Monday, June 30, 2014

The Circus of Dr. Lao by Charles G. Finney (1935)

The Circus is interesting... not sure it holds a top spot for me however it is insightful and fantastical. I will call it "Dark reality Fiction." The book as compared to the movie has no real plot line, instead it takes us thru several characters from the morning announcement in the local news through the end of the show that evening.

I found a perfect condition 2nd printing, the book was originally printed with illustrations by Boris Artzybasheff. Boris was a genius in the the graphic arts field although I feel the Circus renderings are not his best.

I have read no other book that introduced as many new words (to me) as this short story. If you ever wished the English language had a word for this or that you may find it here. Finney, a man of the world was either well educated or a trickster, he introduces so many characters from ancient mythology.
Imagine 1935 for a moment, a time distant enough from the WWI and the collapse of the vision of the greatness of Man's emergence from the dark ages, and with all the seeds of the WWII sprouting right in front of you.
Imangine too, trying to read this thing in 1935... you would have to had read it in the library, only the most well read would have known the slightest background to the mythological references. For us, we lay back in the lounge chair and look up each new and incredible reference with ease on our ISomething. It is really a short story but when you take in the "look up" time it can take a while to get through; and that's OK.

Some meaningful quotes:
   "Madame, the role of skeptic becomes you not; there are things in the world not even the experience of a whole life spent in Abalone could conceive of." I think of this when I see a beauty queen on Fox explaining how Bowe Bergdahl should have done this or could have done that; seriously, your experience in back room with the other models provides you with the life experience to comment on this situation, shame on you. (I am aware that in fact these people are making a fortune inflaming their base and not really trying to understand anything)

   I a sequence while discussing the Mermaid with another banal character described as all Americans do, by their occupation, Dr Lao explains how he would like to release her and how he feels about that release: "Oh God if I could have only seen her when I was a young man! The contemplation of her beauty might have changed my whole life, Beauty can do that can't it?
He goes on to explain how he wishes she might thank him for releasing her. As an old man I dream of how a younger woman might treat me as well.

   Regarding the Hedge Hound, Breed, breed, breed. Fill and refill the wombs of the world. Tumescence and ejaculation. Flinging out spore and seed and egg and bud. Quickening and birth. Sterility and death. That is life, I thought,... He goes on to ask the weather there is an animal that is not governed by such a cycle. Finney creates such a creature in the Hedge Hound. I for one contemplate how truly poor the process of Evolution is regarding the current pathetic status of the world after all of the "refilling" that has been done so far. In addition I have often wondered what kind of place this would be if the Sex drive weren't quite so overwhelming?

   I can't figure out how Satan Mekratrig got into this book because the only reference seems to come from a 1968 book by Robert Heinlein? Anyhow an interesting investigation could be made into this character too.

   I am convinced that it requires a second read; I do like Finney's take on the absurdity of it all.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad (1900)

My third Conrad in the last four books I have indulged in, Lord Jim is the longest and most complicated of the three.

Once again I am struck by the amazing world that was the end of the 1800's; an incomprehensibly large globe with places and people that really were a long way away and very different from "us." I don't get the impression that Conrad ever thought that the world would get any smaller than the one he sailed thru or that he could conceive of a world as small as the one in which we live in; his stories are of people that flee from their civilized world and can actually get to a place of total and complete remoteness.

FYI, both Schomberg and to a large extent Marlow show up in this tail.

Jim becomes master of a native community not unlike Kurtz but unlike Kurtz is a good and benevolent leader and a "romantic" till the end. And Jim is not unlike Axel in "Victory" who isolates himself on a desolate island only to have outside forces intrude and destroy what he has gained.

Jim's simple and seemingly rational decision (under great peer pressure) to save himself and jump from the Patna becomes the Scarlet Letter of his life.  Having come from a part of the world where the "rule of law" exists he is held accountable for his actions on the Patna and cannot escape this branding. And so in a world that is unfathomably large poor Jim cannot escape his tormentors no matter how far he travels until he gets to the remote and dinghy island of Patusan.

Conrad posits a situation where there is no way for us (the reader) to be certain what we would have done either. Jim's particular situation was not entirely of his own making however as we see several times over he is a poor judge of character and as a result puts himself into unrecoverable states.

At an early age Jim has fantasies of heroic acts in action but he fails early on in his 1st real chance to be a hero. After the Patna he wishes to return to his old pursuit of greatness but is incapable of shaking the verdict of the court and is tormented by his inability to redeem himself, until he gets to Patusan. His redemption is fairly complete there, they do not know about the Patna and would not believe it anyway. So in fact he does achieve a complete break from his past actions by traveling to the ends of the earth, something far more difficult for us in todays world.

In his unending efforts to help (or eventually rid himself of) Jim, Marlow visits his old friend Stein. Their conversation leeds Marlow to an understanding and a wonderful bit of advise on life:
   '"I understand very well. He is romantic."
'He had diagnosed the case for me, and at first I was quite startled to find how simple it was; and indeed our conference resembled so much a medical consultation—Stein, of learned aspect, sitting in an arm-chair before his desk; I, anxious, in another, facing him, but a little to one side—that it seemed natural to ask—
'"What's good for it?"
'He lifted up a long forefinger.
'"There is only one remedy! One thing alone can us from being ourselves cure!" The finger came down on the desk with a smart rap. The case which he had made to look so simple before became if possible still simpler—and altogether hopeless. There was a pause. "Yes," said I, "strictly speaking, the question is not how to get cured, but how to live."

In this enlightening passage Conrad spells out one of the realities of the adventurous life in the late 1800's: 
    I knew very well he was of those about whom there is no inquiry; I had seen better men go out, disappear, vanish utterly, without provoking a sound of curiosity or sorrow. The spirit of the land, as becomes the ruler of great enterprises, is careless of innumerable lives. Woe to the stragglers! We exist only in so far as we hang together. He had straggled in a way; he had not hung on; but he was aware of it with an intensity that made him touching, just as a man's more intense life makes his death more touching than the death of a tree. 

Conrad's world has people whom are unfailingly true on one end and those sunken to absolute evil on the other, and the rest of us in the middle.