27 September 2007

Hermosa Cartagena

I've had many reservations about the adaptation of Love in the Time of Cholera (none the least of which is the horrible poster), but this "behind-the-scenes" glimpse was encouraging.

(We'll see how long it takes the film to arrive here on Colombian screens--so far, it doesn't look like it'll make it down before the end of the year. There will be something a bit surreal about having to finally see it with Spanish subtitles, but I'll do my best to lock the jury out until after the credits have rolled.)

UPDATE: As of today, we're looking at a 16 November release date here in Santa Marta! (Nerve-racking excitement ensues. Also, Callie has her own worries.)

26 September 2007

Scattered notes on ephemeral illusions, Part III

(Last page of notes on The Book of Illusions by Paul Auster...with spoilers. Parts I and II here and here.)
  • Travels in the Scriptorium: a novel by Martin Frost in a film by Hector Mann (supposedly destroyed) in a novel by Paul Auster. It is also another novel by Paul Auster. (And I'll bet that the reference made Auster's film too. Whew!)
  • After thinking about Berkeley, I began to wonder if the entire Book of Illusions isn't some sort of illusion itself (with "Tierra del Sueño" being the clue from the very beginning). Some of the joke is at Martin's expense: "The chair appears to be solid, but no sooner does he lower his weight onto it than it splinters into a dozen pieces. Martin goes tumbling to the floor."
  • Martin Frost (giving in to Kierkegaard):
    Claire was asking me to make a leap of faith, and rather than go on pressing her, I decided to close my eyes and jump. I had no idea what was waiting for me at the bottom, but that didn't mean it wasn't worth the risk.
  • Claire quotes Kant to Martin:
    ...things which we see are not by themselves what we see...so that, if we drop our subject or the subjective form of our senses, all qualities, all relations of objects in space and time, nay space and time themselves, would vanish.
  • Martin burns his work...destroying it to save her instead. The work dies to keep Inspiration/the Muse alive. If the work is finished, she is gone. Obviously, the film works as a philosophical object lesson. But what does it say about the other burned work in this novel? Of Hector's 14 films, supposedly destroyed? Were they destroyed? This particular film of Hector's demonstrates how Hector himself was able to survive. (And it's filmed in his own house, mentioning he and his wife by name.) So The Inner Life of Martin Frost is then itself destroyed. These films have kept Zimmer alive...they're destroyed...yet the parallels break down when he loses Alma as well. But does the fact that Auster has given filmic existence to Martin Frost prove that something survived the burning? Later, Zimmer muses, "For better or worse, it seems that the philosophers were right. Nothing that happens to us is ever lost." In the next paragraph, he and Alma eat cheese sandwiches after watching the film...
  • And then comes Doubt #2:
    They had worked together for only four days, but in that time they had established a tradition of sharing cheese sandwiches in the stockroom during their half-hour lunch break. Now she continued to show up with the cheese sandwiches, and they continued to spend those half hours talking about books.
    This passage is from page 135 and describes Hector and Nora O'Fallon. More echoes, allusions, illusions. What's really going on here?
  • In that same paragraph where Alma and Zimmer eat cheese sandwiches, he muses,
    Martin burned his story in order to rescue Claire from the dead, but it was also Hector rescuing Brigid O'Fallon, also Hector burning his own movies, and the more things had doubled back on themselves like that, the more deeply I had entered the film.
    But how deeply does Zimmer actually enter into it and how much is actually doubling back on Zimmer?
  • His realizations of what's been going on all along (pp. 240-243) chillingly reflect back onto himself and the book that no one is supposed to see until after his death.
  • Standing in Alma's bathroom, he casually mentions the Chanel No. 5. But... (Doubt #3)
    As luck would have it, I had given [Helen] a fresh supply of Chanel No. 5 for her birthday in March. By limiting myself to small doses twice a day, I was able to make the bottle last until the end of the summer.
  • It's possible that I'm reading way too deeply into this. But could it be a coincidence that we get repeated mention of certain objects in different contexts (either parallel or inverse)?
  • Alma titles her biography-in-progess, The Afterlife of Hector Mann.
  • The explanation of "Blue Stone Ranch" is equally chilling...a life "founded on an illusion."
  • Frieda's act of destruction against Alma parallels what Martin does to save Claire, but it's a grotesque inversion.
  • Yet the last word of the novel is "hope." He believes the films survived--that part of what he witnessed at Tierra del Sueño was an illusion, a deception. But the fact that the book itself is in my hands means that Zimmer is long gone. Did he ever learn the truth? Does Auster's act of providing us with The Inner Life of Martin Frost substantiate Zimmer's hope?

25 September 2007

Scattered notes on ephemeral illusions, Part II

(Second page of notes on The Book of Illusions by Paul Auster)

"We might not have met until yesterday, but we've been working together for years." ~ Alma

Thanks to Brian (of the excellent Five Branch Tree) for mentioning this brief interview with Paul Auster and his new film, The Inner Life of Martin Frost. (It's a good interview, but rife with spoilers—so beware.) To be honest, I got goosebumps when I read his comment. This post has been in draft form since the beginning of the month, as I was about to discuss...The Inner Life of Martin Frost. To discover that Auster had recently made this into a film was a bit unnerving.

  • Page 217: "At some point, we notice that the philosopher's name is written out in block letters across the front of the sweatshirt: BERKELEY--which also happens to be the name of her school. Is this supposed to mean something, or is it simply a kind of visual pun?" Both, of course.
  • As an undergrad, I was able to visit Berkeley Castle while studying for a term in England ("Where Edward II was murdered, where the Barons of the West gathered before Magna Carta and where Queen Elizabeth I hunted and played bowls."). There are many stories connected to the place--and it's where I learned that UC Berkeley (and the town) was actually named after the philosopher, George Berkeley (although the British pronounciation is "BARK-ley" and the American is "BERK-ley"). Even though Zimmer doesn't seem to be aware of this, Auster certainly is. (Wheels within wheels within wheels...)
  • Claire reads from The Principles of Human Knowledge:
    And it seems no less evident that the various sensations or ideas imprinted on the sense, however blended or combined together, cannot exist otherwise than in a mind perceiving them. And again: Secondly, it will be objected that there is a great difference betwixt real fire and the idea of fire, between dreaming or imagining oneself burnt, and actually being so.
  • My first real (conscious) encounter with Berkeley's thought came from reading Through the Looking-Glass—actually, The Annotated Alice (brilliantly edited by Martin Gardner), which explains the scene of the Red King sleeping underneath the tree as Alice argues with Tweedledum and Tweedledee about the nature of existence:
    “I’m afraid he’ll catch cold with lying on the damp grass,” said Alice, who was a very thoughtful little girl.

    “He’s dreaming now,” said Tweedledee: “and what do you think he’s dreaming about?”

    Alice said “Nobody can guess that.”

    “Why, about you!” Tweedledee exclaimed, clapping his hands triumphantly. “And if he left off dreaming about you, where do you suppose you’d be?”

    “Where I am now, of course,” said Alice.

    “Not you!” Tweedledee retorted contemptuously. “You’d be nowhere. Why, you’re only a sort of thing in his dream!”

    “If that there King was to wake,” added Tweedledum, “you’d go out—bang!—just like a candle!”

    “I shouldn’t!” Alice exclaimed indignantly. “Besides, if I’m only a sort of thing in his dream, what are you, I should like to know?”

    “Ditto,” said Tweedledum.

    “Ditto, ditto!” cried Tweedledee.

    He shouted this so loud that Alice couldn’t help saying “Hush! You’ll be waking him, I’m afraid, if you make so much noise.”

    “Well, it’s no use your talking about waking him,” said Tweedledum, “when you’re only one of the things in his dream. You know very well you’re not real.”

    “I am real!” said Alice, and began to cry.

    “You wo’n’t make yourself a bit realler by crying,” Tweedledee remarked: “there’s nothing to cry about.”

    “If I wasn’t real,” Alice said—half-laughing through her tears, it all seemed so ridiculous—“I shouldn’t be able to cry.”

    “I hope you don’t suppose those are real tears?” Tweedledum interrupted in a tone of great contempt.

    “I know they’re talking nonsense,” Alice thought to herself: “and it’s foolish to cry about it.”
  • As Gardner aptly notes,
    This well-known, much-quoted discussion of the Red King’s dream (the monarch is snoring on a square directly east of the square currently occupied by Alice) plunges poor Alice into grim metaphysical waters. The Tweedle brothers defend Bishop Berkeley’s view that all material objects, including ourselves, are only “sorts of things” in the mind of God. Alice takes the common-sense position of Samuel Johnson, who supposed that he refuted Berkeley by kicking a large stone. [...]

    An odd sort of infinite regress is involved here in the parallel dreams of Alice and the Red King. Alice dreams of the King, who is dreaming of Alice, who is dreaming of the King, and so on, like two mirrors facing each other [...].
  • Jostein Gaarder's novel Sophie's World is another obvious example of Berkeley's philosophy at work in fiction. (There are many, many more—feel free to list them in the comments.)

Staying gold

I really enjoyed reading Dale Peck's examination of the literary references in The Outsiders. He provides example after example, elucidating exactly why Hinton's book is so important:
The intertextual musings come to a head when Johnny tells Pony that Dallas reminds him of the Southern men in “Gone With the Wind,” which the two boys have been reading to combat boredom while they hide from the police. In Johnny’s view, Dally’s refusal to turn in his friend Two-Bit for vandalism is like the Confederate rebels’ “riding into sure death because they were gallant.” Pony initially rejects this reading, but something about it nags him: “Of all of us, Dally was the one I liked least. He didn’t have Soda’s understanding or dash, or Two-Bit’s humor, or even Darry’s superman qualities. But I realized that these three appealed to me because they were like the heroes in the novels I read. Dally was real. I liked my books and clouds and sunsets. Dally was so real he scared me.”

This is good stuff — great stuff for a teenager. Dally’s “realness” is made apparent by characters in a book; by contrast, the other members of the gang, who’ve limited themselves to playing roles they’ve picked up elsewhere, are suddenly seen as less real, enabling Pony to understand why, at the beginning of the novel, Cherry Valance shyly declared, “I kind of admire him.” What goes unsaid until the end of the story is that Pony, like Dally, needs a book to explain him, but is forced to write it himself.
(via Maud)

Now I've got The Innocence Mission's lovely song "Walking Around" swirling in my head...
Rain happens into my room at night,
when there is so much time to miss you.
Beautiful changes I've seen sometimes,
the clouds changing into reindeer and flying
to places clear of sorrow.

Walking around.
You know I've had enough of this trouble
following me high and low. Now it can go.

Some boy I knew said, Hang on, stay gold,
before he left here for England.
Beautiful changes I feel sometimes,
in the middle of the late morning dishes
when you say I might do anything at all.

Walking around.
You know I've had enough of this trouble
following me high and low. Now it can go.

24 September 2007

Inside another world

The most recent issue of Literature Matters, the British Council’s newsletter, is now online. The issue centers around the 30th Cambridge Seminar on Contemporary Literature, and includes an enlightning interview with literary translator Maureen Freely:
When I sit down to translate a novel by Orhan Pamuk, I know it will not be enough to find the correct words. I need to be sure they are also the right words – the words that will conjure up the imaginary world in which it is set. So I myself need to believe in that cloistered world, to believe myself inside it. Only then can I hope to find the words that will make it visible in English.

This is not as easy as it sounds, for there is a very great distance between Turkish and English. There is no verb ‘to be’ in Turkish, and no verb ‘to have’. There is only one word for ‘he’, ‘she’, and ‘it’. Turkish is an agglutinative language: a root noun in a routine sentence will often have a string of six, seven, or even eight suffixes connected to it. It has many more tenses than English does. It can dart between the active and the passive voice with grace and ease. It loves clauses beginning with verbal nouns (the doing of, the having been done unto of, the having being seen to have something done to someone else…..) In an elegant sentence, there will often be a cascade of such clauses dividing the subject from the verb, and that verb appears so close to the end of the sentence that it often serves as a punch line, reversing the expected meaning of all that has come before it. To be overly clear is to be crude. To write well is not the say the obvious, but to suggest what lies beyond it. So Turkish is not just another language: it is another way of looking at the world.

02 September 2007

Scattered notes on ephemeral illusions, Part I

(First page of notes on
The Book of Illusions by Paul Auster)

Man has not one and the same life. He has many lives, placed end to end, and that is the cause of his misery.
~ Chateaubriand

  • He says he "stuck to a close reading of the films themselves" and on the same page is the first reference to "Tierra del Sueño" (Land of the Dream or Land of Dreams). Page 3, and I already know I'll have to pay careful attention to this one. Is George Berkeley alluded to from the very beginning?
  • He soon invokes "Proudhon's well-known anarchist dictum: all property is theft" (p. 31).
  • "Everything from Meister Eckhart to Fernando Pessoa would be included"... I've fancifully thought that Pessoa could be the figure that inspired the character of Hector Mann (or, at least, a way of thinking about or interpreting him). His physical description immediately made me think of this portrait of Pessoa by his contemporary José de Almada Negreiros, but the issue of heteronyms brought me further. (This article explains things more thoroughly.)
  • Zimmer's translation of Chateaubriand's Mémoires d'outre-tombe goes from Memoirs from Beyond the Grave to Memoirs of a Dead Man. Obviously, this extends to Mann's work and what eventually happens in the novel, but it also applies to The Book of Illusions itself--something we're reading only because Zimmer himself has left the stage. Self-referential echoes haunt the characters as they eventually become what they initially only pursue.
  • And then I creeped myself out by noticing that Chateaubriand wrote his introduction to Memoirs of a Dead Man on 14 April 1846: "Ruination Day." Gillian Welch's songs "April 14th, Part I" and "Ruination Day, Part II" off Time (The Revelator) revolve around disasters that have occurred on that date: Lincoln's assassination, the sinking of the Titanic, and Black Sunday (the worst storm of the Dust Bowl era).
  • "Death does not reveal the secrets of life." ~ Chateaubriand (Although there will be some answers offered at the end of the novel, they reveal themselves as conjectures on closer inspection and only provoke even more questions.)
  • Alma = Soul (Zimmer trying to reclaim life...)
  • Brigid is found "lying facedown on the rug in front of the sofa." But does this make sense if she was actually shot in the face? (Doubt #1)
  • "It felt like some cunningly devised form of punishment, as if the gods had decided that I wouldn't be allowed to have a future until I returned to the past. Justice therefore dictated that I should spend my first morning with Alma in the same way I had spent my last morning with Helen. I had to get into a car and drive to the airport, and I had to be rushing along at ten and twenty miles over the speed limit to avoid missing a plane." The ability to see symmetry (or patterns) in the events of one's life helps to make life liveable. (But too much of this can become a form of psychosis.)
  • There's an excellent discussion of Hawthorne's "The Birthmark" on pp. 103-104.

The answer to the question

David Zimmer on translation:
Much of the work was mechanical, and because I was the servant of the text and not its creator, it demanded a different kind of energy from the one I had put into writing The Silent World. Translation is a bit like shoveling coal. You scoop it up and toss it into the furnace. Each lump is a word, and each shovelful is another sentence, and if your back is strong enough and you have the stamina to keep at it for eight or ten hours at a stretch, you can keep the fire hot. With close to a million words in front of me, I was prepared to work as long and as hard as necessary, even if it meant burning down the house.
~ from Paul Auster's The Book of Illusions