Thursday, March 13, 2008

You people ASTOUND me! I had no idea I had such smart friends.

I promise to actually sit down and think about a really smart post over spring break next week, but for now, I would just like to make it known that I knew Blair would like the third story. I just knew it! Like, I would've put money on it -- good money!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

I did notice the overlap of senses in the stories. A couple examples I caught:
On page 3, he compares the taste of the food to the high notes, modulations, chords and dissonances of music.
When his wife is discussing cannibalism with the tour guide, the guide says that dish was "a terrible harmony."
Watching his wife eat, the narrator imagines the sensation of his wife tearing into his flesh and chewing.
These references are an acknowledgment, I think, that life can't be easily divided into the individual experiences of the senses. Its a cute idea to say that this story is about taste or hearing, but we interact with the world in a much more multifaceted way.
I agree with Blair that the second person narration doesn't hold up. The only other story that I have read in second person was by Junot Diaz (who I am obligated to now mention in every post). The best aspect of Diaz's writing is his personal, informal voice and it allowed for a rhythm similar to that of someone talking with you. Calvino could have replaced the "you"'s with "he"'s just fine. Diaz's story was also much shorter, whereas in the Calvino story the gimmick got old after awhile.
The two missing senses might be the most difficult to imagine in this context. 99 percent of stories are "sight" stories and focus on relaying visual images. I'd imagine touch being a story in the vein of "Johnny Got his Gun" (or "One" by Metallica). The protagonist would have to be blind, mute, unable to smell and deaf -- existing only as a consciousness and kept alive through the sensation of physical contact. Something about touch is different than the other senses and I think its because the loss of touch is paralysis. Its the most basic way we interact with the world and losing it means either paralysis or death, but its also overshadowed by all the other senses.
Or maybe not. Maybe a story about touch could the simplest of all five.


Ooh, debate!

My favorite of the three stories was the underdog third story. I did not like the second story, and I felt pretty ambivalent about the first.

I was excited about “Under the Jaguar Sun” as I read the first few pages -- I have actually wondered before how “Oaxacan” was pronounced, and I always feel good when someone finds a use for the word “somnambulist.” But impressive displays of vocabulary prowess aside, this story was unsatisfying. The whole cycle-of-devouring theme was confusing, and I’m wondering now if it’s partially because I’m a vegetarian with pretty unrefined taste. Food in general is not usually that exciting for me, and eating meat at all already feels a little cannibalistic and icky. I could not get on board with the food/sex connection -- but maybe this is because of my own proclivities, just as Garen admitted feeling especially passionate about the story because of his own. It’s interesting to read how much this story resonated with everyone else since I felt like I really didn’t get it.

I guess I could get behind the idea of the narrator and Olivia’s relationship as bland and tasteless. Are we supposed to want them to work it out? I didn’t think either of them was sympathetic at all, nor did I care about any of their friends or tour guides. I didn’t really like anyone in the story, but no one was unlikable enough to be an antihero or a villain.

I couldn’t get into “A King Listens,” either. Part of the trouble, I think, was the second-person narration that Garen mentioned. The narration made it feel like a choose-your-own-adventure story, except one where someone else is doing all the choosing and he keeps making the wrong choices. I felt like I was constantly struggling against the narrator: “No, I don’t feel that way. No, I wouldn’t do that.” The king’s paranoia and arrogance made him unsympathetic (I guess I really need to connect to characters to like a story). Mostly, I kept reading the story as a less effective version of “The Tell-Tale Heart” with a little bit of Hamlet thrown in, and once I had those works in mind, it was hard to enjoy the story on its own merits.

So, “The Name, the Nose” was my favorite, due in no small part to its involving Paris and rock musicians (here’s where my personal preferences come in again). I noticed that Calvino wrote it in London in 1972, which places it right before the explosion of punk rock. I think “The Name, the Nose” is the most effective at capturing a pure sensory experience and evoking strong emotion. I wonder if it’s because it was written in an environment that must have been frenzied and insane, and because, at least in part, it is about that environment. That is to say, I think “The Name, the Nose” comes from a more natural place than the other two stories. To me, it feels like Calvino was noticing what was really happening around him and working it into his writing. The other two stories feel like an intellectual exercise: “What would happen if I tried to write stories about the other senses?” (This feeling is exacerbated by the fact that 10 years -- I think -- passed between the writing of “The Name, the Nose” and the next story.) The longing and frantic searching in “The Name, the Nose” affected me much more than the carnality of “Under the Jaguar Sun” or the vulgar sexuality of “A King Listens.” Also, I love the idea of a caveman’s narrative voice sounding as elegant as a Parisian fop’s.
Here are some questions I would like to open to the FTC:

What about the two other senses? What does everyone think about the fact that the two senses missing from this book – sight and touch – are the only two you actually use when you read a book? Is it too hard to represent a sensory experience on the page if you’re having that experience as you read? Or is it just a coincidence that Calvino saved those two for last?

Also, did anyone else find multiple senses colliding in some of the stories? I thought “Under the Jaguar Sun” was as much about touch as taste, and the drummer’s narration in “The Name, the Nose” was pretty sound-heavy. What else?
I have to admit, I was kind of zoning out as i read the third story, so I can't really speak about that one as well as the other two. But I'm gonna have to throw down with Stephanie about the second story. I think that the two climaxes of the story are intensely sexual. First Jabba harmonizes (or does he?) with the mysterious female voice outside his chamber, and develops some form of romantic / sexual obsession. Then later we hear the same harmonies but this time Jabba realizes that it's in fact someone else's (his displaced rival's?) harmony that he hears. I mean we can definitely wonder about his projection of someone else's romantic experience onto himself earlier in the story. But the experience is definitely at least romantic, if not sexual. And the experience is definitely purely auditory. So I think Calvino still endeavors to connect a sensory experience with some form of sexual sentiment, regardless of how stifled or incomplete that sentiment may be. But maybe I'm the only one who found that the story climaxed at those points, making them the central points of the story.

So I think that regardless of whether or not it's "the point" second two stories, it's definitely a common thread that the three share, and at least "a point" of the second two.

Maybe the fact that Calvino fails at creating the same sensual experience in the second two stories means that he has some awkward food fetish that he just can't translate effectively into the nose and the ears. And, maybe so does everyone else who finds the first story the most convincing, including me. Oh, me and my overshares...

Thoughts on Under the Jag Sun

(Is it inappropriate to say Under the Jag Sun? Listen, I have feelings to get out, I can't have proper names holding me back.)

I think what struck me about Jag Sun (see, getting shorter) is that the stories felt a bit disjointed, making for an loosely unified, unfinished sort of collection. Of course, poor Italo actually died in the middle of writing it, so that's something to be taken into account.

I liked the first story the best, like everyone else, because it did strike me as the most sensual -- or the one story that expressed actual sensual fulfillment. (Maybe I share your taste/sex associations, Garen.) The two lately celibate lovers masticate their way through Oaxaca and rediscover their sexuality and ... innate cannibalism. That's a theme I can get behind. Really! There's something convincingly primordial and natural about the idea. Think (though I know you don't want to) about all the animals/beings that kill their mates after copulation in nature -- you know, praying mantises and black widow spiders and other insects and vermin. Maybe Italo could have taken a page from Kafka and Jeff Goldblum and had his lovers turn into giant bugs. (That probably would have been a bad idea for the story, but how often do I get the chance to link Jeff Goldblum and Kafka and Italo Calvino?)

I'm not sure I know exactly what Italo was saying, ultimately, with his titular story. First, our narrator has the uncomfortable, then scintillating feeling that his lover Olivia is consuming him as she eats. Then he realizes she finds him bland, tasteless. Then.. he realizes that he has to eat her while she eats him, somehow? What are your thoughts about this? You are what you eat because what you're eating is eating you?

The other stories were comparatively weak up against the intrinsic sex and violence of the first; but, I don't totally share Garen's view on this because I don't think that these last two pieces tried that hard to connect sexual energy with the senses. In fact, I find very little to connect them with Jag Sun in the first place. With these, the point seemed to be that each sense in question was subverted by circumstance, portraying the limited range and utility every sense has when it must work on its own. The immobile, paranoid King (who I couldn't help but imagine as Jabba the Hutt) could not identify the sounds he heard, making their existence essentially a moot point, and the drunk/incapacitated/thwarted musician could not locate the particular scent he smelled until it was too late to matter. But that may be just me, always finding the futility. Who's a Debbie Downer with me?

Thursday, March 6, 2008

I agree with everything that Kelly said actually. I definitely stayed engaged in the first story more than any of the others. For some reason I find it easier to connect taste with sexual energy than sound or smell. Whoops, was that an overshare? That seemed like the point of the three stories, to connect romantic / sexual feelings with the various senses, and the first story just seemed the most convincing to me. Food is delicious.

What did everyone think of the second story being written in the second person. That's what seemed the most striking to me, and I agree with Kelly that that story stuck with me the most. That one also seemed the most cinematic in a way. I can totally see a short film using all sorts of interesting images, and of course lots of striking sounds / beautiful music.
Kids, I had the flu last week, and let me tell you, I read a helluva lotta books.

My selections included Atonement, Valley of the Dolls, about three back issues of Time magazine, and of course, Under the Jaguar Sun. Hey, when your temperature hits 103, you start getting pretty eclectic with your choices.

That said, I was much too sheepish to kick off the discussion, so many thanks to Greg for taking one for the team. But perhaps more importantly, kudos on your reference to synesthesia. After learning about this intriguing ailment on a particularly wacky episode of "House," I based one of my essays for French class on the notion that Proust was probably afflicted with it. Lord, I hate Proust ...

Okay, so about this book: I'm very into short stories at the moment, probably because my senioritis has reached the point where reading anything more than 30 pages has become a task of Herculean proportions. The first one I thought was pretty brilliant, and oh holy hell, how much did you want Mexican food after that? Just thinking about it is making me salivate -- Oh, speaking of which, learned this little trick in one of my thousands of trips to the doctor last week: Close your eyes and picture sucking on a lemon drop. Don't move a muscle, just picture it ... Is your mouth filling up with spit? How freaky is that?!

But I digress ... Upon finishing, my initial reaction was that the book debuted with the best story, but then each subsequent one got progressively worse. However, I find that, more than the others, the second one about the king confined to his throne stuck with me days later. I dunno, maybe it's because every time I hear a floorboard creak I fear that it's the mouse that recently made an appearance in our apartment. Or maybe it's 'cause with all the political coverage in the news of late, I'm finding myself wondering if Barack and Hillary could really handle the pressure of running a country. McCain probably could -- he is one tough old bird.

And that, my friends, is my very first legit blog entry. I'm pretty proud!

Monday, March 3, 2008

I don't have much time to write anything meaningful about the book right now, but I have finished it. Initial reaction was that it was, by default (I think), the best modern Italian book I have ever read and the second best representation of a synesthesia-like reaction to food (first being the fireworks the rats imagine when they eat in "Ratatouille"). I'll try to post something of substance later on this week.

I've read only one of the books on the Tournament of Books site - the Junot Diaz one. It was really good, so I guess I'm rooting for it.

Friday, February 29, 2008

It's true, and I'm sorry, but February IS a short month you know.

Blair's done me a great service in outing me; I was still working up the courage to give you all my humblest apologies. No, I didn't read the book, not because I didn't want to, but because I was going to borrow a copy. Obviously that didn't work out, so I should have probably bought the book sooner than, oh, yesterday. But I am reading speedily! And I remain forever committed to FTC! And you guys can be mean to me?

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Fear not!

Blair, I read it too. I think we can be best friends now.

I've been thinking about what I want my post to look like. I'll definitely write something soon. Especially if you write something first and give me something to respond to!