Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Some Calvino.

I'm currently reading Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities.  It's really marvelous.  It reminds me a bit of Einstein's Dreams, in the way each little section is just an imagined world operating on a dreamlike philosophy.  There are so many beautiful parts I want to pull out, but they don't work in isolation.

But some attempts anyway:

Marco enters a city; he sees someone in a square living a life or an instant that could be his; he could now be in that man's place, if he had stopped in time, long ago; or if, long ago, at a crossroads, instead of taking one road he had come to be in the place of that man in that square.  By now, from that real or hypothetical past of his, he is excluded; he cannot stop; he must go on to another city, where another of his pasts awaits him, or something perhaps that had been a possible future of his and is now someone else's present.  Future not achieved are only branches of the past: dead branches.
--[pg. 29]

That said, it is pointless trying to decide whether Zenobia is to be classified among happy cities or among the unhappy.  It makes no sense to divide cities into these two species, but rather into another two: those that through the years and the changes continue to give their form to desires, and those in which desires either erase the city or are erased by it.
--[pg. 35]

And you know that in the long journey ahead of you, when to keep awake against the camel's swaying or the junk's rocking, you start summoning up your memories one by one, your wolf will have become another wolf, your sister a different sister, your battle other battles, on your return from Euphemia, the city where memory is traded at every solstice and at every equinox.
But what enhanced for Kublai every event or piece of news reported by his inarticulate informer was the space that remained around it, a void not filled with words.  The descriptions of cities Marco Polo visited had this virtue: you could wander through them in thought, become lost, stop and enjoy the cool air, or run off... But you would have said communication between them was less happy than in the past: to be sure, words were more useful than objects and gestures...

"...Cities, like dreams, are made of desires and fears, even if the thread of their discourse is secret, their rules are absurd, their perspectives deceitful, and everything conceals something else."
--[pg. 44]

There is no language without deceit.
-- [pg.48]

At times the mirror increases a thing's value, at times denies it.  Not everything that seems valuable above the mirror maintains its force when mirrored.  The twin cities are not equal, because nothing that exists or happens in Valdrada is symmetrical: every face and gesture is answered, from the mirror, by a face and gesture inverted, point by point.  The two Valdradas live for each other, their eyes interlocked; but there is no love between them.
-- [pg. 54]

Falsehood is never in words; it is in things.
-- [pg.62]

Friday, July 9, 2010

Anne Carson is still a genius anyway.

So I finished the last few pages of Plainwater.  I was very taken by the essay about her brother, however short it was.  It was heartbreaking, really, and made me want to go out and get Nox, which delves into this nebulous relationship more.

Overall, I'd say that while I liked this very much, it didn't have the immediate breathtaking quality that Red did.  I think perhaps there were parts that were too abstract for this fiction writer to grasp at.  Nonetheless, I still plan on trying to get through her oeuvre.  I have Glass, Irony and God lined up somewhere.

To be honest though, Carson's way with words - her faculty with language, her ability to hit on a sentiment just right, her beautiful turns of phrases and imaginative metaphors... I am struck by her genius at times.  I don't just love her, I want to be her.  I want to swim in her words sometimes.  That's all.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

From Anthropology of Water

Almost done with Anne Carson's Plainwater.  I don't love it the way I was immediately taken with Autobiography of Red - I find it harder to digest and I've had to read it slowly and reread several times in order for certain things to sink in.  However, as always, Carson manages to take my breath away with certain turns of phrases, sentiments, analogies.  For the most part, I found that I'm most loving her last essay "Anthropology of Water" and so the quotes I'm about to post are all from there (and mostly from the section titled "Just for the Thrill").

Love is a story that tells itself... I found the kinship between a man and a woman can be a steep, whole, excellent and full of languages.  Yet it may have no speech.
- [pg. 190]

The man who named my narrow bed was a quiet person, but he had good questions.  "I suppose you do love me, in your way," I said to him one night close to dawn when we lay on the narrow bed.  "And how else should I love you -- in your way?" he asked.  I am still thinking about that.
- [pg. 191]

Well language lives in alteration, here I am.  Take two-measure words and press them together like lips of a wound.  Emperor, concubine, fire, paper.  Love too much, love at all.
- [pg. 194]

Enlightenment is not a place, no use rushing to get there.
- [pg. 202]

He looked at the tree and the saw and the ax.  It was something perfectly quiet.  "I didn't think you could do that," he said.  Perfectly quiet.  His hands hanging down.  The tiny ticking kitchen.  The snow-dark morning.  It was draining from him into me.  I had killed him.
- [pgs. 205-206]

The emperor is instructing me in the ten radicals that are the basis of the largest number of words in classical Chinese.  These more important radicals, arranged in the order of their use, are.  Water.  Grass.  Wood.  Heart.  Man.  Hand.  Silk.  Wood.  Advance or Go.  Mouth.  I am wondering why, if he wanted to make love, he paused for tea at all.  The ten most prominent radicals appear in 1,090 words.  Observe the interests suggested by them.  The mere fact that the heart is the basis of one hundred words in a vocabulary of three thousand, he continues, indicates a high degree of moral interest.
- [ pg. 207]

The brush starts out rich and black but gradually dries, until the bristles are moving separately and leaving areas of white exposed to view like sudden bones.
- [pg. 218]

Love comes hungering along the canyon.  It will give you pleasure if you believe it.
- [pg. 221]

I lived blank for many years.  And I learned two things.  Enlightenment is useless and nothing replaces the sting of love, for good or ill.
- [pg. 221]

Well enlightenment is uselss but I find interesting the distinction anthropologists make between an emic and an etic point of view.  Emic has to do with the perspective of a member of the society itself and etic is the point of view of an outsider seeing the society in his own terms.  Lovers - correct me if I'm wrong - insist on bringing the two perspectives together, a sort of double exposure.  To draw into the very inside of my heart the limit that was supposed to mark it on the outside, your strangeness.  But keep it strange.  Those three things.
- [pg. 223]

Life is points on a journey, it seems generally agreed.  Between the apriorities howl strong winds.  Yet the traveler, once in a long while, comes to a place he is sure, without a doubt in his mind, never having seen it before, is the one he was seeking.  He enters.  At first everything inside is so saturated with strangeness it is hard to breathe - but look now: already it is drying from the edges like rainwater in the March wind and he will in fact never after be able to recover that blankness in which he saw it first, the surgery of first look.  That moment of pure anthropology.
- [pg. 224]

Statistics show that woman dream of their fathers 40 percent more frequently than men.  Why not, yes oh why not.  Also that during all sleep states a notably higher degree of hemispheric coherence is demonstrated by female brains than by male.  Why not take all of me.  Neurologists remain uncertain what to do with this data, obtained by accident during experiments with insomniacs.  Take my arms I won't use them, why not oh why not yes why not, take all of me.
- [ pg. 227-228]

Men know almost nothing about desire, they think it has to do with sexual activity or can be discharged that way.  But sex is a substitute, like money or language.  Sometimes I just want to stop seeing.
- [ pg. 228]

It was order that obsessed him and when he began to lose his mind he suffered from this.  He would spend all day making lists, lists dropped form his clothing everywhere he moved.  Late one evening I picked up a book he had been reading.  On the top of the page in pencil, TURN OUT THE LIGHT.  He was always a forceful writer.  The letters had embossed themselves through three pages underneath.
- [pg. 230]

Time has a gender; I suppose you know this.  For example, the first afternoons of a love affair are some of teh longest time in a woman's life.  If there is a telephone in the room, it is better not to look at it.  But even so, you will have a growing sense of the hours of his afternoon running parallel to your own like a videotape on another channel, and feel them slowly rising up, building up, piling up, one by one until seems at last they are all balanced there at the top of the light well and ready to drop - straight down wide open to the night.
- [ pgs. 231-232]

Well every person has a wall to go to, every person has heart valves to cure in the cold night air.  But you know none of us is pure.  You know the anger that language shelters, that love obeys.  Those three things.  Why obey.
- [pg. 233]

It is easier to tell a story of how people wound one another than of what binds them together.  Be careful of this storyteller's tendency to replace precise separate lines with fast daubs of ink.  I know hot to fool your mind so that your eye accepts what it did not see.  A curtain of wash is not a desert.  Where ink bleeds into paper is not an act of love, and yet it is.  See.
- [pg. 234]

15 pages left to read.  Back when I'm done.