Tag Archives: satire

Thoughts on “The Taking of Jerusalem: An Eyewitness Report” by Umberto Eco

Painting by Émile Signol

So it is no secret that I am a huge fan of Umberto Eco’s work, and this short piece is a fine example of why. It is a piece of brilliant satire intended to demonstrate the absurdity of news commentary, particularly in regard to war coverage. The piece is written from the perspective of a war correspondent covering the taking of Jerusalem during the Crusades.

Typical of a news reporter, the reporter is always looking to get into the heart of the conflict.

My informants tell me that the attack is more interesting on the northwestern front, at Herod’s Gate. I will hop on a mule and try to get to the other side of the walls. And now, back to the studio,

(Turning Back the Clock: p. 255)

The correspondent then gives a play-by-play account, reminiscent of sports commentary. I have often noted that coverage of conflicts, as well as politics, often seem like sports narrative.

From my new position I have a clear view of Godfrey of Bouillon directing the final assault from the top of a tower. The first Christians are on the top of the walls. They are Luthold and Engelbert of Tournai, I’m told, Godfrey and the others follow them, the Moors are falling under their blows, others are leaping from the walls. Herod’s Gate is down—unless it was opened by our men already inside. The men of the Christian Alliance have entered the city on foot and horseback!

(ibid: p. 256)

Toward the end of the piece, Eco makes his most important point, in my opinion. We like to believe that the end of a conflict is the end of the war; this is not true in far too many cases. Sadly, the termination of a conflict is only the beginning of a longer war, that of ideals fueled by resentment and hatred of the other faction.

A monk I spoke to this morning pointed out that this massacre amounts to a defeat. If we are to establish a Christian realm in these lands, we ought to be able to count on the acceptance of the Muslim inhabitants and the tolerance of the neighboring kingdoms. But the slaughter has raised a wall of hatred between Moors and Christians that will endure for years, perhaps centuries. The conquest of Jerusalem is not the end but the beginning—of a very long war.

(ibid: pp. 258 – 259)

We still have this war mentality that permeates so much of our culture: war on crime, war on poverty, war on hunger, war on coronavirus, on and on. Our political debates are battles, this side vs. the other. Everything is broken down to my team against yours (which team are you?). If we are to survive as a species, we need to collectively change this attitude. Us and them no longer works. It has to be we, and that will only be achieved through cooperation and support.

7 Comments

Filed under Literature

Thoughts on the Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Comic

So for the past several weeks, this comic has caught my eye each time I visited the local comic store. The cover looked fun, and although I have been trying to stay out of the toxic political scene, I confess being drawn to it. I finally broke down and picked it up, and am really glad I did.

This is the “Early Voter Edition,” which essentially has a bunch of short, unfinished vignettes that promise to be fleshed out in future publications. And what I loved the most about it is that it is really fun. Politics takes itself too seriously these days. This is like a breath of fresh air, some lighthearted humor that pokes fun at the right and the left political establishments, while promoting the need for new perspectives in politics.

There is a great passage in one of the vignettes about the importance of making political action fun again, citing the example of the “outrage” surrounding Alexandria’s viral dance video.

Why did they take issue with it? Maybe it’s because they realize the key to founding any social movement is to make it enjoyable. The issues are real – single-payer healthcare, taxing the wealthy and not punishing the poor, prioritizing the environment, etc., but you have to make it festive at times so the people join for the politics, stay for the party, and endure the hardships… because they know there’s some dancing at the end.

Another thing about this comic which adds to the fun factor is the inclusion of some games, reminiscent of older comics I read as a kid. The one that made me laugh the most was the “Where’s Mitch?” game, a spoof on Where’s Waldo, where you have to locate the picture of Mitch McConnell’s face amid a myriad of turtle faces.

While I agree that there are socio-political issues that demand attention, I think everyone would benefit from taking a step back, having a good laugh, and not getting so bent out of shape all the time. Humor is essential when doing the hard work of political action. I think if we could all share a smile together from time to time, that we’d discover some common ground and maybe get some positive things done.

Cheers!

4 Comments

Filed under Literature

“The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall” by Edgar Allan Poe

HansPfaall

This is a cool short story by Poe that I would place in the science fiction genre. It’s the story of a man who decides to travel to the moon by means of hot air balloon. The bulk of the story is written as an epistle, a letter from Pfaall that was delivered to the city leaders in Rotterdam. But the genius of this story is that Poe also incorporates a satirical critique of the intellectual bourgeoisie as well as some great symbolism regarding the subconscious mind.

The first and most obvious clue that Poe is poking fun at the bourgeoisie is the names of the characters; for example, burgomaster Mynheer Superbus Von Underduk and Professor Rubadub. And then, at the beginning of his letter, Pfaall compares his trade of mending bellows (which are used to blow hot air in a forge) with the “hot air” emitted by the self-important politicians and business-persons of that time.

It is well known to most of my fellow-citizens, that for a period of forty years I continued to occupy the little square brick building, at the head of an alley called Sauerkraut, in which I resided until my disappearance. My ancestors have also resided therein time out of mind—they, as well as myself, steadily following the lucrative profession of mending of bellows;

There are many passages where Poe incorporates writing that comes across as very scientific. I cannot attest to the accuracy of the information, but it is presented in a very methodical and technical manner which aids the reader in suspending belief.

The gas to be formed from these latter materials is a gas never yet generated by any other person than myself—or at least never applied to this purpose. I can only venture to say here, that it is a constituent of azote, so long considered irreducible, and that its density is about 37.4 times less than that of hydrogen. It is tasteless, but not odorless; burns, when pure, with a greenish flame; and is instantaneously fatal to animal life.

For me, the most interesting aspect of this story is the symbolism depicting a shift in consciousness. The moon is a symbol of dreams, the imagination, lunacy, and so forth. So after Pfaall initially takes off, he experiences an abrupt shift in his consciousness.

I gasped convulsively for breath—a shudder resembling a fit of the ague agitated every nerve and muscle in my frame—I felt my eyes starting from their sockets—a horrible nausea overwhelmed me—and at length I lost all consciousness in a swoon.

As he continues his ascent, he passes through a cloud, which represents his entering into the realm of the subconscious, where lightning symbolizes flashes of imagination and insight while he gazes deep into the hidden and mystical regions of the psyche.

At twenty minutes before seven, the balloon entered a long series of dense cloud, which put me to great trouble, by damaging my condensing apparatus, and wetting me to the skin. This was, to be sure, a singular rencontre, for I had not believed it possible that a cloud of this nature could be sustained at so great an elevation. I thought it best, however, to throw out two five-pound pieces of ballast, reserving still a weight of one hundred and sixty-five pounds. Upon so doing, I soon rose above the difficulty, and perceived immediately, that I had obtained a great increase in my rate of ascent. In a few seconds after my leaving the cloud, a flash of vivid lightning shot from one end of it to the other, and caused it to kindle up, throughout its vast extent, like a mass of ignited charcoal. This, it must be remembered, was in the broad light of day. No fancy may picture the sublimity which might have been exhibited by a similar phenomenon taking place amid the darkness of the night. Hell itself might then have found a fitting image. Even as it was, my hair stood on end, while I gazed afar down within the yawning abysses, letting imagination descend, and stalk about in the strange vaulted halls, and ruddy gulfs, and red ghastly chasms of the hideous and unfathomable fire.

While this may not be Poe’s best work, and at times it plods along rather slowly, it is certainly worth reading. There are some interesting passages and moments of brilliance which makes it worthwhile.

2 Comments

Filed under Literature

“The Apology of Socrates” by Plato

DeathOfSocrates

“The Death of Socrates” by Jacques-Philip-Joseph de Saint-Quentin

I read this back when I was in college, but since I have been listening to the Philosophize This podcast on my drives to and from work, I was inspired to read it again. And yes, I still have my copy of The Last Days of Socrates from school which includes this text.

This text is basically Socrates on trial and the three arguments he presents to the court. The first argument is his closing statement to the jury; the second is after the guilty verdict is returned; and the final section is Socrates addressing the court after they decided on the death penalty.

What struck me upon reading this again is that although the title is the Apology, Socrates never apologizes for his actions. He remains steadfast in his righteousness and asserts that history will prove that he was justified in his pursuit of philosophic truth. I could not help but thinking that the title was meant to be sarcastic or satire.

UPDATE TO POST: A fellow blogger at Earthpages pointed out that Apology as used here comes from the Greek apologia which translates to answer or reasoned defense. This makes more sense. Check out Oxford Center for definition of apologetics

Probably the most famous passage from this text is where Socrates asserts that the reason he is the wisest of all men is because he knows how little he actually knows.

However, I reflected as I walked away: ‘Well, I am certainly wiser than this man. It is only too likely that neither of us has any knowledge to boast of; but he thinks that he knows something which he does not know, whereas I am quite conscious of my ignorance. At any rate it seems that I am wiser than he is to this small extent, that I do not think that I know what I do not know.’

(Last Days of Socrates: p. 50)

We live in an age when technical knowledge is increasing exponentially, and this begs an important question: Does all this knowledge and information actually make us wiser? It’s a legitimate question for the information age. Socrates would say “No.” He asserts that technical knowledge does not equate to wisdom.

Last of all I turned to the skilled craftsmen. I knew quite well that I had practically no technical qualifications myself, and I was sure that I should find them full of impressive knowledge. In this I was not disappointed; they understood things which I did not, and to that extent they were wiser than I was. But, gentlemen, these professional experts seemed to share the same failing which I noticed in the poets; I mean that on the strength of their technical proficiency they claimed a perfect understanding of every other subject, however important; and I felt that this error more than outweighed their positive wisdom.

(ibid: pp. 51 – 52)

Socrates states that “…so long as I draw breath and have my faculties, I shall never stop practising philosophy and exhorting you and elucidating the truth for everyone that I meet.” (ibid: p. 61) Essentially, he is committed to being a life-long learner, something I also aspire to. The day we stop questioning and learning and exercising our mental faculties is the day our minds begin to atrophy. Following Socrates’ example, I plan on reading and writing and thinking for as long as I am physically and mentally capable of doing so, and I hope that you do the same.

15 Comments

Filed under Literature, Non-fiction

Thoughts on “Infinite Jest” by David Foster Wallace – Part 1

InfiniteJest

So I recently started reading Infinite Jest, which is no small undertaking. Weighing in at a whopping 1079 large pages of small type, I suspect this book will keep me busy for a while. Which posed a dilemma: Do I wait until the end before I write about it, or do I write posts as I work my way through the book? I decided to do both, to post quotes from the text and share my thoughts on them as I make my way through, and then share my overall thoughts about the book as a whole once I complete it.

So, here is the first passage that I want to talk about:

Marathe had settled back on his bottom in the chair. ‘Your U.S.A. word for fanatic, “fanatic,” do they teach you it comes from the Latin for “temple”? It is meaning, literally, “worshipper at the temple.”’

‘Oh Jesus now here we go again,’ Steeply said.

‘As, if you will give the permission, does this love you speak of, M. Tine’s grand love. It means only the attachment. Tine is attached, fanatically. Our attachments are our temple, what we worship, no? What we give ourselves to, what we invest with faith.’

Steeply made motions of weary familiarity. ‘Herrrrrre we go.’

Marathe ignored this. ‘Are we not all of us fanatics? I say only what you of the U.S.A. only pretend you do not know. Attachments are of great seriousness. Choose your attachments carefully. Choose your temple of fanaticism with great care. What you wish to sing of as tragic love is an attachment not carefully chosen. Die for one person? This is a craziness. Persons change, leave, die, become ill. They leave, lie, go mad, have sickness, betray you, die. Your nation outlives you. A cause outlives you.’

(pp. 106 – 107)

There is a lot here that I found interesting. First off, the issue of fanaticism has definitely dominated the forefront of world news as of late. And it is not just ISIS; I see fanaticism spreading to all areas of society, here in the US as well as abroad. People have become very attached to their causes, ideologies, beliefs, and so forth. And there is an intense fervor associated with this fanatical attachment. No one seems willing to compromise. There is no longer any room for healthy debate. People have become so polarized that they view any slight deviation from their belief as a full-frontal assault on the ideologies that they hold dear. This is a very dangerous trend, in my opinion.

There is also a satirical criticism against our society here. We are a consumerist society, and we maintain a fanatical attachment to our “things” which borders on worship. We are attached to brands. Coke drinkers would never dream of buying a Pepsi. Apple users cringe at the thought of having to use a PC. We are drawn to the latest gadgets, leering at catalogs and flyers like porn. Our fanaticism, like a disease, has spread throughout our entire being. It is frightening when you stop to think about it.

This has caused me to stop and question what it is that I am fanatical about. I challenge you to look at yourself too and see what it is that you are fervently attached to.

Thanks for stopping by, and I will share more thoughts on Infinite Jest soon.

2 Comments

Filed under Literature

Kaptara: Issue 3

Kaptara_03

This comic is very, very funny. There were several times where I actually laughed out loud. And the humor is a great blend of low-brow jokes and witty satire. In addition, the story is really good. It’s a great blend of science fiction and fantasy populated with a host of quirky and interesting characters. And if that’s not enough, the artwork is excellent. Lots of detail and the characters are wonderfully expressive in appearance.

I’ll include one quote in this post, because I just love this quote so much. I hope it whets your appetite and motivates you to check this comic out.

“It’s not the years in your life that matter, it’s the life in your years.”

Thanks for stopping by, and keep reading cool and inspiring stuff.

Comments Off on Kaptara: Issue 3

Filed under Literature

Parody in “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” by Douglas Adams

HitchhikersGuide

It’s hard to believe that I had never read this book before, but I have finally gotten around to it. It was a popular book when I was a teenager, but for whatever reason, I just never read it. The book is very funny and full of witty parodies. I blew through it in no time at all and was thoroughly entertained from cover to cover.

I figure rather than writing a summary of the book, I would instead look at some of the parodies that stood out for me.

One of the first parodies that struck me was the Guide’s detailed explanation of the importance of a towel.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy has a few things to say on the subject of towels.

A towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. Partly it has great practical value. You can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapor; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a miniraft down the slow heavy River Moth; wet it for use in hand-to-hand combat; wrap it around your head to ward off noxious fumes or avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (a mind-bogglingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can’t see it, it can’t see you—daft as a brush, but very very ravenous); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.

(pp. 27 – 28)

Reading this reminded me of Rabelais, who also used long lists as a form of parody. What comes to mind are the pages in Gargantua and Pantagruel where he describes all the various things that one can use to wipe one’s behind.

Another scene which I found hysterical was when Ford and Arthur are captured by the Vogons and as a form a torture, they are forced to listen to Vogon poetry, which is considered to be the second worst in the universe. So not only does Adams parody bad poetry, but he pokes fun at pompous scholars who write criticism. He does this by having the captives try to come up with a critique of the offensive poetry to make it appear to be some form of high art.

“Oh yes,” said Arthur, “I thought that some of the metaphysical imagery was really particularly effective.”

Ford continued to stare at him, slowly organizing his thoughts around this totally new concept. Were they really going to be able to bareface their way out of this?

“Yes, do continue…” invited the Vogon.

“Oh… and, er… interesting rhythmic devices too,” continued Arthur, “which seemed to counterpoint the… er… er…” he floundered.

Ford leaped to the rescue, hazarding “… counterpoint the surrealism of the underlying metaphor of the… er…” He floundered too, but Arthur was ready again.

“… humanity of the…”

Vogonity,” Ford hissed at him.

“Ah yes, Vogonity—sorry—of the poet’s compassionate soul”—Arthur felt he was on a homestretch now—“which contrives through the medium of the verse structure to sublimate this, transcend that, and come to terms with the fundamental dichotomies of the other”—he was reaching a triumphant crescendo—“and one is left with a profound and vivid insight into… into… er…” (which suddenly gave out on him). Ford leaped in with the coup de grace:

“Into whatever it was the poem was about!” he yelled. Out of the corner of his mouth: “Well done, Arthur, that was very good.”

(pp. 66 – 67)

The last parody I will discuss is a brilliant bit of satire that lampoons philosophers and workers at the same time. The philosophers are depicted as individuals who feel they have a monopoly on the truth. They are also extremely self-righteous and just like workers are ready to go on strike at a moment’s notice if things do not go the way they want. So in this section, the philosophers are incensed because a computer is being tasked with discovering the answer to the ultimate question of existence, which the philosophers feel is their domain and if the answer is discovered will jeopardize their jobs.

“I’ll tell you what the problem is, mate,” said Majikthise, “demarcation, that’s the problem.”

“We demand,” yelled Vroomfondel, “that demarcation may or may not be the problem!”

“You just let the machines get on with the adding up,” warned Majikthise, “and we’ll take care of the eternal verities, thank you very much. You want to check your legal position, you do, mate. Under law the Quest for Ultimate Truth is quite clearly the inalienable prerogative of your working thinkers. Any bloody machine goes and actually finds it and we’re straight out of a job, aren’t we? I mean, what’s the use of our sitting up half the night arguing that there may or may not be a God if this machine only goes and gives you his bleeding phone number the next morning?”

“That’s right,” shouted Vroomfondel, “we demand rigidly defined areas of doubt and uncertainty!”

Suddenly a stentorian voice boomed across the room.

“Might I make an observation at this point?” inquired Deep Thought.

“We’ll go on strike!” yelled Vroomfondel.

“That’s right!” agreed Majikthise. “You’ll have a national Philosophers’ strike on your hands!”

(p. 172)

So as you read the craziness in the news and start to worry that the end of the world is nigh, just keep in mind the profound words of advice from this sage book: DON’T PANIC.

So long and thanks for all the fish.

4 Comments

Filed under Literature

Joyce’s “Ulysses” – Episode 7

Image Source: Wikipedia

Image Source: Wikipedia

This episode corresponds with Book 10 of Homer’s Odyssey, where Aeolus gives Odysseus a bag of wind to help him sail back to Ithaca. Unfortunately, Odysseus’ men think there is riches in the bag and open it, resulting in them being blown off course. Joyce, therefore, incorporates images and references to wind, breath, and air throughout this episode.

The episode is set in the newsroom where Bloom is pitching an ad that he is trying to sell. The structure of the text in the chapter resembles a newspaper, where each section is preceded by a large-font headline. Early in the episode, Joyce criticizes the newspaper media, asserting that the papers are mainly interested in ads and fluff pieces, which is similar today.

It’s the ads and side features sell a weekly not the stale news in the official gazette. Queen Anne is dead. Published by authority in the year one thousand and.

(p. 118)

As Bloom observes the printing press, he considers the fate of newspapers. Considering Bloom wiped his butt with paper from a publication earlier in the book, I suspect that he also considers this as a use for newspapers, even though he does not overtly state it.

Mr Bloom, glancing sideways up from the cross he had made, saw the foreman’s sallow face, think he has a touch of jaundice, and beyond the obedient reels feeding in huge webs of paper. Clank it. Clank it. Miles of it unreeled. What becomes of it after? O, wrap up meat, parcels: various uses, thousand and one things.

(p. 120)

Joyce uses this episode to poke fun at those people who he sees as full of nothing but hot air. The first are the pseudo-intellectuals who act all inflated but really come off as pompous. At one point, the characters in the newsroom are reading a speech by one of these intellectuals that was published in the paper. As they read it, they cannot help mocking it.

Ned Lambert, seated on the table, read on:

Or again, note the meanderings of some purling rill as it babbles on its way, fanned by the gentlest zephyrs tho’ quarreling with the stony obstacles, to the tumbling waters of Neptune’s blue domain, mid mossy banks, played on by the glorious sunlight or ‘neath the shadows cast o’er its pensive bosom by the overarching leafage of the giants of the forest. What about that, Simon? he asked over the fringe of the newspaper. How’s that for high?

—Changing his drink, Mr Dedalus said.

Ned Lambert, laughing, struck the newspaper on his knees, repeating:

The pensive bosom and the overarsing leafage. O boys! O boys!

(p. 123)

The other group that Joyce mocks is newspaper persons, who are depicted as blown about with no direction, allowing themselves to bend in whatever direction the wind is blowing.

Funny the way those newspaper men veer about when they get wind of a new opening. Weathercocks. Hot and cold in the same breath. Wouldn’t know which to believe. One story good till you hear the next. Go for one another baldheaded in the papers and then all blows over. Hailfellow well me the next moment.

(p. 125)

The one passage that really struck me in this episode, though, has to do with how a small, seemingly insignificant act can have a profound impact on the world. Joyce is essentially evoking the butterfly effect. I had learned about this when I read a book on chaos theory years ago and always assumed this was a relatively new concept, but a quick search online uncovered that the concept was originally formulated in 1890 by Henri Poincaré in what was called sensitive dependence. Anyway, I was somewhat surprised to find this reference in Joyce’s novel.

Pause. J. J. O’Molloy took out his cigarette case.

False lull. Something quite ordinary.

Messenger took out his matchbox thoughtfully and lit his cigar.

I have often thought since on looking back over that strange time that it was that small act, trivial in itself, that striking of that match, that determined the whole aftercourse of both our lives.

(p. 140)

Overall, I enjoyed this episode. I found it very funny and full of puns and wordplay. Next week I’ll cover Episode 8 which ends on page 183 with the word “Safe!”


 

Previous Posts on Ulysses:

Episode 1

Episode 2

Episode 3

Episode 4

Episode 5

Episode 6


 

References:

http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/ulysses/section7.rhtml

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aeolus

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Butterfly_effect

11 Comments

Filed under Literature

Naked Came the Leaf Peeper

NakedLeafPeeperAsheville, NC is a quirky place, to say the least. There is a saying here: “If you’re too weird for Asheville, you’re too weird.” But its home for me and I love it here. The unique blend of artists, musicians, writers, spiritual seekers, and fringe people of all sorts nestled within the Blue Ridge Mountains makes this the ideal place for me to live.

For the holidays, I was given a gift certificate to Malaprop’s, a local independent bookstore that I love to support. I knew before going there that I wanted to get a copy of Naked Came the Leaf Peeper. I had seen it on display for a while and it has been on my wish list. It is a collaborative work featuring twelve local Asheville writers each contributing a chapter.

The book is a riot! I burst out laughing multiple times as I was reading. Some of the scenes are so over-the-top that, even if you are unfamiliar with Asheville, you will still find them hysterical. For example, there is a scene where a vehicle gets stopped for reckless driving, and it is discovered that the woman driver is naked and shaving herself as her ex-husband tries to steer. And the craziest thing is, if you live in Asheville, it doesn’t seem that far-fetched.

So at this point, you may be wondering what it’s like in Asheville. Here is a quote that will give you an idea.

J.D worked his way downtown, pausing at a light straight across from the Asheville Civic Center so a man and his llama could cross the street in front of him.

A man and his llama?

J.D. turned off his auto-pilot and really looked around for the first time. There were llamas everywhere. Coming and going from the convention center, walking up and down the sidewalk, sitting on benches and parked cars. In the little park at the end of Broadway, hippies and llamas danced in a drum circle. There was even a llama standing with a tip bag tied around its neck while its owner played a guitar outside Malaprop’s Bookstore.

(p. 116)

So while this is a little bit exaggerated for humor’s sake, it’s not far from the truth. You’ll see all kinds of people with animals downtown, and there are always street musicians and people dancing around in drum circles. True story—I used to own an ice cream shop here in Asheville. One day a person came in with a goat on a leash and asked if it was OK to bring his goat in. I told him no, that the goat would have to wait outside. He seemed hurt. I couldn’t help wondering about relationship between him and his goat.

I had some neighbors once who told me that their friends would not come into Asheville because there were too many “wiggins.” It took me a few minutes to realize that he meant wiccans. Yeah, there is definitely a strong earth-based religious community here and the book includes a nod to them with a pretty accurate depiction of a pagan gathering in downtown.

The drummers began to beat their drums slowly, their rhythm increasing as Rowena’s voice grew louder, directing listeners to connect with the Divine within and to the spirits of the land, water, and sky. She called out to the spirits dwelling inside the rock and soil that formed the mountains visible in every direction; she called out to the spirits living in the rivers and springs that nourished the soil, the plants and the animals that drank from them; she called out to the spirits dwelling among the flowers and trees that also nurtured life and brought beauty and comfort. Holding a crystal wand in her hand, Rowena traced a spiraling pattern from above her head to the ground at her feet. She spoke to the dead, honoring those who had come before, and invited them to the circle, too. She undid the boundaries between the living and the dead, the animate and the inanimate, the earth and the cosmos. All were welcome at the gathering.

(pp. 169 – 170)

I don’t want to give away too much, but I’ll say that the rest of the book is filled with witty satire, parody, social commentary, literary allusions, and such. While the story is fictional, the depictions of Asheville and the surrounding counties are pretty accurate. I can also say that many of the characters in the book remind me of people I’ve met here over the years, from the conservative to the quirky to the just plain weird.

Yeah, I live in a weird city, but I love it. Honestly, I can’t imagine living anywhere else. And on that note…

Forget the Keep Asheville Weird bumper stickers. Asheville was weird enough as is.

(p. 116)

2 Comments

Filed under Literature

“The Color of Magic” by Terry Pratchett

ColorOfMagicThis is a book that I had heard about often but had never read before. It is the first book in the Discworld fantasy series, a series that is comprised of an astounding 40 books (which means my reading list has just increased by 39). In fact, this is the first actual Pratchett book that I’ve read. I did read Good Omens, but that was a collaborative book written by Pratchett and Neil Gaiman.

I loved this book!! It worked on multiple levels for me. As a work of fantasy, it was extremely imaginative, weaving together magic, science fiction, mythology, and fairy tales. But it is also a very funny book, overflowing with puns and satire. I literally laughed out loud during certain sections of the book. Finally, Pratchett’s writing is impeccable. There was never a moment when the characters and the fantastical realm did not come to life for me.

The basic plot is that a failed wizard named Rincewind grudgingly accepts the responsibility to guide a “tourist” named Twoflower around the Discworld, a flat, circular world that rests upon four giant elephants who ride through the universe on the back of a gigantic cosmic turtle. The two characters move through a series of adventures and interact with an array of interesting beings. That’s all I’ll say—you know how I hate spoilers. I will include a few quotes, though, and share my thoughts on them.

There is a great paragraph early in the book where Twoflower is trying to explain to Rincewind the logic of insurance, a concept that is foreign to Rincewind. Twoflower, who is from a different world, works calculating insurance risk. The passage has some great puns and pokes fun at the insurance industry.

Inn-sewer-ants,” repeated Rincewind. “Tha’s a funny word. Wossit mean?”

“Well, suppose you have a ship loaded with, say, gold bars. It might run into storms or, or be taken by pirates. You don’t want that to happen, so you take out an inn-sewer-ants-polly-sea. I work out the odds against the cargo being lost, based on weather reports and piracy records for the last twenty years, then I add a bit, then you pay me some money based on those odds—“

(p. 45)

I can’t help having an image of an insurance company as a hive of sewer dwelling insects, racing around like worker ants.

Another scene that stands out for me is the depiction of the gods playing a game of dice. It is a great metaphor for human existence being a strange blend of chance and fate, where anything can happen. During the game, which is played by the god Fate and an unnamed goddess who is only referred to as the Lady, there is a great interaction between the two about the desire cheat one’s fate.

Fate raised an eyebrow.

“And no cheating, Lady,” he said.

“But who could cheat Fate?” she asked. He shrugged.

“No one. Yet everyone tries.”

(p. 98)

The following passage is one of the most resonant symbolic scenes for me.

On either side of him, two glittering curtains of water hurtled toward infinity as the sea swept around the island on its way to the long fall. A hundred yards below the wizard the largest sea salmon he had ever seen flicked itself out of the foam in a wild, jerky and ultimately hopeless leap. Then he fell back over and over, in the golden underworld light.

(p. 222)

I see the water here as symbolizing both existence and the collective unconscious. Every drop in the ocean is an individual thought, or an individual being, all swirling together in this existence before rushing over the edge in a waterfall to become part of the ineffable and the infinite. The salmon represents an individual, caught in the currents of life. With a hopeless futility reminiscent of Sisyphus, the salmon tries to challenge Fate, to go against the flow, but fails. Ultimately, Fate always wins in the end and you become part of the greater mystery.

I’d like to finish up with one last quote, which I think beautifully sums up life. There is so much to do, to see, to experience, that it is impossible to do everything that is on one’s bucket list (especially if you accept the idea of parallel universes). I know that I will never do all the things I want to do, visit all the places I’d like to see, or read all the books I want to read. But I won’t despair; I’ll just make the best of the time I have and enjoy as many of life’s wonders as I can.

“Sometimes I think a man could wander across the Disc all his life and not see everything there is to see,” said Twoflower. “And now it seems there are lots of other worlds as well. When I think I might die without seeing a hundredth of all there is to see it makes me feel,” he paused, then added, “well, humble, I suppose. And very angry, of course.”

(pp 230 – 231)

8 Comments

Filed under Literature