Some theatre each day keeps the doctor away…

First, Last, and Only

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Reading The Book of Disquiet during the empty afternoon, it occurred to me that I will probably have much more to say about it now, while I’m in the middle of reading it, than I will once I have turned the last page.  Indeed, I wonder if this applies to all literature that I read.  But why is it like this?  The obvious answer, to me at least, is that, when one is in the middle of reading, the shape of the book isn’t yet completely known, and the possibilities – those ever-shifting branches that sprout and die at each new word that one reads – are endless.  If words be the fertiliser and soil of possibilities, then the end of them signals the end of possibilities as well.  And, also, how vivid and immediate the experience is when one is in the middle of it, as opposed to the shadows that one’s impressions become as they quickly fade away when the covers are closed.

If one were to try and interpret Waiting for Godot, for instance, the amount of interpretations that, having finished watching/reading the play, you could come up with, would pale in comparison to the number of interpretations you could conjure up while during the interval.

Or maybe not.  I’m not entirely convinced.

So, mystery and possibilities being more fecund, perhaps, I’ve been consoling myself these last few days, nevertheless, with the idea that it’s okay for my biography to be more fleshed out than Shakespeare’s.  There was a certain amount of envy in my soul, I’ve found, that Shakespeare managed to entrance us all and left very little about his personal self behind, such that the speculation will never end – will constantly fuel itself, like a moth circling round a moon.  (I’ve no idea what that simile means, but it sounds deep.)  My main crux for why this is okay is that (a) just because it was that way for Shakespeare, doesn’t mean it as to be that way for me, (b) other writers have managed just fine with us knowing lots about them, and (c) just because the most famous writer in the world is a mystery doesn’t mean that the next person who will be just as famous has to be as mysterious.  (And I think there will be someone who surpasses Shakespeare.  In my most despairing and ecstatic moments – for how similar the dreams of those at either end – I hope that I might be that person.  But I will never know before I die, nor will I ever let myself think that I am better than him, because I see only my flaws and his triumphs.)

It’s a trap that all writers, probably, fall into – namely that of comparing, not their works, but themselves to other writers.  We search for the identical twins of our anecdotes, and rejoice when we find them – Shakespeare wrote in English, and so do I; Stoppard started as a critic, and so have I! – yet the comparisons are always invalidated (not that we realise this) by the simple fact that the majority of us that is not identical overthrows those doppelganger flashes.  (Gosh, I’m getting very lyrical this afternoon, aren’t I?)  But if it provides a momentary comfort, then one can’t complain.

Saw First, Last, and Only tonight with Selby and Friends.  Rather good, although I had my fill after the first piece – Shostakovich’s first piano trio – which only went for ten or fifteen minutes.  Plus I think I’d heard the Ravel piano trio and the Schubert trio before as well.  The Ravel, definitely, and I recognised the slow movement in the Schubert, so probably him too.  Which makes the concert the first I’ve seen, I believe, with more than one piece I’ve heard before.  Getting old, I am.

Finishing a book is like giving birth, most likely, except without the physical pain.  I finished The Book of Disquiet tonight, with a concentrated effort of will that pushed me over the edge of the pages – from page 314 to 476.  Which, given the rate I’ve been reading it at, is quite a lot for one day.  But I wanted it done with tonight.

Magnificent book.  I feel that, having very little experience with collections of poetry (only really knowing the epics, and Shakespeare), if one were to ask me for a book of poetry – non-epic – to take with me on a desert island, I’d pick The Book of Disquiet, even though it’s in prose.  The feeling I get while reading it, the pings of recognition of the Truth behind the words – that is what I would want from a book of poetry; that is what I would expect.

And now I have this urge to read Ulysses, for no reason that I can think of.  I suppose the narrator had a similar relationship to Lisbon that Joyce – and not his characters – had with Dublin (which came through while you read Ulysses).  So maybe that’s why.  Also, it struck me that the narrator in The Book of Disquiet – Bernardo Soares – is like Stephen Daedelus without the conviction.  (I’ve no idea if that is a valid thing to say, given that it’s been awhile since I read Ulysses, but I’ll record the thought because that’s what this blog is for, to record thoughts.)

(And I think I spelt Stephen’s name wrong.  Oh well.)

But what a magnificent book!  I’ll read it again one day.  More than once, I suspect.

(See?  What did I tell you – I finish the book and I don’t have all that much to say about it.  I should’ve put down some more thoughts this afternoon.)

I was looking online for a biography of Pessoa – a nice thick one that I could sink my literary canines into (canines being teeth, not dogs – I would’ve said “molars” but you don’t ‘sink’ molars into anything (perhaps I should’ve said “cuspids”…))…  (Oh God, the internet tells me that cuspids are canines.  Sigh.)  Ahem.

I was looking online for a biography of Pessoa that I could sink my literary cuspids into.  Something nice and thick.  Yet I couldn’t find any.  Most disappointing.

I should mention, too, that I thought the translation of it, by Richard Zenith, was miraculously good.  (I say this even though I know nothing about the source text, nor any of the other translations.)  Translation should aim to keep the truth of the text as intact as possible, I think, and it certainly, to the best that I can know such a thing, did that.  (Hmm…  Style is a form of transmitting Truth as well, which is hard for a translation to do unless it takes liberties, and I’m all about literal translations, except that I read a Don Quixote that took liberties…  Right, not going to argue with myself about this now – bed beckons.)

What to read next, what to read?  If I read The Tale of Genji, I get to use one of my Shakespeare bookmarks, as it has a big enough page size to contain it.  But I might try something a bit…lighter…first, perhaps.


Written by epistemysics

April 11, 2013 at 2:08 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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