“A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers”, by Xiaolu Guo

A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers, by Xiaolu Guo.

If one wishes to learn a new language, one does not only get insight into a new way of speaking through cramming glossary, rules of grammar or correct spelling. One also learns a new way of seeing and perceiving reality. This is one theme Xiaolu Guo discusses in her book A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers.

Xiaolu Guo is a writer and moviemaker, born in a fishing village in China. Her literary and cinematic project takes it’s basis on her own experiences and travels from growing up in a small Chinese village, to becoming an established writer in a foreign language. She explores alienation – how young people go forward in unknown territories and situations, and how they go about acquiring new knowledge.

The book A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers is originally written in English. (Keep a look-out on this blog for my forthcoming post about her book UFO In Her Eyes for closer information on how Guo has written her other books.) I read this book in a Norwegian translation.

We follow protagonist Zuang Xiao Qiao moving from the village she comes from in China, to London, where she is going to learn English. We start as Zhuang: as beginners. We are beginners in the West, and understand the things around us, the culture and society as Zhuang immediately does. This is expressed, among other ways, through language. At the beginning of the book, the language is simple, the sentences short. However, as she learns the language better, the text’s language also becomes more advanced.  Every chapter deals with a new word, or a term – as if the book was a dictionary – and this word is the theme for that chapter. We learn how Zhuang is used to using the term in China, and how this is different from in London.

Not so long after she moves to London, Zhuang meets a man – twice her age, ex-punker, vegetarian – who she falls in love with. The meeting between the two, and their interactions together throughout the book, is Guo’s main tool in her project to highlight the biggest cultural differences between the East and the West’s perception of the world. One way in which Guo mirrors these, is how Zhuang consistently introduces herself to this nameless man and his friend, as simply ‘Z’. ‘Z’, and only ‘Z’, allegedly because she believes her real, full name would be too complicated for naïve English speakers to pronounce, or even to remember.

The book is also very much about differences, and the acceptance of differences, on an individual level. One example of this, is Z’s reaction to the man’s vegetarianism. She is unable to understand how he is capable of obtaining proper nutrients without eating meat. She is served self-grown greens and vegetables, while she misses the chicken and pork from home.

One of the first things that hit me in the reading of this book, was the author’s way of depicting how cultural differences – as well as individual perceptions of reality – is expressed through language. One country’s language is immensely important, not only when communicating with another person, but also when it comes to understanding the very way of thinking, and the philosophy of existence, belonging to another culture. Should we connect this to something abstract and difficult to define as the idea of love, then we have a foundation for a very interesting conversation – and Xiaolu Guo handles it masterfully. The book is above all an educational one: we get the opportunity to put ourselves in a completely different culture on an individual level. It is one thing to learn about a different culture in a huge and comprehensive lexicon – and quite a different thing to be placed in a simple, innocent destiny (as with Z’s).

My opinion is that in the work to achieve a bigger acceptance of a growing universal, social diversity, it’s important to try to widen one’s cultural horizon, put ourselves in foreign shoes, and question the most obvious of things. This book offers a step in the right direction. I look forward to reading more from Xiaolu Guo!

~milk

øØø

1.

*|*|*|*|*|*|*|*|*|*|*

Himmel|Himmel|Himmel

Sky|Sky|Sky|Sky|Sky|Sky

Tak|Tak|Tak|Tak|Tak|Tak

Isolasjon|Isolasjon|Isolasjon

|      |    ||       |       | |     |

Vegg|Rom|Vegg|Rom|Vegg

Golv|Golv|Golv|Golv|Golv

Isolasjon|Isolasjon|Isolasjon

Fundament|Fundament

Jord|Jord|Jord|Jord|Jord

*|*|*|*|*|*|*|*|*|*|*|*

 

2.

På dødsleie vil eg føle

At livet var kapsla i

Rav

I rav spør du

I rav svarar eg

Men rav spela ingen rolle i livet ditt seier du

Ingen tenker eigentleg på rav

Jurassic Park tenkte på rav

Jurassic park populariserte rav

Så du kan ikkje bruke rav i dikt

Det blir for useriøst

Daud og Jurassic park skal ikkje diktas om

 

3.

Kvelden du bruka på å gråte og lime på plass bitar av glassuveniren du hadde fått av farmora di då ho hadde vore på ferie, og måten du kikka opp på meg då eg lista meg inn døra i smug fordi eg hadde vore ute for lenge og eg veit at du ikkje sett pris på at eg har lause avtaler som tek lenger tid enn det dei plar, og berre fordi eg ikkje klarar å gå lydlaust inn i vår felles gang skal eg stå til retts og trøyste deg med at den suveniren sikkert var ganske billig og blotta for affeksjon på den eine sida, og at du legg for mykje tanke inn i den, og at bestemora di kjøpte sikkert mange av den og gav til alle barnebarna sine fordi kreativitet og suvenirhandling ofte ikkje går hand i hand og fordi suvenirar kjøpt i suvenirbutikkar ofte er blotta for originalitet men kanskje også fordi dei som produsera dei vil at det skal matche andre liknande suvenirar, som tvingar deg til å samle på dei, enten i forskjellige fargekombinasjonar eller med forskjellige stadnamn slik som hard rock café t-skjorta eg har på meg no som eg har mange liknande av, med den vesensforskjell at det er forskjellige land den har vore innom før dei samla seg heime i min og din felles kommode. Trass dette skapar eg empati.

 

~Peanøtt

`Fremmedordbok for kjærester´av Xiaolu Guo

Fremmedordbok for kjærester av Xiaolu Guo

Ønsker man å lære seg et nytt språk, får man ikke bare innsikt i en ny måte å snakke på gjennom pugging av gloser, grammatikkregler og rettskriving. Man lærer seg dessuten etter hvert en ny måte å se og oppfatte virkeligheten på. Dette er et tema forfatteren Xiaolu Guo tar opp i boken Fremmedordbok for kjærester.

Xiaolu Guo er forfatter og filmskaper som kommer fra en fiskelandsby i Kina. Hennes litterære og filmatiske prosjekt tar utgangspunkt i hennes egne erfaringer og reiser fra å vokse opp i en liten kinesisk landsby, til å bli en etablert forfatter på et fremmedspråk. Hun utforsker hvordan unge mennesker går frem i ukjente områder og situasjoner, hvordan de tillærer seg nye kunnskaper i en ny hverdag.

Boken Fremmedordbok for kjærester er originalt skrevet på engelsk, med tittelen A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers. Jeg leste en norsk oversatt utgave.

Vi følger hovedpersonen Zhuang Xiao Qiao, som flytter fra landsbyen hun kommer fra i Kina, til London hvor hun skal lære seg engelsk. Vi starter som Zhuang; som nybegynnere. Vi er nybegynnere i den Vestlige verdenen og forstår tingene rundt oss, kulturen og samfunnet som Zhuang, i hennes møte, umiddelbart forstår dem. Dette kommer til uttrykk blant annet i språket. I begynnelsen av boken er språket enkelt, setningene korte. Men etter hvert som hun lærer seg språket bedre, blir også tekstens språk mer avansert. Hvert kapittel tar for seg et fremmedord, som om boken var en ordbok, og dette ordet blir tematisert gjennom kapittelet. Vi får lese om hvordan Zhuang er vant med å bruke begrepet fra Kina, og hvordan dette er forskjellig fra i London.

Ikke så lenge etter at hun flyttet til London, møter Zhuang en mann – dobbelt så gammel som henne, eks-pønker, vegetarianer – som hun forelsker seg i. Møtet mellom disse to, og samhandlingen deres gjennom boken, er Guos hovedverktøy i sitt ærend å sette lys på de største kulturforskjellene mellom Østens og Vestens virkelighetsoppfatning. En måte Guo speiler disse forskjellene på, er hvordan Zhuang introduserer seg selv som ‘Z’ til denne navnløse mannen, og hans venner. Kun ‘Z’, og ikke noe mer, angivelig for hun tror hennes fulle navn vil være for komplisert for naive engelsktalende mennesker å huske eller uttale.

Boken handler om forskjeller på individplan. Et eksempel er Zs reaksjon på mannens vegetarianisme. Hun kan ikke forstå hvordan han skal kunne få i seg ordentlig næring uten å spise kjøtt. Hun blir servert selvgrodde grønnsaker, mens hun lengter hjem til sitt kylling, – og svinekjøtt.

Noe av det første som slo meg i lesningen av denne boken, var forfatterens måte å skildre hvordan kulturforskjeller – så vel som individers virkelighetsforståelse – kommer til uttrykk gjennom språket. Et lands, en kulturs språk er uvurderlig viktig ikke bare når det kommer til å kunne kommunisere hverdagslig med en annen person; språket er dessuten viktig om en ønsker å forstå selve tenkemåten og tilværelsesfilosofien til en annen kultur. Kobler man dette opp mot noe så abstrakt og vanskelig definerbart som kjærlighet, har man et interessant utgangspunkt for enhver diskusjon, noe Guo med denne boken utfører på mesterlig vis. Boken er dessuten en lærerik en – vi får muligheten å sette oss inn i en totalt annerledes kultur på et individ, og – hverdagsplan. En ting er å lese om det i en stor, omfattende faktabok, en annen å forsøke å sette oss inn i en enkel, uskyldig, skjebne.

Jeg mener at i arbeidet med å oppnå en større aksept av et voksende universelt mangfold, må man forsøke å utvide den kulturelle horisonten vår, sette oss inn i andre måter å forstå hverdagen på enn den vi er vant med, og sette spørsmålstegn det vi ser på som de mest åpenbare tingene. Denne boken tilbyr et skritt i riktig retning. Jeg gleder meg til å få muligheten til å lese mer av Xiaolu Guo!

~milk

Tabula Rasa – or an Instantaneous ‘Forgettance’ of a Dying Relation.

The morbid part, the one that I thought was OK, but clearly wasn’t, was that my name was surprisingly soon forgotten. We both thought we’d made an impact on the community. We were not famous or special in any way, but still, the idea of us getting forgotten about three years after our death is harsh. Someone once said that you die twice. The first being your death, obviously. The second being the moment your name is said for the last time.

I remember that morning so well. We were in a motel talking. I remember the rubbish breakfast she bought from a 7-Eleven. There were two medium sized bagels with ham, two small bottles of O.J. and two medium cups of coffee.

“Did you get a chance to look at the headlines?” I asked.

“I brushed them over with my eyes.”

“Anything?”

“Avocado is bad for you. You’ll die from eating them now apparently.”

“How so?”

“Something about trans fats – Makes you obese.”

The way she spoke of the mass hysteria about the lifestyle our contemporaries live made me smile. She was two sided. It was a mockery of it but also a sincere lack of interest. This lack was one of the things I truly enjoyed in her. She had not once made a quizzical look or an attempt of showing me her interests. She sometimes did the crossword puzzles from my old porn magazines. She did not care if I had dirty magazines. I think she in fact found them interesting, but I was mistaken. I wonder if she read the interviews in it. The ones printed next to the naked ladies. Age? 18. Favourite sex position? Double penetration. What are you looking for in a man? A huge cock, humour, good with kids.

“Would you like some bourbon?”

“I want to be sober.”

“Well I won’t”.

I don’t really remember who said what anymore.

“Do you want to do this with music in the background?”

“Sure, why not.”

I put on a vinyl onto the player. It was a Chopin. I believe it was his Prèlude 24. A huge cliché, I’m aware, but I felt that clichés was fitting none the less. The crackling sound of the needle running in the vinyl’s tracks, like a warm fire slowly dying, and the cinder that’s left is collapsing in on itself. The piano tunes hurries away, for the tune is rapid and to the point. A fitting way to begin the end. I heard she opened the brown paper bag she had in her coat pocket. She took out a smaller envelope from this. On the front it was fittingly labelled “exit”.

“Are you ready?” She said with a stoic, bored and indifferent voice. Almost like she was thinking about not saying it at all because that would mean I had to reply thus making her precious time longer.

“I guess this is as good a time as any. Have you finished the crossword?”

“I have. The picture caption was; “Gee I have never had that many cocks in me before.””

We both removed the covers from the bed and refurbished it with a new white one, tucking it in thoroughly so that any aspiring crease was gone, only to be replaced by nothingness. A tabula rasa, only instead of a slate there was a white cotton sheet with an enormous thread count.

The needle rose from the black circular music disc, and signalled that I had to change to “Side B” by being completely still. I could of course put the needle back onto the same side, but that would mean that we’d to listen to the same prelude again, which we weren’t very keen on. I don’t really remember the songs on the other side, but I do remember changing sides.  Funny how you so clearly remember details of something insignificant, like the formation of the molten candlewax around a candle, or the smell of a certain shampoo and how you forget more important things like what you saw at a museum or what happened during your daily drive to work in the city. We might not remember our names or the names of people passed before, but something about remembrance is so creepy. Sometimes you remember things by a trigger. Like the smell of old people’s houses or familiar colour associations.

“We have forgotten the water”

“Shit. Do you think it’s ok to drink from the tap?”

“I don’t know, is it?”

We both began to laugh when we thought it through. Of course it did not matter. I think I was the one to fetch the water. We reused the paper cups the coffee had previously been in. I rinsed it out and smelled for any residual coffee. Some had latched on to the paper itself, in the folded crease where the cup is glued onto itself. It was nothing to do about that, besides, who gave a shit? She put two small pills in my palm and folded my fingers over, turning my hand into a fist, and then she moved my hand so the fist was in front of my heart. I watched as she did the same to herself. We both held hands and lied down on the bed.

“Should we do this naked?”

“No I prefer to do this fully clothed.”

“It’s unnatural though.” I think I said this. But I’m still not sure.

“So be it.”

With a last glimpse of her face, her honey coloured hair and her pale lips we took the pills to our mouths and took a mouthful of water down with them. There was no going back now. A new experience waited.

“Did you water the greens?”

“I fed the cat, you had the watering, right?”

“Oh well.”

“Oh well.”

I just remember this, nothing before, nothing after. Only this “slice of life” as someone used to say. Perhaps this was all there ever was. Who ever said it was more? I’m not even sure if I know these people. I certainly haven’t seen them before. All I know is that I see, and I see it always. It goes on a continuous loop; it goes backwards and in every different way possible, all at the same time. An everlasting presentation of this.

The morbid part, the one that I thought was OK, but clearly wasn’t, was that my name was surprisingly soon forgotten. We both thought we’d made an impact on the community. We were not famous or special in any way, but still, the idea of us getting forgotten about three years after our death is harsh. Someone once said that you die twice. The first being your death, obviously. The second being the moment your name is said for the last time.

~Peanut

“The Accursed”, by Joyce Carol Oates

 

The Accursed by Joyce Carol Oates        

the-accursed

In one of the review-excerpts of Joyce Carol Oates’s novel The Accursed (2013) featured in the first pages of my edition, Stephen King wrote: “Joyce Carol Oates has written what may be the world’s first postmodern Gothic novel”. This intrigued me greatly, as I am very much interested in both the Gothic and the postmodern – so, offered a novel with both these elements, I set out to read it with a tentative question posed in my mind; What makes this novel postmodern and Gothic?

Joyce Carol Oates’s The Accursed include many of the tropes one finds in Gothic literature: specters and ghosts, murderers and ‘cannibal sandwiches’, overworked scholars and professors, mysterious and inexplicable events and landscapes, and a frame narrative to pack it all in. The frame narrative is important, as, while it is not a wholly original turn of the Gothic, it gives the reader a sense of reading a document ‘lost and found’, and of h**self being a part of a professorial research team devoted to investigate an age old enigma yet to be solved, something that is, I dare say, inherently Gothic. (We find this in other Gothic and horror writers as well, best showcased in Lovecraft, for example.)

The enigma to be solved in The Accursed occurs at a wedding between ‘part-retired Presbyterian minister’ Dr. Winslow Slade’s granddaughter Annabel Slade and Lieutenant Dabney Bayard in Princeton, New Jersey – June 4th, 1905. A few weeks before the wedding, Princeton has been visited by ‘a lawyer from Carnahan, Virginia, with an association with the Presbyterian Church’, a man rather malicious named Axson Mayte. There is, however, something odd about Axson, something that everyone who meets him prior to the wedding picks up on, but are not entirely able to accurately pinpoint. Through the investigating narrative of scholar M.W. van Dyck II we get to read different academics and historians perspective of Mayte, but the most consensual understanding is that Mayte is the first public manifestation of the Curse. Broadly explained, Mayte shows up at the church door during the wedding and, variously perceived by the invited guests as re-told by van Dyck II, inexplicably draws Slade to him before they disappear like ghosts, “as if into thin air”.

During my master’s course The Gothic Imagination, I wrote an essay about how the existence of two different, yet parallel spaces in Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby (1967)  – the real, physical space of Rosemary’s reality, and the abstract, metaphysical space of her dreams – combine in order to create a new kind of space; a transcendental reality, if you will. Impossible consequences manifest themselves in her real life – impossible because they are consequences only of something she claims to have dreamed, and not of something from her physical reality. (As I look back and browse the earlier blogposts on this site, I become aware that, for some reason, this is something that greatly amuses and interests me.) Joyce Carol Oates achieves some of the same effects in this novel, too. Through hard work, the scholar who narrates the tale (again, his name is M.W. van Dyck II) has been able to get a hold of Annabel Slade’s own journal where she has written about the time spent with Axson Mayte, after disappearing from her own wedding. Without spoiling too much, I would like to simply point out that the technique used in Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby here discussed, is also used by Oates in this segment of the novel. Mayte takes her to a place that does not necessarily exist in ‘real life’ – somewhere called ‘the Bog Kingdom’. What happens in this Kingdom is incomprehensible for both Slade and van Dyck II as they’re happening – but once we return to the ‘real world’ we see that the consequences from these events nevertheless manifest themselves in the ‘real world’ – so they must have happened, whether in this world, or the next.

(There is, additionally, another, even more striking example of this, one that shows Oates’s borrowing of this technique in a much clearer light. But telling you that would be a spoiler of significant magnitude, so much so that I will refrain from writing it here.) (You’ll have to read the book and see if you can spot it. (It’s towards the end of the book.))

Another turn of the Gothic in The Accursed is the fact that the supernatural (the ghost), or in this specific case, the Curse, is never always the same person – or ‘thing’. As in all good and solid Gothic fiction, the supernatural evil is capable of taking on different shapes – the Curse is essentially a shapeshifter. That is to say Axson Mayte is not the ‘only’ manifestation of the Curse. But is he the ‘pure’ Curse – the Master –  or just a deviant of it – a servant? Or maybe there does not exist such a hierarchy of evil, and Mayte is just one of several ways in which the Curse can be allowed to stay in Princeton. Whatever the answers to this, the result is more or less the same; We can never be sure who (or where) the primary source of the Curse is. We, the readers, become paranoid. Even the characters we think we know well may be part of it. We never know where – or to whom – the Curse might strike next.

What is fresh and something I haven’t encountered before, in Oates’s Gothic novel, is the inclusion of a (rather) in-depth discussion and study of American socialist history. The readers get to follow Upton Sinclair’s revolutionary ambition about equality founded on Nietzschean philosophy, his life situation during the writing of his The Jungle, and his appreciation of fellow American socialist Jack London. On one side, I think this socialist, revolutionary aspect of the novel, while particularly interesting and engaging to me in and of itself, is ill fitted in the overall Gothic, ghost/’vampire’ atmosphere of The Accursed. I do appreciate, however, the parallel it draws up at the end of the tale, and the resulting effect of it is a trope very much belonging to the Gothic; Using Sinclair’s hard-working discipline, his vigorous vegetarianism and his admiration of London, and by raising the expectations, hopes and dreams of Sinclair (as well as the reader), of the just cause (for then only to shatter them again toward the end), Oates is able to intriguingly question the validity and power of personal ambitions, dreams and passions. So, by looking at it (‘it’, i.e, the inclusion of ‘a (rather) in-depth discussion and study of American socialist history’) like this, it is more understandably relevant in The Accursed, as the resulting effect does fit rather well in a Gothic setting.

Although the novel is rather long (my edition is 667 pages), with some passages in it that made me personally question the relevancy of this particular topic to the whole of the novel, I would certainly recommend experiencing it. The passages in questions might not strikingly or obviously fit the rest of the Gothic atmosphere of the novel, but after having finished them all and been able to put them together in the bigger picture, I realize what Oates is doing is rather innovative, creative and, ultimately, transgressive (which, keep in mind, is what the Gothic ultimately is all about.)

Stephen King was right when writing of The Accursed that it: “may be the world’s first postmodern Gothic novel.”

~ milk

 

 

 

 

 

“Seveneves”, by Neal Stephenson

Seveneves, by Neal Stephenson

seveneves

Seveneves, Neal Stephenson’s newest science fiction novel published in 2015, clocks in at about 860 pages and presents interesting and hopeful ways in which humanity might preserve itself after an apocalyptic event. It is a roller coaster of a science fiction novel – a firework – and there are several reasons for that. The topics it deals with – ranging from possibilities in scientific engineering, political conflict, as well as ethics in genetics (genethics?) – is one. Stephenson looks at the various ways in which humanity might deal with an astrophysical event that most likely will not happen in real life, but is still not completely impossible.

The narrative atmosphere kicks in at the very beginning – as does the plot; in the novel’s first sentence, the moon inexplicably blows up. People on Earth – scientists, politicians, doctors, cab drivers, royal families, Buddhists monks alike – as well as on the International Space Station – engineers working on projects not associated with the moon’s blowing up – all either accidentally witness the event in real life, or understand what has happened after seeing the remains of the moon swirling in space. They all give their own personal, immediate opinion on the matter. At first it seems like a beautiful thing to look at but after a little investigation it turns out the consequences are far more dire than what the everyman might have imagined.

The reader gets to follow a group of highly regarded smart people as they investigate and try to understand the reasons for the moon blowing up. One of these personalities is astronomer Dubois Jerome Xavier Harris, Ph.D., who works from Earth to make calculations on what might be expected to happen in the coming years, and how the people on Earth should prepare. On the International Space Station, the readers meet Ivy Xiao and Dinah MacQuarie, who both get discharged from their projects they were busy with before the event in order to focus all their energy on teaming up with astronomers and other scientists down on Earth with finding answers.

But these three aren’t the only ones. By far. They might have the most important roles at the beginning of the book, but as events unfold, more and more characters are introduced. Don’t get me wrong; by no means does Stephenson utilize too many, or at any point use irrelevant characters in the narrative. What I was personally surprised to find out, was that the people I thought was the protagonists, not necessarily was. And this worked the other way as well; characters introduced at the end of one chapter might have a bigger importance than what I originally thought. By the end of the book it was almost like reading a completely different novel. (But only almost.)

The use of literary characters in Seveneves is another element that makes it a firework of a science fiction novel.

Science fiction, to me, is the ultimate transgression. No other literary genre walks the fine line between what is real and what is imaginary. Only in science fiction is an author able to play with the unlikely-but-not-impossible. It is in science fiction people can create what today seems laughable but might be true tomorrow. Stephenson is no exception. He manages this incredibly well, sketching out possibilities not only associated with scientific engineering, but with the dilemmas accompanying taking control of the use of human genetics as well. The moon blows up in the first sentence; but other problems and consequences arise that I will not explain as it would be a spoiler (read the book!), but what I need to say in order to make my next praise is that humans need to find a new way of living if they are to persevere. It’s an “ultimately uplifting” (Financial Times, on the back of the book) story, I agree. But the meat of it does not strike me as uplifting. Nor is it directly pessimistic. There is a narrative distance in the way the narrator conveys the events, and the characters in the novel all seem to be very realistic and not very Romantic (with a capital R), nor nostalgic about what they all eventually know what will happen. They have problems, complications and troubles they need to deal with, and that’s what they do.

Stephenson has no problems relating these troubles and complications. It is almost like reading an architectural blue print of a planned building. Not that I ever have read one of those. But the point is, as I was reading the various structures Stephenson imagines, I was lost in my thoughts, trying to envision them as I read. Which is something any author of any fiction should strive to make the reader do.

However, this presents a potential problem in the narrative. The finely written descriptions of the various structures sometimes come in the way of plot advancement. This is not only evident in parts where structures are being described, but does also become true when explaining the history of the plot, or of the various new characters that come into play. To me, this could at times be distracting. When I was focused on the plot, and wanted it to proceed forward, Stephenson was busy accounting for, and explaining, the nature of something periphery to the immediate narrative action. That being said, I was never bored while reading Seveneves. In fact, on the contrary; Stephenson’s narrative power never dulls, and he keeps it interesting even in places where the plot might have been put on pause in order for other elements to be conveyed. The power in his storytelling is so consistent, that – as I mentioned earlier – it keeps true to itself from the very first sentence to the last part of the book. (The part that I felt like belonged to a different book completely. Because of the narrative power – among other reasons, of course -, I knew I was still reading the same book, even if it felt like a different one.)

A sidenote: As I was writing this post, it came to my attention that Skydance Media has hired William Broyles Jr., Ron Howard and Brian Grazer to adapt the novel into a feature length film. Very cool news, I will most definitely be looking out for more news on this!

 

~ milk

 

 

 

Thinking about Gothic spaces and where it leaves us.

(1.)

One thing you might ask yourself whilst reading a scary novel, is: ‘what’s (or who’s) behind the door?’ It’s part of the suspense, part of the fun. It’s part of the point. It’s the reason why you decide to read the book in the first place. You want your pulse to rise, you want to sit on the edge of the seat, and barely be able to continue reading the passage. How far can you go? Where is your limit? And as you keep going, you keep pushing the boundaries of what’s normal, the boundaries get further and further apart, you discover new land, you set a new standard of what is normal. That is, in a nutshell, part of what the Gothic literature is about.

The Gothic has been around us for a long time, in different mediums and genres. But since Horace Walpole wrote what is considered to be the first Gothic novel, The Castle of Otranto, all the way back at the end of 1764, the Gothic literary tradition has been met with a range of criticism[1]. One of the more stable of these, one the tradition has met throughout the years with various force, is the notion that Gothic literature is low-brow literature, ‘trash’, not deemed worthy of highly intellectual individuals and the academic establishment. (Even though this criticism is present to a certain degree also today, there is interestingly enough an abundance of Gothic courses being taught at university level thoroughout the Western world.)

Part of the reason the novels written in the Gothic style was subject of much of this type of criticism might date back to the fact that many of the most popular authors of early Gothic fiction were women, and thus wrote about and represented what was morally important to the ‘second sex’. (Again ironic, as without the contribution of these authors, the Gothic might’ve looked very different today than what is does. They were, after all, the ones who persisted through the criticism.) Gothic tropes such as melancholia, failed romantic relations, narratives over-emphazised on emotions etc. These are all examples of tropes that were important in the early ‘female’ Gothic.

Despite being criticised, the Gothic tradition no doubt has been growing since its beginning. I mentioned the growth of Gothic literary courses throughout universities in the Western world. But we do not only see remains of the Gothic tradition in literature, it also scopes over various other forms of media such as film, TV and even music. (The easiest accessible, most popular and mainstreamed part of the Gothic in today’s culture, is in my opinion ‘horror’.) Where would what we know today as zombies and vampires be, if not for the artistic and eerie imagination of the Gothic masters of decades ago?[2]

Through the criticism, the Gothic has prevailed, and one thing still stands true as an important and invaluable trope; You’re afraid of what you don’t know. You’re afraid of the dark. Afraid of what’s (who’s?) on the other side of the door. (Or, classically, under the bed/in the closet).

(2.)

Connected to this is the use of fictional spaces. How an author uses spaces determine the level of the reader’s suspense (and, by extension, fear). Especially is this important in what I regarded as the ‘most popular part of the modern Gothic’, the subgenre horror. Because ‘horror’ is supposed to be scary, and in order to set this up and make the reader ask this question in the first place, the author needs to use fictional spaces. This might be physical as well as abstract. Physical: You might imagine, in your head as you’re reading this, a well-lit corridor. The walls are painted a light red and the lights on the walls are symmetrically alligned, a soft and welcomed light flowing from the lamps. You are walking straight forward in it. Are you scared? Is the corridor scary? Probably not, because we can see everything there. And we are not afraid of the light. But you might still be scared of something. The physical space, in this example, is not scary. Therefore, the abstract space might be.

The use of physical fictional spaces is easily recognisable as a reader, and also, maybe, the easiest way for an author to construct fear and unpleasantness in the reader. The abstract way of using space to construct fear and unpleasantness, however, might be a little more difficult to recognise; but all the more valuable and strong in force. The novel Rosemary’s Baby, already mentioned in a blogpost on this site, is, to me, one of the better ways in which abstract space is used to make the reader uncomfortable and surrounded by uncanny-ness (uncanniness?). Here, truth and fiction, reality and falseness, interact in order to make both the real reader and the fictional participants ask themselves questions such as did that just happen? or wait, but wasn’t that just a dream? (you’re welcome to read the post about Rosemary’s Baby further down if you’re interested in specific details.) Who can I trust? and who’s telling the truth? Indeed, questions such as these are arguably normal in the Gothic as a whole. An example at the top of my head from The Castle of Otranto is a scene where one of the characters sees a person in a portait move within the frames of the painting. Here, as in Rosemary’s Baby, the physical spaces interact with the abstract ones to construct a feeling of unpleasantness, uncanniness, and, most importantly,insecurity concerning what is real and what is not[3]. Did that person actually just move? Or is it my imagination? Or is it somewhere between, perhaps? (but how would that work? did my imagination make it move in reality? do I have telekinetic powers? did my abstract imagination control the real painting?) Asking questions like this also opens up for a discussion surrounding what, or who, is sane, and insane – and what does it mean to be insane? It adds a new dimension, a new trope frequently used in Gothic means. Take the movie Shutter Island (Martin Scorsese, 2010), as an example.

The author utilizes and combines both physical and abstract spaces in order to scare us. When this is done, something else might protrude to the theory; metanarrative.[4] What I would like to cast light upon, is the ways in which the author uses the reader to make the reader afraid. This makes for a superb and intense reading experience. A marvellous book that exemplifies this perfectly, is Bret Easton Ellis’s Lunar Park. If you haven’t already, I recommend you read it. Ellis starts off with swearing to the reader that what follows in the next pages is not fiction, and that it’s all true. The fictional protagonist’s name is Bret Eastion Ellis,which contributes in making it more trustworthy.[5] It then goes on to describe a series of encounters between the protagonist and a person he doesn’t know, and is always unable to see clearly. The problem is, noone except from the protagonist is able to see this person[6]. Again, questions surrounding whether or not the events the protagonist is witness to, is real, or just a result from his imagination. The new point I want to make in brining this particular novel up, however, is this is a way of making the reader scared of himself. The author Bret Easton Ellis is fictionalising himself, thus distancing himself from himself. He is de-subjectifying himself from himself, and attempting to exist as a fictional individual. As he is doing so, he is trying to breach into the lines and sentences on the page. The fictional Bret Easton Ellis, on the other hand, is doing the opposite; He is trying to break out of the convensions set up by the real Bret Easton Ellis. He wants to know how its like to be a real person. And as the reader is reading the passages in this book, he or she might start feeling the same. A novel is supposed to make the reader feel empathy with the characters and protagonists, but it is questionable whether or not Ellis manages this by breaching the boundaries between fiction and realities; It is be more difficult for the reader to know what is real and not, and as a result, spends more time trying to figure this out instead of trying to visualise him/herself in the shoes of the protagonist.

And so we are back at where we started. We covered one of the main tropes in the Gothic, and one of the main criticism the Gothic tradition has received since the very start of its existence. We looked at some example of how this might look in practice, and asked ourselves rhetorical questions concerning the legibility and effect of these examples. As and end note, I would like to reassure the reader that this post, no matter the signs of the opposite, is, has been and always will be, real.

~ milk

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[1] One example in the text. Others might include: morally unfit for children/immature audience, misrepresentation of gender/ gender stereotypes, unnecessary depiction of physical/body horror (especially the transgressive fictions of Chuck Palahniuk)

[2] I.E the contributors to the early ‘female’ Gothic

[3] As I’m writing this, I come to think of yet another example from a book I recently read, It, by Stephen King. Here, a group of pre-adolescent children hears voices and sees blood coming from the sink drain in one of the kids’s bathrooms. But only they can hear/see it, not the grown-ups. Just another example.

[4] Or rather, calling what I am about to illustrate metanarrative might be misleading. Metanarrative, in itself, is something else than what I want to shine light on now. But metanarrative is being used in the example to a certain degree.

[5] Also, one way in which the novel is a metanarrative. The fictional B.E.E cannot be the real one, for obvious reasons. Another example of what makes this book meta; one of the students at the college the fictional B.E.E teaches at, is writing her thesis on him. But is she writing her thesis on the fictional, or the real Bret Easton Ellis? What are the conventions in which the novel wants us to answer this question?

[6] As the narrative goes on, the person changes shape and turns into something similar to a dog-like creature.

when people in a debate says “i concur” you know you’ve lost

things i think about when i think about alt-lit.
always include references to things you like, or anti-like, or likes ironically – but not sincere irony, because that would be tacky.
if possible, never write about anything explicitly vulgar. we are living in a civilized millennial environment, where safe space is a real thing. if you ever come near my comfort zone without my knowing i will sell you to the police.
the hardest part of writing alt-lit is that microsoft word is trying to autocorrect. part of the fun is that you never use capital letters. this means that you have to revise the first word of every sentence and you have to correct the upper case i’s literally all the time. you should omit punctuation too – and if you must use it, don’t use it correctly; or use it as liberal as you want. there are no police here (yet)*
i am using punctuation badly, but it’s there. that is my form of rebellion i guess.
the literature you should read should be self published, or just screen grabs of the internet. try to misuse words that are already overused for the sake of using an overused word. examples of these words include: “literally”
“like”
“gmail chat”
“2010”
“miranda july”
“the pale king is inferior to…”
“introvertism”
“kitsch”
“post-meme-deepweb-realism”
“the next day we had whale”
do you see what i did there.
that was actually a question, but i just can’t be bothered to include a question mark. quotation marks and parenthesizes are used regardless.
here i would if i where you apply a reference to something that I think is more obscure than what it actually is. i feel like sharon carter, dodging the trainwreck that is michael ‘berg’ bergen (1998-2001)
actually you can just change the autocorrect issue in a settings tab, so now it’s not a big deal anymore.

anyway, this has been my review of audun mortensen and his influenced writing based on tao lin
i have a sneaking suspicion mortensen doesn’t even use gmail chat
here follows alt-lit poems i wrote just now

i could be a decent beekeeper if i outgrew my crippling fear of white suits

sometime i cant help but wonder if sarah jane would be a better feminist if the doctor didn’t go to metebilis iii

the plural of žižek is most likely žižex

>i’m so sorry for not attending your birthday party
something came up (my life) and i had to handle it (postponing to start reading proust)

Who is Rosemary’s baby?

Rosemary's baby

 

The reason why it took me so long to watch Rosemary’s Baby – I will tell you quite honestly – is because I was afraid to. I was afraid I might not be able to take it, that the movie simply would be too scary for me. I never used to be a horror movie fanatic, I should say. I had heard rumours about the movie, rumours that this movie was in fact one of the scariest movies made, up there with The Shining, The Thing, and The Exorcist. I had seen The Shining and rather enjoyed it (I was all the while thinking well this isn’t too scary, what’s the fuzz about?) I liked The Shining, it was scary (scary in a good way), so why I still had doubts about Rosemary’s Baby, I couldn’t say.

As with so many great movies through history, Rosemary’s Baby also started out as a book. It was written by Ira Levin, published in 1967, and this book was recently assigned reading for the course I was taking at university. Suddenly I had no way around it. I was relieved it was the book, though, as reading something scary is not completely the same as seeing something scary. (This statement is obviously open for debate. There’s a sense of having something forced upon you in seeing something scary that is not present in reading, for example.) As I had no idea what was awaiting me in the book, plot wise, the terror/horror ratio, what type of terror/horror it handled etc., I thought that by first reading the book, I would at least have some sort of armoring with me if ever I chose to see the movie. (Besides, it`s always better to have read the book first. Always.)

So I read the book, and I watched the movie. I liked them both. I didn’t get inordinately scared by them, but I did get to the point where I had to put my hands before my eyes in the movie, and I was definitively puzzled by some of the aspects of the novel. Several questions arose in my head, opinions formed, and this here text will try to present one of them to you. (Before you move on, let me just say, be aware there might be spoilers (I really am not good at this stuff), and that having read/seen the novel/movie would be, regardless of level of spoilers in the text, beneficial to you. But as always, I don`t really care. Do as you wish. There, it`s done, now move on on your on responsibility.)

After having read the book, what strikes me the most is the title. To me, the title (Rosemary’s Baby, to be clear) has been around a long time, I’ve known about it, and have had a somewhat idea of what it represents to me before having actually familiarised myself with the novel. But having read it, the title has attained new meaning to me. It is not just “some title” popularised by Polanski’s famous horror movie anymore; it contains significance that is important to the novel. The title mystifies, depersonalises, belittles and makes arbitrary who Rosemary’s baby actually is. We know, after reading the novel, Rosemary’s baby is in fact the antichrist. Then why didn’t Levin simply call his book The Antichrist, or Antichrist, or something to that effect? Because if Levin had done this, the ambiguity (the mystery) as to who the protagonist is, would not exist, as it does now. With naming it Rosemary’s Baby readers are left contemplating who they should emphatise with, who to root for, as it were. The most obvious answer to these question is immediately Rosemary. (No sympathy for the Devil). She is after all in the title itself! But, it should be emphatised that while, yes, Rosemary is the only name in the title, it is not Rosemary that is the main focus in the title; it is in fact her baby. It is not about Rosemary as much as it is about her baby. If Levin would have the reader believe Rosemary to be the main protagonist, would it not have been easier to simply call the book Rosemary?

Now don’t get me wrong, I should point out that I do believe Rosemary to be the protagonist. In fact, there really is no doubt about that, and saying something else would be outright wrong. I will, however, stick to my previous argument and try to better explain it by putting it differently; the pains and the suffering she goes through during her pregnancy should all be attributed to her baby. We must agree on this. Without him, Rosemary would be an ordinary pregnant soon-to-be mommy, which would make it extraordinarily hard for Levin to establish and produce empathy toward her, extensively making the writing of this novel oddly somewhat frivolous. Without Rosemary, the baby would not exist, without the baby, Rosemary`s suffering (and therefore her significance) would not exist. Rosemary is, as it were, stuck between this earthly world and the unknown supernatural world where witches have taken control over her presence in this earthly world. (Having written this, I feel like a true asshole, a giant sexist. It sounds as if I am saying Rosemary is not important had it not been for her suffering, and her ability to carry forth the antichrist. While this is on one hand correct, it is simultaneous incrrect. I hope you are able to see my underlaying point here. The underlaying point is that there would probably not be written a book about “an ordinary pregnant woman”, because she would be, in and of itself, ordinary. A book about “an ordinary pregnant woman” would not be, I hope we can agree on, as exciting to read. Remember, Rosemary is stuck between two worlds. This is an interesting handling of any gendered individual. And, as we shall see, she is treated very badly by the people around her, too.)

So of course, Rosemary is not completely irrelevant. The next point I want to make is slightly more connected with the text. (We`ll see about that.) The title suggests that this is in fact Rosemary’s baby, and only hers; it it not the Castevets, nor Guy’s baby, it is Rosemary’s. This is interesting because if there is a character in the book who is opposed to the baby, it is Rosemary! Well, no, don’t get me wrong; I wouldn’t go so far as to say she is opposed to it, that would be wrong. The circumstances in which Rosemary gets pregnant is immensly important in this aspect, and worth a look at. You see, she is the one who keeps trying to talk Guy into getting her pregnant, that this time in their life is the best time etc. But Guy wants to wait. He wants to be a bit more securely positioned in his acting career, something that Rosemary respects to a certain degree. It comes to a point where she is sick of waiting, but she never acts out so much so that she forces Guy to get her pregnant. But Guy suddenly changes his mind, and tells Rosemary that now, now is the perfect time. The planned evening, however, Rosemary becomes ill and doesn’t feel up to much after dinner. (It should be noted that the dessert they eat is something given to them by Minnie Castevet, and arguably (probably) contains some sort of chemicals engineered to make Rosemary pass out. And Guy, of course, knows. Let`s not forget, he is inn on everything the Castevets do.) Guy rapes Rosemary in her drug-induced sleep. Everything goes according to (the Castevets’s) plan. Although Rosemary expresses some doubt and sceptisism towards Guy’s rape, she does not assert any consequences toward him. Nor does it appear that she gets any hunch of what his agenda is. She’s happy that she finally is pregnant. However, when the baby keeps growing inside her, she starts feeling pain. The doctor she goes to says not to worry, the pain will go away shortly. But they don’t. They stay with her for weeks, for months. She is definitely the only one doubting and questioning what is going on with her pregnancy, wanting to get a second opinion on her pains etc. This is what I mean when earlier I said she is opposed to her pregnancy. The doctor she goes to, Dr. Sapirstein (recommended by the Castevets, keep in mind), and her (so-called) friends and family all tell her it will go over, that she has nothing to worry about, when in fact, they are all smiling behind her back, hardly not being able to wait for the it’s birth. It’s all going according to the Castevets’s plan. They have tried before, with Terry, who understood what was going on, and decided that killing herself was a better fate.

But The Castevets wouldn’t let that happen to Rosemary; they kept good care of here. As we know, they were able to talk Guy and also the first doctor, Dr. Hill, to their side. (If they weren’t already on their side, of course. This is a possibility open to argument, but I shall not dwell upon for the moment being.) At the end, when the little child is born and put in a cradle (Rosemary, of course, being under sedating during the whole ordeal), Roman Castevet is even able to talk Rosemary to their side. Well, that’s what it seems like, at least. Let’s stop for a second and examine the ending. To me it seems to be two possible reason why Rosemary decides to go against her primary impulses and, rather than shunning the anti-christ child from her life, decides to taking care of him; 1. the power of love is stronger than evil; Rosemary looks past the fact that her son is the anti-christ and chooses to be a good mother to him, and treat him as she would any other child, or, 2. the power of evil is stronger than love; the Castevets’s power is too immense, and Rosemary has successfully been infused with the same poison of evil that Guy and Dr. Hill have been.

My natural and immediate reaction upon reading the book, is that number one is the correct one. Here follows a selection of quotes from the end of the novel, from which I draw my conclusion. (This is the part where I thought my point would become slightly more text-relevant.) I take them from the edition published by Corsair, with an introdution by Chuck Palahniuk, from 2011 (pictured above?):
“Why don’t you help us out, Rosemary, be a real mother to Adrian …” (Says Roman Castevet, p. 222)

“No, she couldn’t throw him out the window. He was her baby, no matter who the father was. What she had to do was go to someone who would understand. Like a priest. Yes, that was the answer; a priest. It was a problem for the Church to handle. For the Pope and all the cardinals to deal with, not stupid Rosemary Reilly from Omaha. Killing was wrong, no matter what.” (P. 225)
“`Rock Him,´ Roman said to Rosemary, smiling. He moved the bassinet back and forth towards her, holding it by the hood. She stood still and looked at him. `You’re trying to – get me to be his mother,´ she said. `Aren’t you His mother?´ Roman said.” (P. 226)

“Roman said. `His name is Adrian Steven.´ Rosemary said, `I understand why you’d like to call him that, but I’m sorry; you can’t. His name is Andrew John. He’s my child, not yours, and this is one point that I’m not even going to argue about. …” (P. 228)

The thing to notice in this selection of quotes, is how Rosemary first hesitates, then re-evaluates. First she does not want to be his mother; her impulsive decision is to ignore the child, to not be a part of his life. But after Castevet points out that she is in fact his mother, she seems to re-evaluate.

Also, the fact that she insists upon his name being Andrew John and not Adrian Steven suggests that Rosemary is in possesion of her own sovereignty the whole time and her desicion is not an impuslive one, one that she wants to get over and done with. It is a competent and thought through choice. She chooses herself to act as hs mother.

Maybe this conclusion is derived from me being too naive, idealistic and romantic, but this is my opinion anyway and there really is not alot I can do about that.

I’m glad I did watch the movie after reading the novel. The movie is an important input in the cinematic history in many ways. What I immediately reacted upon was how the movie lies very close to the novel. Polanski doesn’t seem to take very many artistic liberties with it. This is both a good and a not-so-good thing. (An example of a movie where artistic and creative liberties have been taken, would be The Shining. It is very different from the book. But I won’t dwell on them here. We are approaching quite a different subject, one concerning the difference between an adaption and an interpretation of a book, a very interesting subject mind you, but not one fit for this here post.) This here post is hereby finished. Thanks for reading.

~ Milk