‘At first pass (= shot) some ten or so Numbers from our hangar were caught napping beneath the engine exhaust – absolutely nothing was left of them but some sort of crumbs and soot. I’m proud to note down here that this did not cause a second’s hitch in the rhythm of our work, no one flinched; and we and our work teams continued our rectilinear and circular movement with exactly the same precision as though nothing had happened. Ten Numbers – that is scarcely one hundred-millionth part of the mass of OneState. For all practical purposes, it’s a third-order infinitesimal. Innumerate pity is a thing known only to the ancients; to us it’s funny.’
Sometimes I read novels and often think that they hit the spot a bit too close to home. This was the case recently as I came to the concluding pages of On the Beach, which was written by the novelist Nevil Shute Norway in the decades following World War Two. The scene includes two of the main characters discussing the context for the apocalyptic situation that they face and openly lament the global use of nuclear weapons during an escalation of an international war:
“Couldn’t anyone have stopped it?”
“I don’t know… Some kinds of silliness you just can’t stop”, he said. “I mean, if a couple of hundred million people all decide that their national honour requires them to drop cobalt bombs upon their neighbour, well, there’s not much that you or I can do about it. The only possible hope would have been to educate them out of their silliness.”
“But how could you have done that, Peter? I mean, they’d all left school.”
“Newspapers”, he said. “You could have done something with newspapers. We didn’t do it. No nation did, because we were all too silly. We liked our newspapers with pictures of beach girls and headlines about cases of indecent assault, and no Government was wise enough to stop us having them that way. But something might have been done with newspapers, if we’d been wise enough.”
Quoted from the novel One the Beach (1957), by Nevil Shute Norway.
It is a wonderful novel and a book that I highly recommend. For me one of the most moving aspects of the characters portrayed throughout the text was their attitude and civility in the manner in which they led their lives, and how this civility influenced their actions throughout the novel despite the fact that they knew what was to come.
Next up on my reading list is a newly published novel that I have started reading earlier today entitled Here I Am, by the American author Jonathan Safran Foer. Foer has previously released a clutch of interesting and diverse novels over the past decade and a half that have really captured my attention, especially his first novel Everything is Illuminated, which was published in 2002. Perhaps unwittingly I noticed that the Here I Am novel continues the theme of international and national destruction set in On the Beach. Perhaps it is somewhat fitting considering the way 2016 has so far developed…
My room, I realize, is covered in books and CD’s. Stacks of both poke out from under my bed, bulge on shelves, take root on free patches on the floor. I have boxes of academic books and reference texts resting below where I sleep, buried alongside those are boxes of CD’s and cassette tapes, filled with yesterday’s music and recorded jam sessions made during the proclivities of my youth. They are, it appears, my media of choice for consuming the experiences and thoughts of being human.
To be human, as to recognize to being alive, is temporary but what a beauty that it is in itself:
‘But the stars twinkle above our heads, the sun shines, the grass grows and the earth, yes, the earth, it swallows all life and eradicates all vestige of it, spews out new life in a cascade of limb and eyes, leaves and nails, hair and tails, cheeks and fur and guts, and swallows it up again. And what we never really comprehend , or don’t want to comprehend, is that this happens outside us, that we ourselves have no part in it, that we are only that which grows and dies, as blind as the waves in the sea are blind.’
From My Struggle: Part 2. A Man In Love (2014) by Karl Ove Knausgaard.
‘They had plenty of talent and some success, but this was England after all, where no one – least of all a good painter – was really rewarded or punished; in England, whatever your profession, you made your own life.’
Paul Theroux in The Kingdom by the Sea (1983).
I’m currently reading one of Theroux’s travel books that I have not read before, a now rare occurrence. I’m a big fan of travel literature, especially of Theroux’s (why yes, I have read his latest on the American South). Partly I think because it means I can travel in my mind when my body cannot. Reading does this to a person though, regardless of circumstance. It lifts you above what you know and what you think you know, it forces you to don someone else’s view point to discover the world, and the people in it, anew.
I haven’t swam in the sea this year and I haven’t swam in fresh water either. This saddens me as long term readers of this site may remember that I love swimming; I love the feel of the body gliding through the blue, the grey, the swirling torrents of frothing waves. I miss the sun above my head, the all too often grey clouds amassing in the distance as my arms brush against seaweed, a mini chloroform power station floating in the middle of the brine. I miss the shouts and the giggles as the bracing waves slap against puckered skin in early autumn, of two brave and lost souls powering through content in a cold embrace.
The sea, the sea, my soul cries for its limitless horizons and its unknowable depths.
Whatever its future success as a historical movement, anarchism will remain a fundamental part of the human experience, for the drive for freedom is one of our deepest needs and the vision of a free society is one of our oldest dreams. Neither can be ever fully repressed ; both will outlive all rulers and their States.
– Peter Marshall, in Demanding the Impossible: A History of Anarchism.
The above book is a fine companion to The Rebel by Camus, another book which I have nearly completed. Again both of the above are books that I am reading slowly, letting the words and ideas from history slowly tumble down and impregnate themselves as my mind wrestles with their concepts. In this day and age of mass state surveillance, corruption and rank greed, it is hard to think of what one should hold a loyalty to and to why. This is not just the state but also the social, the personal.
It was a job that did not pay, but it was a job that I loved. I was surrounded by books, music and lovely co-workers, kept in good humour by the good cause that we were donating our hours to. It seemed that every week I volunteered I ended up buying at least one or two books from the shop itself, having rifled through the stock during or after my shift.
It was in this busy little shop that I became fully aware of Márquez’s literary works for the first time. His name had haunted my literary periphery for some time by this point, but I simply hadn’t yet read a single short story or novel of his. This changed as I came across a copy of Love In The Time of Cholera on the shelves one day, during one of my weekly shifts. Perhaps somewhat sneakily, as I was still only half way through my shift and thus still on duty serving customers, I hid the only copy in the shop behind the till so that I could pay for it when I finished the shift. I subsequently took the book home and devoured it.
Love, in its many myriad of forms, washes over the pages of that novel in all of its wonderfully euphoric and gut wrenching explorations. Magical realism taints the characters lives and experiences, their town and the very type of the printed words on the pages of the book itself. In short it is beauty, it is love for the written word, and for the value of stories themselves, that is expressed so eloquently in so fine a book that I took Marquez the author to heart.
In particular it reminded me, at a time where I was reading many dense and dry academic texts, of the value of the story as a common human experience and denominator in, and between, various populations, cultures and nations. It was also something that I was lacking at that time in my solitary life, as I shuffled wearily between sleep, food, and the library for research and writing. Essentially Márquez, along with Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, helped plug me back into realising the vitality and depth of human life.
My love for Márquez was further solidified coming across a copy of his short stories in another shift. Later still I came across a copy of One Hundred Years of Solitude in another book shop in a different city and I immediately clasped it close to my heart. Where romance makes the characters flush with life (and death) in Love In The Time of Cholera, it is family history (and political commentary) that bind the characters in One Hundred Years of Solitude. The book did help to open my eyes anew to Márquez’s work and words, in how social commentary and political narrative can be combined so artfully within a delightful and fluid narrative to make flesh the stories that need, and must, be told to generations new.
Although my bedside table currently bulges with books waiting to be read and although Márquez will now not write any further novels, short stories or journalism, I will keep a space open for any of his works as, when, and if I come across them. May he rest in peace.
The contents of a book never published. Drafted and edited for publishing in 1967 but never printed, this work remains lost among the vast swathes of literature produce year upon year.
Everyone should get crustaceans: views on the value of hermits by R. P. Hunter.
All My Friends Are Hermits
Chapter 1: A bottomless deep
Chapter 2: A seagull stole my dignity
Chapter 3: Homeless
Chapter 4: Stolen!
Chapter 5: Stollen!
Chapter 6: All my friends are dead
Chapter 7: The shell re-union
Other Such Tales
A Sea Shore Svengali
Deep Blue Yonder
Your Plaice or Mine?
The Best Catch
Wailing About Nuthin’
Those Catfish Eyes
A reverse view of the world: from sea to land and land to sea by W. L. Rimmington.
Bookshops, especially independent bookshops, are becoming a dying breed. This saddens me deeply. What other type of shop is so full of ideas, that speaks so loudly of the vitality of the creative story, of the human voice? None that I know.
The ideas may come easy, but it is the writing that is hard. I spend my time thinking about writing rather than actually putting pen to paper, fingertip to keyboard. My bedside table is an altar to books not yet read.
“‘Off already, sir?’ he said. ‘Are you surprised?’ asked K. ‘Yes,’ said the landlord, ‘weren’t you interrogated, then?’ ‘No,’ said K. ‘I wouldn’t allow it.’ ‘Why not?’ asked the landlord. ‘I fail to see’. K. said, ‘why I should allow myself to be interrogated, why I should play along with a joke or bow to an official whim. Another time I might have done so, likewise as a joke or in response to a whim, but not today.’ ‘Yes of course, I see’ said the landlord, but it was merely polite agreement, lacking any conviction.”
From ‘The Castle’ (1926) by Franz Kafka.