Wednesday 29 April 2009

The Pledge by Friedrich Dürrenmatt

I saw the film made from this movie when it came out; somehow I was less than impressed. The novel is much more effective and profound. Instead of a hard-boiled morality tale set in the America of a 1,000 crime movies*, we have a framed narrative, told by an aging police chief to a chance acquaintance who happens to be a mystery novelist, set in the picture-postcard world of rural Switzerland. The framing of the narrative is an important part of the story. It puts this novel's themes in the context of the tropes of the mystery genre - something addressed directly by the narrator-within=the-narrator at one point. It also distances us from the personalities in the story - a point completely lost in the movie, with Jack Nicholson's shameless hamming and Robin Wright's jaded, empathetic portrayal. The frame also allows for a climax of far greater power and force than is found in the movie. Because the story here is not so much about the personalities, or ever the unfolding of the mystery - largely told second-hand here - as it is about the uncoiling of personality that was held in too tight a check for too long, about the ways in which violent crime distorts everyone it comes in contact with, and the role that blind chance plays in everything we do, however much we may ascribe volition or sentience to ourselves. The blurb on my copy of the 1964 Penguin edition of this novel (with a cover illustration by George Mayhew)compares the author's terse, assured construction to that of Simenon. Indeed, this novel belongs squarely to Simenon's stream of existential crime fiction rather than to the contemporary morality plays, with all their baggage of characterisation, emotional narrative arc and forensic pornography, evoked by Penn's film. This is something far more terse, unsettling and ultimately satisfactory.

* I should clarify: this is more than aesthetic complaint. Set in America's melting-point society, the story took on a racial element that I felt was muddied the waters and brought in angles to the story that, perfectly poised as it was in the original, it did not need.

Friday 24 April 2009

So I voted yesterday.

The only real difference in attitudes this time, as far as I can see, is that people of my age seem to be a lot more self-righteous if they've voted, using social networking sites to keep tabs on who has and hasn't voted and abusing friends who didn't vote. So basically voting is the new status symbol or something, which is as stupid an attitude as any I've heard of.

People think that not voting means you don't care about the country, you don't care about democracy or you just didn't try hard enough. I think that's largely nonsense.

I don't happen to care much about the country myself; I voted because, whether I care or not, the result sort of impacts my life, although statistically my specific contribution is unlikely to make any difference. Unless the good guys, whoever they may be, lose by one vote or something, and I believe that's the sort of situation coalitions exist to avoid.

I think democracy is an interesting, if flawed, idea, but it certainly needs to be one part of a viable political system. It doesn't guarantee a fair, egalitarian environment, since it can co-exist more or less comfortably with monarchy, fascism, nazism, communism and, if India is anything to go by, a crawling chaos that can only betoken the complete supremacy of dreaded Nyarlathotep. I can't think of anything better, so I'm content to go along with it.

As for not trying hard enough, the fact is that our civil service machinery still has a great deal of inefficiency built into it; things have improved considerably, but it's still a task to run an event that involves around a billion people, and records are bound to get lost and names mixed up - it isn't necessarily the fault of the voter if it happens

Look, elections aren't the new cool lifestyle statement. They're something you have to think about for yourself to decide to vote for, or whether to vote at all. There are several completely reasonable reasons not to vote which are consistent with patriotism, democratic ideals and so forth. Some people might say that is worse to participate in, and abet a corrupt or dysfunctional system. I veer towards that view a lot of the time, but I vote anyway. I've got the time to spare and it's nice to go for a stroll that early in the morning.

Tuesday 21 April 2009

the face of evil, now with hoop earrings

This air-headed waste of space thinks killing cats is a laugh. A fellow called into her radio show in response to a 'Dashboard Disasters' contest. He spoke about the time he locked his sister's pet cat in a car dashboard, and how the cat died of suffocation. They laughed about it and this trollop of the airwaves awarded him a prize.

That's the spirit of radio, folks.

When I called up the channel in question, Radio Indigo, they did not deny any of this. They are willing to apologise, but that isn't enough. Meghana Dawan needs to be drummed out of her job and the fellow who won the prize has to be identified and prosecuted.

Here are some numbers at Radio Indigo you can call to help turn on the heat:

Santosh Gnanakan: Program director: 9900172919
Radio Indigo: 080 -25501126
Maybe one of the reasons why Heaven & Hell's 'The Devil You Know' is such a killer album is because the band didn't have the luxury of operating under the Black Sabbath name? Anyway, despite a certain lull in the second half, it's a great comeback for the best metal band ever.

Sheridan Le Fanu's 'In A Glass Darkly' is a bit of a mixed bag. I think it suffers a bit from starting with two very similar stories and bunging in one altogether non-supernatural story, especially one with such a predictable plot. 'Green Tea' is especially ridiculous. Great build-up, but then - pfui! - he went mad and died of his own neurotic fears because of drinking too much green tea? Really? Green tea? He actually thought he would go with a harmless anti-oxidant beverage as his Elixir Of Dread Doom? Coupled with the airy Swedenborgiana, it makes for an unintendely farcical effect. I'd still rate the stories collected in 'Madam Crowl's Ghost' above this. 'Carmilla' alone is worth the price of entry, though.

Sunday 19 April 2009

in which i begin to reveal my deep-seated neuroses

I think I used to work for this guy. (Picture stolen from here)

Actually, I think almost everyone works for, or has worked for someone like him. The corporate world is just set up like that. Exude the right mix of sycophancy, bravado, rapaciousness and turpitude and you're a shoe-in for a managerial post. People joke about how, the higher up the chain you go, the less actual capacity people exhibit, but after seeing it for myself, it isn't a joke anymore but a terrifying reality. Because those crazed morons aren't just pointy-haired punchline delivery objects in your corporate humour strip du jour, but actual people (or clever simulacra thereof) who are going to eat your babies if allowed to continue unchecked.

Saturday 4 April 2009

J.M.G. Le Clézio: Terra Amata
This was completely different from Onitsha, the first Le Clezio novel I read.

I think Le Clezio became less experimental and more of a storyteller as the years went by.

I couldn't read every word, or even every page of this incredibly dense little novel. It has all of life in it, as does the protagonist, Chancelade and, Le Clezio would have us realise, all of us. There is an immense sense of the beauty of the living universe and the worth of every individual life that is certainly mirrored in the more conventionally narrated and overtly socially and politically engaged Onitsha.

It's interesting to compare how Le Clezio's very considerable lyrical skills are used all over the place, are the mode of expression here, and are interespersed more subtly in the latter novel. There is a similar episode with a boy and insects in both books, it would be worth comparing the two to see how he has grown as a writer.

I've always believed that experimental writing is alright for testing the waters and diving in to bring back unique experiences and techniques, but a good novelist will eventually find a way to incorporate well-rounded accesible narratives with his stylistic and philosophical bent; Le Clezio seems to have done over time. (I still sometimes resent Burroughs, the most self-critical and mature, arguably the most talented and humane of the beats, for never returning to a more straightforward narrative after Junky and Queer - I am convinced that, informed by all his stylistic explorations, it would have really been something).

I did like this book, although I may have devoured it more thoroughly had I read it in my early 20s. I'd just like to add that the chapter devoted to Chancelade's dreams is pure gold throughout. Try reading it aloud, with drums in the background if you can, or just the sound of your own heartbeat ringing in your ears.

[I have to say I really dislike the Penguin Modern Classics covers for Le Clezio's novels. The whole new Penguin Modern Classics look is the very epitome of blandly contemporary cover design that will look dated as fuck in 10 years' time. ]