Friday, 23 December 2011

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Supper, Kroc-Style

Once a month on a Friday evening at a nearby McDonald's he meets up with some of the fellows he used to work with who are now retired like him. When it was first proposed that these monthly get-togethers be at McDonald's he baulked. He hadn't been to a McDonald's since when he was young and didn't mind what he ate because things like high cholesterol and clogged arteries were the last things he was thinking of. Also the coffee at McDonald's had tasted like warm dishwater.

Then, about twenty five years ago, he learned that he had too much cholesterol in his blood, and that unless he ate healthily from then on he would soon die. Being always terrified of dying he immediately changed the food he ate. No more McDonald's, no more Kentucky Fried, no more eggs-and-bacon breakfasts, no more T-bone steaks, no more fries, no more milkshakes. In their place salads, veggies, steamed fish, steamed chicken, fresh fruit. He was told also to exercise and lose weight. So, instead of lying in bed reading books and sleeping throughout weekends he began jogging to the music of Vivaldi from a Walkman. Twenty-five years later he still hasn't died. For this he's grateful.

You can only imagine, then, how traumatic it was for him to go to McDonald's for the first time in twenty-five years to attend his first get-together with the fellows. Trembling, he approached the order counter and looked at what was on offer. His anxiety rose when he saw on the menu board, "Big Mac", "Quarter-Pounder with Cheese", "Small Fries", "Medium Fries", "Large Fries", "Chocolate Milk Shake", "Vanilla Milk Shake", and the various other McDonald's offerings which he remembered from twenty-five years ago. What to do? He read on and saw "Salads". This was new. One could have a large salad with one's choice of dressing. He ordered a salad with Italian dressing. For desert he ordered an apple pie, which he thought wouldn't have much cholesterol, and a coffee, despite that McDonald's coffee might still taste like warm dishwater.

Holding his tray of food he looked around for the fellows. He saw two sitting at a table and went to join them. Before entering into the conversation he tucked into his McDonald's supper. The salad was good as salads go. It also contained some pieces of chicken which he ate with enjoyment. Then the apple pie - good too. At last the coffee. Instead of tasting like warm dishwater, it tasted like about the best coffee he's ever drunk, belonging at least in the same class as Starbuck's coffee. How more upmarket can one get? The McDonald's coffee was a revelation. Refills were free.

His tummy now full, he turned his attention to the two other fellows at the table. He can't remember exactly what they were talking about just then, except that it was consistent with what two-fisted knock-about fellows talk about when together. He had been anticipating about eight fellows, but no more arrived. It would be just him and the two other fellows.

The talk after a while turned to literature - not a topic one would expect two-fisted knock-about fellows to talk about - and particularly to the novels of Thomas Hardy. When one of the fellows said that he'd recently read "The Mayor of the Casterbridge", he was all ears because "The Mayor of Casterbridge" had been one of the "set-books" he himself had had to study for his 'O' Levels when at senior school. He loved "The "Mayor of Casterbridge", and has re-read it several times in the fifty years since he wrote his 'O' Levels.

He won't waste his time going into what "The Mayor of Casterbridge" is all about because you, dear reader, can, if you're interested, easily find out about "The Mayor of Casterbridge" by going into Google. He does, however, recommend you read it because, in his unbiased opinion, "The Mayor of Casterbridge" is good - so good that he will shortly re-read it yet again.

Friday, 17 June 2011

What Dreams May Come.........

A blog that he reads regularly, "Sitting Pugs", had a recent posting that speculated about *where computer technology is taking us*. The posting in question talked of how, for instance, a machine might be programmed to translate words keyed into it into music. How might the Book of Genesis sound as music if its text was keyed into this computer?

One might speculate even further. How would the Income Tax Act sound as music if all its words were keyed into this computer?

The "Sitting Pugs" author wondered about the possibility of a computer programme that modifies text into a style which the keyer-in desires; or has certain features which the keyer-in desires. With such a programme, the keyer-in could have her text come out in the style of any writer she likes, whether Jane Austin, Candace Bushnell, or Mark Twain. Or she could have her text come out with no split infinitives. Or have her text come out in the First Person if she had originally written it in the Third Person.

How about a plug-in listening device that mutes or beeps-out words, or irritating cliches the listener doesn't want to hear. So the listener could mute or beep-out words like "awesome" or "humongous" or "incredible", or phrases like "you can't compare apples and oranges". Better still, the listener could programme the device to replace the undesired words or phrases, with fresher or more apposite words or phrases.

After reading what the "Sitting Pugs" author wrote, he left the following comment:
Given the pace of computer technology (new technical information *doubles every two years*) most of the possibilities you describe will no doubt come about within the next few years.

But, you don’t go far enough.

How about automatic language translation? If you’re in a foreign land, say Poland, and wish to speak to a local and you don’t know Polish, you’ll speak into a translating machine which you’ll carry with you as naturally as you do your purse. By means of a voice amplifier incorporated in the translating machine, your words will be rendered automatically into perfect spoken Polish. The startled local will answer in Polish, and you’ll converse with her as naturally as if she knew perfect English.

Such a machine will make redundant those human translators you see at meetings at the United Nations and its like. Language schools would also become redundant because no-one would need to speak a language not their own.

Another thing I see happening is that parents who wish to give their children a competitive advantage at school and in life, will arrange to have miniaturised computer chips implanted in their childrens' brains, which will turn these children into genii.

What of human-like robots? I’ve already read of men who have female-looking robots, and prefer their company to that of real women.

It’s only a matter of time before robots (androids?) will look so human, and be anatomically so human, that if you meet one you won’t know if it’s human or robot – although if it looks like Nicole Kidman or Dolf Lundgren it’ll more likely be a robot (android). But you still won’t know for sure.

In this happy world, men and women will have no need of the other because everyone will simply have an anatomically-human robot (android) as a husband/wife, and which can also be custom-designed to look exactly like any desired fantasy-figure – not just Nicole Kidman or Dolf Lundgren.

The great advantage to having a robot wife/husband is that you’ll have absolute control over it. It’ll obey all your commands, and you’ll have a remote to switch it on and off when desired. So whenever you’ve finished making love with it and wish to go to sleep, you’ll just switch it off.

If you’re a man, your robot-wife won’t say things like, “not tonight, dear, I have a headache”, and you won’t have to give it flowers or chat it up in order to put it “In the Mood for Love” (great film, that, by the way).

If you’re a woman, your robot-husband won’t, when in your bed, snore loudly and emit vile smells – which real men are wont to do.

I see computer technology having a pernicious effect on the careers of film stars, because computer-animated people on screen will soon look so real, that they’ll be indistinguishable from real people on screen. Make enough films with any particular computer- animated human character, and it will become as real a person in the public mind as a real human actor. Once this happens real movie stars will be redundant, and Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston will have to get themselves real jobs.

We live in the days of miracles and wonder……..
Should, though, the mass pairing of humans and androids ever come about, it would, at first sight, mean the gradual end of the human race because no children would be conceived and born. However, as much as the disappearance of the human might be a good thing, this is unlikely to happen totally, even if humans and androids do pair up en-masse. Humans being humans, there will always be some who wish to pair up with other humans and have children. Hence misery in the world may continue for evermore.

How better to end this posting than with Philip Larkin's poem, "This Be The Verse":

They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another's throats.

Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don't have any kids yourself.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

The Fish and the Bird

Whenever listening to "The Fish and the Bird" by Mark Knopfler (formerly of Dire Straits) he always wonders if the "I" in the song is male or female.

He's now inclined to think that the "I" is male.

When I gave my heart to a tinker boy
He said a fish could love a swallow
And I will go with my travelling man
Wherever he goes I will follow

He will mend your pots and pans
Your kitchen knives he'll take and sharpen
Then I'll be gone with my travelling man
And never more your doorway darken

The fish and the bird who fall in love
Will find no place to build a home in
The fish and the bird who fall in love
Are bound forever to go roaming......

Cher lecteur, que pensez-vous?

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Give Me That Old-Time Religion

This is his first posting on this site in two months. He had, though, *told you all* that he would now post only occasionally on this site because he needs change, and wishes to write more on the other blogs he has, like *Since Time Began*, on which he's begun re-telling the stories in the Biblical Old Testament. It's more fun re-telling these wonderful stories than pontificating through the medium of "Through A Dark Glassly" about How Things Are and How Things Should Be.

He used to enjoy pontificating about How Things Are and How Things Should Be, no doubt because pontificating thus is the bailiwick of the "white" male, a species to which he belongs. This isn't to say that he no longer pontificates. He still does sometimes, although it's mainly in comments on the blogs of others. And he will continue occasionally to pontificate on this blog (Through A Dark Glassly) if he feels that what he wishes to pontificate about is so important that he feels it his duty to humanity to so pontificate. Today is such an occasion.

The genesis of today's posting is a comment he left on the Hannibal Blog which had a piece *on "The Hemlock Cup"* by Bettany Hughes about Socrates - a book which the Hannibal Blog's owner had liked extremely. In response, in a comment, he spoke of the doubt we should all exercise when we talk about Socrates and things Ancient Greek, because they were so long ago.

In his comment, he said:
.......most contemporary acolytes of Socrates and things Ancient Greek.......seem to approach this subject with all the uncritical enthusiasm of the religious zealot. As an will know that many experts are not sure that Socrates even existed. Hence Socrates may be as mythological a figure as Robin Hood, King Arthur and Jesus Christ.

And, what of the text of Plato's dialogues with the alleged Socrates? The
earliest copies that exist were written more than 1,200 years after the original. This is so long a time that one wonders how faithful these copies were to the original, or even whether Plato was the author.

Bettany Hughes appears not be afflicted with doubts, nor so are the writers
of the reviews I've read, who are unanimously effusive in "The Hemlock Cup"'s praise. Let it be said, though, that some reviewers do mention in passing the possibility of Socrates not having existed, but wrote their reviews as if he actually did, thus marginalising the notion that Socrates may have been a figure of fiction.

In "The Hemlock Cup"'s first chapter we learn at least two things that would
cause an Applied Epistemologist to scratch his head. One, is that potential jurors at Socrates trial were volunteers; the other, is that Socrates was among the throng of the many hundreds (or was it many thousands?) of Athenians who were voluntarily converging on the Royal Stoa where Socrates' trial was to be held.

Given that many of these potential jurors journeyed from quite far away, so
that their journey to the Royal Stoa took many days and involved much hardship; and given that jurors today in America and elsewhere detest jury duty so much, that the state must dragoon them to their duty on the threat of punishment, how true is it the potential jurors at Socrates trial were volunteers?

As to Socrates voluntarily walking to the place of his trial, a likely
outcome from which he would have known would be his death, why were the Athenian authorities so confident that Socrates wouldn't escape? Was there no preventive detention, or at least no release on bail, of accused criminals in Ancient Athens? If not, then Dominique Strauss-Kahn must be rueing that he didn't live in Ancient Athens.

We also learn from "The Hemlock Cup", as well as from all the other accounts
of the alleged Socrates, that he habitually walked the stinking and disease-ridden streets of Athens and discussed philosophy with the vendors and the other ordinary people he encountered.

Given that discussing philosophy on even today's relatively
pleasant-smelling and relatively disease-free streets is the very last thing that vendors today, or any ordinary people in America and similar lands today, would wish to do, or have the time to do, or would even have the intellectual capacity to do, how true is it that the alleged Socrates had philosophical discussions in the streets of Ancient Athens?

You, as an historian, will of course know that the further back we go, the
less we know for sure. And the further back in time, the more the time for subsequent historians to embellish and distort the happenings of that time, for reasons political, ideological and literary.

As an historian you will also know of course that the Applied
Epistemologist, in trying to determine what actually happened in the long, long past, long before the invention of the printing press and all of that, assumes that as people today behave, so they always did behave, unless there is compelling reason to think otherwise. Hence the Applied Epistemologist uses verisimilitude to try to guess the truth in the absence of tangible evidence.

All that said, I did enjoy reading the first chapter, and the bits of later
chapters of the Amazon-allowed tidbits of "The Hemlock Cup", since I've always been allured by the sort of elegant prose in which "The Hemlock Cup" is obviously written. So I'm tempted to buy and read the whole book, despite that much of it may fail the test of verisimilitude, and that I'm not an acolyte of the alleged Socrates or of things Ancient Greek.
We shouldn't forget that the alleged Socrates and the Ancient Athens in which he lived existed 2,500 years ago - 500 years before the alleged birth of the alleged Jesus Christ. Think also that many historical truths of much later times are being impugned by DNA and other recent contradictory evidence. Think too of how difficult it is to establish the real truth of events which happen today.

It is of course in the vested interests of those who write books about Socrates the man, that they must keep alive and well the belief that Socrates was real, otherwise their books wouldn't sell. However, what is most relevant about the alleged Socrates are the words put in his mouth by historians over the last 2,500 years, and the Socratic method of establishing truth. They stand on their own, regardless of who wrote these words or who constructed the Socratic method. But, if you believe that Socrates was real, then his words, and the Socratic method, will never be enough for you. You must have all of him. If you are one such, then you're a Religious Believer.

That there are so many such Socrates-idolaters is prima facie ironic, since, arguably, most are professed atheists. However, given that the religious instinct may be ingrained in the human psyche, we shouldn't be surprised that professed atheists gullibly become all religious-like when it comes to Socrates and things Ancient Greek. The religious instinct of the professed atheist doesn't just go away when he declares that Jesus Christ didn't exist and that God is rubbish. No, this religious instinct re-emerges in disguise through a worship of Socrates and things Ancient Greek, or through a dogmatic atheism, like that of Richard Dawkins, whose crusade in the cause of atheism has all the characteristics of a fundamentalist religious movement.

His awareness of the ingrained religious instinct of the human, was why Jiddu Krishnamurti - who used the dialectical Socratic method to enable people to find inner freedom, and who the Theosophists had declared was an incarnation of a messianic entity - summarily dissolved "The Order of the Star in the East", the world-wide movement the Theosophists had placed him as the head of. Krishnamurti, in dismissing his thousands of followers, said, *"The moment you follow someone you cease to follow the Truth".*

Sunday, 3 April 2011

Soup of the Evening

Beautiful Soup,
Who cares for fish,
Game or any other dish?
Who would not give all else
For two pennyworth only
Of Beautiful Soup?

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Knut, RIP

Knut, a polar bear, was born in the Berlin Zoo on December 5, 2006. He died last Saturday, March 19, 2011. He just dropped dead. No-one suspected anything physically wrong with him. Knut was only four, very young for a polar bear. Polar bears normally live past twenty.

Knut was never supposed to live because his mother rejected him. The tiny Knut, who could be fitted into one hand, was put in an incubator at the Berlin Zoo. He survived it against all odds. After some weeks he was able to live outside it. One of the Berlin Zoo's keepers, Thomas Dörflein, became Knut's father and mother. He slept next to Knut at night, bottle-fed him, burped him, rubbed his fur with baby oil, and played with him. Knut was Dörflein's child.

Knut wasn't small for long. At eighteen months he was considered too big and too dangerous for Dörflein to be with any more. So the Zoo told Dörflein he could no longer go near Knut. Dörflein was heartbroken. Some months later he died suddenly of a heart attack. He was only in his mid-forties. Did he die of his broken heart?

After Dörflein died, Knut appeared sad. He also couldn't get along with the other bears in his enclosure, which must have made him sadder still. However, Knut seemed to enjoy being in front of the huge crowds who came to the Zoo to ooh and aah over him and take his picture.

Now Knut is gone. Suddenly, terribly. The millions of people who knew of him, or saw him, are feeling his loss. They are expressing this in an online condolence book set up by the Berlin Zoo.

The preliminary autopsy on Knut hasn't revealed any specific cause of death, other than that he may have had some brain abnormalities. Perhaps, though, the deep underlying cause - the real cause - was a heart that broke when Thomas Dörflein died, and that never healed?

Next to all the big and important news which currently consumes us - Libya, bombs, and all of that - why should Knut matter? He was just a bear. But he did matter. In our darkness he was a little ray of light who gave a little happiness to so many.

In "Casablanca", Rick says to Victor Laszlo and to Ilsa doesn't take much to see that the problems of three little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world........
In today's world - which is no less crazy than when when Rick said these words - Knut and those who loved him perhaps don't amount to a hill of beans, compared to the big issues of our time. But a hill of beans, however small, is still a hill of beans, and gives love and meaning to all who are part of that hill of beans.

Along with the many thousands who have so far written in the online condolence book for Knut, he too has done the same. He wrote in it:
Ich bin so traurig dass du nicht mehr bei uns bist, Knut. Du warst ein klein Lichtstrahl dass die Welt weniger dunkel machte.

Weil ich so weit weg wohne, habe ich nie gekommen dich zu sehen. Aber ich habe so viel über dich gelesen, und so viele Bilder von dir gesehen, fühlte ich dass ich dich kannte.

Ich hoffe dass du jetzt mit Thomas bist.

Goodbye, Knut. Du wirst immer in meinem Herz leben.

(I am so sad that you're no longer with us, Knut. You were a tiny ray of light that made the world slightly less dark.

Because I live so far away I never came to visit you. But I read so much about you, and saw so many pictures of you, that I felt I knew you.

I hope you are now with Thomas.

Goodbye Knut. You will always live in my heart.)

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

"Freedom": A Conversation

The genesis of today's posting is the posting of March 5th 2011, called *To Everything There is a Season* , which dwelt in part on Jonathan Franzen's novel, "Freedom", which he had just finished reading, and liked extremely.

Jenny, whose blog is called *"Sweat and Spezzatura"* , upon reading what he wrote about "Freedom", reluctantly decided to read this novel too. As Jenny read "Freedom" she left comments, to which he responded, and to which she responded in turn. A sort of conversation developed.

After looking over these comments, particularly those from Jenny, he thought they deserved a blog posting of their own. Some comments have been edited slightly to facilitate flow. Today's offering is the result. If, dear reader, after reading them you decide to read "Freedom" too, then today's posting will have been worth it.

If you haven't read "Freedom" you'll be puzzled by the names of the characters alluded to. So you should know that Patty and Walter are a married suburban couple, whose grownup children are Joey and Jessica; Richard is an old friend of Walter's; Lalitha is a young female employee of Walter's; and Joyce is Patty's mother.

Here we go:


Jenny: OK, OK, I'll get the novel tomorrow. Enough putting this off. I'm dreading it, though, despite your positive review.

And not because I see myself in it, so don't even think it.

Philippe: I'll most interested to learn your reactions to "Freedom".

About seeing oneself in a character, it shouldn't be all or nothing. One can see something of oneself in a character, but not necessarily all of oneself.

If we have a strong emotional reaction to a character, then he or she may have hit a nerve we don't know about. What is that nerve?

Reading novels like "Freedom" is bibliotherapy.

For what it's worth, I saw something of myself in Walter. But I'm still walking.

Jenny: So far so good. It starts with a terrific epigraph. And I adore epigraphs. Blog posts should have them too, don't you think?

Philippe: I hadn't noticed the epigraph. This shows how observant I am.

Having now noticed it, I agree that it's terrific. It speaks to me.

(the epigraph in question is from Shakespeare's "A Winter's Tale":

Go together,
You precious winners all; your exultation
Partake to everyone. I, an old turtle,
Will wing me to some withered bough, and there
My mate, that's never to be found again,
Lament till I'm lost.)

Jenny: I'm hooked. Stayed up way too late last night reading. I would finish it today, but I have to go to work. (NB: Unlike some flawed heroines of novels, I have a job.)

Franzen has an amazing ear for the way we sound. I thought the first chapter would do me in. It's like an assault.

Philippe: My my, you are a fast reader. Should "Freedom" be gulped down this fast?

Anyway, I'm glad to hear you're enjoying it. Have you discovered now who you are? Patty?!! Patty's mom?!!

You said, ".......Franzen has an amazing ear for the way we sound........."

I saw a clip of a Franzen interview, in which he said that when writing dialogue he says it out loud, so to get the sound of real conversation.

One such piece of dialogue stuck in my mind. It's at the bottom of page 160 where Patty and Richard are alone together for the first time at the rural cottage after Walter has just left for Saskatchewan for few days.

They are feeling awkward. Richard says to Patty:
"You OK?"

"No no no," she
[Patty] said, "I love being up here. I love it. This is my favorite place in the world.......I love getting up in the morning. I love smelling the air."

"I meant are you OK with my being here."

"Oh, totally. God. Yes. Totally. Yah! I mean, you know how Walter loves you. I feel like we've been friends with you for so long, but I've hardly ever really talked to you. It's a nice opportunity. But you truly shouldn't feel you have to stay.........I'm so used to being alone up here. It's fine."

This speech seemed to have taken her a very long time to get to the end of. It was followed by a brief silence between them.

"I'm just trying to hear what you're actually saying," Richard said. "Whether you actually want me here or not."

What gets me every time time is the "Oh, totally. God. Yes. Totally. Yah!.......".

Why do I laugh out loud each time I think of this line?

Jenny: Yes, it's very, very well done. I was thinking of the connection to Natasha Rostova with Pierre/Prince Andrei/Anatole long before Franzen had Patty reading War and Peace at the lake.

I read a whole lot more on the train today. I don't know, Philippe, I really just love all three of them: Patty, Walter and Richard. Just love them.

I'll certainly finish it tonight. Can't help it.

By the way, have you seen Franzen's rules for writing fiction?

1. The reader is a friend, not an adversary, not a spectator.
2. Fiction that isn't an author's personal adventure into the frightening or the unknown isn't worth writing for anything but money.
3. Never use the word "then" as a ­conjunction – we have "and" for this purpose. Substituting "then" is the lazy or tone-deaf writer's non-solution to the problem of too many "ands" on the page.
4. Write in the third person unless a ­really distinctive first-person voice ­offers itself irresistibly.
5. When information becomes free and universally accessible, voluminous research for a novel is devalued along with it.
6. The most purely autobiographical ­fiction requires pure invention. Nobody ever wrote a more auto­biographical story than "The Metamorphosis".
7. You see more sitting still than chasing after.
8. It's doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.
9. Interesting verbs are seldom very interesting.
10. You have to love before you can be relentless.

Philippe: I'd previously seen Franzen's piece in the Guardian (whose site I visit every day). I'm bad about using "then". Although I use it less often now, I can't help using it sometimes.

And I particularly like what Franzen said about "The Metamorphosis". Writing through the viewpoint of a bizarre creature, or even in the third person is less confrontational for the writer, and he'll consequently write better.

Jenny: Number 8 is precisely what I have on my mind these days.

You were right: It is sad when the novel is over.

Philippe: Franzen said, "....It's doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction....."

I think he meant that when one writes fiction, one should write it off-line. I would go even further, and say that when writing fiction, one should write with pen on paper.

"Freedom", like any other wonderful novel, did have its weaknesses. I didn't like its ending, which just didn't ring true, being all neatly tied together. Perhaps Franzen had Hollywood film rights in mind when deciding how to end "Freedom"? If so, he made a Faustian bargain with financial power, as Walter did.

Also not ringing true, was Joey's moving in next door, notwithstanding Patty's unhealthy obsession with him. And the parts to do with the Cerulean Mountain Trust and the warblers, just went on and on and on, sort of like Tolstoy went on and on and on and on with the political and social issues in War and Peace.

Patty's relationship to her mother, Joyce, I found of interest. Given that basketball was the one thing that Patty had excelled in, why had Joyce never attended even one of Patty's basketball games? No doubt Joyce wanted all the attention, and so felt threatened if any of her children succeeded in anything. Was this why Patty contrived to fail in everything, including her marriage, after her basketball career was over?

Walter, despite being a feminist and being a good friend to women, chose poorly in the women he had relationships with. Why would he marry Patty, who didn't love him in "that way", and he must have known it?

As for Lalitha, it is obvious that she used sex to gain power over Walter in her obsession with over-population. Hence one could guess that Walter's relationship with Lalitha wouldn't ultimately work. The huge difference in their ages wouldn't have helped either.

Jenny: OK, the ending. I actually really loved the initial reunion: sad, conflicted, uneasy, human. I didn't care so much for the description of their lives after that, but I didn't like the end of War and Peace either.

As for Joey's move next door and Lalitha's motives, Philippe, I think you're reading too literally here. I don't think this is straight-up realism. (I need to think some more about how to explain what I mean.) I guess these characters do what they do so we can understand more about the three in the story who really matter to us. I took Lalitha at face value, by the way. She loved him, don't be so damned cynical!

Obviously, Franzen has Tolstoy in mind. There is a real War and Peace dynamic to this novel, and I accept the contrived bits: Lise must die so Andrei can fall in love with Natasha. Andrei must die so Natasha can realize that she loves Pierre. It's the same here with Lalita's death. It's just that Franzen is more conflicted. Tolstoy always had all the answers; though, I think, it didn't serve him well as a writer. At least for my tastes.

Yes, the Cerulean Mountain Trust, who cares? I agree. Too much of it.

Your view of Lalitha raises some really interesting questions about who is narrating, and whether we can trust the narrator. I thought about this quite a bit in the chapters that were NOT Patty's composition.

Where Patty is speaking (writing), we have reason to understand that the story is subjectively told, but what about in the other chapters? The narrator flat out tells you that Lalitha adores Walter, that she is in love with him. So, you are telling me that this narrator is something short of all-knowing? duplicitous? deluded? biased?

I'm curious to hear what you think. I admit that I had an inkling in a couple of places that the narrator was not strictly objective.

Philippe: I need hardly tell you that "love" can mean all sorts of different things. We are told that Lalitha "loves" Walter. But, isn't "love" to do with caring about the other person in a selfless way, so that you want to do what's best for him/her?

Lalitha knew that Walter was a family man, and long-time married. She didn't have reason to think that Walter didn't love Patty, or that there was anything amiss in his marriage. Yet she made the moves on him, and seduced him. She must have known that this would only damage Walter's marriage. And you say that Lalitha "loved" Walter?

Wouldn't it be truer to say that she had "the hots" for him", no doubt because Walter was an authority figure, and therefore had power? As Henry Kissinger famously said: power is an aphrodisiac.

However, if having "the hots" equals "love" in our current debased culture, then, I suppose, Lalitha did "love" Walter.

Beginning at the bottom of page 469, there's this revealing exchange between Lalitha and Walter, after Walter has learned about Patty and Richard. Walter, obviously shattered, tells Lalitha that they have to fire Richard from the zero-population-growth project. Lalitha says no, saying:
"......This is my project, and I need him..........So you can have your problem with him, and be very sorry about your wife, but I'm not firing him".

"Honey", Walter said. "Lalitha. I really do love you. Everything's going to be OK. But try to see this from my side."

"No!" she said, wheeling toward him with spirited insurrection. "I don't care about your side! My job is to do our population work, and I'm going to do it. If you really care about that work, and about me, you'll let me do it my way."

A few lines on, Lalitha says:
".........I'm rather good at persuading people to do things they don't want to do. I'm a rather effective employee of yours, and I hope you'll be nice enough to let me do my work."
I ask you, if a much-younger employee didn't have power over her much-older boss, would she say this? I suggest that Lalitha was so obsessed with zero-population growth, that nothing was going to stand in her way, least of all Walter's feelings and sense of worth. It was Lalitha's way or the highway, and Lalitha knew that Walter wasn't going to take the highway, because, through the bait of sex, she had hooked him, and he was as helpless as any fish caught in a net.

Jenny: I read that passage over and over, actually.

Fair enough points. However, Lalitha practically lived with Walter and Patty, and there was plenty "amiss" in their marriage for her to see. How could she not have seen it? And I guess I bristle a little at the notion of one person "seducing" another when both are full-grown adults. C'mon.

Isn't it a funny moment when Jessica says to Richard that married people should be off-limits, and Richard tells her that life is little more complicated than that for adults? And didn't you think, while reading that conversation, that Jessica is naïvely self-righteous, and, at the same time, that Richard is so cynical and world-weary?

But what it means to love someone, and whether Walter was "loved" by Lalitha, or by Patty, and which of those two types of call-it-whatever, he ought to choose, OK, Philippe, I will think about that damned question. Again. Again.

Philippe: You said "....I bristle a little at the notion of one person "seducing" another when both are full-grown adults....."

While it does take "two to tango", you can't deny that Lalitha was the pursuer. Admittedly, one also can't deny that Walter had been entertaining thoughts about Lalitha of a borderline unwholesome nature, as captured in this wonderful passage on page 303:
Staying in hotels with Lalitha had become perhaps the hardest single part of their working relationship. In Washington, where she lived upstairs from him, she was at least on a different floor, and Patty was around to generally disturb the picture. At the Day's Inn at Beckley, they fitted identical keycards into identical doors, fifteen feet from each other, and entered rooms whose identical profound drabness only a torrid illicit liaison could overcome. Walter couldn't avoid thinking about how alone Lalitha was in her identical room. Part of his feeling of inferiority consisted of straightforward envy - envy of her youth; envy of her innocent idealism; envy of the simplicity of her situation, as compared to the impossibility of his - and it seemed to him that her room, though outwardly identical, was the room of fullness, the room of beautiful and allowable yearning, while his was the room of emptiness and sterile prohibition. He turned on CNN, for the blare of it, and watched a report of the latest carnage in Iraq while he undressed for a lonely shower.
I'm still inclined to think, though, that had Lalitha not pursued Walter, their relationship would have remained a purely business one because Walter was high-minded - a saint of sorts. However, saints have been known to stray from the virtuous path, and Patty had given Walter permission to sleep with Lalitha. Also, men, even the most uxorious, are terribly vulnerable to beautiful seductresses. Lalitha surely knew this, and therefore knowingly exploited Walter's vulnerability.

Regarding Lalitha's concern about overpopulation, if she was as concerned about it as she made out, why did she campaign against it in the United States, where zero-population growth from a declining birth-rate is already a fact, or is almost already a fact? Why didn't Lalitha campaign in third-world lands where there is a compelling need to reduce birth-rates?

Could Lalitha's obsession with reducing babies worldwide, and her wanting to have her own tubes tied, have come out of a simple dislike of children? Because women are not supposed to dislike children, it is easier for a woman disliking children to justify her voluntary childlessness in terms of the need for zero-population growth. I suggest that Lalitha was such a woman. She disliked children, and projected this dislike in altruistic disguise on to the outside world.

You said, ".........Isn't it a funny moment when Jessica says to Richard that married people should be off-limits, and Richard tells her that life is little more complicated than that for adults? And didn't you think, while reading that conversation, that Jessica is naïvely self-righteous, and, at the same time, that Richard is so cynical and world-weary?.........."

I saw Jessica's remark more as an expression of the idealism of youth. It showed her heart was in the right place. I liked her all the better for that. What if she'd said that married people shouldn't be off-limits? She would have had no heart, don't you think? As for Richard saying what he said, well, he would say that wouldn't he?!!

Jessica in her kitchen talk with Richard (page 355) touches on the problem of Lalitha's dwelling upstairs in Walter's and Patty's home. Jessica talks of the problems in her parents' marriage, and about how depressed her mom is.

Jessica says to Richard,
" just really bothers me to see what's happening here. If she would just leave - I mean, Lalitha - if she would just leave , so my mom could have a chance again.....".
Lalitha couldn't have been so insensitive as not to have detected the vibes from Jessica - and from Patty, who pointedly ignored Lalitha whenever she encountered her - that they resented her. Had Lalitha had a heart, she would have moved out and found herself an apartment, despite that Walter was happy to have her live in his home.

And Walter couldn't have helped but pick up the vibes of Patty's and Jessica's dislike of Lalitha. Therefore, could Walter's wanting Lalitha in his home have been fuelled by a covert anger at Patty, despite his constant protestations of love for her?

Jenny: Your comments, especially the last, all remind me of Franzen's rule about fiction as a personal adventure into the frightening or the unknown.

Patty and Walter, some kind of love, huh?

Love. The unknown. Frightening.

Everybody talks about Franzen as an American Tolstoy, but his tone is often more Chekhovian.

When Walter reads Patty's description of her affair with Richard, what sticks with him is their witty, adult conversation. What a great detail.

I wonder if you've read Chekhov's Lady with a Lapdog.

Philippe: I haven't read any Chekhov, I don't think. I'll put "Lady with a Lapdog" on my "to read list". Perhaps the text is on the internet? I'll check.

You said, "....When Walter reads Patty's description of her affair with Richard, what sticks with him is their witty, adult conversation......"

As I read Patty's autobiography written at the suggestion of her therapist, I said to myself many times, boy, for a female jock can she ever write!!

And Richard, for a rocker, appeared to have read uncommonly deeply!!

You said, "....Patty and Walter, some kind of love, huh?...."

In addition to Patty's mother, Joyce, who so feared success in her children that she never attended even one of Patty's basketball games - the one thing which Patty was really good at - it was also Walter who, unwittingly, was a prime cause of Patty's self-hatred and decline.

Walter was a saint, well, of sorts, and it doesn't take too much imagination to see that it must be difficult to be married to a saint. Because you can never hope to out-saint the saint, you feel always inferior, and always feel in the wrong in disputes with the saint. So you've no-where to go but down by self-destructing in order to make an impression on the saint. This may explain Patty in her marriage.

Come to think of it, was Joyce a saint too?

Walter, being so well-read, so intellectual, and so involved with changing the world, may have felt bored with his stay-at-home wife. This wouldn't have done anything for Patty's self-esteem.

Patty, in marrying immediately out of college, and being a stay-at-home mom, led a life that women of her mom's generation usually led. It was Patty's mom, Joyce, being an elected representative, and always out of the house, and presumably earning her own income, who led a life that women of her daughter's generation usually lead.

Patty must have known this, and she may therefore have felt as inferior to Joyce as she felt inferior to Walter.

Jenny: It's funny, isn't it, that such a modern novel employs (essentially) one of the oldest and most contrived devices to propel a plot: Patty's confessional writings.

How else could Richard and Walter learn so much about what happened in their absence and what Patty was thinking? It's just a version of characters hiding behind a bush and eavesdropping on lengthy soliloquies.

Staying at home and raising children or going out and saving the world, either way, it's damned complicated for women......

..........I still want to think about what stuck-up literary types call the narrative voice in this book. I don't have it figured out. At all.

Lady with a Lapdog is a very short story. Please do read it. I'm seriously devoted to it, and, in general, to Chekhov. Any library will have it.

(At this point the conversation became more about "Lady With a Lapdog" than about "Freedom")

Philippe: I've tracked down the text of *"Lady With a Lapdog"*, and have begun reading.......

Just thinking out loud, would a Chekhov today call it "Lady With a Laptop"?

Philippe: So, yeah, I've just finished "Lady With a Lapdog" . I agree, it's a wonderful little story. But, it's not really a little story, because a lot happens. It could so easily be stretched into a 600 page novel.

It is so, so breathtakingly true to life. Think only of this passage about Gurov:
.......everything that was essential, of interest and of value to him, everything in which he was sincere and did not deceive himself, everything that made the kernel of his life, was hidden from other people; and all that was false in him, the sheath in which he hid himself to conceal the truth -- such, for instance, as his work in the bank, his discussions at the club, his 'lower race,' his presence with his wife at anniversary festivities -- all that was open.........
I thought of these lyrics from Paul Simon:
.....People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dared
Disturb the sound of silence.....

As for Chekhov, I'll definitely be reading more of him.

Would I be right to think that you saw something of Richard and Patty, and of Walter and Lalitha, in Gurov and Anna? If so, I agree.

This little extract from "Lady With the Lapdog" spoke (strongly) to me:
"....He always seemed to women different from what he was, and they loved in him not himself, but the man created by their imagination...."
Jenny: "Lady with a Laptop" -- You get a whole lot of points for that, Philippe. Wow. I'm going to have to scurry to keep up!

But, seriously, I am very happy that you liked the story, and you are right about echoes of Gurov and Anna in Franzen's heroes.

I love the moment when Gurov tries to tell a colleague about Anna, and his efforts are met with a remark about the quality of the sturgeon at dinner that night.

It's Chekhov's particular genius that the story is so short. You're right; it feels very so much more substantial than just a few pages.

See the big four of Chekhov plays, when you get a chance.

Back to Franzen, that last Chekhov extract you quoted could be words in Patty's mouth about Walter's view of her.

Philippe: Since the remark about the sturgeon was from an official in a doctors' (and therefore all-male) club, it shows that men in Russia of Gurov's time were encased in the same emotional straight-jackets as are we men in North America today, where talk among us is.......
........always about the same thing. Useless pursuits and conversations always about the same things absorb the better part of one's time, the better part of one's strength, and in the end there is left a life grovelling and curtailed, worthless and trivial, and there is no escaping or getting away from it -- just as though one were in a madhouse or a prison........
You said, "........that last Chekhov extract you quoted could be words in Patty's mouth about Walter's view of her........".

Needless to say (but I'm saying it!!), they could be words in the mouth of any Beloved about her Adorer's view of her, and of any Beloved about his Adorer's view of him.


If, dear reader, this conversation hasn't convinced you to read "Freedom", perhaps you'll at least read "Lady With a Lapdog"?

Saturday, 5 March 2011

To Everything There is a Season

He's noted that two bloggers he reads *have begun* *new blogs*. Another has announced she's taking a *break from her blog*. This has caused him to think. Beginning a new blog, and taking a break from one, bespeak change. Change is always good. He should change too.

So he's begun a new blog, *"Since Time Began"*, to which he has transferred the content of his "History of the World" writings, as well as all the comments which readers had left. He'll continue this series on "Since Time Began".

He's been neglecting his *"Boundary Beyond"* blog, on which he hasn't posted for more than two months. It's owed another posting soon.

As for "Through a Dark Glassly", while he won't necessarily take a long break from it (although he could), he plans to post here only occasionally. This blog is over two years-old, hence past the usual sell-by date for blogs. So, really, it should die. But it won't totally. Well.......for now.

This is the thing. Any blog inevitably gets old and loses vitality, becomes stale, because the blogger has become bored. His boredom plugs the pipes (conduits?) through which his energy flows. He needs to unplug these pipes, and how better than by beginning a new blog with new voice and tone.

Turning to other matters, he's recently finished reading Jonathan Franzen's "Freedom". He had begun it not really expecting to like it because the literary cognoscenti had so loved it that it set up an emotional resistance within him. It's because he usually doesn't like what everyone else likes. He has minority tastes, you see.

However, once started on "Freedom" he was hooked, so hooked that he cut back on watching live-stream international sport on his computer at ridiculous hours during the night. Instead, he spent these ridiculous night hours reading "Freedom". It is only now that he can concur with the cognoscenti, and say: Yes, Jonathan Franzen is America's Tolstoy. Yes, "Freedom" is America's Anna Karenina, although no-one throws herself (or himself) under a train.

The characters in "Freedom" are so well drawn that you feel you know them. If you live in a suburb in George W Bush's post 9/11 America, you will know Patty and Walter Berglund because you will have met people just like them. Or perhaps you are one of them yourself. You will have been to their house and neighbourhood, or you live in a house and neighbourhood just like Patty's and Walter's. Walter, oh-so-good and left liberal, and married to self-hating Patty, who gave up her independence to have husband and children and live the American Dream, but who has a thing for Walter's friend from boyhood, the insouciant, live-for-the-moment rock-musician, Richard Katz, who looks like a young Muammar Gaddafi, and is, in his dangerousness, everything Walter isn't.

"Freedom" explores most of the contentious issues of our day - the fall-out from 9/11, Iraq, Afghanistan, corporate greed, Global Warming, The Environment, and all of that. So "Freedom" is a big novel, not only in length, but in scope - Tolstoyan scope. Once starting it, you'll want to stretch the time until you finish, because you'll know that when you do, there'll be something missing in your life, well, at least for a time.

He won't say more, except, read "Freedom", even if you see yourself in it, and squirm. It's that good.

Having finished "Freedom" he felt a fascinating friend had just died, and he felt lost. Even watching international sport on his computer at ridiculous hours of the night, no longer had the same allure as being immersed in "Freedom". After "Freedom", he searched for a replacement. He found one, finally. But it wasn't quite what he expected.

He'll tell of what happened next time.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Its Quarter to Three........

He dreamed a dream very early this morning so real that he awoke surprised that it was a dream. As with the *last dream he wrote of*, he didn't really need to write it down, but he did nonetheless. Here is what he wrote:
It's about 3 in the morning (quarter to three?), and I'm walking through a deserted and run-down part of the city. I'm under a large bridge, and near some railway tracks. I can see quite near, a police car with its doors open. A few yards in front of the car, a police officer is being pushed around by some large and burly toughs wearing rumpled grey suits and wielding what look like guns or blackjacks. I understand there's another police officer somewhere, who the toughs have violently incapacitated.

My first instinct is to go to the aid of the police officer because these toughs look the sort who would easily kill. Then I feel afraid because I have begun thinking about what might happen to me were I to try and help the police officer. I walk away from the scene and try to put it out of my mind. But I can't, because I can't forget that I was too cowardly to go to the aid of the police officer. Perhaps I should turn around and go back to see if there's still anything I can do. I don't, however, after I again begin thinking the same cowardly thoughts. I resume walking away, and am hoping that the police officer can get away from the toughs.

I continue walking. Some hours must have passed because it's now dawn. I'm trying to find news of the incident under the bridge, but there seems none. I'm relieved, although I'm still assailed with guilt that I was too afraid to try to help the police officer.
What would he have done had he, in real life, happened upon a scene like the one with the police officer and the toughs in the dream? He wishes he could say that he would have intervened in defence of the police officer, even at the cost of he, himself, likely being gravely injured or killed. He suspects, though, that he wouldn't have intervened. You see, he has always lived by the maxim that it's better to be a live coward than a dead hero.

Given that other people in dreams are supposed to represent parts of the dreamer, what parts of him, the dreamer, did the policeman and the toughs represent? Since policemen uphold the law, and therefore represent Good and Right, the policeman in the dream represented that part of him which is Good, or has Integrity. He knows, by the way, that he hasn't been attending to this part of himself of late, so that if he continues this way much longer, then whatever Good he still has in him, or whatever Integrity he still has left, will disappear altogether ie. will die. As for the toughs in the dream, well, they represented his Bad self which, through his habits of neglect and procrastination, is bringing about the death of his Good self.

When, in the dream, he walked away from the scene under the bridge, he was hoping he could convince himself that everything he'd seen there would have a happy ending, or that the whole thing would just go away. Hence in the dream when it was dawn, and he was trying to find news of the incident under the bridge, and there was no news, he felt relieved. The lack of news bespoke that what he'd seen had turned out alright, or had never happened. He was wishing away what he'd seen. Or was blocking it out.

He has always blocked out unpleasant things. He does so by escaping into a pleasant world of reading, writing, and the imagination. Being now retired, he has lots of time for this. Feeling more vulnerable as he gets older, and increasingly anxiety-ridden by the content of the local news, which is written, or presented, in a way to keep people frightened, he got rid of his TV set, and no longer reads the local newspaper. Hence his anxiety level has gone down. By no longer watching TV or reading the local newspaper, he blocks out the terrible realities of the shootings, stabbings, armed robberies, deadly illnesses, and the other misfortunes all around him, and which the local news is all about.

Just before he went to bed last night, he had been reading reviews of "My Father At 100" - Ron Reagan's just-published memoir of his father, Ronald Reagan. In it, Ron Reagan tells of his father's consummate ability to go into a fantasy world of denial, so to block out the troubling realities of life whenever they threatened to overwhelm him. Ronald Reagan was so much the blocker-outer, that all those close to him (possibly excepting Nancy) said they didn't know who he was. Ronald Reagan's public persona of good cheer and affability would appear the result of his having blocked out his existential anxieties so completely that all he showed to his nearest and dearest was a mask.

Is this why he, himself, as a fellow blocker-outer, always found Ronald Reagan interesting, and found Edmund Morris's "Dutch" a biography so fascinating that he read it twice, and cannot wait to begin reading Ron Reagan's memoir of his father?

As for his dream, he feels what precipitated it was his reading the reviews of "My Father at 100" just before going to bed last night.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Goodbye Mr Crocker-Harris

The other evening he watched "The Browning Version". Made in 1951, it is set in an archetypal English public school. It is the last day of term and two of the masters (teachers) are about to leave for good. One is the young Mr Fletcher, who has been selected to play for England against the Australians (cricket), and who is popular; the other is Mr Crocker-Harris, the middle-aged and pedantic Latin and Greek master who is not popular.

It is Mr Crocker-Harris, though, that "The Browning Version" revolves around. The boys hate him because he's such a martinet. Nicknamed "The Crock", and also known as "the Himmler of the Lower Fifth", Mr Crocker-Harris is considered by the boys to have not a heart nor soul nor feelings. They all like to imitate his odd and precise way of speaking because it's so easy to imitate. Although Mr Crocker-Harris senses that the boys hate him, he hopes they at least respect him. To show that he does have his lighter side, he likes to compose Latin epigrams which he hopes the boys will smile at. They don't.

Mr Crocker-Harris's much younger wife - a wretched creature - hates him too. She despises him in fact. She is "carrying on" with one of the other masters, the science master Mr Hunter, young handsome and suave. It later turns out that Mr Crocker-Harris was not unaware of his wife's "carrying on" with Mr Hunter.

The dramatic high-point of "The Browning Version" is the farewell speech to the whole school which Mr Crocker-Harris must give on his last day. In it he shows, albeit unintentionally, that, buried a long way beneath the crusty pedantic carapace, he does actually have a heart, soul, and feelings - and deep feelings at that.

In the "The Browning Version" (which you can watch in ten-minute segments by *clicking here* ) you will notice that the English which the characters speak isn't quite the English which the English today speak. The English spoken in "The Browning Version" is "Received Pronunciation" (RP). RP used to be required of English children of the lower-upper-middle class and above. RP being not natural, meant that English children of the lower-upper-middle class and above were taught to speak their native English as if it were a foreign tongue. This was but one of the many odd things about the English.

RP was also inculcated into many children of the Empire. This was why he, too, had RP inculcated into him by his Mother and his Father.

Inculcating RP into children began later to be frowned upon because it didn't fit with the post-war blurring of class distinctions. You can hear this change in the post-war children of the House of Windsor. Prince Charles, significantly older than his two brothers, speaks in RP. His brothers don't.

"The Browning Version" has always had a special place in his heart because it was the first film he remembers seeing. It was as a young boy that he accompanied his Mother and his Father to "The Browning Version" at the main cinema (film theatre) in the little town where he grew up. Although he doesn't remember the details of that evening exactly, he knows that his Mother and his Father would have worn their Sunday best to the cinema on that evening because that's how it was. He himself would have worn his school uniform because that's how it was.

That evening's programme would have begun with an image appearing on the screen of Buckingham palace, or of the monarch on a horse, whereupon all stood as "God Save the Queen" was played. Then came newsreels showing the latest goings-on in the world. The newsreels were those of British Gaumont News and British Movietone News, whose commentators spoke, of course, in faultless RP. There followed a locally produced documentary about coal mining or some-such which went on and on and on and on and on. Then came Interval when you bought a cold-drink or went to the bathroom, or did both, or did neither but impatiently gaze at the advertisements flashing on the screen. Finally, finally, would begin the film you had come to see.

As to the English public school portrayed in "The Browning Version", he attests that it was faithfully portrayed. He was schooled at a facsimile of an English boys public school and recognised, as he watched, much of his own schooldays. He even had a Latin master a lot like Mr Crocker-Harris. It was when the boys in the film sang "Lord Dismiss Us With Thy Blessing" at the end-of-term school assembly, that he was really pulled down time's tunnel. "Lord Dismiss Us With Thy Blessing" was the very hymn which he and his school fellows had sung at end-of-term school assemblies. He had sung this hymn joyfully for it signalled release from the prison of school and the freedom of Holidays.

It appears that in well-nigh all schools in Britain, and in many throughout the Empire, schoolboys (and perhaps schoolgirls too) sang "Lord Dismiss Us With Thy Blessing" at the end of each school term. It was one of the many threads that bound together the Empire.

Friday, 28 January 2011

Scenes From A Marriage

The topic of today's posting will again be Joseph O'Neill's novel, "Netherland", which he wrote of *last time*. Since it's only a short novel, 256 pages, he would have finished it a long time ago if things had been normal. But things haven't been normal because there's been so much overseas international sport to watch on his computer.

You will remember from *this posting* about how he was spending all his nights until the wee hours, watching the Ashes cricket test matches. Well, since then, there has been the One Day International (ODI) series between England and Australia which followed the Ashes. This series still isn't quite finished. And more recently there has been the Australian Open tennis championships from Melbourne.

As with watching the Ashes and ODIs, watching the tennis from Melbourne means watching it until dawn. The tennis, as with the ODIs, still isn't quite finished. Then, in a couple of weeks, the Cricket World Cup begins in India, and will last at least a month. So he will be up all night watching these matches on his computer. It's all never-ending.

So there's no time to do anything else, like read novels, cook, go shopping, take walks, and whatnot. He eats only Kentucky fried chicken and McDonald's hamburgers which he runs out to buy around the corner, because, as he's said, there's no time to cook. He has begun to drink heavily because alcohol gives him a pleasant buzz as he watches sport throughout the night. He drinks gin-and-tonic after gin-and-tonic until he crashes into bed at dawn.

Stumbling over the many dozens of empty gin bottles strewn around the sitting room and passage-way, he goes to the bathroom and looks in the mirror. A face looks back at him which he hardly knows. Double-chinned mottled and stubbled, the eyes bloodshot and puffy, it is an incipient old man's face from which any trace of long ago youth has gone forever.

He has painted this little picture for you to more fully understand why he's taking so long to read "Netherland". Nonetheless, he wishes today to present another passage from "Netherland", but one which has nothing to do with the cricket that is the passion of the novel's narrator, Hans van den Broek. He found the passage that he will present, so true to life as he knows it, that he thought you, dear reader, might find it equally true to your life, particularly if you are a man.

The narrator, Hans van den Broek, a high-earning equities analyst (and cricket-lover), and his wife, Rachel, a high-earning lawyer, and their infant son Jake, had moved from England to New York. After a couple of years, Rachel, becoming tired of New York and of Hans, returned to England with Jake and moved back in with her parents. It was agreed that Hans fly to England every two weeks in order to spend weekends of quality time with his little son Jake, and then fly back to New York.

One evening at the home of Rachel's parents during one of these weekends, Jake went to see Rachel in her room where she was in bed reading a book. As Hans tells it:
........She was regarding me with a dogged expression. Her eyes and cheekbones and T-shirt were drained of color.

Bedsprings sounded as I sat down upon the bed. I said, "How are things?"

"Me?" she said. "I'm fine. Tired, but fine."


"Yes, tired," Rachel said.

And it had happened again, one of those planned conversations that go quickly awry, that leave you alone with rage, a clarifying rage in this instance, in which it all came back in a harsh light: our fading marriage, the two New York years in which she withheld from me all kisses on the mouth, withheld these quietly and steadily and without complaint, averting even her eyes whenever mine sought them out in emotion, all the while cultivating a dutiful domesticity and maternal ethic that armored her in blamelessness, leaving me with no way to approach her, no way to find fault or feelings, waiting for me to lose heart, to put away my most human wants and expectations, to carry my burdens secretly, she not once in my mourning mentioning my mother [Hans's mother had recently died], even that time when I wept in the kitchen and dropped a bottle of beer on the floor out of pure sorrow.

She merely wiped the floor with paper towels and said nothing, brushing her free hand against my shoulder blade - my shoulder blade! - as she carried the soaked paper to the trash can, never holding me fast, refraining not out of lack of humanity but out of fear of being drawn into a request for further tenderness, a request that could only bring her face-to-face with some central revulsion, a revulsion of her husband or herself or both, a revulsion that had come from nowhere, or from her, or perhaps from something I'd done or failed to do, who knew, she didn't want to know, it was too great a disappointment, far better to get on with the chores, with the baby, with the work, far better to leave me to my own devices, as they say, to leave me to resign myself to certain motifs, to leave me to disappear guiltily into a hole of my own digging.

When the time came to stop her from leaving, I did not know what to think or wish for, her husband who was now an abandoner, a hole-dweller, a leaver who had left her to fend for herself, as she had said, who'd failed to provide her with the support and intimacy she needed, she complained, who was lacking some fundamental wherewithal, who no longer wanted her, who beneath his scrupulous marital motions was angry, whose sentiments had decayed into a mere sense of responsibility, a husband who, when she shouted, "I don't want to be provided for! I'm a lawyer! I make two hundred and fifty thousand dollars a year! I need to be loved!" had silently picked up the baby and smelled the baby's sweet hair, and taken the baby for a crawl in the hotel corridor, and afterwards washed the baby's filthy hands and soft filthy knees, and thought about what his wife had said, and saw the truth in her words and an opening, and decided to make another attempt at kindness, and at nine o'clock, with the baby finally drowsy in his cot, came with a full heart back to his wife to find her asleep, as usual, and beyond waking........

He won't comment on this passage, for, as with reading novels generally, you, as the reader (and particularly if you're a man) should, while reading this passage, pay attention to the thoughts and emotions which assail you during the reading of it, and then try to get to the root of where these thoughts and emotions came from. It's called bibliotherapy (he's not big on lit-crit). It's a wonderful way of reading novels, or so he finds.

As he had said when introducing this passage, it resonated strongly within him. He found it "powerful" in fact. Accordingly, he found himself, as he read, feeling certain intense feelings, and thinking certain intense thoughts. They were not happy ones.


He had a dream early this morning, one of those rare dreams which he didn't have to write down in order to remember it later. Nonetheless, in preparation for this blogging entry, he wrote down the following summary of the dream:
I'm in the dressing room of a cricket team which I belong to. The dressing room is in a basement of a building (of a cricket pavilion perhaps?). I understand that my team is playing a match in an important tournament (it may be the Cricket World Cup) and that it will soon be my turn to go out and bat. In the dressing room I'm making my preparations, but I can't seem to find my stuff, like my cricket boots. I'm searching for them, and am worried that I won't have found them when my turn comes to bat. This will be a catastrophe.

Then someone comes down the steps leading into the dressing-room. It is someone who I understand has just been appointed captain of the team. He carries a sheet of grey paper with writing on it. He waves the paper at me and says it lists all the things I have done wrong in the past - things like breaking rules, behavioural infractions, and so on. "How could you have done all these things?" he seems to ask. "What am I going to do about you?" he seems to say.

I'm flabbergasted that he would bring all this up right now, given that I'm about to go out and bat and I can't find my stuff. I'm also flabbergasted because my past wrongs had already been gone over with me in times past by previous captains. Why is the new captain dragging all this up again?

Then I wake up.

What was this dream really about? That it invoked cricket, bespoke that his reading "Netherland" had something to do with it. Also, the face of the new captain looked a lot like a current member of South Africa's cricket team, a player widely tipped to take over from the present captain when he retires. This possible successor South African captain (who was doubtless the new captain in the dream) has both a first and last name (Johan Botha) which are Dutch. This ties in with the name of "Netherland"s narrator, Hans van den Broek, being Dutch.

It seemed that in the dream, his past wrongs will always be held against him, no matter how much a new leaf he might turn over. He would be forever damned. What has this to do with anything in "Netherland"? Well, consider the following sentence from the passage from "Netherland" which he presented earlier:
.......I did not know what to think or wish for, her husband who was now an abandoner, a hole-dweller, a leaver who had left her to fend for herself, as she had said, who'd failed to provide her with the support and intimacy she needed, she complained, who was lacking some fundamental wherewithal, who no longer wanted her, who beneath his scrupulous marital motions was angry......
This sentence suggests that Hans's past failings would always be held against him by Rachel, no matter how much he might atone. She had her knife in him, and she would never withdraw it, no matter how much Hans might wriggle and squeal. In Rachel's eyes Hans would be forever damned.

Odd things, dreams