26 February 2012

Paul Auster

I just finished reading Auster's Sunset Park. Like everything I've read by Auster thus far, I loved it.

One of the most impressive things about it is the fact that you have these recurrences, or motifs. Auster's work tends to have these, but the the motifs in Sunset Park are stronger.

One of these motifs is the movie, The Best Years of Our Lives. Auster has chosen this particular film because of its theme of post-war recovery, intergenerational misunderstanding and generational role reversals, male-female relationships (again, with misunderstanding, as well as hyper-detachment, and the essential and tragic reality of non-reconciliation), and hope, or the illusion of hope.

There is something about the writing of Haruki Murakami, as well, that conveys a similar feeling of having-been-there. Both Auster and Murakami have this. It is an eery feeling, based on narratives that allow accessibility without losing intelligence or detail. It is also based on pop-culture references, the ever-prevalent theme of soul searching (whether it is about finding one's manhood, womanhood, artistic identity, or even as in the case of Auster's Ellen and Bing, sexual identity as almost a niche personality.

Auster and Murakami are both writers of the Underground. I put this label on them not to declare that they belong to some subculture (both are highly popular and widely read novelists) but to refer to the actual scope of their imaginations. There is the continuous sense we have of something in their works, like an animal, a mole, say, burrowing between different people, different countries, different worlds, etc. In the end, these worlds, so strange to one another, become reconciled, not by becoming less strange, less surreal, less ambivalent, or anything like that; they come together by a simple terrifying magic, which these writers themselves create.

This magic is most terrifying and most preoccupying in Murakami's The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. It is not good enough to reduce it to a simplification of dreams bringing us together, or dreams being a magic carpet ride, or anything like that. It is not sufficient to conclude that the magic simply comes from The Writer, or The Reader, or The Story. It is far too simplistic to say that the well in The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle's protagonist's back yard is that specific conduit to another world or other worlds. There is something more than that. It is the multiplication of coincidences - Jung said there are no coincidences, a fact of which I was recently reminded by my viewing of Cronenberg's A Dangerous Method. It is the darkness which is that place where we all meet. Not in dreams, but in darkness. All light is composed of different colours, but in darkness is where we all meet. Cosmology loses dimension. Human experience and personal travel crush the infiniteness of the universe. To get there is not quite the same as dreaming. It is a kind of meditation which is required.

It is, as I said, The Underground.

Postscript: I tend to resent readers who read books like 1Q84 or The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle or The Master and the Margarita or Cloud Atlas in one day, or three days, or even in less than one week. I don't believe such people are actually reading. Even those who take the time but then say frivolous things about the works are not actually reading. All these people - most people, most "readers" cheapen literature. To actually live the book, to have actually been there, because you've been there before is a remarkable meeting of minds between Reader and Writer. Real reading is rare.

I read. I love to read. This is why I say this, and this is why I wrote this. If you think this statement is a remark of arrogance, then so be it. I am not your man. If you think there might be something to this statement, and you are saying, "At last, someone has said this!" then welcome to my little part of the world. (I suspect, too, that e-readers/Kindles have not only cheapened literature but are, in addition, gradually spelling the death of it, and of the writer as a profession. I am not going to say this as a statement of fact though, but simply as a mere suspicion or foreboding).


justrecently said...

Even those who take the time but then say frivolous things about the works are not actually reading.

I don't think that people can cheapen literature, just by criticizing it. Reading is personal, and different people may see different things in it. If I needed to be a real reader by your standards, it seems that I would need to appreciate everything I read. This would require all readers to retrieve that innocence before all theory when art knew no need to justify itself.

Even Susan Sontag, it seems, acknowledged that this can't be done - and to her, this wasn't good news, either.

Thoth Harris said...

Once again, justrecently, you miss my point(s). I am not talking about people who criticize it. I couldn't be less concerned with that aspect of it in this post.

I am talking about people who say, "I've read that" but have nothing meaningful to say about it. They have no contact with the deeper meaning of the work.

"Retrieving innocence"? That phraseology astounds me. I tend to think of it as the complete opposite. Now I read just as much, maybe more than I did in my twenties; my impression of literary works is the complete opposite of "innocent" however. I am more open-minded about literary works than I ever was, despite the fact I have read more. I am able to retain a deeper sense of contact with the works as a result of my wider parameters of experience.

Susan Sontag is one of the worst literary bigots I can think of. Her comments about film and literature are terribly unappealing and narrow to me. Sometimes I find her simply uninformed.

In literature, there is an internal dialogue among writers that echo across the creative space, something that is often little felt by those who take up Literature as a profession in university (or as a critical profession - so in this respect, you are right about my standards - but only in this respect).

And yes, you are right that my standards are high. But you are off-field with respect to the particular parameters about which I am speaking

Thoth Harris said...
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