In the Land of Ago

A reading of 11.22.63 by Stephen King

3-front-quater-top-up-sunliner

 

How often do we think: “If only I could change this”, or, in whatever form, “if only I could have a second chance, go back, and do something different”? Going back, erasing, and changing the past is an old dream, the subject of countless tales and fiction works. Of course there is a second law of thermodynamics, to keep things simple, that says “no-can-do” – but still…

But imagine one could go back, reverse entropy, and travel back in time, would it be possible to change anything? Or, is the past resistant to change, obturate enough to stop, or at least oppose, a time-traveller interfering with what was, and, maybe, should be? And, even if the time traveller could change the past, what would be the cost? Perhaps more ominously: what would be the consequences?

Changing history is a special case. History, they say, is written by “the victors”, whoever they may be. It can also be rewritten, and this without, perhaps because of (not), going back to the past. There is the “official” version, and the “conspiracies”. A long-lasting, and still sinister, such story is that of the assassination of President Kennedy.

Jake Epping, not a crying man, is an English teacher at a high school in a small town in Maine. The year is 2011, and this is the end of term. Jake is, unique among his school colleagues, the customer of Al Templeton, the proud owner of the fat burgers diner. More than just a customer. He’s soon someone with whom Al is about to share a deadly secret. At the back of Al’s diner trailer is an anomaly: a fissure in time. Al has a mission, one he cannot complete, for he is dying of lung cancer. He wants Jake to take over, as he has identified Jake as someone who could, who will, bite at the bait. So Al teaches Jake, explains how this could work, and Jake listens. There is a first trial, then another. On the other side of the fissure it is Spring 1958, and America is young. Jake likes what he sees. He enjoys the fresh taste of root beer, the sweet air. Jake also has a personal objective: to prevent a domestic tragedy and help his friend Harry Dunning. The first leg of the story is there: the killing of Frank Dunning. Jake, armed with Al’s mission and notes, as well as dollars of the time, embarks on the journey.

Saving the Dunning family will take two attempts to get it “right”, or so Jake thinks. Then his personal odyssey will start , on the road to Dallas. For Al’s, now Jake’s, aim is to prevent the assassination of President John Kennedy, on November 22, 1963, nothing less. Jake has five years to adapt, plan, live, and, finally, execute Al’s mission.

Jake follows a route of nostalgia: an all-American Ford Sunliner, overnight stoppages in motels, drive-in cinemas, finally a small town, and an equally small school, in Texas. Later, much later, there will be Dallas and the horror. For a while it is (almost) paradise, his class, football, friends, a girl he falls in love with, America’s early 60’s: (almost) perfection.

Jake decides to stay, he won’t go back to 2011. But, in the end, he does. For fulfilling the mission has unpredictable consequences. When, on the threshold of his desperate return, Jake faces a dystopian 2011, he finally understand what Al had missed: that interfering with the strings of time has a price, and this is proportional to the change.

The novel concludes on a note of hope, an ending for which Stephen King credits his son, Joe Hill, at the end of the book.

11.22.63 is a great novel, to read, reread, and cherish. It is also a book to meditate on, seriously, listening carefully to the voice of its author.

Photo: Ford Sunliner 1958, via eclassicautos.com

 

Yawpa #AtoZAprilChallenge

Mocking Bird (Audubon).jpg

Yawpa is the Hopi name for the Mockingbird. “The mockingbird fluttered around the bamboo, calling out, ‘Pashumayani! Pashumayani! Be careful! Be careful!’ This is the way the people departed from the Lower World” (from The Four Worlds: the doorway to the Fourth World, in ‘The Fourth World of the Hopis’, by Harold Courlander.)

From Wikipedia, the Northern Mockingbird:

It also features in the title and central metaphor of the novel To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. In that novel, mockingbirds are portrayed as innocent and generous, and two of the major characters, Atticus Finch and Miss Maudie, say it is a sin to kill a mockingbird because “they don’t do one thing for us but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corncribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us”.[47]

Hush, Little Baby” is a traditional lullaby, thought to have been written in the Southern United States, its key first lines, “Hush, little baby, don’t say a word, Mama’s gonna buy you a mockingbird. And if that mockingbird don’t sing, Mama’s gonna buy you a diamond ring.”

The song of the northern mockingbird inspires much of classic American folk song of the mid-19th century, “Listen to the Mocking Bird“.[48]

Mockin’ Bird Hill is a popular song best known through recordings by Patti PageDonna Fargo, and by Les Paul and Mary Ford in 1951.

Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States, had a pet mockingbird named “Dick.”

The sound of the Mockingbird

Image: By 21_Mocking_Bird.jpg:
John James Audubon (1785–1851)

Alternative names
Birth name: Jean-Jacques-Fougère Audubon
Description
American ornithologist, naturalist, hunter and painter
Date of birth/death
26 April 1785
27 January 1851
Location of birth/death
Les Cayes (Haiti)
New York City
Work location
Louisville, Kentucky, New Orleans, New York City, Florida
Authority control
VIAF: 14765625
LCCN: n79018677
GND: 11865098X
BnF: cb118895048
ULAN: 500016578
ISNI: 0000 0001 1040 5229
WorldCat
WP-Person21_Mocking_Bird.jpg, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=13259783

Help #TheDailyPost

Write a new post in response to today’s one-word prompt.

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It’s no surprise “they” hate you, the establishment, the unctuous banksters, all those who have betrayed the people for many decades, destroying our dreams, our homes, killing us. They will use all their weapons to vilify you, and those close to you, they have a long tradition of this: it’s just that this time, many of us listen to you rather than to them.

Yes, you need our help. We understand this over here: honesty, and bluntness, can be so easily rebuked, truths denied, falsehoods erected as gospel: war is peace, freedom is slavery. It has all been written long ago.

Yet there is a chance. The old continent is stirring. Those criminals in our streets won’t roam free for much longer, and those liars who negotiate with them will meet their fate. And they won’t like it.

The search for Cesárea, a #reading of “The Savage Detectives”, Roberto Bolaño

Roberto bolaño.jpg
Roberto Bolaño” by FarisoriOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons.

From the Golden Fleece to The Two Towers, from the Holy Grail to Heart of Darkness, great works of world’s literature are often stories of quests. So goes for Roberto Bolaño‘s masterpiece, The Savage Detectives, which follows two young poets, Arturo Belano and Ulises Lima, in their odyssey in search for the mythical Cesárea Tinajero, great priestess of the “Visceral Realists”.

We follow them, often under the bemused eyes of Juan García Madero, seventeen when he joins the visceral realists (no initiation ceremony), from the streets of Mexico City to the Sonora desert, via Chile, Nicaragua, California, Barcelona, Rome, Angola, Sierra Leone, and other places in history, meeting biblical whores, murderous pimps, corrupt policemen, incorruptible generals, and, of course, lost poets.

This is a story of poets, fugitives, witnesses… perhaps apostles? Its roots are in the horror and miracles of a continent, steeped in literature and death.

“Bolaño,” writes his translator, Natasha Wimmer, “took seriously the idea of literary immortality – never more than when he turned it into a joke. Failed writers are frequent characters in his stories and novels; so are lost writers, whose legacy must be preserved. In ‘Photographs’, the only published story in which Arturo Belano reappears, he comes upon a kind of illustrated encyclopaedia of forgotten French poets from the 1960s and ’70s. As he looks at their pictures and reads their biographies, remote and irrelevant now, he sees a line of birds on the horizon, ‘an electrocardiogram that flutters or spreads its wings in expectation of their death, thinks Belano, and then he shuts his eyes for a long moment, as if he’s thinking of crying with his eye closed.'”

Geography is equally important for Bolaño, who describes meetings, encounters, love affairs and murders with a careful labelling of time and place: “Rafael Barrios, in the bathroom of his house, Jackson Street, San Diego, California, September 1982.”

I went on to read “Distant Star”, and hope to read “2666” soon. An important writer, a genial novel.

#FiveSentenceFiction: Thief

Apache warriorFor us this is sacred land, soil enriched by the blood of our ancestors, in their endless fight against invaders.

As children we were told the stories, the lives of those heroes, alive today in the trees and our souls, and we were taught how to fight too.

So, when they came, huge, fat and white, full of water, we had no difficulty in recognising them: the thieves, the rapists, without honour or real courage, armoured and surrounded by their devilish machines.

The sun was high, the air hot, we could see them sweating under their armour, as their predecessors always did.

The eagle told us, their numbers, where they were, where their ammunition dump was; then the Son of the Eagle led us, it took only one small bomb to erase the thieves off the surface of our world.

#AtoZChallenge2015: Hegemony

For students of world history, and of world-historical thought, hegemony is one of the Sesame keys: from ancient Greece, to the Italian city-states of the early Renaissance, to the Netherlands of the 17th century, to imperial Great Britain, to todays’ United States of America, the presence of “great powers”, and among them that of a “hegemon”, one country or nation state for a while dominating the others, has been the backdrop of western history.

From Wikipedia: “Hegemony is the political, economic, or military predominance or control of one state over others.[1][2][3][4] In Ancient Greece (8th century BCE – 6th century CE), hegemony denoted the politico–military dominance of a city-state over other city-states.[5] The dominant state is known as the hegemon.[6]

In the 19th century, hegemony came to denote the “Social or cultural predominance or ascendancy; predominance by one group within a society or milieu”. Later, it could be used to mean “a group or regime which exerts undue influence within a society.”[7] Also, it could be used for the geopolitical and the cultural predominance of one country over others; from which was derived hegemonism, as in the idea that the Great Powers meant to establish European hegemony over Asia and Africa.[8]

The Marxist theory of cultural hegemony, associated particularly with Antonio Gramsci, is the idea that the ruling class can manipulate the value system and mores of a society, so that their view becomes the world view (Weltanschauung): in Terry Eagleton’s words, ‘Gramsci normally uses the word hegemony to mean the ways in which a governing power wins consent to its rule from those it subjugates’.[9]

Ancient Greece under the hegemony of Thebes, 371–362 BCE

In cultural imperialism, the leader state dictates the internal politics and the societal character of the subordinate states that constitute the hegemonic sphere of influence, either by an internal, sponsored government or by an external, installed government.”

From Giovanni Arrighi “The Long Twentieth Century”:

“A dominant state exercises a hegemonic function if it leads the system of states in a desired direction and, in so doing, is perceived as pursuing a general interest. It is this kind of leadership that makes the dominant state hegemonic. But a dominant state may lead also in the sense  that it draws other states onto its own path of development… This second kind of leadership can be designated as ‘leadership against one’s own will’ because, over time, it enhances competition for power rather than the power of the hegemon.”

From Christopher Layne (“The Peace of Illusions”):

“When World War II ended, the Soviet Union was the only obstacle to US global hegemony, and in the first postwar decade Washington’s principal grand strategic goal was to secure that hegemony by removing the Soviet Union as a peer competitor. The United States emerged from the war in a position of unparalleled geopolitical preeminence, and the scope of America’s interests expanded concomitantly, and indeed, had done so  while the war was still ongoing. Once the war ended, Washington’s perceptions of the Soviet threat to those interests began to grow. As a result, US and Soviet  interests collided… in Europe, the Middle East, and Northeast Asia, which contributed to the intensification of postwar Soviet-American tensions that culminated in the cold war… America’s main grand strategic aim was to secure its global hegemony by bringing these potential poles of power [Germany and Japan]  into its orbit and thereby prevent them from emerging as challengers  to US predominance.”

While reading through this post, I realised I had already written on the subject, for last year’s challenge! Which shows either (or both) my lack of imagination, or continued interest in the subject…

#AtoZChallenge2015: Exceptionalism

LibertyWe are all different: human, and national, diversities, cultural, linguistic, historical, are part of our being the species we are. Yet, from time to time, this observation is tainted with delusion: that of superiority, or special destiny…

Exceptionalism is the perception that a country, society, institution, movement, or time period is “exceptional” (i.e., unusual or extraordinary) in some way and thus does not need to conform to normal rules or general principles.”

As historical uniqueness:

“The German romantic philosopher-historians, especially Johann Gottfried Herder (1744-1803) and Johann Gottlieb Fichte (1762-1814), dwelt on the theme of uniqueness in the late 18th century. They de-emphasized the political state and instead emphasized the uniqueness of the Volk, comprising the whole people, their languages and traditions. Each nation, considered as a cultural entity with its own distinctive history, possessed a “national spirit”, or “soul of the people” (in German: Volksgeist). This idea had a strong influence in the growth of nationalism in 19th-century European lands — especially in ones ruled by élites from somewhere else.”

As separateness:

J. Bradford DeLong has used the term “exceptionalism” to describe the economic growth of post-World War II Western Europe.[6]

Exceptionalism can represent an error analogous to historicism in assuming that only peculiarities are relevant to analysis, while overlooking meaningful comparisons. “[W]hat is seemingly exceptional in one country may be found in other countries.”[7] As indigenous peoples explore their respective cultural heritages, their seeking to be separately classified or newly-understood may be a form of exceptionalism.[8]

In ideologically-driven debates, a group may assert exceptionalism, with or without the term, in order to exaggerate the appearance of difference, perhaps to create an atmosphere permissive of a wider latitude of action, and to avoid recognition of similarities that would reduce perceived justifications. If unwarranted, this represents an example of special pleading, a form of spurious argumentation that ignores relevant bases for meaningful comparison.

Groups likewise may be accused of exceptionalism, perhaps for avoiding normal terms of analysis.[9] The term may be a marker for an implication that a point of view is widely misunderstood, such as the notion that Islamic jihad is misunderstood.[10]

The term “exceptionalism” can imply criticism of a tendency to remain separate from others. For example, the reluctance of the United States government to join various international treaties is sometimes called “exceptionalist”,[11] as is an assertion that a person or group refuses to acknowledge, and perhaps communally participate in, a widely accepted principle or practice.[12]

In editorial language, the term “exceptionalism” may be a marker for “the extent to which a region or group is justifiably or factually distinct.”

Of American (USA) exceptionalism:

American exceptionalism is the theory that the United States is qualitatively different from other nations.[2] In this view, U.S. exceptionalism stems from its emergence from the American Revolution, thereby becoming what political scientist Seymour Martin Lipset called “the first new nation”[3] and developing a uniquely American ideology, “Americanism“, based on libertyegalitarianismindividualismrepublicanismdemocracy and laissez-faire. This ideology itself is often referred to as “American exceptionalism.”

Abstracts from English Wikipedia.

Image: German professor Sieglinde Lemke argues that the Statue of Liberty “signifies this proselytizing mission as the natural extension of America’s sense of itself as an exceptional nation.” (source: Elcobbola)

Of Decker and a Goldfinch #amreading

The GoldfinchThere are novels that seduce at first sight, and get read over a few hours. Others, more severe to approach perhaps, continue to cast disturbing shadows, long after the book is shut. So is The Goldfinch. This is my first encounter with Miss Tarrt, an opportunity offered by a gift at the end of last year, maybe a title I would not have noticed on my own and unprompted (being eclectic also has its blind spots!) To be sure, this novel is very long, more than seven hundred pages of narrative, lengthy description of locations, and study of characters. I have to admit that all that, in the first tier of the book, almost defeated me. I am glad I persevered, in the dark evenings of the last weeks of this London winter.
Donna Tarrt is a talented writer, without any doubt. I am likely to read her other two novels that preceded The Goldfinch, sometime, later. For now, I am still wondering about the fate of Theo, the boy whose surname evokes Blade Runner, not the only reference to the film along the way. The Goldfinch is a love story, a triangle of love: the mother, the son, and a painting. Let me say first of all, that Fabritius (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carel_Fa…) is a real Dutch artist, who did paint The Goldfinch in 1654: this part is not fictional. But the triangle is also: a girl, a boy, and the painting. The girl is Pippa, whose life was shattered by the same outrage that nearly killed Theo. The boy is a street urchin from the Ukraine, or is it Poland? The two boys fall into friendship, possibly more, and this fraught, but durable, relationship follows them, from the sandy suburbs of Las Vegas, where they first meet, to the streets of Manhattan, to the sleazy underbelly of Amsterdam, and the climax of the story. The true hero is, of course, the bird. Is Pippa Rachel, she of Blade Runner’s fame? The search for memories, for dreams, for lost love gives us, at times, the best written sentences I have read in an American novel for a long time. There are many stories in this book, about America, the broken dream, about betrayal, about furniture, about the underwold that seems to surface, unchallenged, in our societies of greed.
I can’t decide yet, if this is a great novel, I sense it is very close. Old Decker thinks so too.

#DailyPost: Undo

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Undo.”

Slava Fokk“This is the one event I’d erase,” you said without hesitation, “Just think about it, that was the source of all maledictions. Before then, there was a chance, for millions of people there, and across the world. After that, wars, genocides, persecutions… All the way right up to now. Just think…”

Indeed this left me in deep thoughts. A chance to reclaim the planet, peace, a world without fear? Or all that would have happened anyway… Were we doomed to failure?

“I see you’re meandering again. The case is clear though: whether you look at what happened to the rightful owners of the land, or to people in Africa, or to the world as is now, the threat of annihilation… Just think.”

Would it have been that simple, would it have been enough, to stop Columbus on his track, to wreck the fleet, to send him and his henchmen down deep to the bottom of the sea? To keep our misery here, where it belonged…

Inherent Vice #ThomasPynchon #PaulThomasAnderson #atthemovies

Inherent ViceFor decades I have been a fan of Thomas Pynchon’s novels. The first one I read was “V”, still one of my favourites, but, really, I love all of them. There is some geographical and historical magic Pynchon distils in his writing, that permeates his characters in a unique way. Maxine Tarnow, in Bleeding Edge, is the girl of the 90’s, immersed in what is already the nightmarish world of post 911.

Doc Sportello, the pot-smoking gumshoe and hero of Inherent Vice, is, in many ways, a happier character than some, in Pynchon’s world. He, and his vanishing groovy girlfriend Shasta, live in late 60s LA, in post-hippy California, already governed by Mickey-Mouse Ronald Reagan, already busy dismantling the public services and tax legislation that had made California the most prosperous state in the Union. Worst would come later. Tricky Nixon is president, not yet disappeared down the Watergate plughole. ‘Nam is about to be left to her destiny…

I love the story for its nostalgic atmosphere and evocation of a fast disappearing species: happy Americans. Thus I was a little anxious to go and see Paul Anderson‘s film, drawn from the novel. Rarely I enjoy movies taken from loved books, almost never.

This is a brilliant exception. Mr Anderson scores all rounds: a mastery direction, wonderful camera shots, and perfect actors: it’s all there, and it is Inherent Vice. Joaquin Phoenix is Doc Sportello, and Katherine Waterston his ravishing and gifted girlfriend. I was impressed by Josh Brolin’s Bigfoot, the hippy-hating cop with a taste for ice-cream… Owen Wilson is a marvellous Californian double snitch, who loves his wife and family.

This is, of course, a very funny movie, in a very Pynchonesque style. We hear the surf, we look at the cars, we admire Shasta’s grooviness, we fear the sinister FBI…

I left the theater wishing we could go back in time, before Mickey-Mouse became president and ruined us all. Luckily Thomas Pynchon is still around to write novels that may inspire Paul Thomas Anderson… In fact I’d fancy Miss Waterston as Maxine.