Sunday, October 14, 2012

Max Frisch, Man in the Holocene

Max Frisch's novella Man in the Holocene, starts with Geiser, the elderly protagonist of the story, is building a pagoda out of crispbread as torrential rains fall upon his Swiss canton of Ticino. The rain continues for days, triggering landslides and floods and blocking the highway. Bored, Geiser finds another way to keep his failing mind occupied - he cuts entries out of the encyclopedia and attaches them to the walls of his house.

He gathers articles on every topic that he can think of: the creation of the world, the history of his canton, and, more obsessively, the geologic timelines of the Earth. He starts from the Cambrian period of 500,000,000 years ago and all the way to the present, known as the Holocene. Soon he’s cutting out every entry he can find about dinosaurs. He then, as the storm intensifies even further, he moves onto texts about of personal annihilation: getting struck by lightning, memory loss, apoplexy.
He packs his rucksack and heads toward a mountain that is crumbling above him due to the rains. No point in staying trapped inside a house, he reasons. He escapes into the rain and begins a hike along the mountain...

Saturday, September 1, 2012

The return of the grand narrative, affect and suspension of disbelief

I remember reading Nicolas Bourriaud in 2009. He proclaimed the death of postmodernism and the beginning of a new era of altermodernity. Since then I was meeting similar trends in thinking about philosophy and art- viatorizing identities instead of hollowing out, breaching the barriers instead of removing them.
Now I found a brilliant article in Frieze Magazine, called Theoretically speaking, actually on twitter:

I am going to discuss fiction here (Roberto Bolano's The Savage Detectives and Spike Hawkins' The Lost Fire Brigade), but let me introduce the theoretical context in which I discovered both of them and the link between them for that matter. What I am trying to approach is the part of the article, an essay written by Timotheus Vermeulen, Now & Beyond. He is a lecturer in Cultural Studies and Theory at the Radboud University Nijmegen, Netherlands, and co-founding editor of

He is discussing the return of the grand narrative, affect and suspension of disbelief.
We are tired of irony, we want to be serious again, but we don't feel like giving up hybridity and the cool.

"To my mind, a few debates stand out: the renewed appreciation of grand narratives, of transcendence, of optimism and sincerity, the reinvention of the commons, and the rediscovery of affect and of love, even, of techne, craftwo/man-ship, and of the body as origins and remains. In order to give something resembling an overview of what I imagine – and to an extent hope – ‘philosophy’ today and tomorrow to be about, I will very briefly describe three of these debates below. "

What he means by the grand narrative is not a Hegelian view on history as ruled by a dialectical law, but an allegory. History deconstructed by postmodernism can be re-constructed by re-connecting the dots, making room for optimism, a kind of informed naivety (Akker's term) that is suspending the postmodern suspension of belief.

If postmodernism is characterized by waning of affect, not in Deleuzian sense, but simply a lack of passion and abundance of ironic cool and distance, it seems like we can have both now without being cynical or superficial. Now I go straight to the authors, despite of the fact that the books were written in 98 and 68 in the order I mentioned them. What strikes me in Bolano is that he is the only author extremely frank about sexuality I don't find abusive. In connection to what I said before, I think it's his being poetic and earnest, frank, but not like Joyce, funny, but not like the Brat Pack writers.

There is a striking character there, a poet Ulysses Lima, the leader of the group of visceral realists (visceral meaning the poetry coming from inside), who used to read in shower. He was only reading poetry and he couldn't help it, his books were wet as the result. A similar image In the Lost Fire Brigade by Hawkins ( I cannot take credit for noticing the connection though) :

the poet's position

From their backs pour water
And in their passing reflect
As aquariums the colours of
moving fish in afternon windows
They are the water people
and live on land
with neighbours who take baths

Bolano uses the image of being immersed in water even previously, in poetry. If music is a kind of mental drowning, a poet sinks to the bottom and enters God's eye.

I think the books raise an important question on the place of art and role and position of the artist.The Savage Detectives is the search for answers- both literally, as the main characters, accompanied by a young hooker, chased by her pimp, are looking for Cesarea Tinajero, the founder of the group of visceral realists previously existing in Mexico, the actual group named themselves after, only to find her overweight, living like a peasant woman in the desert of Sonora, and then getting her killed in the confrontation with the pimp, and symbolically, the narrative presented as disjoint personal diaries from different perspectives, all giving the clues about what happened. The reader is re-connecting the dots, to return to the borrowed metaphor, building up an overall texture of the personal stories. Still the answers are the search itself. Such are the practices of metamodern artists- although they know that they will never find the truth, they have to look for it, oscillating between transcendence seeking and being immersed in the immanence of matter.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

August Strindberg's To Damascus

Sweden celebrates Strindberg year in 2012. The drama “To Damascus” from 1898 is a wonderful and enjoyable read as fiction. It is together with “A Dreamplay” from 1902 an attempt to capture the logic of the dream in a play. It draws extensively on Stringberg’s life and in the first public presentation in 1900 “The Lady” was played by his wife Harriet Bosse (image above).

The dramatic structure of the first part utilises a circular, palindromic form of the Medieval "station drama.” The protagonist, The Stranger, on his way to an asylum, passes through seven "stations;" having reached the asylum, he then returns to each in reverse order, before arriving at his starting-point on a street corner. Peter Szondi describes this form as a type of subjective theatre in which the classical "unity of action" is replaced with a "unity of the self":

In the "station drama," the hero, whose development is described, is separated in the clearest possible manner from the other figures he meets at the stations along his way. They appear only in terms of his encounters with them and only from his perspective. They are, thus, references to him.

This technique affects radically the way in which time operates in the drama, producing a static and episodic quality to the scenes. It belongs to what came to be known as "I-dramaturgy."
(Latter part of the text from Wikipedia.)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Bone People - Keri Hulme

The Bone People, published in 1984, is an unusual story of love. The differences are in the way of telling, the subject matter, and the form of love that the story writes on. This is in no way a romance; it is rather filled with violence, fear, and twisted emotions. At the story's core, however, are three people who struggle very hard to figure out what love is and how to find it. The book is divided into two major sections, the first involving the characters interacting together, and the second half involving their individual travels.

In the first half, 8-year-old Simon shows up at the hermit Kerewin’s tower on a gloomy and stormy night. Simon is mute and thus is unable to explain his motives. When Simon’s adoptive father Joe arrives to pick him up in the morning, Kerewin get to know their curious story. Simon was found washed up on the beach years earlier with no memory and very few clues as to his identity. Joe and his wife Hana take in Simon, despite his mysterious background, and attempt to raise him. However, subsequently both Hana and their infant son die of flu, forcing Joe to bring the wild boy Simon up on his own.

At the same time Kerewin finds herself developing a relationship with the two the boy and the father, becoming more connected to their live circumstances and stories. Gradually it becomes clear that Simon is a severely traumatised orphan, whose strange behaviours Joe is unable to cope with. Kerewin eventually figures out that, in spite of a constant and intense love between them, Joe is physically abusing Simon.

Following a catalyst event, the three are driven violently apart. Simon witnesses a violent death and seeks Kerewin out, but she is angry with him for stealing some of her possessions and will not listen. Simon reacts by kicking in the side of her guitar, a much prized gift from her estranged family, whereupon she yells at him to disappear. After that he goes to the town and breaks a series of shop windows, and when he is returned home by the police, Joe beats him half to death. However, Simon has concealed a piece of glass and stabs his father with it. This results in hospitalisation for both.

In the second half of the novel, Joe is being sent to prison for child abuse, Simon is still in the hospital, and Kerewin is seriously and inexplicably ill. Consequently Simon's wardship is being taken from Joe. Simon is sent to a children's home, and Kerewin deconstructs her tower and leaves with the expectation to be dead within the year. All three have to overcome life-changing happenings, strongly interlaced with Maori mythology and legend.

Kerewin adopts Simon, to keep him close to her and Joe, who is out of prison again. Meanwhile Joe is able to contact Kerewin's family and bring them back for reconciliation. The final scene of the novel depicts the reunion of the three main characters Kerewin, Simon and Joe, who are all celebrating some unnamed occasion back at the beach where Kerewin has rebuilt her home, this time in the shape of a shell with many twists. This house makes Joe laugh as he finds all their family in various states of rest in the shell as he makes his way to the beach. It is not certain that Joe, Kerewin, and Simon will remain together, but they are together on the beach at the end of the book.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Passion According to G.H. - Clarice Lispector

When the book opens, G.H., a well-to-do resident of a Rio de Jenairo penthouse, is remembering what happened to her the previous day, when she decided to clean out the room of the maid who has just left her service.

“Before I entered the room, what was I?” G.H. asks. “I was what others had always seen me be, and that was the way I knew myself.”

In the maid’s room, G.H. expects chaos. Instead, to her shock, she finds a desert, “an entirely clean and vibrating room as in an insane asylum from which dangerous objects have been removed.”

The room was the opposite of what I had created in my house, the opposite of the soft beauty that came from my talent for arrangement, my talent for living, the opposite of my serene irony, of my sweet and exempt irony: it was a violation of my quotation marks, of the quotation marks that made me a citation of myself. The room was the portrait of an empty stomach.

Only one thing disturbs the room's perfect order: black carbon scratches on the dry white wall, outlines of a man, a woman, and a dog. Pondering the inscrutable drawing, she realizes that the black maid, whose name she has forgotten, and whose face she has trouble calling to mind, had hated her. Overwhelmed by anger, she opens the door to the wardrobe. Terrified by the cockroach she sees emerging, she slams the door shut, severing the cockroach in its center and sees the still-living animal's entrails begin to ooze out.

G.H. is appalled by the sight, but she is trapped in the room by the irresistible fascination of the dying insect. She wants to scream, but she knows it is already too late: "If I raised the alarm at being alive, voiceless and hard they would drag me away since they drag away those who depart the possible world, the exceptional being is dragged away, the screaming being.”

Staring at the insect, her human personality begins to break down; finally, at the height of her mystic crisis, she famously takes the matter oozing from the cockroach—the fundamental, anonymous matter of the universe, which she shares with the roach—and puts it in her mouth.

from Wikipedia - The Free Encyclopedia