Archive for March, 2007

Reading Jealousy (5)

My problem with Jealousy was mainly one of motivation: my reasons for picking the book up again once I’d put it down. Generally speaking, I felt as if Robbe-Grillet had put his cards down on the table too soon. I had heard enough about the book to know it was one where nothing “happened” in the usual sense of the word. The obsessive quality of the narrator and narrative, the repeated examination of the same details, albeit with an increasingly sharpened focus, and the fact that I believed (had read and heard) that the “truth” would never be revealed, that there would not be a typical (or any) resolution, all created a sense of stasis. The book wasn’t going anywhere. Or rather, the only movement was the obsessive circling around the same details. Apart from the narrative, what interested me was Robbe-Grillet’s technique — his narrator’s evasiveness and apathy. But here especially I felt, or believed, that Robbe-Grillet had revealed things too early, that there was no reason to read on.

I was quite willing to admit that I was misreading the book, that I was expecting from it something it was not meant to give me, but I could not face reading a book that (I believed) had stopped developing or progressing. I was also willing to admit that I was wrong about everything, but I simply could not stay interested enough to find out. The one compromise I could not force myself to make was to give up my expectation that a book progress or develop in some linear fashion. In other words, the second chapter should do something that the first chapter didn’t do.

I mentioned the problem to Jamie, who read the book when he was studying French Literature in university and loved it. He urged me to finished it, and I said I’d try. But in the course of our conversation it occurred to me that there was, in fact, something in the book that I could concentrate on, something that moved forward and was developed: the state of the narrator himself, his mental or emotional health, and the possibility that his apathy and obsessiveness might wear him down or break him in the end.

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Vague (What was that film with that guy?)

I used to watch MAD TV back in Canada, and one of my favourite sketches was of the game show Vague. (Check it out. It’s very funny.)

Q: Who was that guy who did that thing?
A: The guy with the hair.
Q: That’s correct!

I remembered it recently when I got a composition from a student of mine. They were supposed to write a review of a film. I have corrected the grammatical errors.

The film is full of action and suspense. It is a mystery story with many strange things. The actors in the film, who are the French woman and the man, are searching for something very interesting and strange. But they are not alone in the story. The police are searching for them because they believe that they are the people who killed the person in the museum. Moreover, these two people are being followed by others who want the same strange thing, because it is interesting to them.

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N. and I are having lunch. Through the balcony window I see a blackbird sitting in a tree, singing. It seems odd, the way it’s just sitting there, passing the time.

“There’s a bird in the tree,” I tell her.

“I know,” she said without turning to look.

“What do you mean, you know?”

“It’s been there for days. It’s been bothering me.”

“Bothering you?”

“It’s bad luck.”

I laugh. “Stop thinking like that. You’re going to create bad luck.”

Later on, I saw it plucking berries off the vine on the wall near the tree and swallowing them.

“Wow, they must have an incredible digestive system. They don’t chew at all. I read somewhere that they eat grains of sand to help them digest.”

“Stop it.”

“Stop what?”

“Do you realise that in a few months we’re getting married and there’s a blackbird outside our window?”

* * * * *

When I first came to Greece, I went to visit an aunt of mine that I’d just met. She was from a part of my family that had long ago gone to Alexandria. We went for a walk in her neighbourhood and visited a cousin of hers, which of course made her an aunt of mine too. I’d never met her before, and have never seen her again. (I’m not in touch with the first aunt any more either.)

The woman we visited was named Dora, and she was an archaeologist, and from what I could tell, an eminent one. She told us about her excavations in Olympia, for which she had been responsible at a time when women did not do that kind of work. It was very difficult for her to get the workmen to do what she wanted them to do. She finally managed to assert herself (I don’t remember the details of this story) and things were better.

Years later, on the site in Olympia, a blackbird came and landed near her. She became so scared that she couldn’t breathe. She couldn’t understand why. She’d never been aware of such a fear before.

Later, she remembered that when she was a little girl, she liked jumping on her mother’s bed. Her mother was afraid she would fall and hurt herself, so she plucked a black feather from the feather duster and laid it in the middle of the bed, on the white blanket. Dora came to get up on the bed and saw the stark black feather in the middle of the bed, and was frightened. She did not jump on the bed again.

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