s'I AM REvisitED [reading GALCHEN & LOCK]: shadowplaying in-flight disILLUSIONment thru tourISTIC FictIONS
2.10.2009 EWR —> LHR [reading Atmospheric Disturbances]
here we are—British Airways over the clouds—preSUMably over the Atlantic sumwHERE. the provided eyeMASK over my FORehead is comFORTing, covering my PINEal gLand. the destination of this flight is LONDON—but that's only Heathrow to switch pLANES to a nother going to THAIland. that's our immediate destiNATION—where we plan to next sleep HORIzontally.
here i am, perHAPS the luckiest man a live—sitting here next to J. she is going to these places to "work." i'm along for the RIDE—stowAWAYing in her baggage so to speak.
here i am now over the clouds 35,000 feet up reading Atmospheric Disturbances by Rivka Galchen. let me PREface the reading with the usual disCLAIMers:
it is me or her that is afflicted? or you? Rivka isn't mad, she is some sort of smart person. her bio [& accompanying candid street mug] at the beginning list her credentials. when you precede a novel with a bio & photo, that negates the book from being a book object. now it just becomes a story written by this author. Galchen is a bona fide doctor that folds in all sorts of science & physics & meteorology into the story, which i'm fine with as i like exploring fictIONs through IDeas.
... as long as it's not forced. i'm sure i do this too, in my own writing, it's an easy thing to do, you get wrapped up in a conCEPT, even if it's just for the WORD for it & feel a need to inCORPorate it. so criticizing Galchen for this could be seen as a cautionary note to self.
there's a reason the term "showing-off" is called SHOWing-OFF: you are showing more than you should or than that's relevant, which tends to put people OFF.
incorporating scientific or NOVEL ideas into a story is especially putting-off when it's over-explanatory. e.g. Galchen says this [in regards to using the Doppler Effect as an analogy to illustrate the narrator's growing distance to his wife "Rema"]:
your average Joe reading this book might be like "wow, she's clever!" me being the pretentious asshole i am cringe at such an EXPOSition. maybe i'm being a bit harsh & it is a fine line indeed between losing your reader & overexplaining—not everyone knows what the Doppler Effect is, or the Many Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics [which is pretty much what the story is predicated on]. she has 2 choices, either: 1] don't explain & have it go over the reader's head OR 2] explain away what the Doppler Effect is [or even go on how it works as a metaphor in this case] to disrupt the flow & magic of an otherwise good story.
if you explain a metaphor it is no longer a metaphor. the ORIGIN of metaphor is from French métaphore, via Latin from Greek metaphora, from metapherein ‘to transfer.’ if you expose a metaphor, it becomes a direct association & there is no transference. it becomes an analogy or simile at best.
not that Galchen isn't deft at her expositions & perhaps you could say she is at least clever enough to not come off as preachy, but still, an exposition is an exposétion. being good at explaining yourself is a craft, not an art. if someone doesn't know what the Doppler Shift is they can look it up online or guess. if you're gonna define it, at least put it as a footnote. or leave it to reviewers to explain such secrets in their analysis.
the thing is, the prevailing answer for best-selling books is option #2] above, that's why Galchen is a SOMEbody & the likes of me are NObodies. she is savvy, knows how to sell herself, how to build suspense, how to "dumb" herself down to make her accessible to the average idiot & she is able to string together sentences that are fine & what is expected in the telling of such a story. people want to be entertained & yes, the book is keeping me entertained, as i was waiting at the gate in NJ, then sitting on the runway & now on the plane in the air.
don't get me wrong, there are interesting & creative SURprizes in this book, even in the telling passages:
it's like one of those [older] Disney blockbusters that has a little something for everyone. as i mentIONED, the problem is with ME. i'm bored of storytellers. not bored in that i expect more but bored in that i expect LESS. storytelling often adds another layer of crap to the obfuscation, not a veil to the art. it puts you another layer removed from the good stuff. i'd rather drink water straight from the source. or blindly drink or eat not knowing what it is & experience the surprise when it hits your taste bud [without being told what it will taste like ahead of time].
its the same with traveling these days. everyone complains that such & such a place is too touristy. that nothing is "what it used to be." this is actually a common complaint about most everything. everyone wants to be the first ones to discover a place, a band, a book, a museum. everything has been corrupted, everyone is a sellout, everything's been done, every place has been visited. Thailand is not the exotic Siam of yesteryear. but it is what it is now, in 2009. & that's where we are headed now. for what it's worth.
in all fairness, these complaints were probably general peeves already lingering, festering on my mind before i picked up the book. still, this book reMINDed me of such things. like another pet peeve of mine [in literature] is references to technology, of the internet & blackberries & such. i also hate this in movies, like when they show people texting each other or make references to twitter or whatever as selling points to the movie. i think words [& the technologies they represent] need to stand the test of time before you can use them in literature. the trademark needs to expire. the dude in Galchen's story is constantly getting or typing emails on his BlackBerry®. perhaps this is a trademark of "contemporary" literature, i don't know, if so i have contempT for CONTEMPorary literature.
i have my BBerry with me & can tell you that because this isn't literature. i don't know what THIS is but it's not art. it's me going on about how NOT to corrupt art. learning what to do & what not to do for my own sake. practicing. method acting.
sure, i'm looking for what i want to see. in Galchen's words: "we focus fuzzy images by transforming them into what we expect to see. By what, in other words, already exists in our mind, what we already have available on file, however dusty the folder."
true enough. [beat]
now that I am deeper into the book, things are getting more interesting, as does her language, at times:
if it was me, i would want to read a book of just the parenthetical notes to the parenthetical notes. i want to know more about the woman with cataracts & the pretzels & powdered milk. although her agent or publisher [Picador] likely advised her to keep such things to a minimum to keep the book marketable. to not lose the suspense, which she does effectively build, just like a blockbuster movie does.
suspense is overrated & British Airways needs to learn how to make a bloody mary. Blake Butler has been going on some about the blah blah bullshit of so & so writer capturing the "human condition" or whatever it is they always say & he is right. everything [written by a human] is necessarily human. how could a book NOT be about the human condition unless it was written by a fucking orangutan [which actually would be a book i'd want to read] me myself i look for books that pursue knowledge & ideas more than the human condition [a given], that treat humans as merely vehicles for meme transference & okay Atmospheric Disturbances maybe does that somewhat, but it's humanized into a story & it's the kind of book that a reviewer might say captures the human condition or something which is more the fault of the reviewers or how the book was marketed or edited. in this case the copious blurbs on the book jacket & inside make comparisons to Pynchon & Borges & Kafka, which i hope she didn't put them up to. leave those guys out of this, they are in a league of their own, super-human. this is goodness not greatness. comparing Galchen to Pynchon or Borges is demeaning & an insult to the latter.
did i not mention what the book was about? if you want to know, read it for yourself. all i can say is what it did for me. in the book the schizo-protagonist goes to Argentina. i'm on this plane to Thailand. all i do is take books & incorporate them into my own being. that's all any of us can do unless you're some sort of academic & even then that's all you are is an amalgamation of everything you've read.
after finishing Atmospheric Disturbances, i watched Eden à l'ouest. it's about this guy from an intentionally unspecified country who jumps off a ship full of other illegal aliens, ends up on a nudist beach, gets naked to fit in & from there it flows into a series of misadventures that he rolls with in good style.
3.10.09 LHR —> BKK [reading Lock's Shadowplay]
flew into Heathrow. the Foals were singing in my ear: "Blow up these fake parades/let's go to an aviary far from home."
we switched from terminal 4 to 5. you have to take some sort of fucked up shuttle bus. it's like switching between LaGuardia & JFK. Heathrow's crap. last time we passed through Heathrow [when we were moving to Kenya] they lost all our bags.
switched to Qantas, now flying London to Bangkok. i read Norman Lock's Shadowplay, though we had these really annoying British chicks behind us that were talking so loud the whole way you couldn't even, like, hear yourself think, even with AC/DC maxed out on my iPod.
Lock is a master storyteller that transcends place & time. more than a storyteller, Lock seeks to reveal new meanings & truths in his explorations, to unveil the unseen [not to expose, but to reVEIL [& thus reveal]. he doesn't just seek to entertain, you get a sense he is deeply (& oddly) compelled towards his plots. like how he describes the compulsion of the main character of shadowplay:
like all writing, this unveiling inevitably unveils what's inside Lock himself & his writing process. through writing, he exorcises his demons vicariously through his protagonists:
the external scenarios Lock sets up are stages for his own inner-dramas, his internal shadowplays. & while his foreign settings [in this case Java] might not be credible, the inner-driving force is as real as anything. in the Dickinsonian tradition, Lock is adept at writing about places he has never been. he develops exotic lexicons of objects to stage his dramas. pure objects, the words for them as portrayed in other books & art, unencumbered by the reality of the objects themselves.
in A History of the Imagination it was Africa along with a conglomeration of historical figures. that was a strange & wonderful experience for me reading that BEFORE i went to Africa, because i had no idea how valid his point of view was. not knowing Lock it seemed convincing enough.
then in Land of the Snow Men it was Antarctica. his protagonist/author claimed [rather convincingly] to have been on the Robert Falcon Scott expedition to reach the South Pole.
his knowledge of a place & it's customs presumably comes through research or other fictions. though perhaps not GENuine, he doesn't get bogged down in personal biases or innuendos that those with real-world experience feel compelled to impart to give credibility. Lock doesn't look for credibility, he looks to tell a story, to sweep the reader to somewhere they haven't traveled to [even if you are from the place where the story is set!] often people from a place or culture are too immersed to see the little subtleties that someone like Lock has the vision to see & the skill to put it in words.
i have traveled through Java &, having played in gamelan for a number of years, have had a behind the scenes view into the art of the shadow play. but my knowledge of the subject might be just as biased, or come off as arrogant. i'd probably come off as seeming entitled were i to choose to write about it [hence why i choose to just not right about other cultures]. just like what i was saying about tourism, either everyone on this planet is entitled or nobody on this planet is entitled, to travel, to write of it, to claim it as their own.
this is the brilliance of Lock—he mines the unknown or underknown for gems whose value is not relevant to the soil they were dug up from, for no other reason other than in the name of art.
i am listening to Joy Division's "Shadowplay" as i read: "To the centre of the city where all roads meet, waiting for you / To the depths of the ocean where all hopes sank, searching for you / I was moving through the silence without motion, waiting for you / In a room with a window in the corner I found truth." Not that it has anything to do with it, still trying to drown those annoying chicks out.
Lock's Shadowplay is about a shadowpuppeteer [Guntur] who through his art seeks to capture the object of his desire. through Guntur's [& Lock's] reenactment, he inevitably corrupts his own vision, in that quantum mechanical paradox of tarnishing that which you touch by virtue of touching it. which is also basically what i was trying to say about the paraDOX (or paradigm) of tourism.
in much the way a shadow puppeteer tries to convey a shadow of the 'real' world, Lock lurks in the shadow of the shadow puppeteer. he gives new & different meaning to the term "ghost-writing." when Norman speaks through Guntur, in a sense they are really his own admissions:
Lock projects, divulges through his characters. in much the way Guntur is captivated by the darkness, possessed by his ancient puppets, Lock too is possessed, vicariously, one more layer removed, an incarnation, a projection, which are one & the same. i remember asking a Hindu once, in Bali actually, what he thought of Hare Krishna & if he recognized him as the 9th incarnation of Vishnu. he said, ah, yes, but he is the 9th PROJECTION, not incarnation. he didn't think it sacrilege either way, just a different perspective & emphasis. whether Krishna is a subset of Vishnu or Vishnu is a subset of Krishna is the same story, depending on what set you are in.
Lock looks for stories beyond the lives of ordinary men:
Shadowplay was a good read that swept me away from the annoyance & discomfort of the plane ride & beyond. after finishing it, i still couldn't sleep because of those annoying Brit chicks so watched Samson & Deliah, which was a truly disturbing & depressing movie [necessarily so] that captured well the Aboriginal situation in Australia.
arrived in Bangkok. staying at some swanky high-rise place [Queen's Park]. all these people from J's meeting [ICN] are here. nutrition geeks, an interesting lot. i'm just bumming around writing & hanging out by the pool, working out in the gym or running & exploring around. it's really hot & sticky & the streets are not made for walking.
Bangkok has a certain tacky ramshackle jankiness to it. not a lot of old or historical stuff, but everything just sort of haphazardly thrown together & in a constant state of disrepair. concrete slabs butting up against each other. no color-coordination, anything goes. some gaudy glitz thrown in. pictures of the King & tacky advertisements plastered all over. in this area [Sukhumvit] there's nothing but massage parlors & sports bars catering to tourists. why someone would come from, say, Scotland, & want to go to a Scottish Pub to watch football with other Scots is beyond me. unless it's an ex-pat sort of thing. Bangkok is a lot like the periphery zones of Vegas actually.
i haven't been taking too many photos or visiting the touristic sites since we did all that last time we were here. & you can literally walk around for 20 minutes before you are soaked through in sweat. today i took the sky train & then the subway & got off in Chinatown since that is one area we didn't see last time. just wandered amidst the chaos of smells & commerce, here's some photos i took.
ended up at the river. hopped the water taxi up to Wat Po, where the reclining buddha is.