Friday, February 23, 2007

Musil. Marlboros. Mother's Milk.

Do you know the feeling when you’re stuck in a rut? That’s how I have been feeling like for the past one week. It’s terrible. I have no motivation do anything – at all. Its mid term break at school only that it’s not a break of any sort because I have tons of work to do. And I have just no, no, no, none, zilch, nada motivation do any of it. I finally finished rewriting my essay on Wednesday. And I should have started working on the other 4,000 word essay I have due sometime soon. And studying for my philosophy mid term which is next week. But just the thought of them is enough to make me nauseous and I have been reading instead.

I have had a pile of books on my table that I have been meaning to finish. I hate school sometimes (most of the time?) because most of my reading gets limited to coursework. There’s always something due, some meeting and my mind is always occupied with stupid banalities. And sometimes I just want to watch movies. Or television series’. I finished watching Brideshead Revisited – that took close to 14 hours. (It was excellent, by the way). And then of course, it doesn’t help that I am absolutely inept at any form of time management.

Anyway. To come back to the point - books.

I still have about sixty pages of Edward St. Aubyn’s Booker nominated Mother’s Milk to finish. (It was considered something of an upset when Aubyn didn’t win. One of the judges Anthony Quinn wrote afterwards, when the book didn’t win, that he "felt quite devastated and wondered if I should go off and sulk"). The book so far has been a wonderful read. It’s a simple story, but it’s written with such lightness, wit and insight that reading it is very pleasurable indeed. And even though it’s melancholic, it has wonderful moments of humour.

One of the reasons I picked up Robert Musil’s The Confusions of Young Törless was Alok’s posts on him over at his blog. The Man Without Qualities seemed too daunting a book to pick up, especially mid term, so I went with Törless.
The theme of the book is similar to Lord of the Flies, but Törless is, I felt, a more contemplative book. The brutality and sadism of the boys at their elite boarding school coupled with their philosophical awakening, makes for disturbing reading. Musil incorporates a host of ideas - the confusions of adolescence, the intellectual rationalisation of sexual relations, sadism, psychology, religion, spirituality, even the mathematical concept of infinity. A much longer post would be needed to even begin to analyse the story. Suffice to say that it is a brilliant, thought provoking work.

The author Aleksander Hemon mentioned Miljenko Jergović’s Sarajevo Marlboro a couple of times in his BBC interview as part of their series ‘Sense of the City’. (Where authors talk about how their cities have inspired them and reflect in their works. Pamuk talks about Istanbul, Zadie Smith about London and Bapsi Sidhwa, Lahore.) Jergović’s wonderful, wonderful collection of twenty nine short stories paint an amazingly human, insightful, humorous and poignant portrait of Sarajevo and its citizens during the Serbian siege. Sarjevo Marlboro is one of the most beautiful collection of short stories I have read in a while – I really can’t recommend it highly enough.
[I am putting up one of the stories from the book below (does this count as copyright infringement?) and another two are linked to. Please go read them.]

I am still predominantly reading fiction from areas that made up the ex-Ottoman empire (or to put it less succinctly the Balkans, Turkey, Middle East, Caucuses and North Africa). Including Kadare’s Three Elegies for Kosovo and a short story (available online) The Abolition of the Profession of the Curser. (Speaking of Kadare, the second Man Booker International will be awarded this year and I wonder whom it will go to.) Other than that I think I have to push back my plan to finally seriously sit down with Naguib Mahfouz’s Cairo Trilogy to once school is over. Having read some of Mahfouz’s other works and some fifty pages of Palace Walk I think I’d rather read the book with full attention at a time more conducive for reading.

Right now I need to get back to school work. Sigh.


bricks said...

I used to sleep a lot during exams. I used to wonder how I can stay up all night without a problem during non-exam days.

Alok said...

Oh wow, you study philosophy? What a noble subject!

I am still stuck with Man Without Qualities but will definitely check out Torless once I am done with this book (btw, just a minor thing in the title, it's "confusions" not "confessions"!).

Also, "intellectual rationalisations of sexual relations" as you call it is one of the major themes of MwQ too. His analysis is absolutely dazzling, and at many places too complex for me to really understand everything he is saying. Actually he was from a scientific background himself before he turned to literature, that's what makes him peculiar, his scientific attitude and his interest in "unscientific" subjects

MISSquoted** said...

this last one month i managed the outsider[which i liked], the unbearable lighteness of being[the approach which i didnt like particularly] and currently reading the curious incident of the dog in the night-time[liking!]. and i have lined up some paul zacharia and naipaul after that.
sorry haven read anything you mentioned so no pertinent comments really :-(

Antonia said...

good luck for your exams...
what are you doing in philosophy?

Sophie said...

I really really enjoy your blog. Our obsessions seem to match pretty consistently.

Szerelem said...

Bricks: Know exactly what you mean. Nothing like studying for an exam to put you to sleep is there?

Alok: Well, actually my majors are economics and political science. But I do take some philosophy electives – doing philosophy of science this term. And major blooper on my part about the confessions bit, thanks for pointing it out….corrected it (obviously, I am the one who is preoccupied and confused).
I agree with you that Musils writing and analysis is dazzling. What is so impressive is the way he seamlessly integrates so many strands of thought into his story. And one reason Torless was so disturbing was because he went beyond just sadomasochism but concentrated on a very philosophical analysis of it.
The copy of Torless I read had an introduction by J.M. Coetzee and he mentioned the influence of Musils scientific background (his majors was philosophy and minors mathematics and physics) on his writings and why even in his human analysis he uses a lot of philosophy (his Ph.D. dissertation was on Mach), which wasn’t that common at the time. Interestingly in Torless he uses a lot of mathematical philosophy in relation to understanding human behavior and actions, especially using the concept of infinity. It was very interesting.
Actually, the more I think about it, the more impressed I am with Torless – it’s a very deep work and quite brilliant.

Miss**: I know I am reading very geographically concentrated and obscure books am I not. That was one reason I put up/ linked to some of the stories. And comments need not be pertinent :P
About the books you mentioned, what do you know – have read all three.
I liked Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, its very observant.
I love, love, love Camus. I think he and Bertrand Russell were the greatest intellectuals of the 20th century and he didn’t produce anything that was even remotely below par. L’Etranger is superb.
Am curious as to why you didn’t like the approach to The Unbearable Lightness of Being? I liked the book a lot. The images were wonderful. I always think of a naked Sabina in a bowler hat when I see the books title. And Karenin was the most lovable character!! Even philosophically when he talks of lightness, heaviness, and kitsch he is very insightful.
Haven’t read much of Naipaul – mostly his non fiction actually. And while he does write well he is not someone I enjoy reading very much. This I think has a lot to do with his politics – which I disagree with – and the fact that he is the grumpiest writer ever. Paul Zacharia? I think I need to google.

Antonia: Thank You – luck is most needed. And like I wrote earlier this term I am basically doing Philosophy of Science. So we do a lot of Popper (another Austrian!). Actually, funnily enough, some passages in Torless reminded me of Popper’s writings.

Sophie: Why, thank you =) Am curious though as to the similar obsessions the post brought out?

hedonistic hobo said...

alas i have no money for books because i have spent all my money on getting drunk and waking up in alien cities!!!

i really wanna read the torless book now! szerelem your blog is such a delight! thanks!

and the essay will happen the last moment. it just works like that.

TS said...

Good luck with school.

Nice. Been reading a while.

bricks said...

Your blog always gives me updates on what has to be read.
We work more efficiently as we approach the deadline... donc n'enquite pas, ur essay will come thru

the wannabe indian punkster said...

I'm done with all my philosophy requirements thankfully. But I do have an awful oral communication midterm to look forward to, so I feel your pain, I really do.

MISSquoted** said...

the unbearable lightness of being was vivid but it stayed just behind being compelling. i gather that was because I couldn particularly appreciate kundera's sudden breaks into his personal dialectic insights. breaks the flow of the story...
sabina in a bowler hat...aaaaaah...with some sinnerman in the background wotsay??

Szerelem said...

hobo: Thank you :)
I have no money for books either - all has been spent on travel. Which is why my library card is so precious! :D
And you should read Torless. I think you will like it.

TS: Thank you!

Punkster: Best of luck for your midterm! And my philosophy course is actually the best course i am doing this term. That should give you an inklink of what a gawdawful term it is!

Miss**: Ha! I had written in a post about Sabina and bowler hats and Sinnerman!

Alok said...

I will move Young Torless up on my to-read list. It was already there!

btw, I once got a used copy of the logic of scientific discovery but couldn't get past first ten or so pages! it is very interesting subject though, philosophy of science. Even though I studied engineering, mathematics, science in college, we were never taught the philosophical ideas that these subjects are based on. It's a shame!

May be you can put some reading notes here. :) both reading and blogging will be taken care of. and you can educate your readers too in the process :)

airy voices said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
airy voices said...

i have been reading.. none of what you've been reading but you already conceded your penchant for the obscure.

I picked up notes from the underground yesterday at the library and then realised I had a $40 fine which I lacked the resources to pay. So I came home and gutenberged it and I have to admit it is more than slightly fantastic. The first page itself is brilliant. I think I've discovered an opening that rivals Austen and maybe even Nabakov in Lolita. "I am a sick man. ... I am a spiteful man. I am an unattractive man. I
believe my liver is diseased."


A little later he says "a great deal of consciousness, every sort of consciousness, in fact, is a
disease"!!! The man's genius.

And I know this has nothing whatsoever to do with your post (well its sorta does.. not in particulars but the overriding theme ie books, is the same) but I had to gush somewhere. And I'll stop with my rant now.

Swathi said...

I liked the short story u'd posted,perhaps I shall try to hunt for that book here(but I very much doubt if I can get hold of it here...)

Szerelem said...

Bricks: Sorry, missed you comment earlier. Thank You. And deadline has not been much inspiration in getting anything done!!

Alok: Actually, it is a very interesting subject. I’ve reads bits of Logic of Scientific Discovery . Popper is actually pretty technical, so even though he’s not boring, it is not easy reading. And I have been meaning to post some stuff on philosophy of science – especially about gender and science. Shall do that soon, hopefully :)

AV: Haven’t read Notes from the Underground, but wow interesting opening line, huh? What he says about consciousness reminded me of Camus – only a very negative version of Camus’ take on it. And may I point you to the Myth of Sisyphus and in my opinion one of the best opening lines ever - There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy.

Swathi: Yes, it’s beautiful isn’t it? I liked some other stories a lot as well, but they were too long to type out :) The other ones I linked to are very nice as well.

MockTurtle said...

Love your reading list. I'm not sure when my interest in good reading died, but it has been buried for a while now. Hope you keep up with it.
Also saw your comment on the "Myth of Sisyphus". Did you see Greene's reply in "Fabric of the Cosmos"? Hmmm... I think we had this conversation before?

Szerelem said...

MT, my reading really suffered the first couple of years in college. It was a concsious effort to get back to it. And yes we have had the conversation about Greene before :D
I think we were both saying how brilliant his book was?

Ali Riza ARICAN said...

I have read Kadare's "Palace of Dreams" last year and I found it quite Kafkaesque! I would like to read more of his works but here in Ho Chi Minh City, it is almost impossible to find good books. I just buy the books I can find in a local used-books store.
If anyone coming to Vietnam, please bring me some good books... I can pay 10% extra for the books you carried for me :) But I should make a list first... The most difficult job at all...