Ok, so this is just a quick note to self that will be elaborated on later:

So a friend posted this excerpt from T.S. Eliot’s “A Cocktail Party”

That is the worst moment, when you feel you have lost The desires for all that was most desirable, Before you are contented with what you can desire; Before you know what is left to be desired; And you go on wishing that you could desire What desire has left behind. But you cannot understand. How could you understand what it is to feel old?

This is what I briefly glanced at the other day looking for the information for my Lacan post the other day… I came across a discussion of “missing” (for lack of a better word), which is basically saying what this poem is saying. That my desire, my nostalgia, my melancholy for some “thing’ stems from the melancholy of not missing it anymore, of getting over it… And then I read this quote… serendipity…

I will get to this when I have had some sleep and can read the passage again carefully.

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I am continued to be confused, baffled, and even entertained by Antunes. The breakdown in chronological time is fascinating and reminiscent of Faulkner, and I even read a review of ‘What Can I Do’ that points out Faulkner’s obvious influence on Antunes here:

Indeed, Faulkner presides over “What Can I Do When Everything’s on Fire?” as a tutelary spirit. Here, for instance, is a legendary sentence, spoken by a death- befuddled child, from “As I Lay Dying,” published in 1930: “My mother is a fish.”And here, uttered by a baffled son, is a sentence from “What Can I Do When Everything’s on Fire?”: “You’ve turned into a fish, father.” Like Faulkner in his great novels of the ’30s, Antunes deploys idiot monologues, garrulous, colloquial voices, superheated atmospherics and dismembered narratives that exalt not-knowing as a prime literary excitement.

Chapter two continues in the same manner as chapter one. The reader is given a little more background, and it becomes very clear that Paulo is on heroine and, maybe, other drugs.

There is a great image of Paulo going to sit on the beach so that the ocean waves and wild horses can drown out the noise of his parents fighting, but the arguments get so loud and intense that the image of relaxing, rolling waves becomes violent: “… I was the one hurt out there by the horses and the sea” (21).

The overwhelming motif (more so than in any Joyce novel) is the inter-mixing of all the images and symbols. Memory becomes a dream becomes reality becomes madness, and one symbol goes from being one of peace to one of horror from one page to the next.

This chapter elucidates some of the narrator’s problems: he steals for drug money; he feels guilt but uses drugs to forget; he feels guilt for taking advantage of his guardians, but then dismisses his feelings because they are not his parents and then feels guilty for taking advantage of them again.

There are wonderfully lyrical passages of using drugs and its withdrawal:

heat at first, followed by cold, followed by an urge to crush myself, I don’t know what dying is like but they’re disentangling me from my body, conversations that get away from me, scarecrows in smok holding a basin up against my chest
— Vomit” (29).

Here the story of the Neighbor Dona Aurorinha is told. She had a lover she would write to, but the lover died of some desease.

There is an interesting contrast between when Paulo says that he knows how to tell time and how his narrative doesn’t follow any chronological time. It goes back to the philosophy of waiting it seems. For Paulo, time is broken, but not in the sense that he has to wait—that waiting time in which one endures and “feels” time’s slow passage. Paulo’s time is, rather, broken in that its linear-ality has been destroyed. He has no way of telling past, present, or future, and this reflects his phenomenological experience of lived time. Just as he can’t tell time (or, maybe, more accurately put, BECAUSE, he can’t “tell time” as he claims), he can’t tell experiences apart from one another, whether real, imagined, resulting from madness/sickness, or dream.

Yet, at the same time, his “time” (his experience within time) becomes an object of analysis. Something he takes apart and tries to analyze. The story, what one is reading, his depiction of events, is his attempt to analyze his situation, but he is having trouble doing so because he is so lost in “time”.

What Can I Do When Everything is on Fire? (A Novel) by: Antonio Lobo Antunes

I am getting around to reading one of the books that I received for my birthday. The title of this one was enough to make it my next choice of books to read. I want to look at this book chapter by chapter because it is, as the book jacket suggest, “…a poetic masterwork that recalls Joyce’s Bloomsday with its dizzying farrago of urban images that few readers will forget.”

The basic plot, from what I understand from reading the jacket (and the first chapter), is the story of Paulo trying to piece together the bits of his existence, but that existence is one of madness, fragile memory, and a reality that includes the most successful, flamboyant drag queen of Lisbon, Carlos/Soraia and his wife, Judite and his lover, Rui. It seems that Paulo has a breakdown and is sent off to a hospital, and somewhere along the way his parents give him up to some guardians. It seems that we are getting these fragments of his story from a mental ward.

The book opens up to the main character, Paulo, mixing a dream, an analysis of the dream, memory, and reality together in a poetic, stream-of-consciousness narrative that reveals very slowly the plot of novel. Paulo, at times, has a hard time separating what his dream was and what his memory was; he also has trouble remembering what reality is, as is seen when he mixes his parents with his guardians and his reality with his dreams and has obvious trouble with memory:

“my mother judite, my father carlos, the doctor, not this one, a fatter one,
I remember the doctor’s red necktie when they brought me in, a Gypsy woman who was hollering
or was I the one hollering?
the doctor
–What’s your mother’s name?
along with that I remembered the attendants, who were holding me by the wrists, from the ambulance Dona Helena had called
–Take it easy fellow
[…]
maybe it was the attendants who had helped me instead of the fat doctor with the red tie, not in this office bu in a room with no windows or a closet where the gypsy woman or I was hollering or maybe neither one of us, the noise of the dishes
–What’s your mother’s name?” (Antunes 2-3).

There is an interesting play of memory and dream and reality here, which raises interesting questions of what “reality” is? After all, aren’t our dreams part of our reality? And how much is a fragmented, unreliable memory reality?

We get that Paulo’s parents are dead (as well as Rui), that Paulo had a breakdown in which he broke lots of plates. These images are mixed superbly in a language that becomes easier to follow, but a language that is meant to be opaque. It becomes hard to decipher how much of the story is a memory and how much is madness.

There are images of fights between Paulo’s parents in which Judite is asking her husband about the bra she found, “Do you wear this, Carlos?” (17); along with images of Paulo’s drag queen father being described as a clown, and later, Paulo’s denial of his parent’s when he calls his guardians, the Couceiro’s, his real parents.

This narrative is quite a force that does more than merely convey a Joycean stream-of-consciousness. The reader is left wondering what can be trusted as the chapter ends:

“–I’m asleep
and since I’m asleep I don’t worry, everything is a lie, aware of the pillow sliding between the mattress and the trunk they were slamming me against” (19).

I look forward to see where all this is going. It is thus far an exploration of a person’s history of slipping into madness and blurring reality with dream and memory. It seems that Paulo trying to put this story into words is his way of trying to remember who he is. We are, after all, just what we were and what our future possibilities are. So what happens when we do not have a clear memory, or a broken memory, of the past?

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I just (finally) finished reading The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner. After a slow start, I couldn’t put the book down. Yet, I wasn’t totally enraptured by the story either. I have come to realize that it is harder for me to get into a story if there are no characters or story line that I can relate to, and in this novel, I can’t relate to being a crumbling, rich aristocratic Southern family on its descent. 

Sure, you can say that as a Cuban-American, I should be able to relate to a family that goes from relative prosperity to having nothing and having to start over. But my families’ diaspora has different themes. Rather than corruption of Southern values, my family has stayed strong to the values they brought over from Cuba. They were all hard workers, honest, and “proper.’ They all swallowed their pride and worked any job until they got on their feet.  

The Compsons, on the other hand, are promiscuous (Caddy, Caddy’s daughter Quintin, Jason, and Uncle Muary—all have affairs), lying thieves (Jason), alcoholics (Jason Compson, Sr.), and self-involved, hypochondriacs (Caroline). 

I have no time to go into a full discussion of this story. There are many things I would love to explore. The multiple points-of-view present a fascinating narrative in that the same basic story is told three times, but it is a completely different story each time. Faulkner shows how language falls short of conveying a “True” meaning. Caddy’s voice is explored in a great essay I have in this Norton edition. The essay is “Hearing Caddy’s Voice” by Minrose C. Gwin. Gwin explores the mystery of Caddy, and tries to listen to what Caddy “says.” Of course, what Caddy says is given to us through male perspectives as Gwin points out: 

…we…are aware that Eric Sundquist is right in saying, ‘There is probably no major character in literature about whom we know so little in proportion to the amount of attention she receives… 

[…] 

What we seek in seeking Caddy Compson is not only the lnguage and force and mystery of woman within Faulkner’s text and consciousness. This is also an inquiry into the nature of female subjectivity to what language can and cannot say (407) .

I would love to explore the language used about Caddy, and I would love to look at the language we get Caddy using. Also, if consciousness is within language, what can we say about Caddy’s language? 

The quick remark I want to make about this story has to do with time. After just reading On Waiting, I saw moments of enduring time throughout the novel. I would love to further explore time endured “waiting” by Benjy as compared to Quintin.

Recalling the Schwietzer’s thesis about waiting, and I’m mixing paraphrase with quote here, please forgive my academic sloppiness, “time is supposed to serve as a door or hallway which we pass through unaware, but in waiting, the door jams. Time must be endured rather than traversed; felt rather than thought. 

Benjy can’t endure time. Benjy has no conception of time; consequently he moves through time always unaware, and for him, a memory of a past event is him experiencing the past event again. Benjy does not, like the waiter, vacillate between consciousness and forgetfulness; he does is unable to feel time protract and contract. In waiting the waiter is both: restless and not in action; relaxed and also in action; he notices the time on his watch and forgets that time. Benjy has none of this. He just is… always, just, in abstract time that does not stop for him because he never feels, or rather, endures time. For Benjy, time does not matter. 

Quintin, on the other hand, is consumed with time. It engulfs him and enslaves him as he endures it throughout the entire day he narrates. His chapter starts off with the very idea of time:

and then I was in time again, hearing the watch (48). 

[later, Quintin narrates the moment his grandfather’s watch was given to him]:

 

I give it[the watch] to you not that you may remember time, but that you might forget it now and then for a moment and not spend all you breath trying to conquer it (Ibid.). 

Quentin then turns the clock upside down so that he can forget the time, but he spends the next couple of paragraphs talking about time, how he can guess the time, and then he moves trough time thinking of his father, his sister, and the past. Quentin, ends up enduring time rather than “forgetting it now and then” because he has no way of ever coming back into time after he breaks his watch. WIthout time, without being able to tell time, Quentin has a harder time forgetting it because he constantly wonders what time it is. And rather than conquer time, by making it a mechanical instrument for his use, he has to endure time. As Shwietzer points out, the waiter glances at his watch in order to make time relative–objective–something of use, but without a clock, time objectifies Quentin instead and makes him endure. 

Quentin then breaks the clock, which leaves him enduring time the rest of the day. The ticking the clock in his pocket is making constantly haunts him. Quentin has taken himself out of the movement of life and time and this is manifested at the end of the chapter when Quentin kills himself. Quentin does not want to be put back into time (this is why he does not ask for the correct time in the clock shop); rather, he wants to no longer  “…be the martyred slave of time” as Baudelaire would say. Although, rather than be drunk as Baudelaire suggest to escape “ the horrible burden of time that breaks your back and bends you to the earth” Quentin will end his life and feel nothing any longer—not even time. 

As Shwietzer points out, “The waiter’s agitation is the agitation of wanting to be put back into life that waiting has taken the waiter out of…” (paraphrase). For Quentin, though, this waiting he endures, somewhat due from bot having a watch to make time mechanical again, will be the last time he has to endure time. 

But this is where this fragment ends. I’m sure someone out there has written on time (waiting) in this novel, so this is another fragment I will have to return to soon. 

 

So I post this in order to go back to it.

Here, we go back again to time.

Again, here is a fragment that I must come back to and contemplate.

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I just finished Murakami’s Sputnik Sweetheart (you can read the beginning here). 

This is a love story that deals in loneliness–as is represented in the image of Sputnik II (which had Laika, a poor dog that was lost in space in the name of science). The story follows Sumrie through the eyes of a simply named narrator “K”. K tells the reader how Sumrie fell in love for the first time to an older, sophisticated, Korean wine seller, Miu. 

K was madly in love with Sumrie, but comes to appreciate the pilgrim soul in her and realizes what a good friend she is when she disappears while on holiday with Miu. 

Sumrie wants nothing more than to become a novelist (she likes  Keorac though, so how good could she really be?). She quits college to pursue her goal and not waste time in class. While in college she meets K and they bond over discussions about books and art and music. 

K is a history schoolteacher who loves books. He pines for Sumrie but has girlfriends (mostly older MILFS) keep him distracted. He is Sumrie’s best friend, and he is often awoken in the middle of the night when Sumrie has ideas lingering in her head that she wants to talk about right then and there. 

Miu is the woman with whom Sumrie falls in love with for the first time. She is (or was) a piano virtuoso but had to give up the piano and run the family business when her father got sick and eventually died. She is a strong and assertive woman, but we come to learn that she is cold because she is missing “somthing.”

The plot moves along from past to present as K recalls how things happened. He tells the story of how Sumrie meets Miu at a wedding. They instantly hit it off, and Miu offers Sumrie a part time job. Since Sumrie jobless, she decides to take the job to make some extra money, but Sumrie lets Miu know that for her (Sumrie’s) writing comes first. The two hit it off and care deeply for each other.

Later, while away on business, they meet a Greek man who offers them his place on an island and they accept. They end up staying longer than they had initially anticipated. Then one night, Sumrie finally admits her love to Miu and her desire for Miu. Miu, as was mentioned earlier, is missing “something” and tells Sumrie she could do what she wanted but she really likes Sumrie. Sumrie, feeling dejected, wonders off in the middle of the night and disappears. 

This is a beautifully written novel with some amazing prose, but there are moments of intense sexual desire/longing that go into graphic detail and seem almost out of place. (If I had the book in front of me I would quote it here, but this is (this right here that you are reading) my musing on the book now that I have some time).  

My thoughts are scattered here, so let me just get to the stuff that really caught my attention. 

First, we come to learn that Miu has no sexual feeling because once, while living in Paris, she ended up stuck on a ferris wheel. While on the ferris wheel she voyeuristically spies her own window from the ferris wheel. Suddenly, she she herself with a man she has met and thinks nothing about it. She watches herself ravish this man in the distance, and she is disgusted at how her “other” self could do this. She, at some point, passes out and wakes up in a hospital with her hair turned white at the young age of 23. Ever since that day, Miu has no sexual desire. Her piano playing, while better than her peers, ceases to win over audiences because it turns out her playing is lacking heart. In seeing her doppleganger, Miu loses something essential in herself that she cannot recover, and she suspects this other who she saw with this man, has that “thing.”

This was all very twilight zone for me, and I wasn’t sure what to make of it. I think looking at it from Jungian terms, this shadow of hers is the primitive, passionate side of her that she is afraid of, and in confronting that shadow– even if it was only this confrontation through looking at her double do these things that she desires but that she is afraid to do– affects her psyche and turns her hair white. This is further exemplified by her shadow having black hair, and the ferris wheel her having white hair. 

Miu wonders if she is the real her. She worries that maybe this woman with this man, this other self, is the real her. Furthermore, she describes this event as looking into a mirror. Taking that into account, it made me think of Lacan’s mirror stage, in which infants come to realize their subjectivity. This is a moment where Miu realizes her “true” self– she realizes that she is missing passions which not only makes it hard for her to be intimate with other human beings but makes her music lack an essential quality.

Here is a nice summary of the mirror stage. It states that:

For Lacan, the mirror stage establishes the ego as fundamentally dependent upon external objects, on an other. As the so-called “individual” matures and enters into social relations through language, this “other” will be elaborated within social and linguistic frameworks that will give each subject’s personality (and his or her neuroses and other psychic disturbances) its particular characteristics.

So this might explain Miu’s neuroses in terms of her problems with sexual contact. 

But, there seems to be a way to go into the mirror. So that this identification with the other in the mirror becomes not only the way for the “I” to emerge, but if it goes into the mirror then that distinction between I and other becomes blurred. It seems that Sumries disappearance is this. She goes into the mirror, through, theoritically, dreams. 

She ends up callin K at the end of the novel. This shows the lonilness that the whole novel uses as a motfi. The phone is a way to talk to people without actually being together. 

I am out of time though, and must leave– so maybe more on this later….

I was at a party this weekend talking to some friends and a discussion about crushes and love came up somehow. I was trying to explain to them some ideas I have been kicking around in my head ever sine I completed my thesis. These are thoughts I have had since watching two documentaries. 

The first question when it comes to “love” is: what is love? How do we define it? Love is one of those things, I think, that can’t be described in language. Anything you have to say about love is only about love, not love itself. This idea comes from Derrida:

The who or the what of love, like the who or the what of being: We cannot place our finger on the “thing” that it is. And I was unable to explain this to my friends (but that might have had something to do with the alcohol they were drinking). 

After thinking about it for a while, I thought of our ideas about love, and how these ideas (and this idea of the “que” or the “qua”) can be seen in Cinderella. Here we have a “love” story, but what is it that the prince falls in love with? Essentially a foot. What is going on in that story that the prince can’t recognize his love by sight, sound, touch, smell, but by the show she wears? Thank goodness that her foot didn’t bloat after a night of dancing, or that none of the other women in the land has the same size foot as Cindy. But it is this essentialism that defines our Western conception of love. 

Looking at Romeo and Juliet, we have Juliet saying that “a rose by any other name still smells as sweet”– and it is this rose that we equate with love. This essential something– this self-same identical person that we fall in love with. This is what Derrida points out so aptly. How many times do you hear about a relationship that falls apart because someone in the relationship “changed.” :

For some reason we equate change with something bad (at least in a relationship). Isn’t this what ruins the relationship in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall? Alvie meets Annie, falls in love with her, encourages her to take classes and “better” herslef, and then when she changes, she outgrows him and they break up. So what was it that Alvie fell in love with? Was it Annie? But what about Annie did he fall in love with? And what did Annie see in Alvie? What about Alvie was any different? He is a comletely static character, which is why the audience can see why Annie leaves him, but where does that leave love?

I finally understood this opening scene when taking a Woody Allen class:

This idea of not wanting to belong to a club that would have you as its member is what I understand Lacan is talking about when he talks about desire. Whenever I’ve been in a decent relationship (and this is, more and more, applying to friendships even) I always wonder why the other person likes me. What do I posses that the other person likes and wants to be around.  Being at this party as a non-drinker, non-smoker, I have realized that I am getting a little boring in my middle-age, so why do people hang out with me? (I am exaggerating here for the purpose of discusion– because as I say these things, I can also say that whenever a girl turns me down I always wonder what is wrong with her: I am smart, and funny, and handsome– but it all goes back to the idea of what is “love”)– Rather, I should probably emphasize “what is love?”

I think, ultimately, that we shouldn’t put any kind of label on love and try to define it in words. That is the job of the poet: to write about love in a mysterious way. And here I wish I knew more about Hiedeggar and poetic language. 

It is through Hiedegger, afterall, that I get this idea of love as not something concrete. As Derrida says, the question of love is the same as the question of “being.” Is being a who or a what? If we take being as being this constantly thrown forward then there is no “thing” that we can call love (or being). If being is being-in-the-world-with-others-towards-death, then it is not a static self-sameness identity that we can grasp. There is no rose or foot to put our shoe on, in this case. 

In Chuck Palahniuk’s Invisible Monsters, this is clearly seen. Here there is a novel where the “who” and the “what” are constantly changing. The main characters are constantly changing their identity and even there psychical bodies, so there is no static who or what to love. But the story is one about love regardless of not having a static thing to love. This is true love– an unconditional one that stays no matter what the object of love “is.” 

Love is like being then– always thrown forward ahead of itself and never static. Love is not a foot (that is a fetish– that is lust). Maybe there are so many divorces because people don’t realize that if their partner changes, that is a good thing, and that maybe they should change too. If you don’t move a muscle, that muscle atrophies and dies. Love and being are the same way, no?

And just for fun: Where does love come from? I think Zizek answers that question in an interesting manner: