Monday, July 15, 2019

Freedom is a bottomless abyss

I feel compelled to put closure on this book (possibly on this year of love) — My Year of Love, by Paul Nizon. Published in 1981, it has the feel of sexual memoirs from an earlier era, but no, Nizon represents a very unevolved male attitude of the 1970s. I damn near hated it, it bored me so much.

And yet. I am reminded of it most mornings. I wake up enveloped in a greenish haze of light, much like one Nizon described. Of course, I'm unable to track down this specific passage, I wonder if I imagined it. Or I read something he wrote about curtains while I was half asleep, and I later reshaped it into the sheers billowing around me, I see the trees through this mesh of silver.

I thought he was writing about the prefect writing space, but as this passage doesn't exist, I must accept that this is some expression of my subconscious attitude to the space and light I live in.

This novel is about a man trying to write, and while he sits at his desk he watches the old man in the apartment across the courtyard feeding the doves on his windowsill. So he writes about the dove man, and the dove man's wife, and his mother, and the tenants in his building (other writers), and the landlady, and his dead aunt, and his dalliances with women, past and present.
I like the confidential aspect of such relationships, which by the way are very casual, very lightweight. I like the complicated solidarity, because here, where everything is influenced by venality, the extras, the little votes of confidence, do have the nature of beautifully shining kindness. I've always had this special relationship to so-called loose women, this offhand relationship that also incorporates closeness.
He leaves out the transactional element of his dealings with prostitutes. He extols these relationships for their simple, casual nature and for their kindness, and I feel, momentarily, that I can relate, I appreciate the beauty of such a contact — to have a lover, no strings, it is the ultimate, intimate, kindness we bestow on each other. But it never once occurs to him that he has paid for this experience, that it might be less than authentic.

This troubles me immensely. Not that he frequents prostitutes (though that is problematic), but that he seems incapable of noticing the difference between these relationships.

He even argues that there's more sincerity in one that is transactional, no false promises or expectations to manipulate, whereas taking a girl to dinner or a movie he would feel he was buying her attentions.

We gradually learn about the marriage he broke for the sake of an encounter with another woman, and so he left for Paris where he might experience true love, by which he really means sexual freedom.
I kept a lookout for her from behind the mask of my sunglasses, I didn't even really know if I liked her, I couldn't ask myself that question, because I was dependent on our being in love, dependent on this atmospheres as if it were a drug, that's why I was dependent on her, whether I wanted to be or not. I couldn't be without either. That's why I wore the sunglasses.

[...]

I only wanted to experience LOVE with her and excluded her as a person.
For all the women in this book, none of them are people, not even (especially) his wife. No one exists except in relation to his male ego.

But he arrives at a conclusion I came to myself about a year ago. Love isn't what happens between two people; it's what happens in one's own mind. It is a completely solitary state of being, and the person beside you is almost completely irrelevant.

Passages from this book are achingly insightful and poignant, but it's all infuriatingly male and so much self-pitying, solipsistic bullshit.
Write something or pull it to shore, that is, put it on paper, otherwise you'll get sick in this freedom, it's unlimited, I would never have believed that freedom could be form of captivity, freedom can be like a primeval forest or like the ocean, you can drown in it or disappear and never, never ever find your way out again. How can I make it to shore in this freedom, or how can I enjoy it? I have to parcel it out for myself, plant something in it, cultivate it, I have to change it, at least a little, into an occupation, freedom is a bottomless abyss when it present itself in this totalitarian form.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Subtler, almost invisible

Sometimes, as if carelessly, Michel's and Louise's looks met. The warned each other not to stay too long. In fact, their eyes touched, as lightly as birds, while an expression of almost childish contentment spread across the Rumanian's face as he hurriedly bent over his plate.

The change on the young girl's face was subtler, almost invisible; it wasn't joy. There was no sparkle in it, it was more like a look of serenity and satisfaction.

It was as though she had matured, as though she suddenly felt a great potential richness inside her.
I'd almost forgotten how much I love Simenon. My reading of late has felt pretty blah; maybe that throws Simenon into relief. I love Simenon!

I loved Account Unsettled! I love that I found this book in Prague! I love that it's my daughter who pulled me into this shop for some inexplicable reason! I love this book's funky smell! I love its atrocious cover!

The cover — the description in combination with the illustration — might lead you to believe that this book is about a crime of passion with a woman at its source. But there is no passion in this crime; it's very cold. And the woman has nothing to do with it.

This 1953 novel is one of Simenon's romans durs and does not feature Maigret. It opens in Li├Ęge, and then quite unexpectedly shifts in time and space to Arizona some decades later. From the claustrophobia of a house marked by hunger and chills to the gluttonous emptiness of resort in a vast sweaty desert. A study in contrasts.

Page after page we have been waiting for Elie, a poor, ugly Polish-Lithuanian Jew pursuing a doctorate in mathematics, to gun down Michel, the handsome, charming, womanizing Jewish Rumanian of means.

It's not a matter of jealousy, it's justice, Elie convinces himself. But did Michel even ever give him a second thought?

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Honest

Today we arrived in Prague. We made our way from the airport to downtown via public transport. We found our hotel.

The only mission for this first day, apart from getting ourselves fed and hydrated and libated, was to soak up some atmosphere and track down a copy of Honest Guide Prague. Which we did! And we also almost got lost! Twice! I'd say the day is a success.

It was weeks after I'd booked the flights that Helena remembered to tell me about this YouTuber she follows. I'm not sure we ever would've made it out of the airport without him. The videos are a treasure trove. And now the team has released a book in time for our trip.

It's full of great advice like:
You can't judge a book by its cover, and you can't understand a building unless you go inside.
I'd just like to take a moment to geek out over this binding! (Coptic stitch? Waxed!)

Monday, June 17, 2019

A kind of flood of the flesh

I leaned over and kissed him. Ruben's lips parted, barely, but then he pushed me away.

"What is it?" I asked.

"I saw a film once," he said. "In Italian. A woman says to a man: Sodomizzami. Sodomize me. And he wanted nothing more, he'd dreamed about it forever, but he doesn't understand what she's saying. He's too uneducated. He doesn't understand, do you understand?"

We looked at each other, the two of us chuckling. I thought that maybe this was what is was like when intellectual people went to bed. Elegant and stiff, like someone with good posture eating mussels with a knife and fork, discussing film and quoting things in different languages even though you know you're facing ruin, a flood that is about to roll in and ravage everything all at once, a kind of flood of the flesh. This whole situation had lost its charm.
— from The Polyglot Lovers, by Lina Wolff.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Used her up

I feel somewhat blocked lately, in writing and reading. I tell myself it's because I'm busy with work, I'm still adjusting to my (no-longer-so-new) job, basking in the joy of work that is wholly engaging. But I don't want to be that person — I know there's more to life than work. I tell myself I'm living a balanced life, but neither am I being particularly social; I'm not dating much, it just doesn't seem worth the effort at the moment.

So I don't know what's wrong with me. I'm tempted to explain that it's not you, novels, it's me — it's not the right time and place for us. But rationalizing it, taking the blame, actually makes me angry, it's such bullshit. Why should it be my fault? One novel I'm working through is fascinating really, but just so damn big — it weighs on me — and I can't be bothered to carry it on my commute. The other novel I finally finished, but it was plodding — I didn't even have the strength of character to dump it.

My reading life and my dating life are somehow merged over the last year. I am for the most part attracted to books about sex and love and joy. Because I think they will help me process the sex and love and joy in my life. But sometimes they confuse me.

Maybe sometimes I confuse them. Sometimes I date the books and read the people, and I'm not sure I'm doing either the right way. (I should've dropped the book, not the guy.) Sometimes I challenge myself in the wrong ways.

Maybe I'm just tired and need a break.

**********

The bookstore emailed about the next bookclub meeting, but with only a week's notice, and by the time I got my hands on a copy of the book, I only had four and a half days to read it. I made it halfway in time for the discussion (but yes, I read it through to the end in the ensuing days).

I was grateful for the push to read something I wouldn't ordinarily pick up of my own accord: An Unkindness of Ghosts, by Rivers Solomon.

It's science fiction of the generation ship variety. The ships decks reinforce the caste system; the ship is powered by slaves. The protagonist is queer and neuroatypical; Aster is also a healer.

Despite some serious social criticism and horrific violence, it's a story brimming with loving relationships beautifully described.
Aster said sister because she knew sisters could not choose to unsister themselves when their lives diverged dramatically. Friends who hated each other were no longer friends. Sisters who hated each other remained sisters, despite long silences, feuds, and deliberate misunderstandings.
The science behind the predicament of the ship is a little shaky, but this is a very rich novel in all other aspects.

Mostly it's a commentary on racism, with violence against women that's hard to stomach. One character, fathered by a lieutenant, passes as white and so he managed to climb to the position of Surgeon General and thus has privileged access to areas, people, and knowledge. But we see other characters slip between levels, whether it's using off-limit passageways, networks of family and nannying arrangements, or (essentially) black-market means.

The novel presents a very fluid perspective of gender, while integrating issues of mental illness and exploring how knowledge and history are preserved. The ship is also developing its own myths (a deep-seated sense of sin) and evolving languages on different decks.

One of the aspects I found most interesting is that while this is ostensibly occurring in the future, the ship society seem so backward. It leads me to speculate on how and why that might happen.

An Unkindness of Ghosts is very easy to read in the sense that the writing style is breezy, but it is very difficult to read for the harsh realities of its characters' living conditions. This clash woke up all my reading sensibilities.

It had the magical effect of taking me out of myself (even if it took me to some very grim places), when these days I tend to ask books to take me deeper into myself.
The bigness of her earlier mannishness was nowhere now. Short-lived. All that was left were taunts, and crack of Scar's knee, and the past swooping in, an unkindness of ghosts. Her old life had possessed her, strengthening her, but like everything, used her up and then was done.

Monday, June 10, 2019

The erotic sense of simply being alive

I think that in my case the erotic awareness of life, or, rather, its awakening coincided with the awakening of my urge to write; the two occurred simultaneously in a wave of sensuality, in a corresponding confusion of my senses.

[...]

I think it was the erotic sense of simply being alive that enticed and directed me into daydreaming. It's a preliminary stage of visualization, imagination, and has to do with the creation of another, second reality, another life — and yet, early on, I was more than a little ashamed of the inwardness that gave rise to this other reality.
— from My Year of Love, by Paul Nizon.

I have mixed feelings about this book. It both bores me and fascinates me. I find the narrator repulsive for reasons I have difficulty pinpointing, but also highly relatable.

I need to write more. Why am I not writing?

Monday, May 27, 2019

She said it apodictically

Apodicticity
She said it apodictically, without directly addressing anyone, so that one was faced with the alternative of either saying nothing, of ignoring the remark and going past her without saying a word, or of taking up the topic, and it made me angry every time.
If you perceive that I have adopted an apodictic tone, it is because I am so taken with this word (new to me) and must orchestrate circumstances such that I may use it, not because I have taken a stance of apodicticity as if it were a moral imperative.

It sparks in me a new interest in the novel I earlier in the day proclaimed to be boring. When I came across My Year of Love, by Paul Nizon, in the shop last autumn, it seemed a literary imperative that I read it, and understand it. It would be the perfect male counterpoint to the emotional landscape backgrounding my own year of love experienced from my decidedly female perspective. It could offer a steady Swiss neutrality, something reasonable and potentially bland (wholly unlike my Swiss lover).

I've been reading it for days, but it seems I was merely turning the pages. Now this word has turned me around, it has me turning back the pages to find a city of certainties kept secret from me.