Tuesday, December 31, 2019

There are some places in the Universe where the Fall has not occurred

The other day Dizzy told me that in a small bookshop in the Czech town of Náchod he found a nice edition of Blake, so let us now imagine that these good people, who live on the other side of the border, and who speak to each other in a soft, childlike language, come home from work in the evening, light a fire in the hearth and read Blake to one another. And perhaps, if he were still alive, seeing all this, Blake would say that there are some places in the Universe where the Fall has not occurred, the world has not turned upside down and Eden still exists. Here Mankind is not governed by the rules of reason, stupid and strict, but by the heart and intuition. The people do not indulge in idle chatter, parading what they know, but create remarkable things by applying their imagination. The state ceases to impose the shackles of daily oppression, but helps people to realize their hopes and dreams. And Man is not just a cog in the system, not just playing a role, but a free Creature. That's what was passing through my mind, making my bed-rest almost a pleasure.

Sometimes I think that only the sick are truly healthy.
Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, by Olga Tokarczuk, surprised me by being so funny.

The narrator is bright and quirky. Actually, she's downright crazy. Janina Duszejko. She hates her given name, thinks she ought to have been named Irmtrud or Medea. A person's name ought to reflect their Attributes, and they rarely do. (The reviews I'm perusing now, and I refuse to link to any of them here, insist on referring to the protagonist as Janina, which would piss her off and to which she might not respond, rather than Duszejko.)

A former engineer, she lives on the Plateau (hey, I live on the Plateau!), is employed as the winter caretaker for some of the homes in the area (that serve primarily as summer residences), teaches English classes at the school in town, is helping a former student translate the works of William Blake. She sees the ghosts of her mother and her grandmother in her boiler room, and she's an astrologist, intent of predicting people's date of death.

She's a vegetarian, and an animal rights activist, to the extent that she complains about hunting and poaching and reports her neighbour to the police for abusing his dog. This neighbour starts the novel off dead.

She has her Ailments, suffers Attacks, and is visited upon by Anger.
Anger makes the mind clear and incisive, able to see more. It sweeps up the other emotions and takes control of the body. Without a doubt Anger is the source of all wisdom, for Anger has the power to exceed limits.
What makes her so sympathetic is her directness. As she says, "One has to tell people what to think. There's no alternative. Otherwise someone else will do it."

Although sometimes, she speaks with a Blakeian crypticness.
I didn't yet know what I was going to do. Sometimes, when a Person feels Anger, everything seems simple and obvious. Anger puts things in order and shows you the world in a nutshell; Anger restores the gift of Clarity of Vision, which it's hard to attain in any other state.
She talks to herself ("The best conversations are with yourself. At least there's no risk of misunderstanding."), and while she resents being invisible, as women of a certain age are, she plays it to her advantage. She is dismissed as a madwoman, and she's stopped caring.

But this is a murder mystery! More dead bodies turn up! Duszejko's theory, about which she is very vocal, is that the animals are taking revenge on the poachers in the area.
The human psyche evolved in order to defend us against seeing the truth. To prevent us from catching sight of the mechanism. The psyche is our defence system — it makes sure we'll never understand what's going on around us. Its main task is to filter information, even thought the capabilities of our brains are enormous. For it would be impossible to carry the weight of this knowledge. Because every tiny particle of the world is made of suffering.
This is not the book I expected to read based on its description and the tone of the reviews ("existential thriller"). I expected something weighty and noirish. Instead, I found a light and accessible story (with serious underlying themes) told in a fairly traditional way, peopled with colourful characters, and narrated with a touch of crazy. I recommend it as an entrypoint to Tokarczuk's work.
In a way, people like her, those who wield a pen, can be dangerous. At once a suspicion of fakery springs to mind — that such a Person is not him or herself, but an eye that's constantly watching, and whatever it sees it changes into sentences; in the process it strips reality of its most essential quality — its inexpressibility.

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