Wednesday, August 08, 2018

There's a situation vacant

Book acquired: Shada (Doctor Who: The Lost Adventure by Douglas Adams), by Gareth Roberts.

It starts this way:
At the age of five, Skagra decided emphatically that God did not exist. This revelation tends to make most people in the universe who have it react in one of two ways — with relief or with despair. Only Skagra responded to it by thinking, Wait a second. That means there's a situation vacant.
I had this revelation at the age of four. I was sitting in church, humming. I definitely felt relief, mostly because this meant it was merely parental authority compelling me to attend mass on a weekly basis, not anything higher. This was something I could work with.

Thursday, August 02, 2018

Exactly what a young girl dreams love can be

The years I spent getting high and reading library books I do not regret. It wasn't a bad life, even if I would probably never go back. I had an income from stripping and could afford to buy what I wanted, which was drugs, and if you have never tried heroin I have news for you: It makes you feel good about yourself, especially in the beginning. It makes you feel good about other people. You want to give the whole world a break, a time-out, a tender regard. There is nothing so soothing. My first dabble in it was morphine, a pill that someone else melted in a spoon and helped me inject, a guy named Bill and I hadn't thought much about him or what the drug would be like but the careful way he tied off my arm and found my vein, the way the needle went in, so thin and delicate, the whole experience of this random guy I never saw again shooting me up in an abandoned house was exactly what a young girl dreams love can be.

"This is a pins and needles high," he'd said. "It'll grab you by the back of the neck." It grabbed me by the back of the head with its firm clench, rubber tongs, then warmth spread down through me. I broke into the most relaxing sweat of my life. I fell in love. I don't miss those years. I'm just telling you.
— from The Mars Room, by Rachel Kushner.

Here we go with the heroin, again.

Monday, July 30, 2018

World canot be grasped

World was in the face of the beloved—,
but suddenly was all poured out.
World is outside. World cannot be grasped.

Why, when I raised to my lips the full,
beloved face, did I not drink in world,
which was so near I tasted its bouquet?

Ah, I drank. Insatiably I drank.
But already I was overbrimming
with too much world, and as I drank I spilled.

— Rainer Maria Rilke (tr. Edward Snow)
[Another translation here.]

I'm putting this volume of poetry to bed.

It's a beautiful edition. I love having the German side by side with the English. I love pretending I can read it aloud competently. If nothing else, it gives a good sense of the rhyme and rhythm of the original.

I don't like all of Rilke's work — much of it even bores me — but that which resonates with me utterly transports me.

I much prefer his later uncollected poems, which I would characterize as more spiritual and more sensual both, less identifiably about anything.

I've been dipping into this volume for years, but gave vast sections of it a more concentrated look this summer and now I feel glutted.

Too much world.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

The goby and the shrimp

"The pistol shrimp digs out a little hole to live in. But every once in a while, something else comes and sets up camp in the shrimp's hole — a little fish, called a goby. The goby isn't a freeloader, however. In exchange for a place to live, he hangs out at the entrance to the hole and wags his tail whenever enemies approach, letting the shrimp know what's coming. It's what biologists call a symbiotic relationship."
In Under the Midnight Sun, by Keigo Higashino, Detective Sasagaki has been watching the shrimp for twenty years, hoping to catch out the goby.

It starts with the murder of a pawnbroker. The shrimp is a little girl at the time, whose mother has an undefined relationship with the victim. And grim events seem to follow the girl throughout her life. She grows into an enterprising woman whose calm demands respect, or fear.
"You know how the sun rises and sets at a certain time each day? In the same way, all of our lives have a day and night. But it's not set like it is with the sun. Some people walk forever in the sunlight, and some people have to walk through the darkest night their whole lives. When people talk about being afraid, what they're afraid of is that their sun will set. That the light they love will fade. That's why you're frightened, isn't it?"
It's a mostly enjoyable read that covers a lot of aspects of a changing society, from dance clubs, tea ceremonies, and matchmaking services to booming financial markets, pirated video games, and fringe sex trade operations.

This book sprawls more than the other Higashino books I've read, and has a large cast of characters. Apparently, the novel was originally published in a serialized fashion, which goes a long way toward explaining the pacing. Every chapter switches to a new scene, and for the first part of the book to a new set of players. To my mind the chapters were overly long and bogged down in stage-setting unnecessary to the main story. It makes sense for serialization but as a novel it could be tighter — it shouldn't take 200 pages to get one's bearings and feel invested in the outcome.

Still, the characters are mostly well drawn, and the at-times heavy subject matter is balanced with moral insight and good humour ("It was Akemi's stated belief that a life lived in fear of stinking like garlic wasn't worth living."). The title remains enigmatic to me.

An interesting perspective in the South China Morning Post:
Journey Under the Midnight Sun isn't a whodunnit or even a whydunnit but a what-exactly-is-being-dunnit. It is also an extraordinary work of popular fiction. You could read it as a potted history of modern Japan, an exploration of a crumbling social order (gender, class, money, obedience), a ludic literary puzzle that plays with genre expectations: Higashino's many allusions veer from mysteries to "classic girl's school story". But at no point does he forget his fundamental raison d'ecrire: to provide a tantalising mystery that keeps the pages turning.
See Contemporary Japanese Literature for a fantastic review that covers the problematic elements of this novel — notably the author's treatment of women and the detective's less-than-credible obsession with the case. While I definitely noticed these flaws, I chose to overlook them in my pursuit of entertainment.

Monday, July 23, 2018

The air itself is one vast library

What a strange chaos is this wide atmosphere we breathe! Every atom, impressed with good and with ill, retains at once the motion which philosophers and sages have imparted to it, mixed and combined in ten thousand ways with all that is worthless and base. The air itself is one vast library, on whose pages are for ever written all that man has ever said or woman whispered. There, in their mutable but unerring characters, mixed with the earliest, as well as with the latest sighs of mortality, stand for ever recorded, vows unredeemed, promises unfulfilled, perpetuating in the united movements of each particle, the testimony of man’s changeful will.
— from The Ninth Bridgewater Treatise, by Charles Babbage.

This quotation serves as a springboard for appreciating the work of Rafael Lozano-Hemmer. The exhibit Unstable Presence is showing at the Musée d’art contemporain de Montréal (MAC) until September 9.

In Vicious Circular Breathing, for example, the participant steps into a glass box and breathes, breathing in the air breathed by previous participants. The breath is represented by bellows which, via respiration tubes, inflate and deflate a number of brown paper bags.

Other works are more purely sound-based. You can step inside a sphere and here all of Bach's works at the same time. In another room voices are "translated" into light and layered on top of each other.

I am reminded of a couple of Wim Wenders' films — the angels that perceive everything at once (Wings of Desire); sound that is removed from its context, distilled (Lisbon Story).

All of which stands to complement my reading of Rilke...
Wer, wenn ich schriee, hörte mich denn aus der Engel
Ordnungen? und gesetzt selbst, es nähme
einer mich plötzlich ans Herz: ich verginge von seinem
stärkeren Dasein. Denn das Schöne ist nichts
als des Schrecklichen Anfang, den wir noch grade ertragen,
und wir bewundern es so, weil es gelassen verschmäht,
uns zu zerstören. Ein jeder Engel ist schrecklich.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

The mezzanine of parentheses

Rilke to Tsvetayeva, May 10, 1926:
You, poet, do you sense how you have overwhelmed me, you and your magnificent fellow reader; I'm writing like you and I descend like you the few steps down from the sentence into the mezzanine of parentheses, where the ceilings are so low and where it smells of roses past that never cease.
— from Letters: Summer 1926, by Boris Pasternak, Marina Tsvetayeva, and Rainer Maria Rilke.

I am finding Rilke's correspondence more interesting than his poetry.

Most of his poetry no longer resonates with me the way it once did. Perhaps I feel the glut of it; I feel the pull of only rare scraps. Most of it feels too much like a riddle to be solved.

How my mindset has changed over the years. Today I seek clarity (even if it is parenthetical).

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

What I fall in love with when I read dating profiles

[Actual lines from various profiles across several dating apps. A found poem of sorts.]

Dear future girlfriend,

Fantastically flawed human being looking for same.

Two-time winner of Monopoly beauty contest.

Spicier than vanilla. Often accused of being addictive, even in small doses.

Mostly happy with occasional spurts of go-lucky.

Passable credit.

I want a princess by day and complete submissive whore behind closed doors. Ultimately looking for long term.

Research shows the best way to know if you'll want a second date is to go on a first date.

I live on my own, and I smell nice.

Epic poet.

You agree with Socrates that the unexamined life isn't worth living, but also value life enough not to share the hemlock with him.

Life without music is pointless.

You: [this space intentionally left blank]

Please don't message me if you're a scammer who expects me to send you money. Had 2 of those already in my first 3 days here, and I wasn't born yesterday. It won't work.

Looking for friends on this planet.

Reassure me that you do, in fact, exist.