Thursday, January 18, 2018

Robert J. Sawyer: Calculating God

Robert J. Sawyer
Calculating God

I found this an intriguing novel  It's a first contact novel with a surprising theme.   An alien spaceship lands on the grounds of the Royal Ontario Museum.  The aliens speak English, of course, and ask to see a paleontologist.  This happens to be Thomas Jericho, who by the way is an atheist.  This is important.

The aliens want permission to study the large collection of fossils held by the museum.  They are looking for more evidence that will scientifically establish the existence of god.  According to the aliens, there are three sentient races,including humans, in this part of the universe, and all three have suffered five catastrophic events at about the same time, all of which actually increased the probability of sentient life developing on those three planets.  Hollus, one of the aliens, believed this to be proof of a guiding intelligence who is trying to develop sentience in the universe.

Much of the novel consists of philosophical discussions regarding the findings and their implications.   Jericho, being an atheist, provides a counter-argument to the aliens' conclusions.   These discussions do not involve religion or theology to any extent.  Sawyer does speculate somewhat on the reactions of the various religious groups to the aliens' and their conclusions.  The discussions between Jericho and the alien Hollus are solely on the basis of physical evidence and its interpretations.

Overall, I thought it was an interesting novel on a very hotly debated issue, but it was brought out in a way I had never seen before.   It is not a novel that works to persuade its readers in one direction or the other.   It simply speculates on what would happen if there was unequivocal physical evidence for the existence of God in non-religious or theological setting. 

Monday, January 15, 2018

Favorite novels read in 2017

Listed in alphabetical order by author:

Willa Cather:                         Youth and the Bright Medusa
--cheating here, for this is a collection of excellent short stories
--first reading

Walter van Tilburg Clark:     The Track of the Cat
--a reread
--a tense tale of the hunter becoming the hunted
--a great novel from a sadly neglected novelist

Joseph Conrad:                      Victory
 --a reread
 --he had a rule:  don't get involved
--but sometimes .  .  .

Lawrence Durrell:                 The Alexandria Quartet
--a reread
--four novels that could be read as one

William Golding:                   The Spire
--a reread
--the effects of an obsession on the obsessed and bystanders

Russel Hoban:                       Turtle Diary
--a reread
--a quiet novel about a turtle that became a quiet film starring Glenda Jackson 
   and Ben Kingsley
--the ending is not the expected ending

Nikos Kazantzakis:                Toda Raba
 --first reading
 --the pilgrimages of various believers to an international conference in Moscow in the    late 1920s.

Thomas Mann:                      Royal Highness
 --a reread
--changing times in a German principality pre-WWI
--an early plea for careful use of natural resources

Chaim Potok:                         The Chosen
--first reading
--in his late teens, a son rejects his father's plans for his future.
--two very different sons with different backgrounds  and their friendship

Vita Sackville-West:             All Passion Spent
 --first reading
--now that she's a widow, she has some ideas about how to spend her days
--much to the dismay of her children.

Leo Tolstoy:                           Hadji Murad
 --first reading


Anthony Trollope                  The Fixed Period
--a reread
--it's a crime to grow old

Angus Wilson:                     Anglo-Saxon Attitudes
--a reread
--a professor of anthropology gains insight into his personal problems
--he didn't realize how much trouble this would cause those about him. 

It must mean something:  of the thirteen books listed, only five are new reads and only two of the authors are new to me.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Basho: some winter haiku

Some winter haiku by Basho.  While it seldom, if ever, gets this cold in Tucson, I grew up in Chicago, and I remember those wintry days and nights, especially those in February. 

the sound of the water jar
    cracking on this icy night
            as I lay awake
                 -- Basho --

the winter garden--
thinning to a thread, the moon
       and an insect's singing
                     -- Basho --

a wintry gust--
cheeks painfully swollen,
      the face of a man
                 -- Basho --

The haiku above are taken from Winter: A Spiritual Biography of the Season,  edited by Gary Schmidt and Susan M. Felch.


a winter shower
the pine tree is unhappy and
waiting for snow

  -- Basho --
from Basho: The Complete Haiku

Tuesday, January 9, 2018


     Apes were to become men, in the inscrutable wisdom of nature . . .Down on the grass by a streamside, one of those apes with inquisitive fingers turned over a stone and hefted it vaguely.  The group clucked together in a throaty tongue and moved off through the tall grass foraging for seeds and insects.  The one still held, sniffed, and hefted the stone he had found.  He liked the feel of it in his fingers.  The attack on the animal world was about to begin.
     If one could run the story of that first human group like a speeded-up motion picture through a million years of time, one might see the stone in the hand change to the flint ax and the torch.  

-- Loren Eiseley --  "How Flowers Changed the World"
first published in The Immense Journey, 1957

The Star Thrower

Does this sound familiar?

And from the back cover of The Star Thrower:

"The book will be read and cherished in the year 2001. It will go to the MOON and MARS with future generations.  Loren Eiseley's work changed my life.  -- Ray Bradbury --

Curious.   Why that year of all the years he could have picked?

Saturday, January 6, 2018

A Minute Meditation

All philosophy seems to lead me towards a perfect spiritual detachment- a divorce from the world, and therefore towards sterility and deadness.   Let me be content to say:  I am, and content to "be" as fully as possible.   

-- Lawrence Durrell --
Pied Piper of Lovers

Amen . . .       

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Albert Camus: The Possessed: a play in three parts

Albert Camus
The Possessed: a play in three acts

Camus is not one of my favorite writers, though I have read several of his novels.  They seem much too bleak and dispirited to me.  But, I ran across this one while browsing.  Normally I would have moved on, but the title intrigued me--it reminded me of Dostoyevsky's novel of the same name.  So, I opened it and found that it was a play and that it was based on Dostoyevsky's novel.  I just couldn't pass this one by.


Shortly after beginning the play, I realized what Camus's strategy was to be.  He was going to focus on the Nihilist thread which featured  Nikolai Stavrogin and  Pyotr Verkhovensky.   The satiric aspect, Dostoyevsky's attack on the Westernizers and Turgenev's Fathers and Sons, got a brief mention at best.  A number of characters and subplots also were eliminated.  I realized this had to be done to make it possible to put on the play in one evening.


This is where I found the most problems.  First, it seemed rushed to me.  It was if Camus suddenly realized that he had to provide certain events to make the plot line intelligible, so he squeezed them in at the end.  As it was, certain parts were removed from the acting script when it was first produced, presumably to shorten the running time.

A second question arose because some of the incidents didn't seem familiar to me.  Now this didn't happen in the first two parts.  Another problem is the body count.  It seemed high to me.  More people died in the last part than in Hamlet.  In Camus' version, three people were murdered, one was killed by a mob, two committed suicide, and one died from pneumonia.  There may have been an eighth death, another one killed by that mob.  I remember that four died, but I'm not certain about the others.  I guess it's time to pull out the novel for another reread. 

Overall Commentary:
First, one must realize that I was reading an English translation of a play written in French which was adapted from a novel written in Russian.  Yet, in spite of this, I felt throughout most of the play that this was Dostoyevsky.  This speaks much for the strength of Dostoyevsky's writing, for Camus' ability to capture him in French, and for the skill of the English translator.  

The most serious problem is that faced by anyone who attempts to adapt a novel, especially a long, complex novel, to a shorter art form--a play or a film.  Something has to go, and others have to be changed.  It is also possible that I might have had a different reaction if I had watched it performed.  .

It may be an easy way into the novel: fewer characters, fewer incidents, a simplified plot structure, and shorter. 

Sunday, December 31, 2017


May the coming year be a happy and healthy year for you.   Regardless of what kind of year 2017 was for you, I hope 2018 will be a better one of all of us.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Lawrence Durrell: is this poetry?

Two young men are talking.  One is Walsh, the main character of Lawrence Durrell's Pied Piper of Lovers and the other is a close friend.

"'Why,' said Walsh, turning his head, 'do you talk such a lot of rubbish?'

Gordon's eyes widened and he laughed silently, very merrily.  Then he explained, quite seriously.
'Partly because words are such lovely things.   The more you learn the more pity you feel for the ones that aren't used, and you get into the habit of using them, until what you say doesn't matter so much as how you say it.'"

-- Lawrence Durrell --
Pied Piper of Lovers 

what you say doesn't matter so much as how you say it.

Would it be a surprise to learn that Lawrence Durrell was also a poet?

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Lawrence Durrell: sense of place, one last word

"One last word about the sense of place; I think that not enough attention is paid to it as a purely literary criterion.  What makes 'big' books is surely as much to do with their site as their characters and incidents.  I don't mean the books which are devoted  entirely to an elucidation of a given landscape like Thoreau's Walden is.  I mean ordinary novels  When they are well and truly anchored in nature they usually become classics.  One can detect this quality of 'bigness' in most books which are so sited from Huckleberry Finn to The Grapes of Wrath.  They are tuned in to the sense of place.  You could not transplant them without totally damaging their ambience and mood;  any more than you could transplant Typee.  This has nothing I think to do with the manners and habits of the human beings who populate them; for they exist in nature, as a function of place."

-- Lawrence Durrell --
from the essay: "Landscape and Character"
Spirit of  Place

This quality of "bigness" that Durrell speaks of seems to be dependent upon the significance, the importance of the landscape, the natural setting found in the novel.  I can see this in Huckleberry Finn,  where the Mississippi seems to me to be the most important character in the novel.  The same is true for Typee  or Moby Dick  or  The Hound of the Baskervilles.  I wonder, though, about The Grapes of Wrath, though I might suppose the dust bowl early in the novel might be significant, yet that is only a small part of the novel.  It seems to me that most of the novel takes place in California and the landscape doesn't seem to play that important of a role, or at least not as important as the human relationships there.

"This has nothing I think to do with the manners and habits of the human beings who populate them; for they exist in nature, as a function of place."

The above statement is, to me, the most controversial idea.  It is an extremely significant theme that appears again and again in Durrell's works.  This idea may be the reason why he was a very highly regarded travel writer before his novels overshadowed them.  

Friday, December 22, 2017

The Story of God: a National Geographic TV miniseries

The Story of God
National Geographic Series
Morgan Freeman, narrator
Three DVDs

Several reasons moved me to get this set from the library.  One was that I've always been fascinated by the subject of comparative religion. I think it's an excellent demonstration of humanity's creativity and imagination.  The second reason was that I was curious about National Geographics' handling of the subject.  I was hoping that they would go beyond the major religions and look at some of the lesser-known ones, and I wasn't disappointed.  The third was that Morgan Freeman is one of my favorite actors, and I was looking forward to him as the narrator, and I wasn't disappointed there either.

The format is very straightforward:  each segment is devoted to a specific issue or topic, ones that are common to most religions, and then four or five examples of the ways in which this topic is treated by various religious or cultural groups.


The Afterlife

 The Apocalypse (the end of days)

The Ways Several Religions View their God(s).

The Problem of Evil



The Chosen One

Heaven and Hell

Proof for God's existence.

Along with the five largest religions--Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism--other religions are covered, to a lesser extent of course:  Navajo, Australian Aborigine, Taoism, Maya, Zoroastrianism,  Yoruba, Cherokee, and the Sikh. Scientific evidence is also introduced where appropriate.

This is not an extensive or in-depth study of the issues or topics.  What are presented are the significant elements for each topic as perceived by four or five religious groups.  In my view, it is an excellent overview of the topic and the various religious expressions or perceptions of that topic.  It also provides information about the lesser known religions and is an starting point for further research if you find a particular topic or religion interesting.

I had been aware of the Zoroastrian religion for some time, but I knew knew little about them.  I
thought they had disappeared, but according to the film, there are still groups in existence in Iran, India, and a small group in Southern California.  So, on my Futures List, is a note to do some looking around for Zoroastrianism.

What I find fascinating in this subject is the distinction between the questions and the answers.  The questions--where did the universe come from? where did I come from and where am I going? why am I here? is there a plan or a purpose to all of this or is it chance?--are what Aldous Huxley calls the perennial questions.  They've been around for thousands of years and are common to all humanity, not just the property of one or two groups.  It's almost as if they are hardwired into the human brain.

On the other hand, the answers vary widely and wildly from group to group--a marvelous example of human creativity and imagination--the diversity of human perspective.  One simple example:  the Creation stories range from one god creating the universe out of nothing to the existence of blind, unknowing chaos out of which the gods emerge who then create the universe and its inhabitants.   And not to be ignored is science's big bang theory.   The universe is a marvelous place, however it got here. 


Tuesday, December 19, 2017

The Dark Tower: a few comments

I finally got around to watching The Dark Tower.  After I watched it, I realized the film began with a very large lie: a statement to the effect that this film is based on the "Dark Tower" novels of Stephen King.

Well, let's see.  One of the characters in the film was named "Roland Gilead," which does come from the novels.  Another was "Walter" or the "Man in Black."  And, Jake Chambers  is also found in both the novels and the film.  Oh yes, there was a mention of The Dark Tower and part of the action in the novels does take place in NYC.  That's about all I recognized in the film as coming from the novels.

Of course, it's been a long time since I read the novels, so my memory may be a bit faulty here.  So, if anyone has seen the film and recognized scenes from the novels that I obviously missed, please let me know.

One curious note:  Stephen King appeared in one of the  Extras, but for less than ten seconds I would guess.  He said that he had Clint Eastwood in mind when he created Roland.  When I read the novels, I thought Eastwood would have made a great Roland.  King's second comment was that he thought that Matthew McConaughey was well cast as Walter.  I thought that was a strange juxtaposition of the comments about the two of the leading roles in the film.

I think Idris Elba, who played Roland, is an excellent actor and was convincing in his role.   However, he is not  Clint Eastwood.  So, as I watched the film, I tried to forget King's Roland and think of Elba as a different Roland.

Overall Reaction:  the powers-that-be turned a highly complex and imaginative work into just another film featuring a teenager with superpowers who saves the universe.  Jake is the hero and Roland is his bodyguard. 

Friday, December 15, 2017

A Minute Meditation

 Genuine tragedies in the world are not conflicts between right and wrong.  They are conflicts between two rights.

-- Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel --

How does one decide when faced with this conflict?

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Loren Eiseley: The Long Loneliness (from The Star Thrower)

Loren Eiseley
"The Long Loneliness"
an essay in The Star Thrower

The first two paragraphs of "The Long Loneliness,"  one of the essays in  The Star Thrower.

There is nothing more alone in the universe than man.  He is alone because he has the intellectual capacity to know that he is separated by a vast gulf of social memory and experiment from the lives of his animal associates.  He has entered into the strange world of history, of social and intellectual change, while his brothers of the field and forest remain subject to the invisible laws of biological evolution.  Animals are molded by natural forces they do not comprehend.  To their minds there is no past and no future.  There is only the everlasting present of a single generation--its trails in the forest,  its hidden pathways of the air and in the sea.   

Man, by contrast, is alone with the knowledge of his history until the day of his death.  When we were children we wanted to talk to animals and struggled to understand why this was impossible.  Slowly we gave up the attempt as we grew into the solitary world of human adulthood, the rabbit was left on the lawn, the dog was relegated to his kennel.  Only in acts of inarticulate compassion, in rare and hidden moments of communion with nature, does man briefly  escape his solitary destiny.  Frequently in science  fiction he dreams of world with creatures whose communicative power is the equivalent of his own.

Later in the essay, he introduces  the research of Dr. John Lily and his studies on the porpoise.  So far, we haven't been able to determine whether porpoises actually communicate as we do or whether they have simply evolved a complex signaling system with little or no flexibility.   Maybe, some day,  we will find that we aren't as alone as we think. What will it be like to encounter another sentient species in the universe?

I wonder if this sense of isolation has anything to do with the prevalence of talking animals and fairies and trolls and dragons and all sorts of talking creatures that don't exist.  Most cultures have myths and legends and tales filled with talking animals, some of whom actually exist,  while others are products of creative and imaginative minds..  Tradition has it that King Solomon owned a ring of power that enabled him to understand and communicate with animals.  

Eiseley's comments also resonate with much of SF.  Stories about aliens are very common in SF, and there's even a subgenre called "First Contact."    How will we communicate with them?  Or, can we?   And, what is behind the belief in UFOs so prevalent today?  Is that another sign of that loneliness?

In many SF tales of contact with aliens, it is often observed by someone in the story that this will be the most important event in human history.  Is it and why?

It seems to me that we as a species spend a considerable amount of time fantasizing about   communicating with other species, real or imagined.  In addition we also spend a lot of time trying to communicate with other species here on this planet and attempting to detect signs of communication out there among the stars.

Eiseley states, There is nothing more alone in the universe than man.  Is he right? 

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Emily Dickinson: "Success is counted sweetest"

No. 67

Success is counted sweetest
By those who ne'er succeed.
To comprehend a nectar
Requires sorest need.

Not one of all the purple Host
Who took the Flag today
Can tell the definition
So clear of Victory

As he defeated -- dying --
On whose forbidden ear
The distant strains of triumph
Burst agonized and clear!

-- Emily Dickinson --
The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson

For Emily Dickinson, this seems like a fairly straightforward poem.   Only those who have never won can really appreciate victory.   But, still, I wonder.  How could one who has never experienced victory, realistically understand or comprehend it? The more I consider this poem, the more perplexed I become.

As usual, I must ask if I am  missing something here in this poem by Dickinson.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

A Minute Meditation


"Plans made swiftly and intuitively are likely to have flaws.  Plans made carefully and  comprehensively are sure to."
-- Robert Grudin --
Time and the Art of Living

This seems to contradict conventional wisdom or common sense, no?

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Lawrence Durrell: Spirit of Place

Lawrence Durrell
Spirit of Place:  Letters and Essays on Travel
426 pages
Alan G. Thomas, Editor

I am now embarked upon a project of reading and rereading everything I have and can find that Lawrence Durrell has written.  One of those works which I have is Spirit of Place:  Letters and Essays on Travel, which is slightly misleading because it also includes excerpts from some of his early novels. Normally I don't read letters written by and received by authors.  I don't know why I don't find them interesting, but that's a fact. However, I must say that I'm finding these letters to be engrossing, probably because Durrell frequently refers to the place where he is writing this letter and also to whatever he's working on at that time.  In addition, I'm also picking up references and clues to a number of the themes that permeate his works.  One of them, and an important one, is  what he calls "Spirit of Place." 

The following quotation is from his essay, "Landscape and Character," first published in the New York Times magazine section, (June 12, 1960).

"'You write,' says a friendly critic in Ohio, 'as if the landscape were more important than the characters.'  If not exactly true, this is near enough the mark, for I have evolved a private notion about the importance of landscape, and I willingly admit to seeing 'characters' almost as functions of a landscape.  This has only come about in recent years after a good deal of travel--though here again I doubt if this is quite the word, for I am not really a 'travel-writer' so much as a 'residence-writer.'    My books are always about living in places, not just rushing through them.  But as you get to know Europe slowly, tasting the wines, cheeses and characters of the different countries you begin to realize that the important determinant of any culture is after all--the spirit of place.   Just as one particular vineyard will always give you a special wine with discernible characteristics so a Spain, an Italy, a Greece will always give you the same type of culture--will express itself through the human being just as it does through its wild flowers.  We tend to see 'culture' as a sort of historic pattern dictated by the human will, but for me this is no longer absolutely true.  I don't believe the British character, for example, or the German has changed a jot since Tacitus first described it; and so long as people keep getting born Greek or French or Italian their culture-productions will bear the unmistakable signature of the place. "

Durrell, later in the essay,  makes this point even more clearly and emphatically.

"I believe you could exterminate the French at a blow and resettle the country with Tartars, and within two generations discover, to your astonishment, that the national characteristics were back at norm--the restless metaphysical curiosity, the tenderness for good living and the passionate individualism: even though their noses were now flat."

The significance of the place and its control over the inhabitants occurs in several of Durrell's works.  For example, in Justine, we read

I return link by link along the iron chains of memory to the city which we inhabited so briefly together:  the city which use us as its flora--precipitated in us conflicts which were hers and which we mistook for our own: beloved Alexandria!.  .  . I see at last that none of us is properly to be judged for what happened in the past.  It is the city which should be judged though we, its children, must pay the price.

The human residents in essence were puppets acting out Alexandria's conflicts, deluded into thinking they were responsible, that they were in control.  It is the spirit of the place which controls them.  I can't help but think of the following quatrain from the Rubaiyat of  Omar Khayyam:

Quatrain XLIX

'Tis all a Chequer-board of Nights and Days
Where Destiny with Men for Pieces plays:
   Hither and thither moves, and mates, and slays.
And one by one back in the Closet lays.  

I find this a fascinating concept, one that intrigues me, but I wonder if Durrell hasn't gone a bit too far.  Would the second generation of Tartars exhibit those same national characteristics-- "the restless metaphysical curiosity, the tenderness for good living and the passionate individualism: even though their noses were now flat"?

I believe the environment does play a role in our lives, making some things possible and others impossible or at least highly unlikely, influencing our behavior to some extent, but just how much is the question.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Kenko: on doubt

No 98

When in doubt whether or not to do something, generally it is best not to do it.

-- Kenko --
Essays in Idleness

Kenko is most assuredly a cautious fellow.

Generally, if I have doubts about doing something, I will wait.  After some time has passed, I frequently decide that I don't need to do it.  However, sometimes I will close my eyes and jump right in.  

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Gregory Benford: "White Creatures"

Gregory Benford
"White Creatures"
a short story
from The Best of Gregory Benford

The story begins:  

The aliens strap him in.  He cannot feel the bindings, but he knows they must be there; he cannot move.  Or perhaps it is the drug.   They must have given him something because his world is blurred, spongy.   The white creatures are flowing shapes in watery light.  He feels numb. the white creatures are moving about him, making high chittering noises. 

This appears to be an alien abduction story.   However, it isn't as straightforward as that.  The story has two narratives: one is of Merritt's experiences as a prisoner of the aliens and the second, of his memories that one would expect may explain what caused or led to his abduction.

When the second narrative begins we learn that Merritt is on Puerto Rico and is a technician involved with a seti project (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence), probably at the Arecibo Observatory, although I don't remember it being mentioned in the story. 

While the two narratives alternate between the inexplicable things being done to Merritt and Merritt's memories, something doesn't seem right.  His memories cover a considerable passage of time, decades possibly, from his affair with Erika, the seti project's director's wife, to his resignation and subsequent employment at NASA where he becomes immersed in the study of other star systems, searching for those which approximate earth-like conditions.  

He is totally dedicated to his work, and the only personal relationship he has is with Erika, the now ex-wife of the project director.  She has created a career out of conducting guided tours of  young, wealthy businessmen, and whenever she is in town, they get together.  Her charm and attractiveness are her strengths, but as the years pass, these begin to fade.  Finally she decides on the long sleep, to be awakened when effective rejuvenation techniques are developed.  

Merritt doesn't understand her.  They live in two worlds:  she in the physical here and now, while he in essence lives in the future, absorbed in searching the universe for answers.   Centuries ago Merritt might have been a theologian or philosopher searching the heavens for answers to the perennial questions.   Or, perhaps a priest/astrologer searching the heavens for signs of or hints from a divinity or divinities.  Is his now scientific search for signs of life in the universe that different?   What is also surprising is that Merritt never considers going for the long sleep, to be awakened when there is definite proof of intelligent life on other planets.  I wonder if, for Merritt, the search is what is important, not the result.

Some years later, seeking something, he visited the Krishna temple. . .they led him through a beaded curtain to the outside.  They entered a small garden through a bamboo gate, noisily slipping the wooden latch.  A small man sat in lotus position on a broad swath of green . . . Merrick explained his feelings, his rational skepticism about religion in any form.  He was a scientist.  But perhaps there was more to these matters than met the eye, he said hopefully.

The teacher picked up a leaf, smiling, and asked why anyone should spend his life studying the makeup of this leaf.  What could be gained from it?

Any form of knowledge has a chance of resonating with other kinds, Merrick replied.

So? the man countered.

Suppose the universe is a parable, Merrick said haltingly.  By studying part of it, or finding other intelligences in it and discovering their viewpoints, perhaps we could learn something of the design that was intended.  Surely the laws of science, the origin of life, were no accident.

The teacher pondered for a moment.  No, he said, they are not accidents.  There may be other  creatures in this universe, too.  But those laws, those beings, they are not important.  The physical laws are the bars of a cage. The central point is not to study the bars, but to get out of the cage.  

Merrick could not follow this.  It seemed to him that the act of discovering things, of reaching out, was everything.  There was something immortal about it.

The small man blinked and said, it is nothing.  This world is an insane asylum for souls.  Only the flawed remain here.

Merrick began to talk about his work with NASA and Erika.  The small man waved away these points and shook his head.  No, he said.  It is nothing.

(The italicized part above was actually one paragraph which I broke down) 

Merrick can not understand the teacher's dismissal of the physical universe just as he didn't understand Erika's immersion in it.  He seemed to be somewhere in the middle: the physical universe was important as something to study and learn from.  While he went beyond Erika's immersion in the physical universe, he could not leave it behind as the teacher had insisted that he must.

Later, he encounters a woman in the street whom he thinks is Erika.  However, when their eyes meet, she shows no reaction, and Merrick realizes that his interest is purely intellectual.  That part of his life was over, for he hadn't been with a woman in years.

It is ultimately a sad story, for Merritt has grown old, but he refuses to believe it.  He hadn't noticed the years passing by because of his obsession.  He doesn't even have the satisfaction of having his abduction prove the existence of aliens, for those white creatures are doctors and nurses, and in his drugged state he doesn't recognize an operating room.

Perhaps I'm going too far here, but it seems to me that differing attitudes to life and existence are presented here.  At one end of the spectrum is Erika's immersion in the physical world, while at the other end is the teacher's dismissal of it as unimportant, "it is nothing."  Merrick would seem to be in the middle somewhere: the physical world is important, not in itself, but as a means of finding its purpose, its design.   But, while it appears that three views are presented,  I can't see any conclusion to be drawn from them as to which would be the most fulfilling one.

I am unhappy with my reading of the story.  I wonder what I have missed or misread.  I shall have to return to this tale sometime to see how it has "changed."

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

A Minute Meditation

We are, in fact, a nation of evangelists; every third American devotes himself to improving and lifting up his fellow-citizens, usually by force; the messianic delusion is our national disease.
           --  H.L. Mencken (1880-1956) --
             Prejudices: First Series, I: Criticism of Criticism of Criticism

Most of us, including me, believe that we have the best way of doing things--the best way of acting, the best way of thinking--and forget the most important last two words--FOR ME.  Your way may be different than mine, and if it works, great.  However, don't try to improve my life by trying to force it on me.  

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Russell Hoban: Kleinzeit

Russell Hoban
a novel

When I first began reading Kleinzeit I immediately thought of Lewis Carroll's poem "Jabberwocky."   Wrong!  It soon became clear that there was a significant difference.  In "Jabberwocky," Carroll creates words that almost make sense, so that one gets only a general sense of what is happening.   Hoban doesn't make up words; he uses real words  but he uses them in a strange way.  Fortunately they only occur in limited situations, usually when medical personnel are discussing Kleinzeit's symptoms.

For example . . .

Sister nodded with closed eyes, thought of Kleinzeit's blood in the phial she had held, warm in her hand.  The tests had shown a decibel count of 72, a film speed of 18,000 and a negative polarity of 12 percent.  She didn't like the polarity, it might go either way, and the decibels were on the dodgy side.  But his film speed!  She'd never had an 18,000 before.

And later. . .

'That's why I'm asking,' said Dr. Pink.  'I'm not worried about your diapason.  That sort of dissonance is quite a common thing, and with any luck we'll clear it up fairly soon.  The hypotenuse of course is definitely skewed, but not enough to account for a 12 percent polarity.'  Fleshky and Potluck nodded, Krishna shook his head.  'On the other hand,'  Dr. Pink continued,  'the X-Rays  indicate that your asymptotes may be going hyperbolic.'  He felt Kleinzeit here and there  warily, as if sizing up a combatant hidden in him.  ' Not too happy with your pitch.'

Aside from the occasional linguistic muddle, the reader soon discovers that  everything talks: the hospital, the corridors in the underground subway, a mirror, the hospital bed . . .

It is night and Kleinzeit has left the hospital and is standing by the square in front of the hospital.

The day knocked three times at his eyeballs.
Morning for Mr. Kleinzeit, said the day.
I'm Mr. Kleinzeit, said Kleinzeit.
Sign here, please.
Kleinzeit signed.
Thank you very much, sir, said the day, and handed him the morning.
Right, said Kleinzeit.  The square was wide-awake with people, had a hum of cars around it.  Backdrop of buildings, rooftops, sky, traffic noises, world.

Later, the hospital speaks:

Six o'clock in the morning, and Hospital had had enough of sleep.  Drink tea, it said.  Patients sighed, cursed, groaned, opened or closed their eyes, came out  from behind oxygen masks, drank tea.

Or, Kleinzeit's encounter with his mirror one morning: 

He put his face in front of the bathroom mirror. 
I exist, said the mirror.
What about me? said Kleinzeit.
Not my problem, said the mirror.

This does not sound like a very congenial way to begin the day--perhaps an omen, an ominous one of things to come?  

These are not rare occurrences in the novel; they can be found on almost every page.  I find them to be the major attraction in Kleinzeit, as I turn the pages, wondering what next.  By the way, there is a plot here--it's noticeable if you take an overview and ignore most of what's happening in the individual chapters.  And for the romantically inclined, there's even a love subplot  (or perhaps the major plot, depending on what you're looking for in a novel).

This is my second reading. There will be more, for who knows what I've missed this time around.