Sunday, July 8, 2007
what im reading..........and why and how (in bed, underlining choice phrases etc.)
I have certain books I've decided Im going to read over and over again until I die. Not consecutively of course. That would be the act of a lunatic. All work and no play makes jack a dull boy. Some books you just know you have to read again. It's a realization as you read that you're not really ready for some aspects of what the author is trying to impart, either mentally, experientially, or, I guess, physically. Well not physically. But you know you'll have to come back again. The Brothers Karamazov was the first one for me. I read it initially when I was 18 years old. It was summertime and I was working as a grunt on a construction crew. I was in a "fertile mind" stage of life. My god I was a cheeseball. I wrote poems and fell in love with every girl who smiled at me. I listened to jim morrison with the intensity of a religious convert. I spent nights sneaking out of my bedroom window, laying (lying, have lain?) on the roof staring at stars, filling up with enormous thoughts and infinite optimism. Sickening, obviously. There's probably a disease or a DSM IV diagnosis for it. Anyway, I read TBK during this phase. I read it in about 4 weeks. I hesitate to write this, because it seems so outlandish and phony, but it brought me to tears at times. How many books do that? Those coupled chapters "Rebellion" and "The Grand Inquisitor" were unlike anything I'd ever read before. You needn't be afraid of life, children, Alyosha saying to the kids at the end... what a perfect way to end it. The book felt holy to me at the time. I carried it carefully, respectfully, almost like a bible. It was the Brothers Karamazov. It was speaking to me. I ended up taking Russian during college because I wanted to read it in its authentic text. Which unfortunately required becoming extremely fluent in Russian. So no dice. I read it again during medical school, third year. I used the same copy I read the first time. (Garnett translation I believe). It had all this pink and yellow highlighter ink in it. Which can be amusing. Why the hell did I highlight THAT, when coming across some especially banal and obvious passage. By the way, Dostoyevsky will never win any awards for style or "detached cool irony." Which is a good thing. We must be able to venerate at least one artist who lacks any semblance of irony, or else we've lost ourselves as a culture. Right? So I read it mostly at night before going to sleep. It took a lot longer, 2 or 3 months I guess. I remember being troubled by the prose. Thinking it spasmodic and wordy and overly emotional. I remember wondering why I was so impressed with it the first time. But I was a know-it-all medical student. I read it the way I read note services while studying for gross anatomy tests. I picked apart every word. Broke down everything. I call it soulless, mechanical reading. Maybe the timing was all off. So now I'm reading it again. My wife bought me the new translation. It's a fresh copy, no highlighter. And truthfully, it feels different somehow. The other one kept trailing off sentences with periods of ellipsis....... as if it couldn't find a close enough equivalent for whatever idiomatic turn of phrase Dostoyevsky used. The new one doesn't make me gag half as much as the other, for whatever it's worth. I'm no linguist.
Thoughts on BK Read #3 at the half way mark:
- I really enjoyed the scenes with old man Fyodor. His insolence and feigned ignorance is hilarious when around the men of the cloth.
- I could see someone like Rachel Wiesz playing Katerina (hot and sassy) in the movie BK.
- Ivan might be my favorite brother. His probing skepticism is all too modern.
- The chapter "Cana of Galilee" is extraordinarily Joycean, with the seamless merging of first person stream of consciousness with third person narrative.
- Reading for the third time, I've noticed how tightly controlled the plot and narrative structure is. He didn't just sit down a la Kerouc and start pounding out pages; a lot of thought and contemplation and planning went into this work.
- The motif of 3. Three brothers, three women, three thousand dollars, three meetings with Smerdyakov, three knocks on the door. And I guess the Trinity factors in somehow.
- Dostoeyevsky's Christianity is one of joyful exuberance. Even in suffering. The miserable ascetic monk, Father Ferapont, is derided as a raving lunatic. Deprivation is a fact of human existence; self addled despondency only clouds the beauty and joy that are potentially all around us. It's a state of mind, more than merely "Christian". Really, it transcends Christianity.
- The sentimental prose and emotional exuberance of BK would be a little hard to take in this age of irony if one wasn't aware of Dostoyevsky's life experience. A man who faced a firing squad, spent years in exile, was constantly broke, fought depression, and then, on the brink of death, in old age, mustered the heroic energy to fire one last salvo, the work of a lifetime, a soul spilling onto pages; this man ought not to be mocked. It would be like snickering at a father who weeps as his only daughter exchanges vows at the altar. Some things are real. BK may not be a great work of "literature" according to modern precepts, but, my god, it is Art. It is for the ages. And as long as I walk the earth, i'll aways have it.