Monday, February 16, 2009


I have found an author that I really like, Paul Auster. He isn’t a new author, but I have only recently discovered his books. I have just finished reading The Music of Chance and have previously read The Book of Illusions, both of which I thought were really good books. I am not sure I can quite describe what sort of person would like his books, but I would recommend giving him a go if you are looking for a new author to try.

Another book I have just read is Ignorance by Milan Kundera (the chap who wrote The Unbearable Lightness of Being). It’s a book about going back to the past and trying to possibly remake old connections etc. I was struck by a few of the passages in the book:

During the twenty years of Odysseus' absence, the people of Ithaca retained many recollections of him but never felt nostalgia for him. Whereas Odysseus did suffer nostalgia, and remembered almost nothing.

We can comprehend this curious contradiction if we realize that for memory to function well, it needs constant practice: if recollections are not evoked again and again, in conversations with friends, they go. Émigrés gathered together in compatriot colonies keep retelling to the point of nausea the same stories, which thereby become unforgettable. But people who do not spend time with their compatriots, like Irena and Odysseus, are inevitably stricken with amnesia. The stronger their nostalgia, the emptier of recollections it becomes. The more Odysseus languished, the more he forgot. For nostalgia does not heighten memory's activity, it does not awaken recollections; it suffices unto itself, unto its own feelings, so fully absorbed is it by its suffering and nothing else.

After killing off the brazen fellows who hoped to marry Penelope and rule Ithaca, Odysseus was obliged to live with people he knew nothing about. To flatter him they would go over and over everything they could recall about him before he left for the war. And because they believed that all he was interested in was his Ithaca (how could they think otherwise, since he had journeyed over the immensity of the seas to get back to the place?), they nattered on about things that had happened during his absence, eager to answer any question he might have. Nothing bored him more. He was waiting for just one thing: for them finally to say “Tell us!” And that is the one thing they never said.

For twenty years he had thought about nothing but his return. But once he was back, he was amazed to realise that his life, they very essence of his life, its centre, its treasure, lay outside Ithaca, in the twenty years of his wanderings. And this treasure he had lost, and retrieve only be telling about it.

After leaving Calypso, during his return journey, he was shipwrecked in Phaeacia, whose king welcomed him to his court. There he was a foreigner, a mysterious stranger. A stranger gets asked "Who are you? Where do you come from? Tell us!" and he told. For four long books of the Odyssey he had retraced in detail his adventures before the dazzled Phaeacians. But in Ithaca he was not a stranger, he was one of their own, so it never occurred to anyone to say, "Tell us!" P33-35

We don't understand a thing about human life if we persist in avoiding the most obvious fact: that a reality no longer is what it was when it was; it cannot be reconstructed. P 124

I imagine the feelings of two people meeting again after many years. In the past they spent some time together, and therefore they think they are linked by the same experience, the same recollections. The same recollections? That's where the misunderstanding starts: they don't have the same recollections; each of them retains two or three small scenes from the past, but each has his own; their recollections are not similar; they don't intersect; and even in terms of quantity they are not comparable: one person remembers the other more than he is remembered; first because memory capacity varies among individuals, but also because they don't hold the same importance for each other. P126


Kahless said...

I am not as cultured as you. I read two books last week...

Andy McNab Brute Force
Patricia Cornwall Scarpetta.

I feel somewhat embarassed to admit that in the presence of someone who is so cultured in their choice of books!

Random Reflections said...

Kahless - I am really not that cultured! I am trying to read lots of new authors. The quotes from Ignorance probably mis-represent what the book is actually like. It's very readable.

The Paul Auster books are good and they're not intellectual.

Reading is good, whatever you are reading! (There may be some possible exceptions to that, but it's probably best not to dwell on that too much...)