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Month: May, 2012

Reflections on a day off

I always have this uncanny feeling that the books I read are all related in a way that they almost appear to be transmitting some message to me. For instance I would read in one book about a certain theme, a certain idea, a certain phrase or even a certain word, which would reappear in the books or whatever thing I read subsequently. Of course one has certain tastes and choices in books, but even so the coincidences often take me by surprise and leave me in constant awe. The Golden Notebook, If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller, and now Foucault’s Pendulum, all involve a troubled writer and the act of writing, which is a topic very close to my heart and which I wish to explore in my own work. Curiously enough I chose these 3 books without prior knowledge of all this. I read the first because Doris Lessing is both Nobel Laureate and Booker Prize winner. The second because I like Invisible Cities very much. The third because of my interest in post-modern historical novels and Umberto Eco’s fame in this specific genre. Never have I an inkling that the 3 books can be related in such a way. Freud would no doubt say something about the unconscious. Like Oedipus married his own mother unknowingly, I pick the same books without intending to. But now that one thinks about it, perhaps this is a theme not at all strange to our literary writers. There is Proust who pondered about writing throughout his seven-volume work of a life time, and there were others before him. And so what I want so much to write about, has actually been written by almost everyone for over a century. Or to console myself, I can probably think in this way: self-reflection is a stage every writer of the serious sort must reach sooner or later. Of course nobody is writing epics now, but literature can still be profound in the cyber age. Or so I console myself.

More If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller quotes

“Don’t be amazed if you see my eyes always wandering. In fact, this is my way of reading, and it is only in this way that reading proves fruitful to me. If a book truly interests me, I cannot follow it for more than a few lines before my mind, having seized on a thought that the text suggests to it, or a feeling, or a question, or an image, goes off on a tangent and springs from thought to thought, from image to image, in an itinerary of reasonings and fantasies that I feel the need to pursue to the end, moving away from the book until I have lost sight of it. The stimulus of reading is indispensable to me, and of meaty reading, even if, of every book, I manage to read no more than a few pages. But those few pages already enclose for me whole universes, which I can never exhaust.”

“I understand you perfectly,” another reader interjects, raising his waxen face and reddened eyes from his volume. “Reading is a discontinuous and fragmentary operation. Or, rather, the object of reading is a punctiform and pulviscular material. In the spreading expanse of the writing, the reader’s attention isolates some minimal segments, juxtapositions of words, metaphors, syntactic nexuses, logical passages, lexical peculiarities that prove to possess an extremely concentrated density of meaning. They are like elemental particles making up the work’s nucleus, around which all the rest revolves. Or else like the void at the bottom of a vortex which sucks in and swallows currents. It is through these apertures that, in barely perceptible flashes, the truth the book may bear is revealed, its ultimate substance. Myths and mysteries consist of impalpable little granules, like the pollen that sticks to the butterfly’s legs; only those who have realized this can expect revelations and illuminations. This is why my attention, in contrast to what you, sir, were saying, cannot be detached from the written lines even for an instant. I must not be distracted if I do not wish to miss some valuable clue. Every time I come upon one of these clumps of meaning I must go on digging around to see if the nugget extends into a vein. This is why my reading has no end: I read and reread, each time seeking the confirmation of a new discovery among the folds of the sentences.”

“I, too, feel the need to reread the books I have already read,” a third reader says, “but at every rereading I seem to be reading a new book, for the first time. Is it I who keep changing and seeing new things of which I was not previously aware? Or is reading a construction that assumes form, assembling a great number of variables, and therefore something that cannot be repeated twice according to the same pattern? Every time I seek to relive the emotion of a previous reading, I experience different and unexpected impressions, and do not find again those of before. At certain moments it seems to me that between one reading and the next there is a progression: in the sense, for example, of penetrating further into the spirit of the text, or of increasing my critical detachment. At other moments, on the contrary, I seem to retain the memory of the readings of a single book one next to another, enthusiastic or cold or hostile, scattered in time without a perspective, without a thread that ties them together. The conclusion I have reached is that reading is an operation without object; or that its true object is itself. The book is an accessory aid, or even a pretext.”

A fourth speaks up: “If you mean to insist on the subjectivity of reading, then I agree with you, but not in the centrifugal sense you attribute to it. Every new book I read comes to be a part of that overall and unitary book that is the sum of my readings. This does not come about without some effort: to compose that general book, each individual must be transformed, enter into a relationship with the books I have read previously, become their corollary or development or confutation or gloss or reference text. For years I have been coming to this library, and I explore it volume by volume, shelf by shelf, but I could demonstrate to you that I have done nothing but continue the reading of a single book. ”

“In my case, too, all the books I read are leading to a single book,” a fifth reader says, sticking his face out from behind a pile of bound volumes, “but it is a book remote in time, which barely surfaces from my memories. There is a story that for me comes before all other stories and of which all the stories I read seem to carry an echo, immediately lost. In my readings I do nothing but seek that book read in my childhood, but what I remember of it is too little to enable me to find it again.”

A sixth reader, who was standing, examining the shelves with his nose in the air, approaches the table. “The moment that counts most for me is the one that precedes reading. At times a title is enough to kindle in me the desire for a book that perhaps does not exist. At times it is the incipit of the book, the first sentences…… In other words: if you need little to set the imagination going, I require even less: the promise of reading is enough.”

“For me, on the other hand, it is the end that counts,” a seventh says, “but the true end, final, concealed in the darkness, the goal to which the book wants to carry you. I also seek openings in reading,” he says, nodding toward the man with the bleary eyes, “but my gaze digs between the words to try to discern what is outlined in the distance, in the spaces that extend beyond the words ‘the end.'”

The moment has come for you to speak. “Gentlemen, first I must say the in books I like to read only what is written, and to connect the details with the whole, and to consider certain readings as definitive; and I like to keep one book distinct from the other, each for what it has that is different and new; and I especially like books to be read from beginning to end. For a while now, everything has been going wrong for me: it seems to me that in the world there now exist only stories that remain suspended or get lost along the way.”

The fifth reader answers you: “That story of which I spoke – I, too, remember the beginning well, but I have forgotten all the rest. It must be a story of the Arabian Nights. I am collating the various editions, the translations in all languages. Similar stories are numerous and there are many variants, but none is that story. Can I have dreamed it? And yet I now I will have no peace until I have found it and find out how it ends.”

—- Italo Calvino, If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller

If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller quotes

At times I think of the subject matter of the book to be written as of something that already exists: thoughts already thought, dialogue already spoken, stories already happened, places and settings seen; the book should be simply the equivalent of the unwritten world translated into writing. At other times, on the contrary, I seem to understand that between the book to be written and things that already exist there can only be a kind of complementary relationship; the book should be the written counterpart of the unwritten world; its subject should be what does not exist and cannot exist except when written; but whose absence is obscurely felt by that which exists, in its own incompleteness.

But if the individual truth is the only one that a book can contain, I might as well accept it and write my truth. The book of my memory? No, memory is true as long as you do not set it, as long as it is not enclosed in a form. The book of my desires? Those also are true only when their impulse acts independently of my conscious will. The only truth I can write is that of the instant I am living.

… the truth of literature consists only in the physicality of the act of writing.

—- Italo Calvino, If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller

IKEA Café 瑣事

一對情侶來到IKEA Café,找到一張二人座餐桌,男的放下二人的袋子,到前台去點吃的。女的坐了下來,檢視手上兩張戲票,另外還有買戲票附送的電影明信片和餐飲優惠券。相連的另一張二人座餐桌,一男一女正在用餐。桌只有麥當奴那種二人桌大小,基本上兩組人之間沒有甚麼空間,能很清楚聽見彼此的對話。女的起初沒有特別留意鄰座的對話,只覺坐在斜對面那個男的一直喋喋不休,她稍為掃視了一下,那個說話的男人,梳一個很不特別的短髮,臉上架上一副沒有款式可言的眼鏡,五官端正,皮膚黝黑,穿一件淺藍色長袖襯衣,總之就是一個沒甚麼特徵的普通男子。坐在他對面的女生,一大把長黑髮披散在肩背手臂上,短袖上衣和熱褲下露出雪白圓潤的四肢,散發一種中學女生的稚氣。從這個角度看不清女生的相貌。看不出二人是否情侶,男人說話的語氣也只像跟普通朋友的閒話家常,但從那單方面的熱衷看來,也有可能是男的對女的有意思。大致觀察完了鄰座的顧客,女的開始環顧餐廳其他角落。星期六晚上的快餐店充斥着一家大小,也有像他們般想在電影開場前找點又平宜又快的吃的年輕組合。雖然四周放置了各類IKEA 的家品,但是沒有與這個空間任何的調和感,又或者是人太多,空間太少,連點兒的瑞典風情都被淹沒了。與其叫Café,這兒還更像一個飯堂,四周吵吵鬧鬧的,人潮駱驛不絕,雜亂無章。

這時,女的感覺到在她隔鄰好像有些甚麼發生了。斜對面那個男人的喋喋不休不知何時停止了,二人好像同時忙於桌面上的一些事情,還有物件移動的聲音。她本能的回頭一看,看見二人正在用紙巾清理桌面。二人看見她回頭看他們,都抬起頭看一看她,然後又垂下眼繼續他們的清理工作。她隨着望向隔鄰女生前方,桌面四周濺上了啡紅色的汁液。隨着汁液飛濺的方向,她的視線緩緩掃向自己前方的桌面,擱於上方的戲票等紙張,然後是身上白色的上衣……

她抬起頭,看見斜對面的男人前方放着一盤疑似疑凶的肉醬汁,男人看見她的視線,看着她咕噥了一句似是道歉的說話,聲音比起之前跟女生說話低很多。隔鄰的女生也望向她,不好意思地對她點頭示意。這時她終於看到這個女生渾圓帶點Baby Fat的,孩子氣的臉。她有點不知所措,不懂得該如何反應。她不知道是誰闖的禍,從汁液飛濺的方向也不能確認。而且對方已認了錯和表示了一定程度的歉意。而且她的男朋友去了點菜還未回來,現在自己是孤軍作戰。她打開自己的手袋,拿出紙巾開始清理。想到之後要穿着這件沾有肉醬汁的衣服去看電影,向來有點潔癖的她就感到很不自在。而且過了整個晚上才回家洗的話不知還能否洗得掉佈滿衣領口和衣袖的橙紅色污漬。收藏的戲票票尾沾上了食物也很令人洩氣。而做成這一切的人就只顧清理自己的東西,也沒想過借我紙巾!她越想越氣,卻又不敢在眾目睽睽之下做些甚麼。彷彿想逃離這個不愉快的場景,斜對面的男人拿起桌上一只空的膠杯,想出去拿水。座位很狹窄,他小心翼翼的把椅子往後拉,盡量以不讓人察覺的幅度緩緩豎直上身,卻嘭的一聲,頭頂把餐桌上方的大圓型籐織吊燈撞個正着,正面的衝力把相對輕飄飄的燈罩碰得左右猛烈搖擺。他急忙以手扶一扶燈罩,然後頭也不回的大步走了出去。女的看着他倉皇而逃的窘態,還有他藍色襯衣下款式過時的牛仔褲和運動鞋,暗忖那是怎麼樣的一類人物。這期間他的女伴一直默不作聲,只顧低頭把弄着碟上所餘無幾的食物。

未幾男人拿着盛滿的膠杯回來。他的好心情和聲線似乎也回來了,他開始重拾跟女生的對話,也不在乎斜對面剛被他弄得一身肉醬汁的女人心情如何惡劣。與其說是對話,倒不如說是單方面的自白。他不住的侃侃而談自己之前在長洲吃過多麼好吃的青口,想引起對方的興趣,可是女生卻彷彿仍停留在剛才的餘悸裡,又或者是感應到隔鄰的女人的壞心情,顯得沒精打彩。男人不得要領,追問女生為何沒精打采,女生只是模稜兩可的搖搖頭,於是男人換個話題,又再繼續發表他的各種見聞。女生心想這真是一個粗線條的男人,尷尬死了,為甚麼當初我會答應跟他出來呢。這時隔鄰的女人的男朋友終於拿着滿滿的一盤回來了,看見女朋友的表情,先是一驚,然後以口型問她發生甚麼事了。女生驚見隔鄰的女人站起來走向剛放下托盤的男人身邊,滿臉委屈地在他耳邊細細私語,並以手比劃身上沾上了肉醬汁的地方。女生對面的男人也靜下來了。氣氛變得異常奇怪:那個男人會怎麼對付他們?

女人跟男人耳語過後,回到了自己的座位,滿臉不高興的開始把沙拉醬汁倒在一碟沙拉上。她的男朋友也坐了下來,開始吃東西,一句話也沒說,也沒有甚麼行動的樣子。鄰座的男人和女生頓時鬆了一口氣,暗自慶幸鄰座的男人是個和平主義者,否則爭鬥上來,明顯比較年輕的自己一方很沒勝算。但是鄰座的女人仍然很不高興倒是真的,可能是因為自己的男朋友沒有為她出頭。辛辛苦苦把食物弄來了,卻要面對女朋友的壞心情,真是可憐的男人。這一切讓女生覺得很不自在,不想久留,而且四周都站着不少等待空位子的人。可是這時男人又轉了個話題,一點也沒有想走的意思。男人轉了個較溫和,但仍足以讓鄰座聽得一清二楚的的語調,開始談自己的私事,包括家人嘮叨他,IVE也好甚麼也好,總之去找點書唸,但他不屑唸書,覺得這個時候應該賺錢。女生不作聲,他就問女生多大。女生以幾乎聽不見的聲音回應,他又重覆一次,二十歲吧?那五年時間也差不多了之類的人生指導。女生不答話,男人只好接續之前的話題。對了,就給自己五年時間。然後希望可以買到居屋,不過理想當然是可以居屋再換私人樓。如果能買到私人樓便好了……男人讓自己沉醉於這些人生大計,好讓自己能夠忘掉剛才發生的各種不如意事,向來的各種的失敗。女生間或插入一兩句回應,但對男人的人生賺錢大計沒有甚麼興趣。再過了一回,到男人也再沒話好講,而二人準備看的電影也差不多開場了,二人才慢慢起身離開,大概也樂於終於可以離開這個令人不自在的地方。鄰座的情侶放下手上的餐具讓他們帶點困難地側身從背後穿過,一邊擔心他們會不會又碰倒甚麼東西,自己身上又會再沾上了甚麼顏色的食物。這四人同時心想,以後還是別來這鬼地方了,儘管各人有各人的原因。