The Birdcage Archives

Friday, 12 June 2015

Dreams and Stones

Hello Gentle Reader

In a world of glass, people would shield themselves from stones; compulsively clean the finger prints and hand marks; and there would be no privacy from the onslaught of scouring scrupulous eyes, always on the search for indecency. If the world were made solely of bricks, there would be no light, and sights. One would think they were the last person on earth. In order for the world to exist one must have both glass and brick; the brick offers privacy and protection; while glass offers a window to look out upon the world. Glass (windows) connects; brick (walls) protects. Such is the world of Magdalena Tulli. A world of defined, and planned perfection, always left up to the caprice of fate and the anarchy of chance; and the human folly which is a mistake on its own grounds and merits. Magdalena Tulli creates and plans worlds. A narrator from one of her works: “Moving Parts,” (a book which I am currently coveting and searching for) openly admits how easy it is to conjure worlds: “The creation of worlds! Nothing could be simpler.” They can be shaken out of one’s sleeve, blown like bubbles, bought at dollar stores, stored in Rubbermaid containers. They are confectionary delights, which are to be consumed with gluttony and greed. Tulli never disappoints with the worlds in which she creates. Yet they are more than just sugar and carbohydrates. Tulli’s sentences becomes roads and tram lines. Her paragraphs become city blocks. Pages become skyscrapers. Yet the populace of her world is not clearly defined. Tulli may bake her worlds; but her characters are dressed by tailors and dress makers. They are blushing brides, stoic grooms; duty bound police officers, vagrants who rake their sleeping quarters from their hair; hoodlums in hoods who watch their art slink away on trains; people of an older world who smell of moth balls – each of them is quickly dressed by their suited deity of cloth. Once their garments have been removed from the wooden hangers, they are done. Their dressed like dolls or actors; and their clothing speaks more of them as characters, then any inherent or developed personality. With the last zipper zipped, and the final button buttoned – they are developed and created. Their dress becomes uniform and dictates their personality. Such is how creation works. Such is how the worlds of Tulli’s are populated.

Magdalena Tulli is one such writer that has, had the pleasure of having the majority of her oeuvre available in English. Yet she is a far cry from being considered a household name. Magdalena Tulli’s works have been either: over looked; or: read, reviewed and shelved – and left in such a state. Part of this is to do with Tulli, being an author that shuns traditional concepts of a novel. So long are the plot tropes of boy meets girl; lover’s quarrels and new expeditions into the human heart; gone are adventure stories and their magnificent flights of fancy; be done with those stories of domestic details; goodbye for now, to all the works which had developed characters and created situations in which they can act accordingly. With Tulli her work becomes far more self-reflective, often discussing the concepts and boundaries of fiction. Such postmodernist ground could be considered: oh so seventies; and yet Magdalena Tulli enters the canon of such a world, with forefather and forebears of such names like: Franz Kafka, Bruno Schulz, Fernando Pessoa and Italo Calvino; but also includes an extended family of: Jose Saramago, Petr Král, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Samuel Beckett, and Herta Müller. This is not the world of American postmodernism, of conspiracy theories, clandestine organizations, and drug fuelled romps. Rather Tulli has created a world which laughs with baffling irony, at all attempts of giving logic to a surreal world; yet takes serious consideration, to the worlds she has created.

“Dreams and Stones,” is a creation story. Like all to most creation stories Magdalena Tulli’s creation story starts off with the tree. A tree like the Norse Yggdrasil; an immense construct and the sole divine architecture which supported the nine worlds of Norse mythic cosmology. So is the world of Magdalena Tulli – an immense tree stands, and must follow the cycle of the seasons. After its hibernation it awakens to bud and bloom. Those same blooms rust and fall away, and in their stead, fruit are bared. In the fruit of this tree lie cities. The city is ripened and now it begins to decay. However with the engineers who have taken up residence, the threat of over ripening and decay is not optional. The city begins to move away from the seasonal chronology, and soon progress is set to take control over that department. With these germs of life, construction has begun. Bricklayers lay brick, and mix lime. Homes need dishes, tables, and silverware. The wind needs laundry to blow through. Offices are required, for departments and corporations which do not exist yet. And so from tree to machine – branches to streets; leaves to windows; roots to sewers – the cog wheels keep on turning, at their own cycle, no longer under the supervision of the seasons. Flowing rivers turn the water wheels; and the winds spin the turbines. Such is the growing city that Magdalena Tulli has created. Yet despite its easy creation, there is demand now for more services; homes required to be built, schools are needed, the ringing of telephones is sought after, and so much more needs to be done. Yet it starts with the first bricklayers; who shall be immortalized in statues, who become perches for pigeons and their droppings.

“Dreams and Stones,” is classified as a novel. Yet it does away with the certainties of plot, action, characters. Upon its first publication critics and the reading public were baffled by its, lack of plot and characters, and wondered what kind of book, “Dreams and Stones,” was – when looking towards Tulli, the author insists that the book itself is a novel. With no elucidation from the author, about how to define the book, the novel “Dreams and Stones,” became known as a “not non-fiction,” piece of work. A novel that defies classification. It is not a prose poem, despite its poetic fine writing, and meditative appearance; it is not the paradoxical conundrum anti-prose, because of its lush sequence of writing, and being grammatically correct. It is something that stands in its own category, and succeeds at being a groundbreaking novel, and an important novel from Poland.

Personally “Dreams and Stones,” reads like a meditation. A very lyrical well wrought, composed meditation; and yet drifts beyond such a concept, because the work itself is fantastical, in its immediate construct. The tree of life bears fruit. The fruit bears a city, and in the decay and softening of that city, it plants a new city within its seed. The city is created and destroyed. Even when the city turns to more mechanization processes and procedures, it too is pushed and pulled – repairing itself endlessly after a new mechanical failure has arisen. And so Tulli utilizes the growing metamorphosis of a city, to describe human society and collective memory. All attempts at perfection, will always lead to one cog slipping out of line; a blade on a turbine is bound to break; a brick is bound to come out of place. Somewhere, there is malfunction, and in that malfunction repairs are required. Despite the beauty of the design the reality is: the string has been woven, measured and eventually cut. Fate and chance play a large part in the comings and goings of the city, more so then the people themselves. This book is rich in its imagery, which often leads an overload of both beautiful constructed sentences and words, but also an overload of the images that are being presented. This is made all that more complicated, by the lack of clear defined snapshot being placed on the page. Nothing is given any specific attention for long. Different concepts, and new working orders, are soon coming into play – and it is frustrating for anyone wishing to enjoy the tour; but it grabs the sense of urban memory in which the book attempts to capture in such moments.

“Objects and buildings circulate randomly and mingle with one another. Memory must constantly untangle them since permanent order is not possible there. The city can neither be described nor drawn; the reality of the city blocks is resistant to orthogonal projection.”

What becomes a shift in reality and perspective is when Tulli adds other cities to this city, to offer mirror representation to them. From Paris to St. Petersburg; it soon parts the curtains of the fantastical city in which she writes about, and soon what was once a universal creation story about a city, leads one to wonder is this Warsaw that is being detailed? Is this Warsaw after World War II, being rebuilt after the destruction and demolition of the war?

At times Tulli can become too descriptive and over abundant in her imagery, when clean metaphors, will often do the work:

“With time the buildings took on the same shade of gray as the cloudy sky and in this manner disappeared.”

At the end of the day, Magdalena Tulli has captured a war weary city, on the verge of reincarnation. It is forced to rebuild itself, to rejuvenate. The bombs have stopped falling. The shelling has ceased. Guns have gone quiet. Now schools are to be rebuilt – drawing a class room in the sidewalk with chalk, can only work for children. Boys still dream of flying aeroplanes and their hooks are decorated with aviation caps. Bricklayers once again set about work, and laying the foundations for the city.

“The city was built at the meeting point of three elements in a place where they mingled with one another. It was constructed on the clay of memories, on the sands of dreams, and on the groundwater of oblivion, cold and bleak, whose flow never ceases for a moment, washing away the foundations day after day.”

It’s a poetic construct. It’s filled with beautiful sentences and words, which are fresh from the dictionary and laid into place like bricks. Yet it is not a book that can be consumed quickly or with haste. Yet to read it to slow, one will get bored. “Dreams and Stones,” is best read when one has the time, but also when one is capable of concentrating for long periods of moments, to truly grasp the meditation on the creation of such a world, but also on dreams, memory, and the oblivion of the world around us. It starts with a tree, turns to a machine; but nothing can last forever; though it has a proclivity of rebuilding itself.

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

M. Mary

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