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the music of chance, obsessive writing, intertextuality, conversation -- oh yeah, and some "real" life...

31 December 2011

Carole Maso The American Woman in the Chinese Hat

A plane tree leaf falls.

I realize I don't understand them. Perhaps I never will.

Who can believe what the American friends are now saying? Words meant something once.

She remembers weeping at the limits of things.

But who can believe any of it?

Brilliance of the afternoon. There's no way past the surface. She'll never get beyond it. She'll never understand anything. It's easier to see in another country.

It should have been possible, I think, to have gotten by with the present tense. To have thrived on somehow on the dazzling present.

"Drinking clouds the feeling of the end," she says. "Drinking obscures the obvious implications of the trompe l'oeil." Drinking clouds the loss of everything, she thinks.

I am losing the ability to dream her, to make her up -- this lovely construction of self. The stories had said: I exist. Even when they were sad. It was something. The stories were shelter for awhile. Company.

I was hoping to tame my terror with sex or language, to bear the solitude with stories or --

Love is what is dangerous under the bright surface of saluts and ca vas and many colored drinks.

She tries to hold on. But everything begins to slip. If she could only talk about lipsticks or figs.

One feels on the verge of fluency. And then suddenly not.

...she slips out of this last credential of self.

She puts her notebook away, acknowledging the limits of things.

You take your places...Step into this last pose.

Her notebook gone. Gone the hunger for figs. The hunger for an arrangement of anything. wipe the glass eye bright.

27 December 2011

Jeffrey Eugenides The Marriage Plot

Eugenides The Marriage Plot begins with the idea that, with the death of the ideal of marriage at the end of the Victorian Age, the novel as a form died as well. This is the thesis one of Madeleine's professors posits and becomes the central question Madeleine herself pursues academically, all the time wondering if she has any original ideas in regards to this or if it is essentially an idea she has stolen. The novel, The Marriage Plot underlines that the above is not a dead issue. Mitchell's feelings about Madeleine vary little from descriptions of 19th century heroes such as Flaubert's Frederic Moreau. Eugenides writes, "And yet now, almost four years later, he could return to the moment at will (and it was surprising how often he wanted to do this), summoning all of its sensory details, the rumbling of the dryers, the pounding music next door, the linty smell of the dank basement laundry room He remembered exactly where he's been standing and how Madeleine had stopped forward, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear, as the sheet slipped and, for a few exhilarating moments, her pale, quiet, Episcopalian breast exposed itself to his sight." The three main characters, despite barely having graduated from Brown University, contemplate their relationships and marriage continuously. The idea of marriage complicated by the realities of sexual desire prevent Madeleine, Leonard, and Mitchell from exploring themselves, developing themselves because most of their time is spent wondering if/why/why not they are sexually attractive to each other. It is a tale of coming of age in the 1980's after the sexual revolution of the 60's which they have inherited along with a nebulous, melted down sense of a new social order. The concept of the "marriage plot" is finally exploded at the end of the novel when the efficacy of the outmoded duty is exploded and the characters each realize that responsibility and meaning comes first from taking care of yourself and understanding what your needs and desires are separate from those of the opposite sex. Eugenides' novel of the individual struggle for finding meaning in a world where the past tropes of social structure cannot provide answers is a melancholy reminder that we cannot hide behind empty artifices.

26 December 2011

Current Reading

During this interim I am reading two novels: The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides and The American Woman in the Chinese Hat by Carole Maso. Both of these novels are threading me into a rediscovery of my past that has to do with loving literature and being in graduate school as well as that dream-like appreciation of language and the musical play of it. I am preparing my book order for January this week as well. :)

15 December 2011

Edith Wharton The Age of Innocence

It is no coincidence that Edith Wharton opens her novel The Age of Innocence on the stage of the Academy of Music in NYC with the opera singer Christine Nilsson appearing in a scene from Faust. Wharton juxtaposes this scene containing the actors and the set of Faust with the milieu that makes up the lives of her featured New Yorkers, creating an awareness in the reader of the performative quality of New York society in the late 1800’s. New York society implicates itself into the act of performance by creating alter stages where they perform their own constructed vision of reality.
The curtain “had just gone up on the garden scene” and Newland Archer “could not have entered at a more significant moment.” Wharton reminds us of the design of Restoration Theatre houses where off-stage stage action is as dramatic to the audience as the actions performed on-stage. The construction and relationship of stage and seating in this space is perfectly conducive to both dramas being played out. The construction of theatre space presents Newland with a line of “double” vision: “Directly facing him was the box of the old Mrs. Manson Mingott” where May Welland sits within his view. Newland’s gaze simultaneously takes in the action on stage as well as the action off stage as he gazes on the Mingott box. Actress and young girl are connected through Wharton’s descriptions. Madame Nillson, with her “”large yellow braids” is echoed by May with “her fair braids.” During the moment of attempted stage seduction when Nillson has “downcast eyes,” May also “dropped her eyes,” echoing the actress once again. Madame Nillson appears “pure and true as his artless victim” and Newland notes as he watches May watch the scene, that “She doesn’t even guess what it’s all about,” tying the actress and young woman together as innocents. While the actress is acting the part of an innocent, May is a created innocent, part of a “circle of ladies who were the product of the system” who memorize lines given to them. New York society life is showcased to be of theatrical importance with high stakes.
Newland notes that, “No expense had been spared on the setting.” The set is described by him as “covered with emerald green cloth. In the middle distance symmetrical mounds of woolly green moss bounded by croquet hoops formed the base of shrubs shaped like orange-trees but studded with large pink and red roses...” It was “this enchanted garden.” The fantasy-like quality of the set underscores his fantasizing about his honeymoon with May where “We’ll read Faust together.” He realizes that he is “confusing the scene” with the literature he is now seeing enacted.
The movement from the theatre to private home is almost seamless and underscored by Mrs. Beaufort attending the performance despite the fact that, minutes later, she and her husband will be hosting a ballroom party. She slips out of her box just before the performance ends, “she rose at the end of the third act , drew her opera-cloak about her lovely shoulders, and disappeared, New York knew knew that meant that half an hour later the ball would begin.”
The Beaufort house is similarly described in theatre set terms as “a vista of enfiladed drawing rooms (the sea-green, the crimson, and the bouton d’or), seeing from afar the many-candled lusters reflected in the polished parquetry, and beyond that the depths of the conservatory where camellias and tree-ferns arched their costly foliage over seats of black and gold bamboo.” Like the set of Faust, the color green dominates and the garden replicating decor is noted. The candles echo the stage lights.
Flowers tie the Academy of Music stage, the actress, the Beaufort house and the young women of New York society together. On the theatre set, “falling daisy petals” punctuate the silence that occurs when “the boxes always stopped talking during the Daisy Song.” The girls wear flowers on their heads that replicate those worn by Nillson in her photos. The host, Beaufort, “told the gardeners what hothouse flowers to grow for the dinner table and the drawing rooms.” Newland, “never appearing in society without a flower (preferably a gardenia) in his bottonhole” notes that on May’s breast, “ to the line where it met a modest tulle tucker fastened with a single gardenia.” These cultivated flowers placed around the house and also on the persons of the girls act as artificial set dressings as much as the flowers on the set of Faust.
The dresses of the young women are drawn in descriptive terms similar to the description of Nillson’s costume. Nillson wears a “muslin chemisette” in “white cashmere slashed with pale blue satin, a reticule dangling from a blue girdle.” At the ball, “the light of the wax candles fell on revolving tulle skirts.” This is in contrast to the person who is not wearing the correct costume, Ellen Olenska, in her “Josephine look,” who cannot attend the ball because of this impropriety.
New York society, through its own performative gestures, cultivates an artificial life similar to a stage set with actors playing parts. The society members create their own stage where performances of individuals, couples, and families enact a uniquely New York drama. And, “This seemed as natural to Newland Archer as all the other conventions on which his life was molded.” The opening performance ends “as they floated away on the soft waves of the Blue Danube.”

11 December 2011

Reveries of a Solitary Walker

Rousseau's ideas about how to live this life include a major theme of how to live with our fellow human beings, who, in Rousseau's case created an atmosphere of persecution Rousseau felt obligated to escape. Rousseau concludes, "The suffering which I do not actually feel has not the slightest effect on me; the persecutor whom I do not see is as nothing to me. I realize this gives an advantage to those who control my destiny. So let them control it as they wish.I would prefer them to torment me unhindered than to be forced to think about them in order to protect myself from their blows." He continues that "All I can do in such circumstances is to forget as quickly as possible and run away. My heart's distress disappears with the object that caused it, and I calm again as soon as I am alone." His brief stay on the island was to him a paradise. He preferred to botanize rather than take part in man-made strife. I would like to compare his thoughts to Thoreau's in Walden.

10 December 2011

Quotations from Jean Jacques Rousseau's Reveries of a Solitary Walker

However men wish to see me, they cannot change my being, and in spite of their power and all their secret plots, I shall continue, whatever they may do, to be what I am in spite of them.
—Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Reveries of a Solitary Walker
from the chapter entitled “Eighth Walk”

Believe me, that is not the place where J.-J. will go looking for amusement.
—Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Reveries of a Solitary Walker
from the chapter entitled “Seventh Walk”

But I do not regret these experiences, since reflecting on them has given me new insights into my knowledge of myself and the real motives for my behavior on a thousand occasions about which I have deluded myself.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Reveries of a Solitary Walker,
from the chapter “Sixth Walk”

I have never believed that man’s freedom consisted in doing what he wants to do, but rather in never doing what he does not want to do, and this is the freedom I have always craved and often enjoyed and because of which I have most scandalized my contemporaries.
—Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Reveries of the Solitary Walker,
from the chapter “Sixth Walk”

I may be no better, but at least I am different.

When my destiny threw me back into the torrent of the world, I could not find anything there that pleased my heart even for a moment. Wherever I went I missed my sweet freedom and I felt indifference and disgust for anything that came my way that could lead to fortune and fame.
—Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Reveries of a Solitary Walker, chapter entitled “Third Walk”

So here I am, all alone on this earth…But what about me, cut off from them and everything else, what am I? This is what remains for me to find out now.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, opening lines to Reveries of a Solitary Walker, Chapter 1 entitled First Walk.

29 November 2011

Notes from Underground

"I have in my own life merely carried to the extreme that which you have never ventured to carry even halfway; and what's more, you've regarded your cowardice as prudence, and found comfort in deceiving yourselves. So, in fact, I may be even more 'alive' than you are. Do take a closer look! Why, we don't even know where the living lies today, or what it is, or what its name is."

"through loss of contact with anything alive"

"lost touch so badly"

Frustration, Humiliation, Fear, Rage

The unnamed narrator in Dostoyevsky’s Notes from the Underground is the exaggerated form of the man who continually reasons and therefore does not live. Incessantly, he makes plans that he believes will demonstrate he is a valuable individual. At times he merely wants to be considered an equal by others. But, most of the time, he is obsessed with issues of power, feeling powerless; he dreams of having some kind of control over other people, often involving abasement and humiliation. He ends up humiliated himself. Mentioned in the previous post, the only way for him to realize this power is to fantasize about physically clashing with others, including scenarios where he is thrown through a window or is involved in a duel. The actual encounter with the officer, where he does bump into him, instead of satisfying, leaves him feeling anxious and physically sick, especially when he registers the lack of recognition from the officer that the encounter even occurred. In the end, when he reveals his lack for living life, the reader is still left with the uneasy feeling that even if he, or we, were to actually live life, there might not be very many people to share the kind of intimacy that would be fulfilling to an open person.