Archive for December, 2012

In GO(L)D We (T)RUST???!!!

December 31, 2012 Leave a comment

The Song of Roland (Classics)The Song of Roland 
by Anonymous
Paperback, 208 pages
Published December 30th 1957 by Penguin Books Ltd. (London) (first published 1090)
ISBN 0140440755 (ISBN13: 9780140440751)
edition language: English


Charlemagne’s army is fighting the Muslims in Spain. The last city standing is Saragossa, held by the Muslim king Marsilla. Terrified of the might of Charlemagne’s army of Franks, Marsilla sends out messengers to Charlemagne, promising treasure and Marsilla’s conversion to Christianity if the Franks will go back to France. Charlemagne and his men are tired of fighting and decide to accept this peace offer. They need now to select a messenger to go back to Marsilla’s court. The bold warrior Roland nominates his stepfather Ganelon. Ganelon is enraged; he fears that he’ll die in the hands of the bloodthirsty pagans and suspects that this is just Roland’s intent. He has long hated and envied his stepson, and, riding back to Saragossa with the Saracen messengers, he finds an opportunity for revenge. He tells the Saracens how they could ambush the rear guard of Charlemagne’s army, which will surely be led by Roland as the Franks pick their way back to Spain through the mountain passes, and helps the Saracens plan their attack.

Just as the traitor Ganelon predicted, Roland gallantly volunteers to lead the rear guard. The wise and moderate Olivier and the fierce archbishop Turpin are among the men Roland picks to join him. Pagans ambush them at Roncesvals, according to plan; the Christians are overwhelmed by their sheer numbers. Seeing how badly outnumbered they are, Olivier asks Roland to blow on his oliphant, his horn made out of an elephant tusk, to call for help from the main body of the Frankish army. Roland proudly refuses to do so, claiming that they need no help, that the rear guard can easily take on the pagan hordes. While the Franks fight magnificently, there’s no way they can continue to hold off against the Saracens, and the battle begins to turn clearly against them. Almost all his men are dead and Roland knows that it’s now too late for Charlemagne and his troops to save them, but he blows his oliphant anyway, so that the emperor can see what happened to his men and avenge them. Roland blows so hard that his temples burst. He dies a glorious martyr’s death, and saints take his soul straight to Paradise.

When Charlemagne and his men reach the battlefield, they find only dead bodies. The pagans have fled, but the Franks pursue them, chasing them into the river Ebro, where they all drown. Meanwhile, the powerful emir of Babylon, Baligant, has arrived in Spain to help his vassal Marsilla fend off the Frankish threat. Baligant and his enormous Muslim army ride after Charlemagne and his Christian army, meeting them on the battlefield at Roncesvals, where the Christians are burying and mourning their dead. Both sides fight valiantly. But when Charlemagne kills Baligant, all the pagan armyscatters and flees. Now Saragossa has no defenders left; the Franks take the city. With Marsilla’s wife Bramimonde, Charlemagne and his men ride back to Aix, their capital in sweet France.

The Franks discovered Ganelon’s betrayal some time ago and keep him in chains until it is time for his trial. Ganelon argues that his action was legitimate revenge, openly proclaimed, not treason. While the council of barons, which Charlemagne gathered to decide the traitor’s fate is initially swayed by this claim, one man, Thierry, argues that, because Roland was serving Charlemagne when Ganelon delivered his revenge on him, Ganelon’s action constitutes a betrayal of the emperor. Ganelon’s friend Pinabel challenges Thierry to trial by combat; the two will fight a duel to see who’s right. By divine intervention, Thierry, the weaker man, wins, killing Pinabel. The Franks are convinced by this of Ganelon’s villainy and sentence him to a most painful death. The traitor is torn limb from limb by galloping horses and thirty of his relatives are hung for good measure.


Nomina Nuda Tenemus: Satiricum Apologia

December 31, 2012 Leave a comment

The Name of the Rose02 OKThe Name of the Rose
by Umberto Eco
ISBN 0156001314 (ISBN13: 9780156001311)
edition language: English

The reaction of many people to this monumental, labyrinthine novel written in the form of a fourteenth-century manuscript by the world renowned semiotician, Umberto Eco, has been a certain frustration or puzzlement, especially at what the brief Epilogue on the last page seems to suggest: “I leave this manuscript, I do not know for whom; I no longer know what it is about: stat rosa pristina nomine, nomina nuda tenemus [the primal rose remains in name, we retain only pure names].” The final phrase echoes the mysterious title of the book.

It is frustrating to read a bulky, sophisticated, indeed encyclopaedic novel, only to find at the end an admission by the chronicle that he no longer knows what it is about. But I refuse to accept such an admission at face value, and consider that Eco means something quite different from what the text says. I do not exclude the possibility that Eco wrote the novel in a spirit of playfulness; but he brought all his erudition as a historian, philosopher, aesthetician, literary scholar and first-class linguistician to bear on perfecting it. He researched the early fourteenth century thoroughly and attended to extraordinary detail. Despite the violence, general turmoil and complexity, the novel has a message—benign, but serious, perhaps even uncomfortable.

To attempt an interpretation of the novel may be hazardous, in that it may give the impression of trying to say how the book should be interpreted, in a normative fashion. In that regard I am forewarned by what Eco says elsewhere, namely, that the novel is a vehicle for generating interpretations, and by his own refusal to supply a particular interpretation. As a reader, however, one is entitled to attempt an interpretation, conscious that it is not the only one.

Umberto Eco is a major philosopher in his own right in the West. Many points he deliberately makes in the novel are deliberately anachronistic to make the point that Medieval and Modern thought are not very far apart. For instance, at pages 492.29-30/600.1-2, Eco quotes:

Er muoz gelichessame die leiter abewerfen, so er an ir ufgestigen

*One must cast away, as it were, the ladder, so that he may begin to ascend it* which is a version [Medievalized Eckhart-type German?] of Ludwig Wittgensteins *Er muss sozusagen die Leiter megwerfen, nachdem er auf ihr hinaufgestiegen ist*, ENGLISH: *He must, so to speak, throw away the ladder after he has climbed up it* from Wittgensteins TRACTATUS LOGICO-PHILOSOPHICUS (GERMAN: LOGISH-PHILOSOPHISCHE ABHANDLUNG,) translated into English by Pears and McGuiness that was first published in 1921/1922 under the auspices of his personal friend Bertrand Russell. THE KEY is very incomplete – for instance, the above allusion is missed – and anyone else who has additional information please contribute.

I shall start at the beginning of the novel and try to bring in other references to the best of my ability;

Eco quotes at the very first of the POSTSCRIPT the Mexican poet Sor Juana Inez de la Cruz [1651-1695]-

Rosa que al prado, encarnada/ te ostentas presumptuous/ de grana y carmin banada:/ campa lozana y gustosa;/ pero no, que siendo hermosa/ tambien seras dedicate

ENGLISH – *Red rose growing in the meadow, you vaunt yourself bravely, bathed in crimson and carmine: a rich and fragrant show. But no: Being fair you will be unhappy soon.*

This Eco associates with Francois Villon’s *Mais ou sont les neiges d’antan* – ENGLISH – *Where are the snows of yesteryear?*

My first reaction to the novel was that it was an elaborate joke, a prank in which Eco the linguistician amused himself by reconstructing a typical medieval manuscript, but not baulking at the inclusion of twentieth-century elements, from Joyce and Borges to Wittgenstein; and that he unleashed it on an unsuspecting popular readership (who apparently—and conveniently—found it entertaining) in the form of a detective story. As I read on, however, I began to feel that the work was laced through with serious intent. This was confirmed when William announced that “in this story things greater and more important than the battle between John [the Pope] and Louis [the Emperor] may be at stake.” The story always seemed to be going in two directions at once: while playful, it was serious; despite its historical setting, it spoke of and to our times; it was part factual, part fictional; “behind a veil of mirth it concealed secret moral lessons.” Eco was recreating the fourteenth-century world, but ironically —using actual historical events (e.g. the Inquisition, the disputes about poverty) and identifiable personalities of that period (such as the Franciscans William of Ockham and Roger Bacon of Oxford, Pope John XXII at Avignon, King Philip of France, et al.), but also fictitious characters and a fictitious chronicler of the epoch. He had given the story a historical setting, but it was his story. So it was only quasi-historical, in the style of Manzoni’s I promessi sposi. And like Manzoni’s masterpiece (and so many classic medieval comic stories), it appeared to contain a serious moral. My question thus became one about the content of the book, not about its literary form: “what is this moral lesson?”

After a second reading, I wondered if the potpourri of “marketable” ingredients that is The Name of the Rose (with its murders, tortures, executions, sex, money, religion, witchcraft, magic, and so on) could be unified in terms of one overall theme, a single Ariadne’s thread which would lead us through the labyrinth of the novel. Eventually I decided that it could, and that the thread took the shape of a single dialectical movement, which Eco had orchestrated in an enormously diversified range of conflicts. I wanted to call the work a “Tractatus contra zelotes”, or an “Apologia for Humour”, or perhaps “A Feast of Fools” (an expression used in the novel).

The negative pole of the dialectical movement in the novel is fanaticism. Eco’s work is full of fanatics and of obsessions of all kinds. Some of the monks are fanatics for learning, for example Benno, who has a “lust for knowledge … knowledge for its own sake,” “an insatiable curiosity” for secular or profane as well as religious scholarship, for science and exegesis. The monks in the monastery would do anything, literally take any means, including murder, to acquire knowledge. It is even suggested that young Adelmo might have surrendered his comely body to the lusts of the passionate Berengar in exchange for secret knowledge. Some monks have an obsession for interpretations of the Apocalypse, and there are those who are obsessed with the Abbey Library, which looms so large in the plot: old Jorge of Burgos, for instance, the Library’s blind guardian turned assassin. There are some who are fanatically against homosexuals, as was common at the time.

There are fanatical religious, notably the Spirituals or Fraticelli, who were fanatics for the simple life and poverty; while the Flagellantes were fanatics for flogging, for self-inflicted penance. There are reformers, who were so fanatical that they burnt down the houses and belongings of others, only to be branded, in their turn, for heresy and burnt at the stake, going to their death with their truth intact. Remigio, we are told, has a “lust for death.” On the other hand, there is the fanaticism of those who crave for power and wealth, in both Church and State—“our holy and no longer Roman Pontiff lusts for riches”—and the fanaticism of the ecclesiastical and civil authorities, carrying out bloody massacres on any band of dissidents, be they Waldensians, Cathars, Fraticelli or Dolcinians. Both were tyrannical institutions, which demanded conformity. Their power lay not only in wealth and force, but in surrounding themselves with secrecy (creating the division of thosewho-know and the outsiders-who-do-not-know through the myths of élitism and gnosticism) and in instilling fear (by reprisals on opposition, official sanction, excommunication leading to execution, and an elaborate spy system). And the Church, of course, could add the power of guilt.

The novel portrays all these fanaticisms in action, coming into conflict with one another, because people take themselves too seriously. But while the powerful and fanatical guardians of tradition ban other fanatics to the margins of society, they themselves live in fear of something—of a knowledge that would lead to freedom.

Almost from the beginning of the novel, Eco cleverly introduces one weapon which, if released, would undermine the fact that each side is taking itself too seriously; which would combat the loss of freedom and break down fanaticism and fear. That weapon is humour. Humour enables people to set up a distance between themselves and their attitudes so that they might get a healthy perspective on their “truth”. And so we are presented with a spiral of comic deflations. This is the antithesis in the dialectical movement.

Dramatically, this focal concern for interjecting humour takes the most unexpected form of a hunt for a missing Greek manuscript, the missing second book of Aristotle’s Poetics dealing with comedy, elaborately hidden in the labyrinth of the enormous library. This is the forbidden book. It is shielded by Jorge, the eighty-year-old, stern traditionalist, whose sight is turned inward (he is blind) and for whom laughter is demonic.

THE NAME OF THE ROSE is a novel, a book as such per se, that should be read as much from the back to the front as front to back, and a much better version could be read from text into the margins and and even more vice versa. This is a text made to be annotated, preferably by the author, so extensively that the necessary annotations would take up far more space than the original text itself.

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The Brotherhood of Shadows and Darkness

December 31, 2012 Leave a comment

A Tale of Two CitiesA Tale of Two Cities
by Charles Dickens
Paperback, 544 pages
Published May 27th 2003 by Penguin Classics (first published 1859)
ISBN 0141439602 (ISBN13: 9780141439600)
edition language: English

The Industrial Revolution, which swept through Europe in the late eighteenth century, originated in England. The rapid modernization of the English economy involved a shift from rural handicraft to large-scale factory labor. Technological innovations facilitated unprecedented heights of manufacture and trade, and England left behind its localized, cottage-industry economy to become a centralized, hyper-capitalist juggernaut of mass production. In tandem with this transformation came a significant shift in the nation’s demographics. English cities swelled as a growing and impoverished working class flocked to them in search of work. As this influx of workers into urban centers continued, the bourgeoisie took advantage of the surplus of labor by keeping wages low. The poor thus remained poor, and often lived cramped in squalor. In many of his novels, Dickens chronicles his protagonists’ attempts to fight their way out of such poverty and despair.

A Tale of Two Cities, originally published from April through November of1859, appeared in a new magazine that Dickens had created called All the Year Round. Dickens started this venture after a falling-out with his regular publishers. Indeed, this period in Dickens’s life saw many changes. While starring in a play by Wilkie Collins entitled The Frozen Deep, Dickens fell in love with a young actress named Ellen Ternan. Dickens’s twenty-three-year marriage to Catherine Hogarth had become a source of unhappiness in recent years, and, by 1858, Hogarth had moved out of Dickens’s home. The author arranged to keep Ternan in a separate residence.

With A Tale of Two Cities, Dickens asserts his belief in the possibility of resurrection and transformation, both on a personal level and on a societal level. The narrative suggests that Sydney Carton’s death secures a new, peaceful life for Lucie Manette, Charles Darnay, and even Carton himself. By delivering himself to the guillotine, Carton ascends to the plane of heroism, becoming a Christ-like figure whose death serves to save the lives of others. His own life thus gains meaning and value. Moreover, the final pages of the novel suggest that, like Christ, Carton will be resurrected—Carton is reborn in the hearts of those he has died to save. Similarly, the text implies that the death of the old regime in France prepares the way for the beautiful and renewed Paris that Carton supposedly envisions from the guillotine. Although Carton spends most of the novel in a life of indolence and apathy, the supreme selflessness of his final act speaks to a human capacity for change. Although the novel dedicates much time to describing the atrocities committed both by the aristocracy and by the outraged peasants, it ultimately expresses the belief that this violence will give way to a new and better society.

Dickens elaborates his theme with the character of Doctor Manette. Early on in the novel, Lorry holds an imaginary conversation with him in which he says that Manette has been “recalled to life.” As this statement implies, the doctor’s eighteen-year imprisonment has constituted a death of sorts. Lucie’s love enables Manette’s spiritual renewal, and her maternal cradling of him on her breast reinforces this notion of rebirth.

Connected to the theme of the possibility of resurrection is the notion that sacrifice is necessary to achieve happiness. Dickens examines this second theme, again, on both a national and personal level. For example, the revolutionaries prove that a new, egalitarian French republic can come about only with a heavy and terrible cost—personal loves and loyalties must be sacrificed for the good of the nation. Also, when Darnay is arrested for the second time, in Book the Third, Chapter 7, the guard who seizes him reminds Manette of the primacy of state interests over personal loyalties. Moreover, Madame Defarge gives her husband a similar lesson when she chastises him for his devotion to Manette—an emotion that, in her opinion, only clouds his obligation to the revolutionary cause. Most important, Carton’s transformation into a man of moral worth depends upon his sacrificing of his former self. In choosing to die for his friends, Carton not only enables their happiness but also ensures his spiritual rebirth.

Shadows dominate the novel, creating a mood of thick obscurity and grave foreboding. An aura of gloom and apprehension surrounds the first images of the actual story—the mail coach’s journey in the dark and Jerry Cruncher’s emergence from the mist. The introduction of Lucie Manette to Jarvis Lorry furthers this motif, as Lucie stands in a room so darkened and awash with shadows that the candlelight seems buried in the dark panels of the walls. This atmosphere contributes to the mystery surrounding Lorry’s mission to Paris and Manette’s imprisonment. It also manifests Dickens’s observations about the shadowy depths of the human heart. As illustrated in the chapter with the appropriate subheading “The Night Shadows,” every living person carries profound secrets and mysteries that will never see the light of day. Shadows continue to fall across the entire novel. The vengeful Madame Defarge casts a shadow on Lucie and all of her hopes, as emphasized in Book the Third, Chapter 5. As Lucie stands in the pure, fresh snow, Madame Defarge passes by “like a shadow over the white road.” In addition, the letter that Defarge uses to condemn Darnay to death throws a crippling shadow over the entire family; fittingly, the chapter that reveals the letter’s contents bears the subheading “The Substance of the Shadow.”

Almost all of the characters in A Tale of Two Cities fight against some form of imprisonment. For Darnay and Manette, this struggle is quite literal. Both serve significant sentences in French jails. Still, as the novel demonstrates, the memories of what one has experienced prove no less confining than the walls of prison. Manette, for example, finds himself trapped, at times, by the recollection of life in the Bastille and can do nothing but revert, trembling, to his pathetic shoemaking compulsion. Similarly, Carton spends much of the novel struggling against the confines of his own personality, dissatisfied with a life that he regards as worthless.

Throughout the novel, Dickens approaches his historical subject with some ambivalence. While he supports the revolutionary cause, he often points to the evil of the revolutionaries themselves. Dickens deeply sympathizes with the plight of the French peasantry and emphasizes their need for liberation. The several chapters that deal with the Marquis Evrémonde successfully paint a picture of a vicious aristocracy that shamelessly exploits and oppresses the nation’s poor. Although Dickens condemns this oppression, however, he also condemns the peasants’ strategies in overcoming it. For in fighting cruelty with cruelty, the peasants effect no true revolution; rather, they only perpetuate the violence that they themselves have suffered. Dickens makes his stance clear in his suspicious and cautionary depictions of the mobs. The scenes in which the people sharpen their weapons at the grindstone and dance the grisly Carmagnole come across as deeply macabre. Dickens’s most concise and relevant view of revolution comes in the final chapter, in which he notes the slippery slope down from the oppressed to the oppressor: “Sow the same seed of rapacious license and oppression over again, and it will surely yield the same fruit according to its kind.” Though Dickens sees the French Revolution as a great symbol of transformation and resurrection, he emphasizes that its violent means were ultimately antithetical to its end.

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POWER AND POLITICS: Conversation in the Cathedral

December 31, 2012 Leave a comment

Conversation in the CathedralConversation in the Cathedral
by Mario Vargas Llosa, Gregory Rabassa (Translator)
Paperback, 608 pages
Published February 1st 2005 by Harper Perennial (first published 1969)
ISBN 0060732806 (ISBN13: 9780060732806)
edition language: English

Conversation in the Cathedral is a novel about power and politics in Peru in the early 1950s. Two of the characters meet in a cheap eating house (the “cathedral” of the title) and spend the afternoon talking about the past. The novel is basically encapsulated within their conversation, although we are only occasionally reminded of that (by interjections) and some events accessible only to the omniscient narrator are also included.

The structure of Conversation in the Cathedral is somewhat unusual. The vast bulk of the novel is dialogue, and a common occurrence is for different dialogues to be interlaced together at the sentence level, without overt marking, in a kind of counterpoint. As well as this there is a kind of hierarchical layering, with events described in conversations themselves recounted within the meta-conversation that spans the novel. The narrative jumps around in time continually, with significant events happening in the middle of the story chronologically not recounted until near the end of the book. The result of all this is an almost “fractal” narrative.

Despite the complicated structure Vargas Llosa’s novel has a very compelling feeling of movement to it (perhaps the “harmony” provides the driving force), and once I got into it I found it completely engrossing. It also presents the clearest picture of how a Latin American military dictatorship actually works that I’ve ever seen. Conversation in the Cathedral is not only the most enjoyable novel I’ve read for years, it is also the most impressive.

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The Darkside of LOVE

December 31, 2012 Leave a comment

What We Talk About When We Talk About LoveWhat We Talk About When We Talk About Love
by Raymond Carver
Paperback, 176 pages
Published June 18th 1989 by Vintage (first published 1981)
ISBN 0679723056 (ISBN13: 9780679723059)
edition language: English

And the terrible thing, the terrible thing is, but the good thing too, the saving grace, you might say, is that if something happened to one of us tomorrow, I think . . . the other person, would grieve for a while, you know, but then the surviving party would go out and love again, have someone else soon enough.”

Mel makes this comment roughly halfway through the story, after he has told everyone that he’ll explain to them what love really is.

Carver is known for his minimalist approach to prose, and for this reason he’s often compared to Ernest Hemingway and Anton Chekhov. His short stories focus on middle-class, often blue-collar people who are struggling with hard truths, disappointments, inertia, and small glimmers of hope in their ordinary lives. Along with writers such as Ann Beattie and Tobias Wolff, Carver is considered a writer of the “dirty-realism” school. Carver’s short stories are also recognizable for their abrupt endings, sometimes called “zero endings,” which do not seem to tie up the story neatly, if at all. “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” is one of Carver’s most famous stories and often regarded as the epitome of the dirty-realism school.

Carver and his wife divorced in 1982, and Carver married his longtime girlfriend, writer Tess Gallagher, in 1988. They were married for only a few months before Carver died from lung cancer at age fifty. After his death, his editor, Gordon Lish, claimed that he edited Carver’s work so heavily that he should be considered a coauthor of the stories. Carver’s widow, Gallagher, similarly claimed ownership of Carver’s stories and said Carver had borrowed story ideas from her own work. Such accusations, however, have not tarnished Carver’s legacy, and he remains one of the most influential writers of the twentieth century.

The nature of love remains elusive throughout “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,” despite the characters’ best efforts to define it. Mel tries again and again to pinpoint the meaning of love, but his examples never build up to any coherent conclusion. For example, he tells his friends about an elderly couple who nearly died in a car crash, but the conclusion of the story—the old man depressed by not being able to see his wife—merely confuses everyone. When he asserts that he’ll tell everyone exactly what love is, he instead digresses into a muddled meditation about how strange it is that he and the others have loved more than one person. His attempts to clarify the nature of love eventually devolve into a bitter tirade against his ex-wife. He seems much more certain about what love is not and tells Terri several times that if abusive love is true love, then she “can have it.”

Laura and Nick believe that they know what love is, but they never really provide a clear definition or explain why they’re so certain in their convictions. They merely demonstrate their love for each other by blushing and holding hands, but these actions simply support the mystery of love rather than unmask it. Terri, of all the friends, seems to be most certain about the meaning of love and repeatedly claims that her abusive ex-boyfriend, Ed, truly loved her, despite his crazy way of showing it. The examples she provides of this love—beating, stalking, and threatening—are disturbing but serve as proof in her mind. Like the others, however, she cannot translate her certainty into any kind of clear explanation of the nature of love.

Although the four friends talk for a while about love, the fact that they never manage to define it suggests that language can’t adequately describe emotional, abstract subjects. Mel does the most talking, but his bloated stories and rambling digressions show that he has trouble conveying his thoughts and feelings, despite how much he talks. Terri speaks a great deal about her former lover Ed, but when Mel challenges her, she turns to intuition to prove her point. She believes that Ed loved her no matter what Mel or the others think, demonstrating that gut feelings about love can be more powerful and accurate than words. Laura and Nick, meanwhile, say very little about the nature of love and instead rely on physical gestures to clarify what language cannot: they hold hands, blush, and touch each other’s legs. Carver indicates that words simply aren’t enough when talking about love, which is probably why all four friends have fallen silent by the end of the story.

The sun in the story, which is bright at the beginning and gone by the end, represents the loss of clarity and happiness as the friends grow increasingly confused about the meaning of love. At the beginning of the story, Nick notes that the kitchen is bright and compares the friends to giddy children who have “agreed on something forbidden.” The talk is light and hopeful, just a friendly conversation on a gin-soaked afternoon. However, as the conversation about love becomes increasingly dark and complex, the sun in the kitchen slips slowly away. Nick notes that the sun is “changing, getting thinner,” and, not long after, that the sun is “draining out of the room.” As the sun disappears completely, the conversation devolves into Mel’s drunken threats against his ex-wife, including a fantasy of murdering her. At the end of the story, the friends are sitting in complete darkness. The sun has gone, as have their rosy, hopeful perceptions of love.

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Irony Holes of Soul: The Re-Interpretation of Bitter

December 31, 2012 Leave a comment

The Woman in the DunesThe Woman in the Dunes
by Kōbō Abe
Paperback, 256 pages
Published April 16th 1991 by Vintage International (first published 1962)
edition language: English

The construction of The Woman in the Dunes includes many instances of irony. The overall ironic structure of the novel is that of the tables being turned on the protagonist. He hunts down and traps bugs for a hobby. And then he becomes like a bug, trapped in a hole in the sand. “He was lured on by the feeling that in all probability his prey was there, and he made his way down the gentle slope,” the narrator relates in the beginning of the story. There are also many other examples of irony, most of them on a much smaller scale. A little later, the protagonist states that he was in “no special hurry,” as he makes his way through the dunes before his capture. This is ironic because as soon as he realizes he is trapped, time weighs down on him almost to the point of his breaking. Then a few lines later, the protagonist sums up the village people with the words: “With their sense of caution appeased, they were merely good, simple fisherfolk.” He will soon learn the irony of his own words. These people were neither simple nor merely good. Once he is lowered into the woman’s house, the protagonist looks around himself and sees what a dilapidated condition the house is in, and the narrator states: “He would have thought they were making a fool of him and would doubtless have gone back at once.” This is ironic on two fronts. First, they were making a fool of him and second, there was no way he could have gone back even if he had realized how foolish he was. At a later point, he misjudges the woman’s actions, then he corrects his interpretation, stating to himself that “he certainly wouldn’t be taken in again.” Of course, at this point, he still does not have any realization that he already has been taken. And so Abe creates one ironic statement after the other. The reader knows what is going on and can laugh at the protagonist’s continual naïveté.

Abe also uses foreshadowing, allowing the reader to sense what is coming as well as to create a dramatic sense of foreboding. Examples of foreshadowing include some of the protagonist’s ironic thoughts before he is captured. For instance, there is the statement he makes as he wanders through the sand dunes, searching for insects. He says, at one point, “There was really nothing yet that foretold danger.” In using this statement, Abe implants the sense of danger in the reader’s mind even if it was not yet in the protagonist’s thoughts. Then a few sentences later, Abe has the man thinking: “What in heaven’s name could it be like to live there? he thought in amazement, peering down into one of the holes.” Again, this is a mix of irony and foreshadowing. The protagonist’s question, although he does not yet realize it, will soon be answered. He will be given a first-hand experience of what it is like to live in a hole in the sand. Yet later, as he continues to wander through the sand dunes, the protagonist concludes that the dunes represent “a disturbing and unsettling landscape.” He has no idea, at that point, how true his feelings are. And when he contemplates a fly, he makes an interesting statement about the insect’s adaptability. “The fact that the fly showed great adaptability meant that it could be at home even in unfavorable environments in which other insects could not live—for example, a desert where all other living things perished.” Much like the fly, the protagonist will also have to learn to adapt and to live in a hole in the sand.

Continuing his hunt for insects, the protagonist comments on the tactics of an entomologist, who “must concentrate his whole attention within a radius of about three yards around his feet.” In a short time, that will be almost all the space that he will have, as the narrow space of the house in the hole will be all that is granted to him. And finally, just before he is captured, he makes the observation: “No matter what they did, he mused, there was no escaping the law of the sand.” That law, the constant motion of the sand, and the inability to climb a steep cliff of sand, will also entrap him.

The Woman in the Dunes has been a popular favorite all over the world, sometimes bringing readers to their first experience of Japanese literature in translation. Abe’s works, in general, are more easily translated because of their lack of allusions to traditional Japanese themes. The Woman in the Dunes focuses instead on problems that people all over the globe must face. Oliver continues her article on Abe by describing the protagonist, Niki Jumpei, as a man who “is first obsessed with the loss of his identity and with escape, but comes to realize that his sand prison gives him intellectual and spiritual freedom.”

When The Woman in the Dunes was made into a movie, Brent Kliewer, of the Santa Fe New Mexican offered these comments. He wrote that it “is a haunting allegory probing the fundamental questions of existence and the meaning of freedom.” Kliewer continued by stating: “Its in the man’s surrender to his circumstances that captured the imagination of the existential thinkers of the 60s.” Existentialists believe that life is purposeless, a point that is at the heart of the novel.

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