thriller with Orhan Pamuk’s postmodern techniques of writing.

Throughout the book Orhan Pamuk writes about the troubles of his home and native land. What it means to be a Turk, and what it means to be Muslim how the religiously devote and the non-religiously devote fight time and time again for their own rights. The militant action of the Islamist fundamentals, as well as being an outsider and an exile in one’s own country.

I’ll admit this was not my favourite book by Orhan Pamuk – I have made no issue in saying that “The Black Book,” is my favourite book, by him. However Orhan Pamuk with this book showed the divides between his country and its many inhabitants. Its constant struggle for western ideologies and eastern religious thoughts. How the two cultures wage war, and swirl around each other constantly within his native city. However Orhan Pamuk leaves a lasting impression on the reader. A feeling for more. With memorable quotes and lines from many passages and words, there is a breath of life in this work of fiction.

My favourite line is “it only snows once in our dreams,” or something along those lines. It felt like a beautifully poetic and sensual piece or prose, and memorable as well. It’s not the Laureates best piece of work, but it certainly is a great piece of work for sure.

Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read
*And Remember: Downloading Books Illegally is Thievery and Wrong.*