Sunday, June 21, 2009

Sunday Salon

The Sunday

Today it's the kind of weather where it's relatively cool temperature-wise but so humid it's still uncomfortable. It's been raining non-stop for the past week, which means I don't have to water my new veggie garden although weeding it is certainly going to be a different story.

So I finished Demian and got that post up, in addition to another post I did in which I put a Demian passage side-by-side with a bit of dialogue from Watchmen. I thought it was really neat how these two very different works expressed similar ideas. I remember one of my college professors saying that there's really nothing new under the sun to talk about in literature. Love, hate, war, betrayal, comedy, tragedy, faith, country, madness, struggle, joy, triumph - all of this and more has been portrayed in myths, songs, prose, poems, and plays in practically every culture that's ever existed. What changes is how the story is told. How the author makes it relevant to their audience. What the author is able to draw from their culture to build upon. What in the author's life inspired this work. However much the surface changes, what lies beneath is universal.

Speaking of cross-cultural exchange - I am currently reading Haruki Murakami's The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (Japanese) which rather reminds me of Roberto BolaƱo's 2666 (Chilean-Mexican) in the sense of creepiness that pervades otherwise ordinary events. I've heard Murakami's atmosphere described as "menacing," but I personally think that's too strong a word (although it certainly applies to 2666). I would say it's more off-kilter: like you're looking at an object you see everyday and yet something's not right about it. Kind of like the room is tilting and you just barely notice. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is a rather odd, meandering book that I can imagine some readers finding dull, but, like Demian, it's really a novel of ideas. I'm almost to page 300 out of 611 and I expect to finish within the next few days.

I've also added it to my Chunkster Challenge list. At this point, I guess I have so many books on there that it doesn't really matter if I finish An American Tragedy or not, but I would really like to. The trouble is, I know what's coming and I'm powerless to warn Clyde and Roberta and everyone else. I wonder if I empathize with fictional characters too much. I mean, I'm not saying that's necessarily a bad thing, but it means I often have trouble reading about graphic torture and sexual abuse, which, awful as they are, can sometimes be integral to a plot. Just now in The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle I had to skip three entire pages because a horrible torture-execution scene came up. And I absolutely cannot read book like Jack Ketchum's The Girl Next Door or Elizabeth Scott's Living Dead Girl. Too much. But I admire readers who can do it. In Anne Rice's "Essay on Earlier Works," she has this to say:
My point here is that “dark stories” have been part of our literature for a very long time, and that they are viewed as highly valuable by educated people throughout the West.

I am hardly stating an original idea when I say that such stories are transformative. They invite the reader on a journey which reflects perfectly the formula of Aristotle for great drama: as one reads (or watches the film or play), one feels pity and fear, and eventually experiences catharsis. One is taken to a place, through the literary experience, to which one might not have ever gone on one’s own. I feel strongly that dark stories demand that the audience earn the transformation; they require a certain suffering on the part of the audience as the price of eventual affirmation.
I find myself wondering if, in my squeamishness, I'm missing out on some powerful literature. It's easy for me to criticize people who get all worked up over a little bit of sex in a book (look at some of the Amazon reviews for Hyperion - did we read the same book? "Turgid and Pornographic"?), but is it possible I'm guilty of the same thing, I'm just less picky? Isn't one of the reason we look askance at others is because they reflect something we know is within ourselves?


Update: I JUST went to BJ's with my mother and LOOK WHAT I GOT!

I know, it's one of those "every book blogger's reading it" type things, but I love translated fiction and this books sounds excellent. Plus, it is also on my Chunkster Challenge list.

I also did some editing to this post - toned down the wording, took out a couple of links I shouldn't have included. I apologize if anyone was miffed.


Anonymous said...

First off, I didn't enjoy Wind-Up Bird, in fact, I didn't finish it. I by it, I thought the writing was too smooth, too polished which is a strange critique I know.

I'm a fan of Japanese lit. but Murakami doesn't do anything for me.

Secondly, I have no qualms about reading "darks stories". There is a distinction between being exploitive and controversial, and having scenes that are vital to the story.

For me, lit. is always about pushing boundaries. Which doesn't always mean let's chuck in a load of sex and violence but sometimes just little things.

I understand people not being able to read certain books, it's like some can't watch horror films etc.

The one thing I hate, and you gave perfect examples, is people who force their own opinions down people’s throats and expect them to agree. Bah.

E. L. Fay said...

I edited this post a bit - I probably worded it too strongly.

I agree: there's a difference between being realistic and sensational, but I wondering if I'm too squeamish about facing uncomfortable realities of life.

E. L. Fay said...

Can you recommend some other Japanese lit? I feel like everyone reads Murakami.

Anonymous said...

Ryu Murakami - perhaps the enfant terrible of Japanese lit. I suppose his books do tend to be not for the squeamish, so not a good recommendation there.

Grotesque by Natsuo Kirino. I prefer this to Out her first novel released in English.

Miyuki Miyabe's books are good. She writes mostly mystery, suspense and some paranormal.

Yasunari Kawabata is pitch perfect. Um, try Snow Country.

Kobo Abe. Try The Woman in the Dunes, one of the quintessential existentialist novels.

Yukio Mishima - I'm not the biggest fan of Mishima but he's an important figure. Try The Sailor Who Fell from Grace with the Sea.

Kenzaburo Oe.

Ryunosuke Akutagawa. Obviously you must read Rashomon and Seventeen Other Stories.

And the granddaddy of them all Natsume Soseki. A very important figure in Japanese lit.

Those are some of the main writers, Japanese lit. is wide and varied but naturally not all novels get translated.

Wendy said...

I have Wind Up Bird Chronicle on my TBR shelf - and I am not really sure I'll like it. Someday I will try reading it.

I have the Zafon book too - I'm looking forward to reading it!

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