What a rich, panoramic, mythic, ambitious, sweeping novel. I loved the stuff Pat wrote about the pageant, and his initially brief comment about Serge as observer agreed perfectly with my own sense of his perspective as the narrative heart of C.
Having finished the story weeks ago, I will focus on a couple sweeping overviews. My strongest impression is a view of its mythic structure, what I see as McCarthy’s framing of the story in two myths of the underworld: the incredible pageant of the Persephone myth at the start and the Osiris-Isis phallic resurrection story at the end, both of them leading to elaborately narrated sex acts: at the start, Sophie (OF COURSE IT IS SOPHIE, not MRS C–what would all that coded sexting amount to if it didn’t lead to the fucking behind the curtain?) and Widsun after Persephone pageant & at the end, Serge with the Egyptologist woman in the maze of Egyptian tombs, both the fuck of his life and the incident that wounds and eventually kills him. Those sex acts seem to be then joined in Serge’s cosmic deathbed hallucination of his marriage to Sophie.
So those two myths are both about the regeneration of the world via underworld journeys through the world of the dead, and sex explodes in the wake of the narration/allusion to those stories. Taken together, they frame Serge’s observer’s tour of duty through the advent of modern history, which is at the same time the hastening, inevitable decline of the British empire.
SOME KEY MOMENTS IN THIS TOUR OF DUTY:
Radio Communication. One of my favorite passages was the lengthy and beautiful narration of Serge’s listening in on radio signals from Europe and the North Atlantic. What an awesome feeling this section gives of pulsing mysterious rising life from the signals as Serge raises the frequency to take in wider and wider sweeps of signals criss-crossing chaotically but also so intersectingly, such a network of relationships emerging from this brand new technology and the connections it makes possible. Again here Serge never really seems to participate or create action, he is always looking and/or listening in.
Serge’s (failed?) Water Cure. What a strange ailment, a bowel blockage that colors the world with a shadow of blackened vision. It seems that all of the attempted prescribed treatments fail, and only Serge’s weird sex with the strange massage woman finally clears his system and his vision. (QUESTION: Serge likes to fuck from behind, is it anal sex? Not sure if that matters, but Serge never seems to fall in love with any of his partners or even contemplate marriage, so there does seem to be a marked non-fertile, non-connective quality to his sex) This section provides vivid imagery of fin-de-siecle, turn of the century decadence and impending war.
Serge’s Observer Role in War. Serge’s unconnected drift through life and even mass death continues in his tour of duty as a pilot and observer in the British air corps of World War I. Not surprisingly, he ends up not flying a plane or killing anyone or operating weaponry himself, but instead surveys the battlefield from above and provides complex coded coordinates for artillery fire from elsewhere. Serge is so disconnected–all around him, the entire squadron is cycling through pilot after pilot, all of them killed either in training and practice or in the field of war (there is the funniest line of the novel for me where Serge wonders whether the war couldn’t simply allow its fighters in training to be killed one by one in accidents rather than involving enemy combatants actually shooting each other)–and yet Serge makes no friends feels no grief no fear no trauma. He is sky high on cocaine while he flies and does his job. Even in the rather splendid narration of his own plane’s getting shot from the sky, when he ends up crashed grounded and captured–nothing seems to affect him very much. He seems like a dead person, almost a ghost walking through history. His prisoner of war days involve little more dramatic than masturbation in the tunnel they are digging.
Serge’s Drug Days in London. Serge gets involved with an actress and with heroin in London. Perhaps his most aggressive intervention in the world happens when he cleverly wrecks the phony medium’s spiritualist performance. I suppose the spiritualist he ruins is another interesting variation on the theme of afterlife in C. But why does he take such an active role in that particular situation, when everywhere else he is so passive? That is weird. Again, he seems to drift along, get carried along through the drug dens and back stages and his architecture training in London–no connections, no friends, no love, no marriage, no children. Just sex and heroin.
Serge’s Journeys through Egypt. Whether it’s documenting sabotaged radio communication stations that seem already to have been documented, writing reports that no one seems to care about, learning arcana about Alexandria, catching stray impressions of Egyptian rebellion against British imperialism (the killed diplomat lying in the street with blood and spilled milk), being schooled in the world of intelligence and counter-intelligence, everybody watching each other and no one knowing or being able to tell the truth, traveling up the Nile to scout out pylon locations for future radio towers, or digging around in archeology excavations he has no real part of–Serge continues to the end without a relationship, mildly interested in something now and then, seducing a woman here and there, but never actually doing anything, always just seeing what is going on around him.
Serge’s deathbed hallucination. I have to listen to this climactic section again. It was pretty strange.
What does this mythic framing of declining empire and burgeoning history mean? Is Serge’s sleepwalk through incredibly frenetic, massively violent wars and spies and radio signals and historical change somehow a tour of the modern world as underworld, as a land of the dead that is somehow going to generate life again? In Serge’s world, nothing really works, nothing seems really to happen, nothing takes hold of him–the empire is just playing out a kind of after-life. I will leave this post with this big question: is the decline of the British empire and its peculiar deadness supposed to be a prelude to some new life? The fact that the story ends with a hallucination about an incestuous cosmic marriage between a suicide (Sophie) and a walking dead person (Serge) seems dark, seems like a dead end, although the narration is wild and colorful. What kind of comment on history is this? Why narrate the turn of the previous century, and what relevance does that have?
ALSO: WHY IS THIS NOVEL CALLED “C”? C Latin for 100, century? C for Carrefax? C as “see” for Serge’s observer role?
I did not get through every post from earlier this month and I apologize if some of these questions have been addressed. I will be coming back to the website in the next day or two. I look forward to your responses. Love you guys! What a treat to get some fresh tastes of Deep Springs intellectual excitement and dialogue.
I dreamt I checked The Weblog and saw that Adam had turned it into a cooking blog. The most recent post was about making a recipe from the Ottolenghi cookbook. The recipe was extremely simple, and appeared to consist of pan-frying four tiny chicken cutlets. The end.
If there’s an -ist that applies to me it’s pensivist. Maybe I should go cold turkey on thinking. I confess that the strategy of doing it moderately doesn’t feel like the winning strategy. And what is a strategy if it is not winning. Isn’t it all about winning? It is. It is. It is. Therefore I am. Whether I like it or not. Nobody asked me. Except myself. Precisely nobody, that is.
I’m reading Finnegans Wake. I confess to ambivalence about it. It’s great but makes me feel little. What is the point?, is that the point? It is a snake; it is; it is; it is. But I was bitten long before. Now I’m just rattled. Ha. The beauty of it is: it is self-contained. I read it without trying to understand.
But let me think about the eternal recurrence of the eternal recurrence. I hate it but confess to loving those who seem to love it, or, at least, who love those who love those who seem to love it. The thing is that those who seem to love it are those who break the cycle and, methinks, Finnegans Wake breaks the cycle.
I’ve been a slouch on the first book, but I promise to step it up for Tom McCarty’s C, coming to summer book club at The Weblog soon.
“Techne loves Tyche and Tyche loves Techne”
Is what a German philosopher (Gadamer) reports a Greek philosopher (Aristotle) as quoting from ‘the poet'(which I’ll suppose to be Homer on account of the definite article). Just replace Techne with ‘skill‘ and Tyche with ‘luck‘, and the saying is the received wisdom of the lucky bastards who can afford to oligopolize the popular media.
I hate it (the latter). On the former I believe Homer, Aristotle and Gadamer (whilst lucky bastards themselves) to have something more nuanced in mind than making success and merit synonymous.
But to hell with nuance: the reality is that “Luck loves Balls and Balls love Luck”. Or (to construct an anachronism) – “Testes love Tyche and Tyche loves Testes”, because testosteron still makes the world go round as those unlucky enough to be born without an overdose of it feel every month in their paycheck. And I’m not only talking about women.
So if you want follow me on some fun facts on the importance of testicles for networking, my hatred continues below the fold. Continue reading
The unit of human capital writing this blog post is planned to be scrapped. End of June. This is partly because of a basic design error of almost all of the known units of human capital better know as free will. Most capitalists know free will to be a bitch to be kept at bay in production and to be abused only from the point of view of consumption. In my case I couldn’t handle being ‘owned’ anymore to continue something we started, dreaming to improve the world of education, in order to fuel some organization’s desire to make money on pushing more Theon taming (known originally as training).
I won’t put in my LinkedIn profile that my will to consume is as weak as my will to create is strong. I wonder whether there is a maximum of will meaning a stronger will to create weakens the will to consume, and vice versa. If so it might explain why the wealthy are so concerned to ensure our will to consume is stimulated. The wealthy are só smart (how else would they have become wealthy?): they most probably have enough will to create amongst their happy few to count for all of us. Anyway they have the money so we will just have to consume what they create with what little money they leave.
We can take some comfort in the ideas of Thomas Piketty: as the wealthy will appropriate more and more wealth, there will be less and less for us, leading to a system break-down. At that point most of us will either be death or die quickly in the service of one of the factions of the wealthy, but at least the happy few will become unhappier and fewer for the briefest of moments. It’s not much but we’ll take what we get.
I’m just being bitter, of course. On top of not making any sense. Bottom-line is: I didn’t get it my way. Continue reading
The Sessions is a beautiful story, tenderly told. Based on a widely linked 1990 magazine article, it is the (mostly) true story of Mark O’Brien, a thirty-something man with polio who lives confined to a wheeled bed or an iron lung and who, wishing to experience sexual connection, seeks out a sex surrogate. It is not a story of “triumphing over disability,” although there are various triumphs and more than one disabled character.
O’Brien, played by John Hawkes, is an observant Catholic who “can’t tolerate the idea of not having someone to blame for all this.” The movie cuts back and forth between the life he leads with attendants, friends, and the subjects of his writing, and his conversations with and confessions to Father Brendan, a liberal Berkeley priest (William H. Macy). The movie’s unshowy portrayal of O’Brien’s Catholicism is remarkable. O’Brien takes his religion seriously, and it provides a structure for both his succor and his shame, but it’s not a totalizing experience, just a part of his life. It’s one of many details — the Berkeley setting is another — that give the movie a subtle, lived-in specificity. When we first meet O’Brien, he’s crinkling his nose to fend off a sneeze; in two other scenes, characters lift their hands to scratch their noses, a throwaway gesture that illuminates the extent of O’Brien’s prison.
Helen Hunt plays Cheryl, the sex surrogate who O’Brien finds through a therapist. Hunt is matter-of-factly naked and sexual, and the movie’s comic heart lies in their awkward and tender sessions, limited to six. There is a drama of transference and counter-transference — more commonly known as a love story — that feels invented (the various articles bear that out), but the characters feel real throughout. One theme that returns is how O’Brien’s helpers’ partners get jealous of him — it’s well played with the boyfriend of one of his nurses, but a little strained with Cheryl’s husband.
Hawkes is a good bet for an Oscar nomination, but I’d bet against a win–the movie is moving, but not bombastically or unbearably so. There may be a little too much joy.
See any good movies?
Why should you suffer because Monday Movies is down the shore? Go on, tell us what you saw.
I confess I took a four day vacation last weekend and Friday was the first of those four days. When I first thought of FAC, it was about 7:00 and I was sitting at a restaurant, out on their lakefront deck, eating salmon and sipping down a Pacifico. That may sound like I’m flippant about my FAC duties, but I really do hate when I forget to make an effort to get something posted.
This week I was driving to work and a woman cut me off. She had been tailgating me, but I was already following the car in front of me too closely and getting over wouldn’t have done her any good. When she got the slightest bit of daylight in the center lane, she whipped over, passed me and squeezed into the too small space between my car and the one in front of me. This left about three feet between her rear bumper and my front bumper and I was sure to hold that distance for a while so she realized how close she had cut it.
When the traffic in our lane slowed down, I passed on the right and as I caught her eye I found myself calling her a couple of vile names. Not only did I say them, I made sure to be looking right at her as I did so. It was then that I kind of snapped back to sanity. What the hell was I doing? In my efforts to show my displeasure with her reckless and impatient style of driving, I had crossed several lines. A couple of these may have included recklessness and impatience.
I confess this feels more like a real confession than most of the things I post here because I felt awful about my behavior. I also felt awful about how common it’s become for me to get visibly angry about inconsiderate drivers. So for the third time in less than a month, I decided to cut out something I didn’t like about my day-to-day life. First, after being inspired by this very space, I gave up all forms of word snobbery. Then it was pork. Now, it’s road rage.
How about you good Friday reader? When you look back on the last week (or two), do you find any ugly bits that bring you shame? Please, feel free to attempt to cleanse them through sharing. Especially if it makes people overlook the ugly episode described above.
As life imitates art, I read this section in the isolated provinces, rural Ohio; the isolation I often feel in the summers of Oberlin can feel a lot like this section, almost entirely inside the Chilean exile Amalfitano’s head. Arguably, this section is about the tricks that loneliness can play on a person, those poor “chincuales” who “cannot sit still mentally” (200).