Thursday, 16 October 2008

An elegy in lieu of composition

I feel like I have so many things to say about Norwich as I prepare to leave it that I might as well say none of them. And I'd love to pretend that I've spent the week since handing in dancing on tables in all the bars I never went to, but I haven't, because I've been packing my boxes and feeling autumnal and pensive. This time doesn't seem to lend itself to words.

There were around fourteen cases of books in the end.

Hmmm. This is all a little 'I can't go on, I'll go on'. I blame this on reading Milan Kundera stories, an act which uncannily precipitated the furore over his alleged denunciation of an (again alleged) acquaintance in the 1950s. In keeping with my usual ambivalent stance,* Kundera has baffled me ever since I first read him as a precocious schoolkid. I say 'precocious', but this was a performance of precocity more than anything else: going to Richmond's library, which had 10,000 Wilbur Smith and Catherine Cookson novels and precisely four books by writers I considered 'literary' at the time,** and taking Kundera out seemed to be what a precocious person would do. Oddly, I now understand that this is precisely the kind of thing that Kundera seems to be writing about. What tends to confuse me about him, getting back to the original point, is that his manifest Existentialism seems to be so sweetened by erotic payoffs. If I was to pick one writer who exemplified the way that European postwar philosophical fiction talks clever to get girls (I say this with my tongue firmly in my cheek, but that doesn't mean I don't mean it) then Kundera would be my main man.

Modern European fiction is great, though, isn't it? I love it when you read one of those memoirs by newspaper columnists when they're going on about how they 'used to be' punks and have loads of sex with people who had the entirety of Sein und Zeit tattooed on their perineums. All those colossally meaningful references to an Existentialism that has, how shall we put it, not exactly been carried through into their Bodenised present-day. I want to give them a hug and tell them that it's alright, that they should just admit that the philosophy meant nothing and the bits they really dug in Sartre were where all the characters were being excessively attractive and smoking Gauloise. Everyone should dig books about people who sit in cafes all day, drinking alcohol for countless hours without ever being Englishman-at-European-Cup-Final-drunk, before tootling off to have an affair with their student/ piano teacher/ best friend's wife/ sister! They should dig them even more if there's a vaguely alluded-to sense of historical crisis, or if the principal character is being stalked by a doppelganger, or it could be adapted into a movie with a ten-minute panning shot of an auto wreck. Alienation is well cool, like.

Whenever I try and talk seriously about a book it seems to descend into a maelstrom of self-referential silliness. Oh well.

Right, back to them darned boxes.

* Which I waive 'positively' for Henry Green, William Sansom, David Peace, James Joyce, Patrick Hamilton, Kafka, Chekhov, M. John Harrison et al and 'negatively' for...well, let's give them a break, eh?

** For the record, they were Kundera's Unbearable Lightness of Being, Ulysses, Doctor Demar by Paul Theroux (!!), and something entirely depressing by Phillip Roth about divorce and the Arab-Israeli conflict. It might well have been Deception, but feel free to correct me. All I remember was that it felt like a big let-down after American Pastoral, which made me feel very grown-up indeed.


Karl said...

I think it probably was Deception: I haven't read it; I prefer his early 'wanking' books. Interesting thing about Philip Roth is that he was married to Claire Bloom, who was in Charlie Chaplin's Limelight. Just read that she had also been married to Rod Steiger. Two interesting things, then. I think Roth has also given me a durable interest in New Jersey as theory and practice. Have you seen Tropic Thunder yet? Much recommended for its method stupidity.

Joe said...

Jenny raised the issue of seeing it but we haven't done so yet. Being easily influenced, I was swayed by reading one person on a forum saying the last half hour was rubbish and that the parody element goes missing (cf. the last fifteen of all Police Academy films). Is this true?

I'm liking the facticity. Keep 'em coming. And thanks for confirming my suspicions about depressing Phillip Roth novels.


Karl said...

The parody is so slapdash that it's hard to tell at what point it goes missing. But Downey Jr's performance is excellent, and overall it's good fun. No classic, then, but many laughs.