Maquina Lectora

Notes of a curious mind

Tag: Literature

The Curtain by Milan Kundera

Milan Kundera is one of the greatest contemporary writers, I still remember the thrill of reading The Unbearable Lightness of Being when it was published in 1984. The struggle of the individual for freedom, Tereza’s attachment to books as tools of learning and intellectual development and as material symbols to assert herself in the personal sphere, to rise above the collective.

This political background is crucial to Kundera’s work, in his books he explores the unpredictability of human behaviour, he shows that truth is relative and therefore has no endurance nor validity.

The Curtain is an enlightening work on the art of the novel. The curtain is our veil of pre-interpretation of reality. Each one of us perceive reality from his/her own vantage, it is a reality formed by one’s cultural education, national identity and language. In this aspect, the curtain represents the ideologies and histories which influence our perceptions and impact our behaviours, thinking and acts, the provincialism, the “inability (or the refusal) to see one’s culture in the larger context.

The synthetic power of the novel has the ability to make the individual look though the curtain. Novel’s sole morality is knowledge, said Hermann Broth. Novelists must devote themselves to “tearing the curtain of pre- interpretation”. Their purpose is to observe, search and pose questions.  “Who am I?”, “What is self?” “Do my choices define me, or does chance?”, “To what extent do I define myself, and to what extent is defined by other?” The imaginative world of the novel  offers answers to these questions.

Kundera’s erudition, his passion for his art, that is something one rarely came across.

Jonathan Franzen’s Discomfort Zone

I like Jonathan Franzen’s writing. I like his storytelling ability, the power, the elegance and the clarity in his writing.

But, I have mixed feelings about “The Discomfort Zone”. That four of the six chapters of the books have previously appeared, as separate pieces in the New Yorker, makes you think that Franzen used these pre-existing essays to produce a personal history-narrative. Perhaps this is the reason that the book lacks the continuity and the linearity of a memoir and, it also a good reason not to buy this book; I have borrowed mine from the library.

Centrally Located” is the less successful chapter of the book. Despite the abundance of characters, and dialogue (a high school chess team, form a group of teen pranksters called DIOTI— an anagram of Idiot), the story lacks purpose and destination. Perhaps the reader would benefit from skipping a few pages.

Despite the structural problems and the redundancies that make the book good but not great, is worth reading. The “House for Sale” and “My Bird Problem,” are truly wonderful essays. Franzen’s writing is strong, humorous and engaging. Dominant is his disregard for political-correctness, too.

[..... I was enraged about the aftermath of Katrina, too. For a while, that September, I couldn’t go online, open a newspaper, or even take cash from an ATM without encountering entreaties to aid the hurricane’s homeless victims. The fund-raising apparatus was so far-reaching and well orchestrated it seemed quasi-official, like the “Support Our Troops” ribbons that had shown up on half the country’s cars overnight. But it seemed to me that helping Katrina’s homeless victims ought to be the  government’s job, not mine. I’d always voted for candidates who wanted to raise my taxes, because I thought paying taxes was patriotic and because my idea of how to be left alone—my libertarian ideal!—was a well-funded, well-managed central government that spared me from having to make a hundred different spending decisions every week. Like, was Katrina as bad as the Pakistan earthquake? As bad as breast cancer? As bad as AIDS in Africa? Not as bad? How much less bad? I wanted my government to figure these things out.
It was true that the Bush tax cuts had put some extra money in my pocket, and even those of us who hadn’t voted for a privatised America still obliged to be good citizens. But with government abandoning so many of its former responsibilities, there were now hundreds of new causes to contribute to. Bush hadn’t just neglected emergency management and flood control; aside from Iraq, there wasn’t much he hadn’t neglected. Why should I pony up for this particular disaster? And why give political succor to people I believed were ruining the country? If the Republicans were so opposed to big government, let them ask their own donors to pony up! ……]

The Aspern Papers by Henry James.

The Aspern Papers is a novella written by Henry James, originally published in The Atlantic Monthly in 1888. It is the story or rather the quest of an American editor – he is also the unnamed narrator of the story – to obtain a collection of letters by the American Romantic poet Jeffrey Aspern.

He believes that Juliana Bordereau, an elderly and ill lady who lives in Venice in a dilapidated old palazzo, with her spinster niece Miss Tina, in “obscurity” and “almost on nothing”, is in possession of these unpublished and priceless “literary remains”. In order to get access to them the narrator becomes a lodger of theirs, under a false name.  He does not have a plan of how to acquire the papers but it did not make him too miserable, “for the whole situation had the charm of its oddity.” Meanwhile, what better place is to spend summer than in Venice?

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If you lose your purpose…. it is like you are broken

 The Invention of Hugo Cabret

Orphan, clock keeper, and thief, Hugo lives in the walls of a busy Paris train station, where his survival depends on secrets and anonymity. But when his world suddenly interlocks with an eccentric, bookish girl and a bitter old man who runs a toy booth in the station, Hugo’s undercover life, and his most precious secret, are put in jeopardy.

A cryptic drawing, a treasured notebook, a stolen key, a mechanical man, and a hidden message from Hugo’s dead father form the backbone of this intricate, tender, and spellbinding mystery,
This is a children’s book about mystery, clocks, automatons, magic and friendship. It is a wonderful, unique, illustrated novel – probably one of the best I have ever seen – with text.
I loved it
Hugo thought about his father's description of the automaton.
 
Did you ever notice that all machines are made for some reason?" He asked Isabelle. " They are built to make you laugh, like the mouse here, or to telle the time, like clocks, or to fill you with wonder, like the automaton. Maybe that's why a broken machine always makes me a little sad, because it isn't able to do what it was meant to do."
 
Isabelle picked up the mouse, wound it again, and set it down.
 
"Maybe it's the same with people," Hugo continued. "If you lose your purpose.... it is like you are broken."

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