Monday, January 31, 2011

Roberto Bolaño: The Last Interview & Other Conversations

I agree with the sentiments expressed by many people - this book would never have been published except to cash in on Bolano's posthumous popularity. Nevertheless, it brings out a candid Bolano, and some of the interviews are more conversations between writers, and hence enjoyable. The least inspiring conversation in the book is the Last Interview where Mónica Maristain asks Bolano some superficial questions which he answers in one liners, and she never delves into details - not that I am particularly interested in how much trouble his dyslexia landed him in or what kind of underwater fish did he see - those questions seemed to do nothing to bring out the man in the writer, but were mere facts - obscure and useless at that.
In this interview, as in others, Bolano comes out with some cheesy lines, which he has the good sense to call cheesy before typing them, but the good sense does not stop him from making those comments anyway: My only home are my two sons, Lautaro and Alexandra . I believe he treated the interview with Ms Maristain as frivolously as she was treating it herself.
What is best in the book is his conversation with Carmen Boullosa. CB is as well versed with Latin American literature as Bolano is, and they speak as equals. Bolano is more forthcoming and also thoughtful about his replies:
For me, the word writing is the exact opposite of the word waiting. Instead of waiting, there is writing. Well, I’m probably wrong—it’s possible that writing is another form of waiting, of delaying things. I’d like to think otherwise
In these conversations, Bolano's love for reading comes out very clearly - he seems very familiar with every Latin American writer across the centuries; he is equally at home with Western writers. He even goes onto say that Reading is more important than writing - a line which has become an introductory quote for this slim book.
Overall, this volume was an enjoyable read, even if the best part of it was a reprinted review of 2666. But I sometimes got annoyed with Bolano's calculated words and his pedantic comments which kept cropping up.
The Carmen Boullosa interview can be found here. Marcela Valdes' review of 2666, which forms the introduction to the book can be found here.

Monday, January 24, 2011

A movie on Rings of Saturn

Sebald's already immortal book Rings of Saturn is being further etched into a visual medium. Grant Gee has made a movie on the book, Patience (After Sebald), which is premiering on January 28th. More on the movie can be seen here.
This picture, taken by Grant Gee, seems like a beautiful introduction to the walking journey Sebald took. I cannot wait to see the film, but getting my hands on the film will be a humongous task - it will certainly not come to India in any legal forms. (Sebald's books hardly find their way here). I will have to find it online, which, something tells me will not happen soon.
My review of this beautiful book is here.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Captive Mind

I started reading this book somewhere in April last year, then abandoned it due to travel schedules, and have been reading it amidst different books since last month. A long drawn read sometimes hampers a reading experience, but not when the book has been written with as much clarity as Czeslaw Milosz has accorded the Captive Mind.

Milosz, a Polish writer, lived through the Warsaw uprising of 1944 and the Russian rule in Poland, and initially lent his cooperation to the Communist government by becoming the Government's Literary attache to Paris. These were the initial times, when the Red Army was trying to win Intellectuals over by giving them some literary freedom, as long as they did not criticize Russia or its theories in their writing. Neutrality then, was acceptable. But soon, the noose tightened to swerve these intellectuals into praising the regime, and it was no longer possible to be a writer without contributing to the party's agenda. Milosz struggled with this acceptance for a while, until his ideas of literary freedom won and he seeked political asylum in Paris. Captive Mind was completed during this phase, even though the seed had begun during his years of cooperation.
This background is essential to a book in which Milosz explains his initial cooperation and the cooperation of several Polish intellectuals. He does this through a couple of concepts, followed by 4 biographies of such writers. The concepts are interesting. Take for example the pill of Murti Bing. In a fantasy written by Witkievicz, an Eastern Invader Murti Bing defeats Poland, and offers a pill of happiness to its exhausted people. People take it willingly, because everyone inherently wants to move to a harmonious state. Milosz likens the pill to Communism - which offers a harmonious existence to all men, dissolving divides. People exhausted from the Nazi rule willingly accept it.
What takes the center-stage in the book are the four biographies of Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta. All of these are Polish writers, and for different reasons are drawn to the idea of Communism. Alpha is drawn to purity and monumental tragedy, which a war-torn country gives him aplenty. Beta is a disappointed lover, a nihilist who has witnessed first hand the society that builds up in a concentration camp, and is a brutal narrator of it. The realism of Marxist regime appealed to his love for brutal truth, as did its materialism.
Gamma, a slave of history was a non-entity in the literary world before the war, but was elevated to a position of prominence & power with his embrace of the socialist regime.Lastly Delta, the troubadour was a jocose storyteller, who liked the regime because it paid him for his popular writing.
These portraits are tremendous, and each presents a different logic for embrace of a tyrannical regime. These writers, including Milosz are making some compromises, but considering the alternative - of not being able to write, or of exile to a nation where no can read your writing, their compromise does not warrant a harsh judgment. I would really like to know who these authors are that Milosz represents, and if possible read something from them - at least from Beta, whose writing seems a harsh portrayal of human nature under duress.
Milosz' language is a little poetic, he is not a debater and he sometimes digresses from the argument into memory lanes, which makes the book a little charming,and melancholy despite the ideological theme.
Once the portraits have ended, the book has become a bit monotonous. Perhaps Milosz should have ended sooner.
An interesting term in the book: Ketman. Act of paying lip service to the authority while holding personal opposition. Wonder why it has not come up in my earlier Totalitarian reads.
Also posted in Project Dogeared

Friday, January 07, 2011

The perfect end

This is one of the most heartbreaking, yet perfect endings in cinema. The ruin of a life, abandon and infinite pain.
I visited Angkorwat recently, and kept going back to this moment of acute melancholy and perfection in those ruins.