Thursday, November 17, 2011

Le Monde 100: Froth on the Daydream

This is what I've been waiting for.

Not only has this book been my favorite book on Le Monde's 100 Books of the Twentieth Century, but it's possibly my new favorite book OF ALL TIME.

Boris Vian sets the stage by underpinning the entire book with a haunting song by Duke Ellington.

This song is so unique that Vian invents a dance that can only be danced to it and one other song called the "oglemee," a dance that requires dancers to undulate a certain distance away from each other at a certain tempo in order to create "a system of waves that present, as in acoustics, nodes, and antinodes, which contribute more than a little to the ambiance on a dance floor." As one advances their skill at the "oglemee," they can, in time develop the skill to produce "parasitic waves by separately putting certain of their limbs into synchronic vibration."

This is all very interesting but the beauty and concepts of music are taken to a more insane level with the invention of the Pianocktail.

I have no doubt that if someone built a Pianocktail in Brooklyn right now, they would dominate the cocktail scene.

Basically, a pianocktail is a piano that has different liquors, spirits, flavorings, and mixers attached to every key. Depending on the length of the note played, these drink parts are dispensed into a glass. So, every song will have a unique drink signature. Amazing!

Here is a rough sketch of a pianocktail.

Honestly, Froth on the Daydream is so good you don't want to end. It's exuberant in its anthropomorphication of everything without coming off as dopey. Plus, the cartoonish quality only amplifies the love story at the center of it.

It's the first book I've read that I've immediately wanted to re-read.

Instead, I'll just watch this pianocktail video.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Le Monde 100: Le Grand Meaulnes (The Lost Estate)

What's wrong with Romanticism?

I failed a certain test of childhood that was presented to me when i was around eight years old. My father worked for a few months on the sprawling estate of Godfrey Rockerfeller. It was a place right out of a Merchant-Ivory film with endless gazebos, stables, and fox hunts. The older couple who were the caretakers were quite taken with me and gave me all sorts of trinkets from the vast stores of left-over throwaway items, buried in the corridors of the basement of the manor. An ornamental jar of vintage marbles makes a particularly vivid memory In my brain.

As I was poring over these colorful orbs with my father, he saw what was perhaps an obsession forming in my eyes about the estate and the mansion, both of which seemed endless. He said to me "The couple who live here like you so much that they asked me if they could adopt you from me." To this day, I don't know if this was true or not.

"They did?", I replied.

"Oh yes. They want you to come live here on the estate. Do you want to do that? Do you want to leave Mom and me and come live with them?"

"Oh yes!" This was without hesitation.

Don't get me wrong. I loved my parents but, at the time, the pull of the estate seemed like the right decision. The look on my father's face taught me a big lesson in maturity and I instantly regretted it. I think that was probably an uncomfortable ride home.

When the Enlightenment sprouted up in the world with its enormous klieg lights shining on reality, it resulted in a certain bleakness that developed in society. The mysteries of life that gave it a certain spirit and soul were disappearing and taking a sense of the divine away from man.

This phenomenon happens to everyone on a smaller scale as they grow older and become more realistic about their ideals. This results in higher intelligence and better decision-making. But, the trade-off for matured wisdom is often a muted passion or, at the very least, an internal fire that is less visceral.

An older man I knew who had just had his first child told me once that the purpose of existence was to have a childhood. No matter how long you live, you can never go back to the state of wonder you have when you first start to coalesce into a conscious being.

This place in ones life is turned into an amazing chateau in Le Grand Meaulnes, where Meaulnes a young boy witnesses a magical fete and encounters a mysterious girl before returning to his real life at school.

He obsesses about returning to the chateau and meeting her again but he has lost the way back to the estate and bemoans his regular life afterward.

Fortunately, he finds the virtues of adulthood and the beauty that can exist outside of perpetual awe. But, it's odd to think of the diminishing returns that come from dreams as they draw closer to reality.

I guess whats wrong with Romanticism is that some people never escape from the bubble that it puts them in. Ideals should be expected to bloom and then fade into reality. Accepting the beauty of both is the way to happiness.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Le Monde 100: For Whom The Bell Tolls

The closest thing I have had to a Hemingway Experience was with my friend M in Eastern Europe. We stumbled upon what I'm pretty sure was a murdered body in the dark, just outside the reach of one of two street lamps on the clay street outside the tenement house where we were living in the basement. At the same moment, the other streetlamp framed the lurking shadows of two men whose demeanor smacked of the all-pervasive Russian Mafia and who we were fairly sure were the murderers of said body.

They were looking right at us.

As our friends encountered the same situation, having to go so far as to sell their cars and move out of the city, we were waiting for this exact thing to happen.

For Whom The Bell Tolls was included in the Le Monde 100 for the impression it made on its readers, which, in this case, impressed them with the theme of man's relationship with death. Hemingway could speak of death so intimately because he was, no doubt, quite acquainted with it due to the fact that, not only was he an ambulance driver and a soldier who was seriously injured, he also miraculously survived a plane crash. When you look death in the face so often, it may become a friend or, at least, a respected acquaintance. The fact that Hemingway ended up killing himself testifies to his recognition of the usefulness or the lack of fear of death.

Thus, his characters in For Whom The Bell Tolls face death as a necessary part of life. Robert Jordan, the main character who meets the love of his life 24 hours before he is fairly certain that he is going to die, is commited to living the embodiment of an entire lifetime in that one day. The gypsies and mountain people, both men and women, are committed to dying in the name of duty against the fascists and in the name of the common good.

This is an amazing mirror of the viewpoint of Hemingway. However, it also counterpoints my complete estrangement with death. M's coping skills and my own were revealed as we hid in the dark hallways of a completely strange house while waiting for morning, cursing each other and ourselves in this new and strange face of death.

Our coping skills had come to light and found severely lacking. My only hope is that the next time I come so close to death I will recognise and be much more comfortable with its presence.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Le Monde 100: Man's Fate

Unless one has a laser-sharp aesthetic sensibility or a unwavering passion from youth, it may be hard for most to realize who it is that they really are.

To say "really are," though, means what?

It's not like one has a mental displacement in the sci-fi sense, where one questions who they are in the midst of being cloned or being a clone or having their brain downloaded into another body or having one's memories erased by a malicious alien race and stranded on a distant moon to fend for one's self while unlocking the mystery of their origins or in the sense of the self-aware brain floating in a tank.

In reality, most people develop a sense of their need for an identity in an effort to put purpose in their life. They are in a sense looking to create the story arc that their life will traverse. This usually happens after high school, whether it's the stereotypical backpack across Europe to "find" ones self or in the listless struggle to find ones major in college.
Some figure themselves out fairly early and some never do or later in life.

Being creative is usually the hardest with the big issues as communicating is best done through a clear and focused detail and building a purpose is huge.

What is amazing about Man's Fate is the way some of character's purposes become clear through single moments in time that open their value system up for the rest of their lives.

Andre Malreaux, the author, put the conflict as centered on the massacre of Communists in 1927 by Chang-Kai-Shek, which was underpinned by the abandonment of those Communists by Stalin in Moscow. When you build your identity as a political revolutionary that is for the people, how do you process that betrayal to your body as well as your purpose? Furthermore, how do you reconcile fighting for esoteric concepts with the individual experience of killing a man?

The book opens with a man finding his purpose and identity but its not what he expected. He must creep in to a man's bedroom and assasinate him in his sleep, which he does successfully. But because he has such an intimate experience with death, his self view changes from a revolutionary to a murderer. As he cannot undo the killing, he becomes obsessed with his own death and now views every killing as the crafting of a relationship with another human just as one does in life.

Man's Fate was picked for Le Monde 100 due to the lasting impression it made on the readers as were all the selections. I can definitely see why, knowing The transformation of ones life course is lurking around an unknown corner waiting to point you in a new direction.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Le Monde 100: Journey to the End of the Night

You can just feel the cynicism steaming off of him.
Patriotism is a disease and so is everything else.

That's the basic message I get from Louis-Ferdinand Celine's Journey to the End of the Night.

Oh, there is nothing that gets this guy's dander up than seeing people operate in a happy little bubble. This includes doing anything that may give someone a sense of purpose down to the "enjoyment" of sexual relations.
It's all just misery on the long slow march to death. But it pushes him to go and see something different all over the world in an effort to quench his bad attitude. He goes from a soldier in the war to an African colonist to a New York indigent to a factory worker in Detroit to graduating from medical school and settling into a small village practice in search of a context that makes sense. But, you come to ask yourself, is it to quench his negative attitude or to fuel it?

There is something really fun about Celine's misanthropy. His black and white thinking pushes him to write in huge hyperboles and puts a sense of the unpredictable in all his sentences. He wallows in irony and his writing is exciting for it.

How can you not love a book that includes a grandmother at the end of her life with nothing to live for who lives at the end of the garden who transforms into a powerful beast of purpose when she realizes that her son and daughter-in-law have tried to kill her by putting a bomb in her rabbit hutch? Her glee at being murdered is weirdly life-affirming.

Celine is the father of all contemporary writing in my opinion. If you like Jonathan Ames, Mil Millington, Tibor Fischer, or Martin Amis, you will recognize the tempo and cadence of Celine's writing. Tibor Fischer, I just found out, titled his book Journey to the End of the Room, a book about a woman who loves to travel but hates leaving the house,  in a nod to Celine.

Although, I think this book is fantastic, I can NOT get on board with the fact that Celine went on to publish a series of anti-Semetic pamphlets in the 1940's. He thought Hitler was too much of a "Jew." It seems to be so unnecessarily  purposeful for someone so nihilistic.

And now I feel like those punk rock purists who  have to explain why they have the first Skrewdriver album.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Le Monde 100: The Grapes of Wrath

A corporation just got ta eat, right? You wouldn't stop a poor old corporation from eating, would ya?

In 2010, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission was passed giving corporations the same status as people, which it previously had only in the limited capacity of being able to sue and be sued. The ruling that just came down the pike last has given the corporations vast political power by allowing them to make unlimited campaign donations. 

It's as if the Supreme Court Justices never read The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck.

Since the Industrial Revolution started, there has been no lack of regret and sadness and outrage at the ability of society to operate completely contrary to the needs of the individual members of that same society. Ralph Waldo Emerson shot an enormous blast of humanity right in the face of business in his essay "Nature", when he realized that when we start viewing men in terms of dollars and cents that that vision will strip man of his essential humanity. 

This is the crux of the problem for the family in The Grapes of Wrath. The banks realize that by hiring one man with a tractor they can replace whole families of sharecroppers as they raise their bottom line. When I say banks, though, I don't mean the people who work at the bank, I mean the collective unconscious of the CONCEPT of a bank, whose undead non-soul is animated by taking a little part of every member and worker of that bank. The bank, not only is not have its own conscious, but it also does not have its own CONSCIENCE as it doesn't have the ability to see right and wrong from a human perspective. 

Steinbeck relates it this way:

"But, you see, a bank or a company can't do that, because those creature don't breathe air, don't eat side-meat. The breathe profits; they eat the interest on money. If they don't get it, they die the way you die without air, without side meat. It is a sad thing, but it is so."

So, banks and corporations aren't to blame for being hungry. But, Steinbeck says "Men made it, but they can't control it." To be mad at a corporation is like being mad at the polar bear you keep in your pool for eating your little nephew that came over for a swim. It's just following its imperative. 

This is why Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission is a ghoulish proposition and  the sheepskin that wolves will wear to dinner.

The Grapes of Wrath does everything it can do show the humanity of the individual to the point of a woman breast feeding a fully grown man. That's really the ultimate in caring for another person. But, how long before The IceCreamists have an IPO?

I'm going a little out of order because I didn't get my copy of Man's Fate. Next up, Journey to the End of Night by Louis-Ferdinand Celine.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Le Monde 100: The Little Prince

What a short little treat to gobble down after three heavy gutbombs of literature! Plus, pictures to look at!

The Little Prince looks like a children's story on the surface, but the lessons and themes that is trying to teach seems to be suitable for those who have lost their way in life by becoming overfocused on the mundane elements of existence.

This is not to say that it's not good for children. It's more like advice that a child will have no idea how to put into immediate use, only to reflect in the future on the message of the value of subjectivity in The Little Prince.

Basically, this is Siddhartha for beginners.

As the little price travels from asteroid to asteroid, each person he encounters lives on his own little planet is only unhappy when he lives or wishes to live outside of his own needs. He is aware that he is basically alone on this planet but can see others floating in the cosmos around him.

This really illustrates the happiness tied up in needs over wants.

How much room do you actually need in your house? How much food do you actually need to eat? How much money will you actually spend?

Not as much as you probably think.

The little prince can't figure out how people on Earth act.

"Men occupy very little space on the Earth. If the two billion inhabitants occupying the planet were to stand upright and crowded together, as at a meeting, they could easily live on a public square twenty miles long and twenty miles wide. All humanity could be piled up on a tiny islet in the Pacific.

Grown-ups of course will never believe you. They think that they take up a lot of space"

Another sentiment that is simple and strong is that "What is important cannot be seen," which is repeated throughout the book.If only this was more of a conversation in our society rather than the relentless consumerism and worship of monetary growth that trickles down to kids, who hopefully don't figure this lesson out before it's too late. This should be required reading in America or, at least, just in Texas.

Overall, a smashing read.

Next up, Man's Fate by André Malraux

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Le Monde 100: The Trial

When I was building a certain house, I employed an engineer whose low rate was just what was needed for the budget of the project. However, the engineer was not one who was accustomed to houses people lived in, but rather large commercial projects where there was deep involvement with the government and it's standards.

When the time came for us to actually follow his engineering plans, they were so cryptic that they were essentially impossible to interpret.

When confronted with the impossible nature of his plans, he stated that the typical policy of engineers in NYC was to PURPOSEFULLY make plans complicated on the premise that it would discourage the government building department from looking too closely to the plans and just stamping them approved, freeing the engineers to then properly draft the real plans for construction.

This process showed how defanged the government could be and how the Law as a concept with all it's purpose and intentions would conflict with the patience and capabilities of its very human agents.

This is the same situation that Franz Kafka faces in his book The Trial.

I couldn't help but contrast the story in The Trial with the story of Socrates in the Crito.

Socrates submit himself to the Law to the point of execution even when he disagreed with the verdict of the Law. When presented with the opportunity to escape from his prison, Socrates rejected it on the grounds that by doing so he would in effect be destroying the Law that he had taken advantage of his whole life. How could he only take advantage of the Law when it suited him and reject it when it didn't suit him. Therefore, he patiently accepted the ideal presented by the Law.

What Socrates story leaves out, though, is the awful journey one often has to take to both understand and engage with the Law.

In The Trial, Kafka paints a portrait of a vast bureaucracy that a man accused has to deal with on a nebulous criminal charge, where no authority that he encounters seems to have enough authority to handle his case thoroughly. He is never given the dignity of a clear cut judicial action that he can face with confidence as Socrates did, leaving him in a legal limbo that is both draining to his soul and society. The Law no longer is a true voice of the people but rather the voice of a schizophrenic, unpredictable and narrow-minded in it's regard to the average citizen.

The Law forces lawyers and priests and all who give counsel in the face of such an unbending structure to advise incredible compromise.

Says the Priest to Josef K., the protagonist, "you don't need to accept everything as true, you only have to accept it as necessary." "Depressing view," said K. "The lie made into the rule of the world"

It's never a pretty thing when the rubber of ideals hits the road of reality.

Now, for a bit of levity, we turn to The Little Prince!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Le Monde 100: Swann's Way: Swann in Love

After finally polishing off the rest of Swann's Way, I found my outlook transforming from reading out of a sense of duty to Man is Men to sincere interest and delight once I got on board with Proust's style.

Proust takes the concept of the formation of experience, which he illustrates through the Narrator's bedtime experiences in Overture and Combray, and shows how love wreaks havoc on one's construction of reality in the largest part of the book, Swann in Love.

Swann goes on an emotional roller coaster as he navigates his relationship with a courtesan, who loves him one day and spurns him the next. Swann jumps through hoops trying to make sense of his obsession with her and comes face to face with the concept of cognitive dissonance much like the Fox and the Grapes, where the fox, after trying so hard and failing to reach the grapes that are high in a tree, deems them as sour anyway. He must alter his sense of reality in order to suit the actual reality.

But what this really goes into is how our memories are not made out of exact mirrors of stretches of time but are rather like a book or movie, where only the moments that fit our ideal of the memory are archived together in our mind to formulate the experience.

A friend of mine went on a long road trip with his wife across America for their 10 year anniversary. He told me that they fought the whole way and squabbled and squibbled non-stop, leading him to wonder if the trip was a good idea. But, after the trip, when they sat at home reflecting on the month long excursion, they felt it was the best trip of their life! They expunged all the bad moments and strung together all the good ones, making them the building blocks of that experience.

This is exactly what Swann did with his courtesan, Odette:

"Rare as they became, those moments did not occur in vain. By the process of memory, Swann joined the fragments together, abolished the intervals between them, cast, as in molten gold, the image of an Odette compact of kindness and tranquillity, for whom he was to make, later on (as we shall see in the second part of this story) sacrifices which the other Odette would never have won from him."

This book is worth the work. So, now, for all who are following along or wished to forgo Marcel Proust's long winded nattering, on to The Trial by Franz Kafka!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Le Monde 100: Swann's Way - Combray

Finishing the second part of Swann's Way leads me to, if not agree with, but, at least understand Evelyn Waugh's assessment of it as "raving" and Marcel Proust as a "mental defective," especially in the light of the pages and pages of prose that shoulder aside any real concern with plot. There is a desperation to Proust as he has a single minded obsession with triggering memories and experiencing the purest sensation of the initial recollection of a long forgotten moment.

Proust realizes that memories are subject to the Law of Diminishing Returns as each subsequent recollection of any long-lost moment will gradually wane in its ability to impart ecstasy. So the sheer size and depth of his description of detail is a method in itself to preserve those sentimental moments.

He literally lays out this cathartic need to preserve through writing due to the unpredictable instability of the human mind when dealing with the onset of an obsession over the future of the memory of three steeples against the backdrop of Combray. He writes down a long description of the scene after which he writes, "I had finished writing it, I found such a sense of happiness, felt that it had so entirely relieved my mind of the obsession of the steeples, and of the mystery which they concealed, that, as though I myself were a hen and had just laid an egg, I began to sing at the top of my voice."

So, basically all 1.5 million words of Remembrance of Things Past are simply a long series of laid eggs.

But, who doesn't love eggs? Proust pushes out some amazing orbs of writing such as

"but what fascinated me would be the asparagus, tinged with ultramarine and rosy pink which ran from their heads, finely stippled in mauve and azure, through a series of imperceptible changes to their white feet, still stained a little by the soil of their garden-bed: a rainbow-loveliness that was not of this world. I felt that these celestial hues indicated the presence of exquisite creatures who had been pleased to assume vegetable form, who, through the disguise which covered their firm and edible flesh, allowed me to discern in this radiance of earliest dawn, these hinted rainbows, these blue evening shades, that precious quality which I should recognise again when, all night long after a dinner at which I had partaken of them, they played (lyrical and coarse in their jesting as the fairies in Shakespeare's Dream) at transforming my humble chamber into a bower of aromatic perfume."

And that's just asparagus!

Now, shall we push on through the rest of this book that suffers from the literary equivalent of gigantism? Let's!

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Le Monde 100: Swann's Way: Overture.

I admit my sole connection to Proust before starting Swann's Way (the first volume of Remembrance of Things Past) was this:

Whatever sense of ambling I had with The Stranger must now be stripped away as Remembrance of Things Past is the the longest novel in history with about a million and a half words in its seven volumes. Furthermore, where The Stranger was such an easy read due to Camus' hardboiled writing style,which stemmed from his lack of sentiment, Proust is sentimentality incarnate, where every emotion and every feeling is walked up and down the boulevard as if there were no word for urgency in his world.

Reading Swann's Way feels like reading an auto manual where every part on a diagram is exploded and then frozen in place in order to get a full view of every piece.

Proust gives the same treatment to the formation of memories.

What is so interesting about Proust the fact that he can remain engaging even though nothing really happens in his story. He describes the brief moment of displacement that one feels upon waking that he uses as a blank canvas to inject an exploration of his entire life. In that moment, one has no context as to where one is or when one is living allowing for a brief period to be wherever or whenever a person wants to be. It's like a momentary Nirvana where only the Self exists.

The introduction of Swann has a similar effect on the Narrator's family as seen in this passage:

"And so, no doubt, from the Swann they had built up for their own purposes my family had left out, in their ignorance, a whole crowd of the details of his daily life in the world of fashion, details by means of which other people, when they met him, saw all the Graces enthroned in his face and stopping at the line of his arched nose as at a natural frontier; but they contrived also to put into a face from which its distinction had been evicted, a face vacant and roomy as an untenanted house, to plant in the depths of its unvalued eyes a lingering sense, uncertain but not unpleasing, half-memory and half-oblivion, of idle hours spent together after our weekly dinners, round the card-table or in the garden, during our companionable country life."

The man is blank enough to be whatever you want him to be.

Overture, which is the first part of Swann's Way ends on another moment where the Narrrator eats a tea-soaked Madeline - an experience that he had not had for decades, making it a pure memory (rather than a memory of another memory) and a gateway to other pure memories. Thus, setting the stage no doubt for the rest of the book.

Are you still with me? Congratulations! But, have no fear- Swann's Way, apparently, is quite self contained. So we shan't read all seven volumes.

(Unless, of course, a chorus of voices compels me.)

Friday, July 22, 2011

Le Monde 100: The Stranger - The Rest of the Story

A wise friend of mine recently signaled the immense task that potentially lay before me in blogging the Le Monde 100, which, while obvious in its scope, is seductive in its appeal to the perfectionist in me- a list to be "knife and forked" as Katie puts it.

But, The Stranger is a little more than an 100 pages long. One can potentially read this in an evening. With Remembrance of Things Past, one of the longest. Books in history, looming on the horizon, it has been determined that my current pace is far too slow.

So, without further ado, my thoughts on the rest of The Stranger by Albert Camus.

This book is called The Stranger because of the indifference of the protagonist, Meursault, to the rest of the world. His attitude toward his entire life and those he likes or even loves is the same as one would have toward an unknown person walking down the street.

The second half of the book deals with the ramifications of the final scene of the first half of the book where Meursault commits murder without an actual motive in an action that was more or less a reaction to an assault on his senses by the Sun.

This scene of the murder is, like the funeral of Meursault's mother, awash with the description of his sensory experiences. He does not comment at all about the morality of the moment or any feelings toward his victim.

His victim pulled out a knife but it was the reflection in it's blade that actually assaulted him. He describes his enemy not as the man with the knife but the sun's rays as a "scorching blade" that "slashed at his eyelashes" and "stabbed at his stinging eyes." His actions have no meaning outside of his body. The consequences of his actions mean nothing compared with his sensory intake.

The ensuing trial and jail sentence highlight and force him to verbalize his innate philosophy. He rails against religion and God, decrying the meaning of life since all men die. Only at the end of the book, as he heads to the guillotine, does he have some closure in reconciling the state of his existence with his impending non-existence. By forsaking hope, he becomes the embodiment of the indifferent universe that he had formerly raged at. He sees it now as "like a brother."

Camus is an atheist and this book reflects his lack of faith in higher being to give purpose to the universe. But, these sentiments actually mirror Soren Kierkegaard's philosophies as well as to the inherent absurdity of being human albeit in the context of faith and belief in God.

I can't help but think that one's belief or construction of personal meaning comes down to personality type. Every few years, I get caught up in the Myers-Briggs personality tests, which has a strange predictable nature as to extracting the forces inside the mind. The difference between being an external and and an internal person may have a great bearing on whether someone is a so-called "Stranger" in society or not. Internal people live in their own heads and contemplate purpose individually. They expend energy in interaction with people as opposed to external people, who are energized in their interaction with people.

For many, purpose is what comes after the equal sign in the equation of their life, whereas purpose may actually be what comes before.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Le Monde 100: The Stranger - Chapters 2-4

Meursault's focus on his senses extends to the rest of the weekend after the funeral.

He enjoys a delicious meal, cavorts with a lady, swims in the ocean, and takes in his surroundings pleasurably. This may seem like cold behavior immediately after one's mother has died. But, what's the alternative? Would you rather someone went through a tragic loss while wrenching in agony over the irretrievable or would you have them get over their pain as quick as possible?

The expression of grief serves the griever first.

So, for Meursault, who is alone after his Mother's death, to grieve a second more than he biological needs would serve nothing. It would be different if he were with others who may have needed some solidarity in his Mother's death, then it would be a social kindness.

Should Meursault be showing more grief? How can any man look into the grief of another with any amount of understanding?

Until we find out differently, we are ultimately alone with the experience of our own senses.

Lonely light

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Le Monde 100: The Stranger - Chapter 1

The first chapter of The Stranger has caught me in an odd place. The title character, Meursault, acts in a way that for most of my life I would have found irrational. He has a strange detachment at his mother's funeral, but not because he had any kind of problem with her. He finds himself at a small impasse in front of her coffin at the vigil. He finds himself asking if he should be smoking and drinking coffee in front of his dead mother. After hesitating, he realizes that he doesn't care and that it doesn't matter.

All his thoughts at the vigil are not of his life and relationship with his mother but they are actually about his surroundings at the funeral home: the night air, the smell of the flowers, the warmth of the coffee. Meursault is unfeeling and unsentimental about anything beyond his present experience even the death of his own mother. He barely reflects even on the concept of death.
This is the opposite of the horde of old folks who fill the funeral home with him. They do not make an effort to connect with him at all and fall asleep or become lost in their own thoughts. For these old people, the vigil is a protest, not of the loss of one of their own, but of the universal concept of death itself.

Part of me relates to the seemingly cold attitude of Meursault, people I have known my entire life have died and I am surprised by my lack of sadness for people that I truly loved. I have never thought of myself as unsentimental but where are the lamentations?

I am actually sadder about potential deaths than actual deaths.

However, three weeks ago, I found myself in a similar position as Meursault in The Stranger. At a funeral for my grandmother's sister, I approached the cousins and Aunties that sat before the coffin and gave my respects. While I loitered in front of the coffin, an inlaw engaged me in a conversation about business matters that started to gain some mutual momentum. You know that feeling when a conversation shifts into a higher pace and into a deeper strata and your senses heighten and you look around to see what you are sacrificing to go to the next level with this person.

I, unlike Meursault, could not ignore the coffin and, for a split second, asked myself why not. There was no answer,though, just a compulsion to respect the dead.

But, that compulsion had nothing to do with the feelings of the deceased but more with a feeling inside my head. The unsentimental man inside of me is acknowledging the sentimental man as if I know that man needs to be there in order to be whole.

Well, nothing like a funeral to bring out the narcissist in you.

Albert Camus, The Stranger, Absurd, Absurdism, Books, Writing, Le Monde 100,

Friday, July 1, 2011

In my Head, the Homunculus Rubs His Cheek Upon A List.

One of the first things you learn when digging into the odd currency of Search Engine Optimization is that people are powerless when presented a list. The Five Best. . .the Ten Top. . . 12 Ways to. . . And so on.

What is it about a list that demands our attention?

Is it a sense of authority giving us closure on a subject? Perhaps it is the brevity with which one is confronted before reading it. We like lists for the same reason we like appetizers at Cheesecake Factory. Information without commitment. Short form reading for the masses.

I believe,though, that, as Children of the Information Age, this is not bad thing. A short attention span may actually be more useful to us as we approach the Singularity (as Ray Kurzweil would have you believe).

However, nothing can fully flesh out an idea or communicate so personally as a book. The long road helps you understand in a deeper and more humanly way.

So, Man is Men would like to use both long and short form vehicles of writing to their best ability by live-blogging the Le Monde 100 Books of the Century! The Twentieth Century, that is.

Why? For fun, of course! No, but, why the Le Monde 100? That sounds fairly pretentious, doesn't it? Possibly, but the books on the list seem so interesting to me. I haven't read most of them and the books don't include the usual suspects like Pride and Prejudice and Moby Dick. I do not have a problem with those two books.

Let's do this together. I'll post haphazardly according to how many chapters I've read and then we can be mean to each other in the comments section.

Here is the list:

1 The Stranger (The Outsider) Albert Camus 1942

2 Remembrance of Things Past Marcel Proust 1913–1927

3 The Trial Franz Kafka 1925

4 The Little Prince Antoine de Saint-Exupéry 1943

5 Man's Fate André Malraux 1933

6 Journey to the End of the Night Louis-Ferdinand Céline 1932

7 The Grapes of Wrath John Steinbeck 1939

8 For Whom the Bell Tolls Ernest Hemingway 1940

9 Le Grand Meaulnes Alain-Fournier 1913

10 Froth on the Daydream Boris Vian 1947

11 The Second Sex Simone de Beauvoir 1949

12 Waiting for Godot Samuel Beckett 1952

13 Being and Nothingness Jean-Paul Sartre 1943

14 The Name of the Rose Umberto Eco 1980

15 The Gulag Archipelago Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn 1973

16 Paroles Jacques Prévert 1946

17 Alcools Guillaume Apollinaire 1913

18 The Blue Lotus Hergé 1936

19 The Diary of a Young Girl Anne Frank 1947

20 Tristes Tropiques Claude Lévi-Strauss 1955

21 Brave New World Aldous Huxley 1932

22 Nineteen Eighty-Four George Orwell 1949

23 Asterix the Gaul René Goscinny and Albert Uderzo 1959

24 The Bald Soprano Eugène Ionesco 1952 French

25 Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality Sigmund Freud 1905

26 The Abyss Marguerite Yourcenar 1968

27 Lolita Vladimir Nabokov 1955 English

28 Ulysses James Joyce 1922

29 The Tartar Steppe Dino Buzzati 1940

30 The Counterfeiters André Gide 1925

31 The Horseman on the Roof Jean Giono 1951

32 Belle du Seigneur Albert Cohen 1968

33 One Hundred Years of Solitude Gabriel García Márquez 1967

34 The Sound and the Fury William Faulkner 1929

35 Thérèse Desqueyroux François Mauriac 1927

36 Zazie in the Metro Raymond Queneau 1959

37 Confusion of Feelings Stefan Zweig 1927

38 Gone with the Wind Margaret Mitchell 1936

39 Lady Chatterley's Lover D. H. Lawrence 1928

40 The Magic Mountain Thomas Mann 1924

41 Bonjour Tristesse Françoise Sagan 1954

42 Le Silence de la mer Vercors 1942

43 Life: A User's Manual Georges Perec 1978

44 The Hound of the Baskervilles Arthur Conan Doyle 1901–1902

45 Under the Sun of Satan Georges Bernanos 1926

46 The Great Gatsby F. Scott Fitzgerald 1925

47 The Joke Milan Kundera 1967

48 A Ghost at Noon (Contempt) Alberto Moravia 1954

49 The Murder of Roger Ackroyd Agatha Christie 1926

50 Nadja André Breton 1928

51 Aurélien Louis Aragon 1944

52 The Satin Slipper Paul Claudel 1929

53 Six Characters in Search of an Author Luigi Pirandello 1921

54 The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui Bertolt Brecht 1959

55 Vendredi ou les Limbes du Pacifique Michel Tournier 1967

56 The War of the Worlds H. G. Wells 1898

57 If This Is a Man Survival in Auschwitz Primo Levi 1947

58 The Lord of the Rings J. R. R. Tolkien 1954–1955

59 Les Vrilles de la vigne Colette 1908

60 Capitale de la douleur Paul Éluard 1926

61 Martin Eden Jack London 1909

62 Ballad of the Salt Sea Hugo Pratt 1967

63 Writing Degree Zero Roland Barthes 1953

64 The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum Heinrich Böll 1974

65 The Opposing Shore Julien Gracq 1951

66 The Order of Things Michel Foucault 1966

67 On the Road Jack Kerouac 1957

68 The Wonderful Adventures of Nils Selma Lagerlöf 1906–1907

69 A Room of One's Own Virginia Woolf 1929

70 The Martian Chronicles Ray Bradbury 1950

71 The Ravishing of Lol Stein Marguerite Duras 1964

72 The Interrogation J. M. G. Le Clézio 1963

73 Tropisms Nathalie Sarraute 1939

74 Journal, 1887–1910 Jules Renard 1925

75 Lord Jim Joseph Conrad 1900

76 Écrits Jacques Lacan 1966

77 The Theatre and its Double Antonin Artaud 1938

78 Manhattan Transfer John Dos Passos 1925

79 Ficciones Jorge Luis Borges 1944

80 Moravagine Blaise Cendrars 1926

81 The General of the Dead Army Ismail Kadare 1963

82 Sophie's Choice William Styron 1979

83 Gypsy Ballads Federico García Lorca 1928

84 The Strange Case of Peter the Lett Georges Simenon 1931

85 Our Lady of the Flowers Jean Genet 1944

86 The Man Without Qualities Robert Musil 1930–1932

87 Fureur et mystère René Char 1948

88 The Catcher in the Rye J. D. Salinger 1951

89 No Orchids For Miss Blandish James Hadley Chase 1939

90 Blake and Mortimer Edgar P. Jacobs 1950

91 The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge Rainer Maria Rilke 1910

92 Second Thoughts Michel Butor 1957

93 The Burden of Our Time The Origins of Totalitarianism Hannah Arendt 1951

94 The Master and Margarita Mikhail Bulgakov 1967

95 The Rosy Crucifixion Henry Miller 1949–1960

96 The Big Sleep Raymond Chandler 1939

97 Amers Saint-John Perse 1957

98 Gaston (Gomer Goof) André Franquin 1957

99 Under the Volcano Malcolm Lowry 1947

100 Midnight's Children Salman Rushdie

Whew! A tall order perhaps? Let's go until we drop. From the top, let's dive right into number one with The Stranger!