Tuesday, July 16, 2013

A Tale of Two Cities

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
Next to Virginia Woolf's The Years, Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities presents one the best opening chapters I've ever read. The introductory paragraph not only introduces the theme of duplicity that continues to emerge throughout the novel (e.g. Darnay and Carton) but also fleshes out the setting of the novel and the condition of the incoming revolution.

Ah, reading Dickens once more and being entertained by Dickensian humor is the best way to spent a train ride from Tainan to Keelung.

Quotes so far:
A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other. A solemn consideration, when I enter a great city by night, that every one of those darkly clustered houses encloses its own secret; that every room in every one of them encloses its own secret; that every beating heart in the hundreds of thousands of breasts there, is, in some of its imaginings, a secret to the heart nearest it!
So does a whole world, with all its greatnesses and littlenesses, lie in a twinkling star. And as mere human knowledge can split a ray of light and analyse the manner of its composition, so, sublimer intelligences may read in the feeble shining of this earth of ours, every thought and act, every vice and virtue, of every responsible creature on it.

Perhaps we all reappear, perhaps all our lives are impositions one on another.

I am a sucker for experimental books, esoteric as they may be -

From reading Loon Lake, E.L Doctorow reminds me fondly of Cormac McCarthy - both writers glorify violence with graceful (albeit recondite) prose that is - personally, at least - refreshing to read.

Set in America during the Great Depression, Loon Lake follows the story of Joe Paterson, a wandering 'hobo' who initially finds solace working for a circus before he, the "wiseass street kid," is ultimately "gone in love, gone in aspiration, gone in the dazzlement of the whole man, the polished being."

Loon Lake adopts a convoluted structure that bedazzles and frustrates readers. Only until the last two pages did I truly appreciate the effectiveness of the structure; the story is told with poetry, eulogies and an overall remission of chronological sequence. Although it is initially difficult to delve into, Loon Lake is ultimately a grueling and rough story of ambition, truth and one's ability to adapt.

Standout quotes from the novel:
The poem is a cry of the unborn heart. Yes, because the poem perfectly embodies the world, there is no world without poem.
I cite too the ordinary fears of mortality the inspection of a fast-growing mole on the side of the nose blood in the stool a painful injury or the mournful witness of the slow death of a parent all this is given to all men as well as the starting awake in the nether hours of the night from such glutinous nightmare that on'e self name relationships nationality place in life all data of specificity wipe out amnesiatically asiatically you don't even know the idea human it is such a low hour of the night and he shares it with all of us.
He wondered seriously if love wasn't a feeling at all but a simple characterless state of shared isolation. If you were alone with a woman your feelings might change from moment to moment but the circumstance of your shared fate did not change. Maybe that's where the love was, in the combined circumstance. [...] They knew it could incorporate passion or prim distaste, it might be joyous or full of rage, it might carry extreme concern of any kind, or unconcern, but it was presumed to survive challenge. All it was, was a kind of neutral constancy. [... It was] nothing grand, nothing monumental, and not a prison either, but a sort of sturdy structure of outlook, one that wouldn't break under the weight of ideas and longing feelings terrors visions and the world's awful mordant surprises.