As a hobbyist blogger with the temerity to write in English on her blog, it irks me to realize the pomposity of literature and the hypocrisy of classicism, especially in American writers. Take, for example, my ambivalent opinion on the book introduction about ‘Essays Two’ by Lydia Davis I read from the 12/11/2021 issue of The New York Times Book Review.
Knowing another language certainly gives you a unique insight into the world with a subtle but more caring timbre of sentiment and reason common to all human creatures. But the magical ability is not a prerogative of a brilliant professional translator of a high literate/academic echelon. Davis’s Marcel Proust is undoubtedly impressive, but Proust is not for everybody, showing that the literati excludes general readers. On the other hand, there are would-be, potential, or unclaimed writers whose narratives are to be reckoned with, from a refugee to an immigrant. Take Nobel Literature Prize winners Abdulrazak Gurnah (2021) and Kazuo Ishiguro (2017). Both used English as their literary tool to articulate their narratives with the images seen through their poetic “third eye” sense.
Davis and other translators-turned writers speak languages of the same language family. So, of course, the perspectives are similar. But, in all fairness, I want to see writers (and former translators) of all social classes writing about subject elements of particular views from a platform where they become universalizing, striking the chords of our human life. Isn’t that what literature is about?
People usually don’t want to hear your problems, pains, and premonitions unless they know you or relate to you. In the case of Tookie’s existential distress that seems to be an inexplicable sentence on her life, I will say it’s the latter case for me to be piqued with a kind of sisterhood attached to it.
Malcolm Jones’s review of The Sentence by Louise Erdrich from the Nov. 14th issue of the New York Times Book Review was the most brilliant. I found it so straightforwardly moving and personally related to my own narratives of life, both existential and philosophical, that I felt like finding a friend in the protagonist Tookie. Jones’s interpretation of Fiona’s ghost as one of Tookie’s many as though the ghost itself were a mock to her pitiable wish to have a sense of security in the normalcy of life was particularly impressive. It created unfathomable pathos for Tookie, who seemed to believe that she was kept away from anything happy happening to her.
So thanks to the review, I will get to read more about the kindred Tookie and look forward to seeing if there is indeed plenty of light in the book that sheds upon life’s predicaments.
Stephen King, the King of Horror, said we make up horrors to help us cope with real ones. Some people drink themselves to numb their existential maladies of daily life, or some abandon themselves to unguarded sensual or psychedelic pleasure. But I seek refuge in the stories about the supernatural world that have to be the actual, not the second-hand replica of the author’s imagination that I find hard to be connected. That said, to descry the headline title ‘The Horror’ from a recent issue of the New York Times Book Review delivered on my kindle seemed too pat not to feel psychic about it with a jolt of fillip bolted to my neural circuits. Reading it allowed me to reflect on my affinity for supernatural scare about whys and wherefores.
The article posits that horror movies scare us through exteriority with image and sound to create the illusion of danger, whereas horror fictions are more sophisticated and cultured to understand the complex interiority of the characters by passing over to the creator’s mind. But why do I have to play an amateur psychologist to analyze the inner world of an author when I try to find a niche for my battered spirit in a supernatural realm where no bullies, despots, or melees would follow me? My kind of horror has nothing to do with overtly thought-provoking fictional narratives that are more like psychological thrillers than supernatural ones. That is why I favor the Japanese ghost stories bereft of bodily fluids and materials but full of silent terror in the presence of a sorrowful dead refusing to depart for the Otherworld. Fear is universal. However, its expression is nuanced in the ordinary landscape of daily life, with the undead still among the living in their everyday attire as if they were still alive, not least because Japan is a country of spirits and gods dwelling in nature among the people.
The article is correct in saying that a love of the horror is a part-time love with a mysteriously eerie beautiful parvenue in Howl’s Moving Castle. By wallowing myself in the supernatural, I feel anxiety loosened, nervousness coaxed, anger diverted, sadness halved, and depression diluted to a certain degree. You may say it is another form of a psychedelic illusion of escapade from reality, then let it be. After all, aren’t we all addicted to something to that effect to relieve ourselves from existential frustration in a socially acceptable way?
Reading a section featuring a small, pleasant Q&A type of interview with a writer in The New York Times Book Review on restful weekends gives me a kind of voyeuristic fillip to be privy to the life of the writer; moreover, the usual question of whom to invite for dinner is the gist of such small pleasure. I’ve found it quite stimulating to think about my own list of people to have dinner with. Therefore, I have herein drawn up my own list of invitees to confabulate with. Here’s my list of guests:
Eleanor Roosevelt: The paragon of the First Lady of the United States with Intelligence that ministered to her moral character, she put her philosophy into action by actively participating in social services. Besides, Mrs. Roosevelt possessed a polished but common sense of humor and wits communicative to people of all social strata with her timeless adage: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
Joan of Arc: The Virgin of Lorraine, The Patron Saint of France… Such are the epithets of this patriotic French maiden who was burned alive on the counts of witchery and treason, which was of course conspiracy concocted by the French ecclesiastical dignitaries collaborating with the English against whom Joan of Arc fiercely and courageously fought to victory. She was neither a religious fanatic, nor a hallucinated mooncalf, nor a certifiable schizophrenic. She might be a simple peasant woman but a courageous, headstrong, and smart woman of faith who did not even protect her face during battles with the English amid the attacks of sharp arrows, axes, and lances. No wonder did Mark Twain praise the Virgin Knight forthwith: “Whatever thing men call great, look for it in Joan of Arc, and there you will find it.” Besides, her simplicity of faith excelled the pomposity of ecclesiastical knowledge by saying thus: “About Jesus Christ and the Church, I simply know they are just one thing, and we should not complicate the matter.” I can learn many things from Joan as a True Model Woman who embodied Intelligence, Femininity, Courage, and Faith.
Marilyn Monroe: Born as Norma Jean Baker, she was not a blonde bimbo whose physical attractiveness belied her ceaseless pursuit of knowledge concomitant with her pursuit of the meaning of life she desperately wanted to ascertain. Monroe enrolled in evening college courses in New York City when she had no schedules during the daytime. Behind her pretty persona of a movie star, there was a profound shadow of existentialist. Also, Monroe’s down-to-earth personality and kind nature would make her a lovely company striking up a convivial conversation at the table full of strangers.
Jane Birkin: Her bohemian look – that effortlessly sensual but charmingly delightful facade with simple French Chic style is always timeless and boundless, appealing to Womankind imbuing with a sense of emulation of the style. In fact, such qualities of Birkin had one time convinced me that she was French. She seems to wear sexuality like she’s wearing her favorite set of perfumes, which is never vulgar nor degrading. Once a shy English girl is now a sensuous cosmopolitan woman demonstrating admixture of art and individuality in the most fashionable way. She will be a delightful addition to my lunchtime table.
In view of the above, my guests of honors are an eclectic company of women, past or present, surprisingly and strictly non-professional authors who make a living by writing only, although I did not intend it to be that way. Or maybe my preconception of professional authors – especially women – as highly volatile artists with inflated egos, dazzling intelligence, divine beauty, and impressive achievements might have played a vital role in excluding unconsciously any of them from my circle of companions. But so did Michelangelo; he was never befriended with his contemporary Leonardo Da Vinci, who in fact lambasted his untidiness as a sculptor in comparison with a baker. Nor did Michelangelo make friends with other famous artists. Instead, he was a friend of some obscure artisan who helped around various artists by doing sorts of drudgery. It all boils down to the fact that having a good company of kindred spirits can do a favorable service to your soul, making you feel charitable and magnanimous, so much so that you can- to quote the swashbuckling Oscar Wilde- “forgive anybody, even one’s own relatives.”