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Archive for the ‘Oh! The Humanity!’ Category

Flaubert, I Love You, But You’re Bringing Me Down

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So aside from the fact that I want to ride Gustave Flaubert’s epic mustache like a cowboy wants to ride a wild stallion, I also really like his book Madame Bovary.

Gustave FlaubertFirst published as a complete novel in 1857, Madame Bovary and her author Monsieur Flaubert there on the left were attacked for obscenity by the public, its trial and subsequent acquittal lent a fair hand in making the novel famous. It is now considered one of the most influencial books ever written and several top 100 lists, and in fact even a few top ten, stick it right up there in the number one or two spot. It most frequently stands beside Anna Karanina.

Madame Bovary is not a love story. It’s a story of realism and while you expect it would be a sweeping tale of romance wrapped up in juicy extra-marital affairs what the novel really represents is a perversion of values and how they will dehumanize those who hold such values. What we really have here is a morality tale, cloaked in the whispers and false promises of sweet nothings and satisfying trysts. And then she dies.

The main character, Emma Bovary idealizes romance and revels in secret letters, flirtations and clandestine affairs, believing them to be the very true nature of love. Then she finds herself horribly in debt, spurned by her former lovers and offering her own body in payment for bills she cannot possibly settle. Desperately Emma takes her own life, swallowing arsenic and dying slowly and painfully, her various life fluids gushing from her as a symbol of all the secrets that she kept from her naive and passionless husband. Then he dies too. It’s all quite tragic.

Flaubert did not sugar-coat or pander in his work, he started the realism movement, and influences how novels are written today. What readers come to expect from today’s authors, is a direct result of his presenting life as it is, without flourished embellishments or foolish idealism. While he presented ugly truths, he painted them beautifully, as an artist. He is precise, objective and emotionally restrained as a writer, yet he was able to take horrible things and describe them in ways that made them less ugly. Flaubert throughout his work also sought “le juste mot” the right word, rather than wrap it up in an approximate or something that didn’t quite fit, he always went for the unadorned, direct and sometimes brutal “juste mot”.

TLDR?

here:

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Would I Were As Steadfast As Thou Art

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Perhaps, if you have been reading the various news feeds available across the urban sprawl of the Internets you may have come across this news snippet from the Associated Press :

Once I got over the condescension oozing from the reporter’s voice and only briefly focused on the ick factor that one immediately associates with the idea of lingering around the deceased, I was saddened and reminded of William Faulkner’s short story, A Rose For Emily.

You can read A Rose For Emily here, its brief, and not at all like The Sound and The Fury, which is impossible to read, instead its written in Faulkner’s usual literary voice, and quite a haunting tale. Haunting not in the way that its terrifying or will unnerve you, although perhaps I am just a little dark and find such things terribly romantic instead of disturbing and you will find it unnerving. A Rose For Emily strikes a chord with me because in the five short parts of the story it speaks of loneliness, isolation and the very things that make us human, the desire to love and be loved, and the failings of society, Faulkner himself stated that Emily “was a woman who had had a tragedy, an irrevocable tragedy and nothing could be done about it, and I pitied her and this was a salute (…)”.

In A Rose For Emily, Emily keeps the corpse of her alleged lover/husband in a bridal chamber in her home, and lies beside his remains every night. It is alluded that she killed him as well, but that’s not so much the point here. Written from the perspective of the town in which she lives, it’s tone ranges from ironic and confessional to hopeful and dare I say it, even romantic. But it’s also just a story. For Mrs. Stevens, the woman in the news clip above, it’s her life.

It’s not that hard to imagine why 91-year-old Jean Stevens would want to keep the remains of her twin sister and husband of over 60 years with her. It’s sad, and I feel compassion and empathy for her. She seems like a delightful, loving woman who just was not able to say goodbye and grieve in the way that our society has deemed “healthy” by the general standards of such things. I did some further digging (pardon that) and the local newspaper in her town stated Mrs. Stevens will be able to keep the remains of her loved ones on her property if she wishes to do so, provided they are housed in an appropriate mausoleum or crypt and she will not be charged with any crimes.

Our natural reaction to such things is revulsion, repulsion or immediately sticking a label on such behaviour, writing it off as mentally unstable or sick. Or worse, we mock – when we should strive to understand, and empathize. She’s lonely, her loved ones passed on and I think she was failed by society. Grief is deeply personal, and while there are measures in place by governing bodies and regulations to ensure public safety and dignified handling of human remains, I think her choices in how she expressed her grief are beyond anything that anyone other than Mrs. Stevens can fully understand.

All I hope is that Mrs. Stevens gets the support and compassion she clearly needs, and that the rest of her life is peaceful and filled with the love she so clearly demonstrates, poor, dear lady.

Written by Lindsey

July 7, 2010 at 10:00 pm

More Kick Than Grape Kool-Aid

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At my non-interesting, non-literary day job, which sometimes runs over into evenings and weekends, I work with a group of about fifteen people. On a daily basis we send various e-mails back and forth about the usual things that happen on a daily basis at any average office.

One of these emails happened to be based around a team prize, and since we all work in an office and it is a soul crushing environment, a bottle of wine was suggested as a nice prize. Let’s be honest here, for a moment, alcohol and mind-numbing office work go hand in hand. Often you will hear at the end of any working day “I can’t wait to get home and have a glass of wine.” or “There is a cold beer in the fridge with my name on it.” We all know it’s true, any real job (read, the job that you took as a stopover to pay the bills while you waited for your golden opportunity to come by and it’s now been twenty years, and your youth and dignity are all but gone) that you know you are just doing for the pay and the benefits has its own special level of self medication that’s required to 1.) help you forget at the end of the day how awful the soul sucking, crushing weight of said employment is, and 2.) chill you the fuck out so you can get on with actually forking over a third of said soul sucking earnings to the Government. Why we do this, is a mystery left to the ages. Life is suffering, apparently.

Getting back to the email, my co-worker, was very enthusiastic about the bottle of wine, because as she so eloquently wrote to the entire team she is a “wineau”. W-I-N-E-A-U. I paused for a moment when I read that, now I knew from experience, that this was not a typo, not being the … ahem, brightest bulb at times, my co-worker had obviously never seen the word “wino” in print, and thus, typed it out phonetically, and quite cleverly. Given the geographic location of our office, and being Canadian I am sure also added to the ‘eau’ part on the end, the influence of French-Canadian speech patterns on our everyday language and the like. Did you know that poutine, for example, means mess? As in “ça va faire une maudite poutine”, which translates to “It will make a damn mess.” The more you know.

I paused because, in these cases such misspellings usually cause me to glance over and then scrap the whole conversation as I die a little inside. This one actually caused a smile, and then a laugh and then a declaration of it’s very genius. Wineau, of course, it’s like pronouncing Target with a French accent “Targe-aaay”, it just classes the whole thing up. It’s less paper bag on the corner and more, paper cup at a street festival. It’s not passing out in a puddle of your own sick, it’s declaring you have a headache and putting yourself to bed. It’s GENIUS!!! and I am appropriating it for my very own!

Dead squirrels, more emo then a bucket full of drunk writers.

This squirrel is more emo than a bucket full of drunk writers.

Now what, I am sure we are all wondering, does this have to do with books, or writers, or anything remotely on topic with the rest of this blog? Well, frankly, a lot of very good writers are drunks, or rather, wineaus.

Let’s look at the some of the better known ones:

Jack London : author of Call of the Wild and White Fang, “(…) There was no time, in all my waking time, that I didn’t want a drink. I began to anticipate the completion of my daily thousand words by taking a drink when only five hundred words were written. It was not long until I prefaced the beginning of the thousand words with a drink.”

F. Scott Fitzgerald : author of the Great Gatsby “First you take a drink, then the drink takes a drink, then the drink takes you.”

William Faulkner : author of The Sound and The Fury, I wrote about him here, on ikstim.

Ernest Hemingway : author of The Sun Also Rises, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and The Old Man and The Sea, who is also tied forever in history to six-toed cats and for whom I named my perfect daiquiri. Recipe here.

Jack Kerouac : the daddy of the beat-generation, author of On the Road, The Dharma Bums and several other largely influential books, Kerouac died an early death caused by cirrhosis, after a lifetime of heavy drinking. “As I grew older I became a drunk. Why? Because I like ecstasy of the mind.”

Hunter S. Thompson : Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, do I need to write anything else? Oh here’s a quote, “I hate to advocate drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity to anyone, but they’ve always worked for me.”

one more, Charles Bukowski : whom I love, to the nth degree, the Laureate of American lowlife, all of his stories involved heavy drinking, and even his live readings featured him getting bombed and having combative discussions with his audience.

Now that’s not to say that in order to become a great writer, you need to be on a bender all the time. Not at all, some of them take drugs.

The list above is only a short one and only mentioning a few American writers, I didn’t even get on the subject of the Russians, the French or the English. There are hundreds, thousands of writers, artists and performers that have substance abuse issues, for some it helps to quiet the deafening roar of the inner critic, to help them face the blank page, or simply to dull the pain of suffering for your craft. I am certainly not advocating abusing drugs and alcohol, in fact for many it was simply a short stop on the way to an early grave, either by disease caused by excessive drinking or at their own hands.

I can’t dispute however that some of the best literature, some of the most beautiful, heart-rending stories were written on liquor soaked pages, in a booze fueled haze of creativity. We all know the dangers of drinking, and for god’s sake, but more your own, don’t drink and drive. Stay home and read instead.

Written by Lindsey

June 14, 2010 at 8:31 pm

Told by an Idiot, Full of Sound and Fury

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Reading William Faulkner’s The Sound and The Fury, is like driving with my octogenarian grandmother. Dreadfully slow, confounding, and you’re never quite sure if you are going to make it out alive. What makes it worth it though is, occasionally the sweet lady looks over and says something that is so inspiring, or so beautiful that you buckle your seat belt, and hold white knuckled to the door handle.

A stream of consciousness tale told in four parts, and published originally in 1929, it appears on several lists as one of the best books of all time. The story also managed to play a role in Faulkner’s Noble Peace Prize in literature, which he was awarded in 1949.

The Sound and The Fury is a difficult story to provide an effective synopsis to, because for the most part, its not easily readable, nor, at times, does it make much sense. For the sake of brevity, I am going to break it down into it’s four parts, and attempt to give some sense of what the hell was going on in there. If The Sound and The Fury is your most favouritist book ever, and you find my synopsis overly simplified or missing the point altogether, bear with me and comfort yourself with the knowledge that MY most favouritist book is Go Dog Go.

Part One.

Narrated by Benjy Compson. His narration shifts over a twenty year span.

Caddy smelled like trees until she knocked boots with some guy from town and now she doesn’t smell like trees anymore.

Caddy, by the by, is the main figure in the story or more correctly, the idea of Caddy is the main figure in the story.  She is never met on her own, and is a different person in the eyes of each of the narrators.  She is only shown through the biases of each of her brothers, and ultimately does not exisit as a person, only as an individual’s perception of a person.

Part Two.

Narrated By Quentin Compson.

My sister Caddy is a whore, and I am going to toss myself into the river, from a height, weighted down by irons because of it.

Part Three.

Narrated by Jason Compson.

Money.Money.Money.Money.Money.I Hate Caddy, and myself, but mostly Caddy.Money.Money.Money.

Part Four.

The only chapter that makes any sense as Faulkner uses a more traditional writing style. The focus is the matriarch of the Compson’s servants, Dilsey . Dilsey and her family are used to provide a narrative comparison against the declining Compson family. I didn’t really figure out the story until the last few paragraphs, which is maybe what was intended all along. It illustrates the decay of the wealthy Southern family, and the idiocy that each of the brothers display in turn – Benjy’s mental retardation, Quentin’s declining mental health and obsession with his sister’s sexuality, and Jason’s obsession with wealth (Jason is also really mean).

/synopsis

Faulkner had originally intended to have the story printed with different coloured inks to represent the shifts in time and perspective, but used italics instead. Then he broke his own rules, and stopped using punctuation.

While the story, from what I could glean in the nearly six (six!) weeks it took me to read The Sound and The Fury, is a tragic tale of the downfall of a prominent Southern American family after the Civil War. The type of story, that being full of sadness and melancholy self reflection is right up my alley, but it’s delivery made it nearly incomprehensable. Also, Faulkner was mostly drunk while he wrote it, I tried being mostly drunk while I read it. It didn’t help.

All of that being said. I TOTALLY understand why people will tell you this is their favourite book, or will sing it’s praises as one of the most important pieces of American Literature Ever! Getting through this book is like winning the blue ribbon at a hotdog eating contest. You finish, you feel like you have really accomplished something, but you feel bloated with vague twinges of shame – mostly because you don’t really understand why you ate all those hotdogs in the first place.