My re-reading project is getting more and more revealing. I chose The Sound and the Fury of all Faulkner novels we read fifty years ago because it is perhaps his most famous, and I have referred to it repeatedly in my research as an example of mission impossible: giving verbal expression to something that a character cannot express by words. Benjy as this impossible narrator features in every work on narratology, and I wonder whether I have done the unforgivable: cited someone else rather than going to the source. For I hadn’t re-read the source when I was referring to it, and now I wonder whether I have read it at all. Maybe it is one of those books you believe you have read, but actually haven’t. I cannot be sure, because this re-reading exercise has clearly demonstrated that I had no memory whatsoever of books I had definitely read. So maybe I did read The Sound and the Fury fifty years ago and not only pretended I understood it, but pretended I liked it and went on pretending, to the degree that I gave it five stars on Goodreads when I was building my shelf about twelve years ago (it was called Shelfari then). Maybe I did read it, but I am totally confident after re-reading it now, that I could not have understood much of it. Not just because of Benjy, since all other narrators are just as incoherent, and although this time I was reading slowly and carefully, I cannot claim that I was able to reconstruct the course of events. I didn’t enjoy the language enough to ignore the plot, and I wasn’t too engaged with the characters. If I hadn’t been reading for my challenge I think I would have given up, just as I have repeatedly given up on Ulysses.
Saturday, 19 September 2020
Friday, 14 August 2020
I am resuming my re-reading challenge after a long break as I was reading Hilary Mantel's The Mirror and the Light – slow read of many, many pages that took me over two months. Goodreads points out to me that I am behind schedule.
I included A Clockwork Orange in my list because it seemed an obvious choice, and now I cannot remember whether I read it before I saw the movie or after. I saw the movie in 1975 at the very earliest (a pirate black-and-white copy), and I haven't watched it since so I have just glimpses of episodes and no memory of whether the movie follows the novel. Not unexpectedly, what I remember is the worst scenes of violence and the worst scenes of Alex's therapy. I don't remember how the film ends, actually don't remember the rest of the plot after therapy. Likewise, my memory of the novel was extremely vague.
My current copy has a foreword, from which I learned that the novel was published in the USA without the final chapter and that the film was based on the American version.
Since I was prepared for the violence, it didn't shock me, and it is possibly less shocking because it is narrated by Alex matter-of-factly in his idiosyncratic language. I was much more disturbed by the moral and political messages which I find far two explicit and therefore less effective. Maybe it is the spirit of the early 1960s.
The most fascinating aspect of the novel is the language, much of which is obviously missing in the film. I haven't counted, but I would guess at 5 to 10 slang words per sentence, and I wonder how many make sense unless you know Russian. You can always figure out the meaning, but for me part of the joy of reading was recognising the Russian words cleverly disguised by English spelling and grammar. I am not referring to “gulliver” and “horrowshow”, but to much more subtle and imaginative usage. In some cases it took a few instances before I got it - “oddy knocky” was one, not straightforward to get from the context.
What Burgess and his critics perhaps didn't know is that at the time the novel was written, Russian nadsats, or teens, were actively using a similar kind of jargon where you not only needed the knowledge of English, but also a good deal of creativity. So you could hear phrases such as: “Я митингую с герлой в восемь клоков” (I am meeting a girl at 8 o'clock), ”У меня трузера штатские” (My trousers are from the USA) or ”Чилдренята, напутонивайте шузы” (Children, put on your shoes”), which is exactly the way Alex uses language. I have tested these examples on some Slavic scholars, and they didn't pass the test. I wonder whether Burgess would have passed it.
I got curious about how the novel was translated into Russian, and the translator used this very same kind of slang, spelling – and misspelling – English words in Cyrillic and inflecting them by Russian grammar. So Alex's droogy becomes his frendy, mesto becomes pleis, litso becomes feis, and deng becomes mani. No Russian reader today would have problems with this language, it is common currency.
In terms of language, A Clockwork Orange is compared to Finnegans Wake and Ridley Walker. I never got past the first page of Ridley Walker because I am not a native speaker, but in Finnegans Wake it helps to be multilingual.
Saturday, 30 May 2020
I will not account for the trip day by day because it will be repetitive, but I will point out some highlights. To begin with, I was, as mentioned earlier, a bit anxious about sharing a room with a stranger, but I decided to be positive and proactive, so the moment my roommate Shelley and I stepped into the room, I offered to make tea, and while we had tea, we chatted and told each other about what we did when we didn't go on walking tours. Shelley's luggage got lost at her connecting airport, which is always a good conversation starter. It turned out she was a retired lawyer with specialism in children's rights so we even had some common point of interest. She was from Arizona and had lived in Canada. At dinner that night we all introduced ourselves more properly: a couple from Oxford (non-academic), a father and a pregnant daughter from Denver, a lady from Texas, another from the UK. All nice, all eager and experienced travellers. This was what I had hoped for: people my age or older (except the pregnant daughter) who go on walking holidays and can afford relatively expensive trips are the kind of people I can deal with. There are certain unwritten rules for such travel, for instance, rotating seats in the van. When someone's luggage is lost everyone supports and shares whatever can be shared. And it was an interesting and diverse bunch of people so there were no problems finding subjects to talk about. Shelley had brought her flute! She and I got along well: we conversed a bit, then opened our iPads and let each other be; we had no arguments about who would shower first, and we didn't mind seeing each other walk about the room in pyjamas. If I ever travel again, I would prefer a single room, but I now know that I can share with a stranger if necessary. I think it helped that four of us were elderly single ladies, and three other people were also at the same stage in life. Everybody hinted at high blood pressure, and nobody was concerned about other people farting.
Some days, or portions of days, were warm enough to wear three layers of clothes rather than six. So you had to carry stuff for all occasions. On walks like this, you always come to a point, some time in the afternoon, especially if you are wet and walking uphill for ages, when you start asking yourself why you are doing this, voluntarily and at high cost. When you no longer are able to appreciate anything around you and just keep putting one foot in front of the other. There isn't much else you can do, because you cannot lie down on wet ground and have a tantrum, and you are also pressed for time because you need to catch the last ferry. Then suddenly it goes over, and life is great again. For me at that time, worrying about where to put my foot meant I had no time worrying about other things, which was exactly what I needed. And it was good to know, as we compared notes during evening meals, that everybody was dead tired – in a good way.
Even in a really tiny area – Orkney has a population of 22,000 – there is a competition between the capital, Kirkwall, and the next largest city, Stromness, that boasts of being more cultural. My Orcadian friend is born in Stromness so when we met in Kirkwall she immediately drove me
Wednesday, 27 May 2020
Tuesday, 19 May 2020
Tuesday, 12 May 2020
Did I find what I was looking for? Since I have no idea what I would have found on the real trip, it's hard to say. If I was looking for a way to make up for the canceled trip, I believe I was highly successful.
Thursday, 7 May 2020
In real life, I took a 11 km walk with a 167 m climb. I thought I would ache all over after yesterday's walk, but it felt like a leisurely stroll. I climbed hills, walked on lake shores, had my coffee break on a hill top and my lunch by the lake. I saw fields of lillies-of-the-valley, not in bloom yet, but soon. I saw cranes. I felt good.
For dinner tonight, I am making salmon marmitako.