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!