Friday, February 6, 2009

Time Must Have a Stop - Aldous Huxley
There are two Huxleys. One I love to read, the other I can’t tolerate. There came a turning point in his life. He had been writing acidic comedies in which people carry on absurdly; he scrutinized their self-delusion and hypocrisy. I think he reached a moral crisis. Is this all there is? He turned to spiritualism. He was going to lead people to what he discerned as an enlightened way of thinking. Unfortunately, when he goes into his spiritual mode, I decline to follow. Half of this book is brilliant early Huxley, and at its center is Eustace. He’s a sybarite and a non-believer; in fact, he despises Belief. Halfway through the book he dies. But he doesn’t die. Huxley has him exist between life and death. Eustace won’t give in to the bliss of Nothingness (which takes the form of “the Light”) because he’s too strongly attached to his individual identity; he cannot give up the gross world. Eventually he makes his appearance at a seance; although this could be high humor, Huxley treats it seriously. My problem with the enlightened Huxley is this: what are his credentials to instruct me on the Truth of existence? I respect the man, but I think I’ve read all the cynical Huxley (those early novels I love), so I’ll read no more.

Fancies and Goodnights - John Collier
Diversions. Well done and entertaining, but of little substance. And I don’t have a taste (as Collier most definitely does) for jinns, witches, spells, etc. I read about half the stories. The shame of it is that Collier – when he planted his feet firmly on the ground and dealt in deadly logic – could produce a wickedly wonderful little piece like “De Mortuis.”

Mon (The Gate) - Natsume Soseki (Japanese)
With patience and calm authority (I’m reminded of the meticulous care Japanese artists take in flower arrangement) Soseki makes the reader feel the love that a married couple have for one another. Sosuke and Oyone come alive, fully. But quietly! They’re so quiet a couple. Soseki accomplishes his purpose through simplicity, dwelling almost entirely on mundane events. There are no declarations of love, no lovemaking (not even a kiss), and the woman plays a subservient role – yet we know. The problem I have with the novel may stem from its belonging in a different culture and time (it was written in the early 1900s). The fact that Sosuke and Oyone had sexual relations before marriage has ostracized them forever from family and society. They’re guilt-ridden by their sin. This dark cloud makes the isolated world they live in a somber one. Even Sosuke’s chances of having a good job have been ruined. But Soseki does not tell us how others learned of their indiscretion (and why, if they knew the consequences of what they did, wouldn’t they keep it secret?). The ending is enigmatic and unsettling (for what I’ve described as a love story). Sosuke goes to a zen retreat to try to find peace. He’s asked to give an answer to a koan: “What was my face before my parents were born?” He comes up with an answer (one the zen master considers contemptible); he repeats the same answer when asked for it again, but we are never told what this answer is. That Sosuke fails at the retreat is believable, but when he returns home to Oyone he seems to have changed; it’s as if the fact that he has her does not matter so much. Is he fated to live in gloom? What’s to become of their love? These questions illustrate how deeply I was involved in the lives of these two characters. *

No comments: