Quote 64: In honor of Doc Holliday’s 165th birthday

Journal - 44

Doc Holliday b. August 14, 1851. (illustration 2016 by jpbohannon)

“There’s no normal life, Wyatt. There’s just life.”

From the movie Tombstone,
featuring Val Kilmer as Doc Holliday

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Rumi on Figs

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Figs 

The Ripe Fig

Now that you live here in my chest,
anywhere we sit is a mountaintop.

And those other images,
which have enchanted people
like porcelain dolls from China,
which have made men and women weep
for centuries, even those have changed now.

What used to be pain is a lovely bench
where we can rest under the roses.

     A left hand has become a right.
A dark wall, a window.

     A cushion in a shoe heel,
the leader of the community!

    Now silence. What we say
is poison to some
and nourishing to others.

    What we say is a ripe fig,
but not every bird that flies
eats figs.”

― Rumi, The Essential Rumi

Quote 47: “Poetry is above all…” Adrienne Rich

“Concentration”
illustration 2015 by jpbohannon

“Poetry is above all a concentration of the power of language, which is the power of our ultimate relationship with everything in the universe.”

                                                   Adrienne Rich

Book Review: Talk by Linda Rosenkrantz

Recording on the beach illustration 2015 by jpbohannon

Recording on the beach
illustration 2015 by jpbohannon

In the introductory material to the New York Review of Books‘ re-issue  of this 1968 novel, the writer Stephen Koch states that Linda Rosenkrantz was the precursor of “reality tv” with this inventive, unusual work. He says that Rosenkrantz’s technique, far more than anticipating reality television, was even the precedent for everything from Friends to Broke Girls. 

His latter assertion, he bases on the fact that this novel deals with two “twenty-something” women and one male talking about relationships, hopes, dreams, and reality. Before Rachel, Monica and Ross dished, Rosenkrantz’s characters were doing the same.

And before Snooki and the “Situation” shared more than we wanted to know about their adventures at the Jersey Shore, Rosenkrantz’s kids were already at it.

And how she did it was that she took a tape-recorder (they were very bulky in the mid-1960s) everywhere she went one summer, on the beach, in the shore-houses, at clubs.

Cover of NYRB's  re-issue of Linda RosenKrantz's Talk

Cover of NYRB’s re-issue of Linda Rosenkrantz’s Talk

The concept sounded wonderful. Rosenkrantz took her tape recorder and recorded her friends as they made dinners, basked on the beach, drove to clubs, and packed and unpacked.

At the end of the summer, she had more than twenty-five characters speaking the truth–or at the very least speaking. And they speak a lot.

Thankfully, she winnowed the twenty-five down to three: Vincent, a gay male painter; Emily, a struggling actress with a drinking problem; and Marsha, who has a “serious” job in New York, and who is the anchor of the novel. All of it is supposed to take place against the background of New York’s edgy art scene, with Warhol the subject of more than one name drop. (At the time, Rosenkrantz was editor of Sotheby’s Auction magazine and was quite cognizant of all the goings on in the art world at the time.)

The three are all at the shore. They are all in therapy. And they share their therapeutic insights with us. And on top of it all, there is an odd love triangle.

Emily loves Marsha. They are the best of friends and Marsha tries to nurture Emily through her psychiatric problems and her drinking. Vinnie understands Emily more than he understands Marsha, but Marsha is madly in love with him despite knowing he is gay. (And there are hints that Vinnie might also be in love with Marsha, but… .)

Take these three people, have their conversations recorded, and then transcribe them in a novel may have worked 50 years ago, but it does not work today. The psychoanalysis is juvenile, the relationships are sophomoric, and the conversations–for the most part–are deadening.

Koch was right when he said Talk was the precursor to reality television. He just didn’t tell us that it was the precursor of all that was inane, self-indulgent, and titallating about the genre. Talk might have been ground-breaking in 1968, but in the 21st century, it doesn’t even work as anthropology.

Imagine sitting on a towel on the beach next to these three people, discussing their analysis, their love lives and more. It would be enough for me to hope for a rip tide.

Quote 46: “…T is not too late to seek a newer world.” Tennyson

Ulysses sailing west illustration 2013 by jpbohannon

Ulysses sailing west
illustration 2013 by jpbohannon

The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
‘T is not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
Alfred, Lord Tennyson
from “Ulysses”

Book Review: Milan Kundera–the new and the old: The Festival of Insignificance and The Unbearable Lightness of Being

The Festival of Insignificance illustration 2015 by jpbohannon (recreation of book cover art)

The Festival of Insignificance
illustration 2015 by jpbohannon
(recreation of book cover art)

A few weeks back I read a review of Milan Kundera’s newest novel, The Festival of Insignificance.  The review was warm, discussing the narrative quirks and the philosophic resonances.  In the review, however, the critic spent much time on Kundera’s earlier work, particularly The Unbearable Lightness of Being.  It was the second time that week that that novel had come to my attention.

A friend on mine was in semi-seclusion and had begun reading the novel aloud to her cat. (Although, out of compassion, she did not read him the passages where Karenin the dog is in his final stages of cancer and must be euthanized.) The cat stayed attentive through all of it.

Kundera himself would love this story.

Having no immediate access to Kurenda’s latest, I pulled down from the shelf my worn copy of The Unbearable Lightness of Being and began reading it myself. It was the sixth or seventh time I had read it.

What draws the reader into the novel are the characters’ personalities, both heroic and damaged; the politics, both sexual and global; and the self-knowledge with which each of the three characters, Tomas, Teresa, and Sabina, work at achieving and which causes readers to reflect inward themselves. At least, that’s what happened to me.

And of course, there is the quirky, sometimes humorous interruptions by the narrator and the self-aware, redoubling rhythms of the narration.

During the course of my reading, I also had to attend a funeral. And at the luncheon that followed, I sat next to a woman who has always reminded me of the actress, Juliette Binoche, which of course reminded me of Binoche’s role in the film version of The Unbearable Lightness of Being.  That my friend was from East Germany underscored the connection with this Eastern European novel.

Here is the trailer from the 1988 film:

And so, I finally got the newest, The Festival of Insignificance, out of the public library, and began reading it the moment I finished the earlier work. It is a slim volume, a mere 115 pages in the American edition, and it features much of what is admirable in Kundera:  Characters who “live examined lives” and are notable for their philosophic wonderings and reflective attitudes, a narrator who periodically pops into the story to discuss the workings of the novel itself, and a level of global political awareness that is not often present in American novels.

And there is Kundera’s wry humor.

The flap of the book jacket cites a passage from an earlier novel, Slowness, in which the wife of the main character tells her husband:

“You’ve often told me you meant to write a book one day that would have not a single serious word in it. … I warn you: watch out. Your enemies are lying in wait.”

The Festival of Insignificance purportedly is that book, and it begins with a discussion of the navel.  Or at least what one character, Alain, feels is the eroticization of the navel in the 21st century. This thought comes about as Alain walks down a street in Paris and notices the many cropped tops and low-hung jeans — and thus the navels — of so many young women. And, it is this immediate preoccupation with the navel that is the cord that binds the various stories of the novel together.

Through his musings about the navel’s surge in fashionable exposure, the middle-aged Alain remembers the last time he saw his mother, who had wanted him aborted and abandoned him when he was two and whom he last saw when he was six. This is paired with another friend whose mother is dying, which is then linked to Joseph Stalin who gave birth to an era of madness and horror in twentieth-century Europe.

In fact, Stalin appears throughout the novel, finally making an appearance in modern day Paris, at a children’s show in the Luxembourg Gardens, riding in a tiny children’s carriage.

As with all of Kundera, there are serious musings on European and human history, on disease and finality, on love and on sex. These are thoughtful and thought-provoking discussions which nest comfortably in the interior lives of his main characters.

Kundera’s thesis is that in the vastness of the universe, human life AND human history is relatively insignificant–that human history is merely a “festival of insignificance.” And while there is much that seems “insignificant” in Kundera’s novel, the reality is quite different.

Human significance might not have cosmic ramifications in the universe, at large. It is, however, greatly personal, and often has repercussions through the larger community. So in this novel, the spilled Armagnac, the little lie about one’s health, the lines of people at a Chagall exhibit, all play a “significant” role in the lives of a limited circle of acquaintances. Our lives, our acquaintances, our histories are all rather parochial, to be sure, but they are ours, and they are all that we have.

The Festival of Insignificance is at first look a slight and whimsical book. But it is much more than that. It is enjoyable and funny and thoughtful and wise.

And despite the cited desire of the writer in Kundera’s Slowness, there are more than a few serious words in it.

Quote 45: “The bowler hat was a motif in the musical composition … .”

Sabina's Bowler illustration 2015 by jpbohannon

Sabina’s Bowler
illustration 2015 by jpbohannon

The bowler hat was a motif in the musical composition that was Sabina’s life. It returned again and again, each time with a different meaning, and all the meanings flowed through the bowler hat like water through a riverbed. … each time the same object would give rise to a new meaning, though all former meanings would resonate (like an echo, like a parade of echoes) together with the new one.

Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being