Friday, June 11, 2010

The Satanic Verses

I'm reading -- for the second time -- Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses. I'm about half-way through this second reading. I have two things to say about it at the moment. The first is a politico/religious comment and a bit of a shot at the Muslim faith. So, all you Muslims out there, be forewarned.

The second is not a politico/religious comment.

The first is this: even without knowing a whole lot about Islam, it's not hard to see why the mullahs might have been pissed off at Rushdie. The Satanic Verses is highly irreverent, possibly to the point of blasphemy, I don't know. Rushdie implies that the divine revelation of the Quran had its more temporal and political inspirations as well. And his portrayal of Muhammed (may peace be upon him) is not very flattering.

On the other hand, off the top of my head I can't think of any other contemporary religion that has the arrogance to issue a public threat or death sentence, as it appears the fatwah against Rushdie was. All over a bit of writing. Bad enough when governments think they have the right to imprison someone for their opinions. But for a religion? My question would be this: Who appointed you god?

(And yes, I'm well aware that the Roman Catholic religion is not exactly lily white when it comes to this sort of thing. But it's quite a while since the pope passed a death sentence...We are supposed to be evolving into beings of compassion and light, no?)

So, my response to the leaders of Islam: get over it, and get over yourselves. The faithful won't be swayed by writing like this. And infidels, like me, don't care. We just like a good read.

Which brings me to my second point. Rushdie is one of those writers who makes me cry out in anguish and envy, "Goddam! I wish I could write like that!"

Here's a brief passage. It would take too long to explain the context, but you don't really need context to appreciate this:
An iceberg is water striving to be land; a mountain, especially a Himalaya, especially Everest, is land's attempt to metamorphose into sky; it is grounded flight, the earth mutated -- nearly -- into air, and become, in the true sense, exalted.
Much of Rushdie's writing is virtuoso performance, a romp through Indian-accented English and you can't help but admire the pure delight he takes in telling tall tales.

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Sunday, June 06, 2010

Truly a Proustian Effort

OK, so I have this book. Well, three books actually. The three "definitive" volumes of Marcel Proust's A la Recherche du Temps Perdu. En Anglais, The Remembrance of Things Past, or more correctly, In Search of Lost Time.

(An inadvertent typo just gave me an idea for a spy series along the lines of Ian Fleming or Graham Greene -- Remembrance of Things Psst!)

(Or a documentary about how the good old Gliberal government of good old Ontariario is once again screwing its loyal but phlegmatic citizens -- Remembrance of Things PST (ie. provincial sales tax).) (That could be a whole other post.)

To get back to the epic at hand -- Proust. This book. This tome. These tomes.

Volume One, which includes Swann's Way and In a Budding Grove, comprised just over one thousand pages. The remaining volumes are about the same length. For some reason, when I began reading this, I wrote a note on a piece of paper that I had started reading it in June, 1991. I finished it today. Exactly nineteen years. I may not live long enough to finish Volumes Two and Three.

Of course, I didn't spend nineteen years continuously, nor even continually. In fact, I began Vol. 1 more than once. The last time was January, 2004. I began it then and left it for some time and then started again where I had left off probably some time last year. Or maybe I actually started again from the beginning. But this time I was determined to finish it and I did.

Proust, like Joyce's Ulysses, is notoriously difficult to read. Like Faulkner, Proust tends to write extremely long sentences. Therefore, very few paragraph breaks. Lots of pages of solid print. Convoluted thought processes. Not much actual dialogue.

You may ask me what the book is about. I haven't the faintest idea any more. Except that it seems to be Proust's attempt to put on paper every convoluted thought process a man might engage in throughout the course of his life, in the finest detail possible, including all conditions, conclusions, concussions, confabulations, contradictions, concessions, and conniptions.

No detail escapes Proust's verbose perusal. Sort of. For a man who wants to tell every little thing that goes through his head while he's trying to figure out how to get a girl to kiss him, he neglects in the most irritating way to inform you how old the central character is at any given time, or the girl, or anybody else. They are either older...or younger. His grandmother, for example, is older.

Here's an example of what I mean. I remember the last part of the book best -- for reasons which should be obvious. The character (Proust himself, let's say) is plotting a romance with a young girl named Albertine. Or perhaps it's Andrée, a different young girl, but a friend of Albertine's. It all depends on how things work out. Or whether they work out. Now, one of the male friends/acquaintances of Albertine and Andrée smokes cigars. So that puts him at an approximate age. But the girls themselves seem to act like precocious schoolgirls, and Proust's description of the campaign to win Albertine's lips sounds remarkably juvenile or adolescent. I mean, it just drips with teenage angst.

The problem is that this character has already had one love affair, which was his first, with a girl named Gilberte. OK, first loves could come at twelve or thirteen, no? So is this guy like fifteen? Or eighteen?

And just to make it more complicated, in the early book, Proust spends much time with M. Swann in love. Now, M. Swann is no teenager, but a grown man well known in French society circles. Except that his convoluted thought processes are not much more mature than those of our lovesick protagonist.

Anway, the last part of Vol. 1 was a bit of an easier read because it seemed to move along more quickly in its obsessive way, but I think I'll be having a bit of a rest before I tackle Vol. 2.

Really, when you think about it, writing this novel killed Proust. Best not to have it kill its readers too.


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