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.

In a deep well, reflections on reading Haruki Murakami’s Wind-up Bird Chronicle

The Wind-up Bird ChronicleIt is a rare writer who can combine the spectra of recent history in its full horror, the dreams of love, and the mysteries of the soul. So is Monsieur Murakami.

The Wind-up Bird Chronicle was published in Japan in 1995, and once again, I regretted my inability to read the novel in the writer’s language. Yet Jay Rubin’s translation is a wonder on its own right. This was perhaps, for this reader, the most difficult Murakami’s novel so far, considerably harder reading than 1Q84 or, my all-time favourite, Kafka on the Shore. Kafka’s influence, among many others, is there, for the central character, Toru Okada, has to endure a metamorphosis of his own, once the house cat disappears, shortly followed by mysterious and fragile Kumiko, Toru’s wife.

However I won’t spoil this read for my followers, those who haven’t yet read this extraordinary work. The story is rooted in the memories of the atrocious war fought on the periphery of the Asian continent, in the country Imperial Japan named Manchukuo. There the Japanese army faced the might of the Soviet Union, from the late thirties, before the war extended to the whole of Asia and Europe.

Perhaps uniquely in its descriptions, the Wind-up Bird Chronicle is pitiless in plunging the reader in the depth of man’s inhumanity to man, and nature. Toru, surrounded by strange women who may not all be human, just about survives the metamorphosis imposed on him, through the grace of friendship, and the skills of his protector, unforgettable Nutmeg. The truth, factual or not, is to be found at the bottom of the well.

In the strange loops that link the characters, across time and spaces, humble objects such a red vinyl hat, or a baseball hat, there resides the mystery of the human soul. And a small cat’s tail…

 

#FiveSentenceFiction: Waiting

In memory of Arthur C. Clarke (The Sentinel)

SentinelWhen they saw you, they knew, as if eons of time had collapsed into this instant: the smooth surface, the faint light absorbed, the silence.

Space was unforgiving, and you had waited such a long time, in the absolute solitude of the desolated moon.

But now you are awaking, at your feet the small ants look up at you in awe, at the unstoppable thrust, at the slowly revealed mystery.

Rocks fall around you, and you are still, just the apex of this marvel:

A billion year-old artificial satellite.

#DailyPrompt: Pick your Potion #Armagnac

Ernest Hébert (1817-1908), Ophélie - 1876It is like diving into Rabelais’ s writing, following the Gargantua, or perhaps meditating on Monsieur Montaigne.

What is there to say, about Armagnac?

The grapes, the sand, les jeunes filles en fleur, during the harvest…

Yes, it’s Monsieur Proust in a bottle!

 

Image: Ernest Hébert (1817-1908), Ophélie – 1876

#FiveSentenceFiction: Pages

In memoriam: Pauline Réage

Histoire d'OI read the words, the sentences, slowly turn the pages: your novel.

Looking back, through the mist of time, I imagine you, at night, under the feeble light of post-war Europe, patiently moving your pen along the lines, writing for him, just for him.

The woman you invented, was she you, was she your sister, your doppelgänger?

He wanted to publish, you were not so sure, after all, you would be the object of scandal, but his will was stronger: how could you resist him?

The story has survived the winds of fashion, and she, your heroine, is still in our hearts.

 

On page turning #amwriting #amediting

LoveEvery writer reaches this point, I expect, sooner or later, when a decision has to be taken: continue the story, or close it, refine it, not just through careful editing, but perhaps rewriting too.

After forty odd thousand words the story has its own momentum, and the characters their own agenda. Once one reaches the 100k, changing direction is like navigating the proverbial tanker! What interests me is the dynamics between author-story-characters as the work progresses. In this case the story is anchored on the City, and the characters’s ballet is centred on the City. One could say that the City is one of the characters, not a mere backdrop for the story. The City influences the (other) characters, some more deeply than others. In short, there is the trio of people who make up the current narrative, the City (and its siblings) and the author. Who best controls the story? Who is best placed to decide the future?

There may be a conflict of interests. The characters want to continue with their lives, and don’t give a damn about polishing or refining, or, for that matter, publishing! Since the City is more real than the story, it sees itself, should I say herself? – as the arbitrator. The author, of course, wishes to see a finished product. But the author also depends on the characters for inspiration, and on the City for belief. The City hosts the story, and protects the author against the inevitable drift and diversions. In one sense the book can only come to life, be born, in the City.

There are many ways to close the story. Killing one or more characters is one way. Getting the plot(s) to an unexpected ending is another. Needless to say the former is not popular with characters. Nor is the latter, since it means the end of their hopes and perhaps lives, in another way, just as final as death. There the characters and the City have a common cause.

I expect the author will have to work at two levels, and one of them is to continue with the story! The other being the boring stuff made of editing, and taking out, and rewriting, and… Stuff that!

To conclude: I suspect the author to be too much involved, and enjoying herself, with her characters to attempt anything final

#AtoZAprilChallenge: Zadig

Zadig He is a fictional character, without historical substance, but his author intended him to show how little control mankind has on her destiny.

The year was 1747, and Voltaire also wanted to say something about orthodoxy, the established order and the rule of logic. The Book of Fate is a work of considerable influence on writers across the western world, from the Marquis de Sade to Thomas Henry Huxley.

“As Zadig was immensely rich, and had consequently Friends without Number; and as he was a Gentleman of a robust Constitution, and remarkably handsome; as he was endowed with a plentiful Share of ready and inoffensive Wit: And, in a Word, as his Heart was perfectly sincere and open, he imagined himself, in some Measure, qualified to be perfectly happy. For which Purpose he determined to marry a gay young Lady (one Semira by name) whose Beauty, Birth and Fortune, rendered her the most desirable Person in all Babylon. He had a sincere Affection for her, grounded on Honour, and Semira conceived as tender a Passion for him.”

Abstract from Zadig, or The Book of Fate, at the Project Gutenberg

#AtoZAprilChallenge: (On) War

Vom KriegeHe wrote from a position of knowledge: that of people who have been there, who stared defeat in the face, felt the icy lips of Death, and, later, much later, realised the sweetness of victory. He’s an officer’s officer, the strategist of the European legend.

When Carl von Clausewitz started writing his book, “On War”, shortly after 1806, the proud Kingdom of Prussia, the successors of the Great Frederic, had seen the most humiliating defeat of her history, at the hands of Napoleon, the French Emperor, then at the apogee of his power.

When the book was published, in 1832, Prussia, and her ally Russia, had defeated Napoleon, and was on her way to play the leading role in the German unification, thirty years later. The monument to the extraordinary battles of the “War of Liberation” are still to be seen today all over Brandenburg and Saxony, and in the German capital, Berlin.

On War is the bible of all officers schools worldwide, and despite having been written in the age of cavalry charges and bayonets, is still a key reference of modern warfare, consulted by the great warriors of our times, from the German and Russian generals of WorldWar II, to general Vo Nguyen Giap – he of Dien-Bien-Phu‘s fame – to US General Petraeus, author of the “Counterinsurgency Field Manual” of the US Army and Marine Corps.

Read also:

The Art of War, Sun Tzu

The US Army and Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual, General David H. Petraeus & al.

War of the Flea, Robert Taber

#AtoZAprilChallenge: Utilitarian

John Stuart Mill “Utilitarianism is a theory in normative ethics holding that the proper course of action is the one that maximizes utility, usually defined as maximizing happiness and reducing suffering. Classic utilitarianism’s two most influential contributors are Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill.” (English Wikipedia)

From Williams’ Keywords: “Utilitarian has one complication: that it is a description of a particular philosophical system, which in practice has been widely adopted, though usually without reference to the formal name. It is also a description of a limited class of qualities or interests, practical or material. Many would say that this double sense has a single root; that it is the inevitable consequence of a particular kind of materialist philosophy. But utilitarian is very much like materialist in that it has been loaded with the aspersions of its enemies just as much as with the consequences of its own assumptions… Utilitarian, as a conscious description, was first used in English by Jeremy Bentham: to express an emphasis, in 1781, and to name, with a capital letter, the ‘professors of a new religion’ (1802). An action was ‘conformable to the principle of utility… when the tendency it has to augment the happiness of the community is greater than any it has to diminish it’. Happiness, in fact, was the key word of the system, as again in John Stuart Mill (Utilitarianism, 1861): ‘happiness… the only thing describable as an end’… Moreover, within the specific utilitarian system, characteristically limited definitions of usefulness – both its characteristic specialisation to the individual and the brisk but limited practicality which Mill described as adequate only for ‘regulating the merely business part of the social arrangements’ – came to predominate, and to limit the concept of both pleasure and happiness. It became, ironically, the working philosophy  of a bureaucratic and industrial capitalist society.”

See also:

Wikipedia article on Jeremy Bentham

The History of Utilitarianism at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Utilitarian Philosophers

#AtoZAprilChallenge: Tradition

Patrick Bailly-Maître-Grand This common word has many meanings: Williams writes that it derived from Latin: tradere – to hand over or deliver. “It is easy to see how a general word for matters handed down from father to son could become specialised, within one form of thought, to the idea of necessary respect and duty… Tradition survives in English as a description of a general process of handing down, but there is a very strong and often predominant sense of this entailing respect and duty.”

How long does it take to make anything traditional? Two generations? But some traditions are age-old, and a matter of ceremony, duty and respect: religious traditions for example. Yet “tradition and especially traditional are now often used dismissively… Indeed traditionalism seems to be becoming specialised to a description of habits and beliefs inconvenient to virtually any innovation.”

Do you consider yourself a traditionalist?

Photo: Patrick Bailly-Maître-Grand