Thursday, July 14, 2011

Sticky Rice

He seemed like a walking blasphemy, a blend of the angel and the ape. -- G.K. Chesterton

This last week has allowed four books to be completed. Beginning with The Rifles By W.T. Vollmann, a tragic comedy of manners coupled with Vollmann's ickish exploit with Intuit women and then camping above the Arctic Circle. It was this last bit which I found compelling. Saturday I picked up a copy of Facing The Congo by Jeffrey Tayler, a book I had noticed before. it was only a dollar and I thought it would mark an odd counterpart to the polar adventure noted by Vollmann. I was wrong, it was shit book about Yank emulating a canoe trip undertaken by Stanley down the Congo river. It reeks of incessant whining and the mission and all intellectual poise are eschewed early in the horrible exercise in journalism.

You may be asking about the inclusion of the dichotomy cited by GKC above. Well, my reading then took a fortunate turn as I finished the stretch with Cees Nooteboom's stunning Nomad's Hotel and Chesterton's seminal The Man Who Was Thursday. I didn't read Kingsley Amis' introduction to Thursday until after i completed the fanciful jaunt. The language establishes its terms

"Over the whole landscape lay a luminous and unnatural discoloration, as of that
disastrous twilight which Milton spoke of as shed by the sun in eclipse; so that
Syme fell easily into his first thought, that he was actually on some other and
emptier planet, which circled round some sadder star. But the more he felt this
glittering desolation in the moonlit land, the more his own chivalric folly
glowed in the night like a great fire."

Without question these terms are explicated in the novel's subtitle: A Nightmare.
Notteboom by extension approaches the horrible and the inexplicable with the most sober eye imaginable. His descriptions and extrapolations are impeccable and the images linger, scratch and whisper.

"An elderly priest in a green chausible blesses his parishioners and is about to
say something. The church is full; it looks like a living room where the guests
have kept their coats on. They are among friends, they know one another, it is
as though they are aware that there has been praying on the spot for 1500 years,
as though they themselves have stood at the deathbed of the Roman gods, just as
they have also heard, from beyond, the peculiar uproar of the Reformation and
the French Revolution, the screams coming form the Sportpalast and the clanking
of the Iron Curtain. Here, in the meantime, nothing had changed. Somebody who,
later on, in Turin, embraced a carthorse had apparently claimed that God was
dead, but they had still continued to address him in the same words they had
always used, and now the old man shuffled up to the alter of St. Anthony and
held aloft a holy relic; a bone or a bit of monk's habit behind glass, I could
not see which."


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