Category Archives: Books

Sentences

Have never read anything by Jhumpa Lahiri, but this was magical and sums up how I feel about books and writing. A good sentence – like a really perfect combination of words – just makes me feel so good, and they can be found anywhere from blogs to judicial opinions. I savor a good sentence as a small piece of wisdom. Also, this should be read with this. (omg, it’s a reading pairing! Like wine and cheese!)

My Life’s Sentences

By JHUMPA LAHIRI

In college, I used to underline sentences that struck me, that made me look up from the page. They were not necessarily the same sentences the professors pointed out, which would turn up for further explication on an exam. I noted them for their clarity, their rhythm, their beauty and their enchantment. For surely it is a magical thing for a handful of words, artfully arranged, to stop time. To conjure a place, a person, a situation, in all its specificity and dimensions. To affect us and alter us, as profoundly as real people and things do.

I remember reading a sentence by Joyce, in the short story “Araby.” It appears toward the beginning. “The cold air stung us and we played till our bodies glowed.” I have never forgotten it. This seems to me as perfect as a sentence can be. It is measured, unguarded, direct and transcendent, all at once. It is full of movement, of imagery. It distills a precise mood. It radiates with meaning and yet its sensibility is discreet.

When I am experiencing a complex story or novel, the broader planes, and also details, tend to fall away. Rereading them, certain sentences are what greet me as familiars. You have visited before, they say when I recognize them. We encounter books at different times in life, often appreciating them, apprehending them, in different ways. But their language is constant. The best sentences orient us, like stars in the sky, like landmarks on a trail.

They remain the test, whether or not to read something. The most compelling narrative, expressed in sentences with which I have no chemical reaction, or an adverse one, leaves me cold. In fiction, plenty do the job of conveying information, rousing suspense, painting characters, enabling them to speak. But only certain sentences breathe and shift about, like live matter in soil. The first sentence of a book is a handshake, perhaps an embrace. Style and personality are irrelevant. They can be formal or casual. They can be tall or short or fat or thin. They can obey the rules or break them. But they need to contain a charge. A live current, which shocks and illuminates.

Knowing — and learning to read in — a foreign tongue heightens and complicates my relationship to sentences. For some time now, I have been reading predominantly in Italian. I experience these novels and stories differently. I take no sentence for granted. I am more conscious of them. I work harder to know them. I pause to look something up, I puzzle over syntax I am still assimilating. Each sentence yields a twin, translated version of itself. When the filter of a second language falls away, my connection to these sentences, though more basic, feels purer, at times more intimate, than when I read in English.

The urge to convert experience into a group of words that are in a grammatical relation to one another is the most basic, ongoing impulse of my life. It is a habit of antiphony: of call and response. Most days begin with sentences that are typed into a journal no one has ever seen. There is a freedom to this; freedom to write what I will not proceed to wrestle with. The entries are mostly quotidian, a warming up of the fingers and brain. On days when I am troubled, when I am grieved, when I am at a loss for words, the mechanics of formulating sentences, and of stockpiling them in a vault, is the only thing that centers me again.

Constructing a sentence is the equivalent of taking a Polaroid snapshot: pressing the button, and watching something emerge. To write one is to document and to develop at the same time. Not all sentences end up in novels or stories. But novels and stories consist of nothing but. Sentences are the bricks as well as the mortar, the motor as well as the fuel. They are the cells, the individual stitches. Their nature is at once solitary and social. Sentences establish tone, and set the pace. One in front of the other marks the way.

My work accrues sentence by sentence. After an initial phase of sitting patiently, not so patiently, struggling to locate them, to pin them down, they begin arriving, fully formed in my brain. I tend to hear them as I am drifting off to sleep. They are spoken to me, I’m not sure by whom. By myself, I know, though the source feels independent, recondite, especially at the start. The light will be turned on, a sentence or two will be hastily scribbled on a scrap of paper, carried upstairs to the manuscript in the morning. I hear sentences as I’m staring out the window, or chopping vegetables, or waiting on a subway platform alone. They are pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, handed to me in no particular order, with no discernible logic. I only sense that they are part of the thing.

Over time, virtually each sentence I receive and record in this haphazard manner will be sorted, picked over, organized, changed. Most will be dispensed with. All the revision I do — and this process begins immediately, accompanying the gestation — occurs on a sentence level. It is by fussing with sentences that a character becomes clear to me, that a plot unfolds. To work on them so compulsively, perhaps prematurely, is to see the trees before the forest. And yet I am incapable of conceiving the forest any other way.

As a book or story nears completion, I grow acutely, obsessively conscious of each sentence in the text. They enter into the blood. They seem to replace it, for a while. When something is in proofs I sit in solitary confinement with them. Each is confronted, inspected, turned inside out. Each is sentenced, literally, to be part of the text, or not. Such close scrutiny can lead to blindness. At times — and these times terrify — they cease to make sense. When a book is finally out of my hands I feel bereft. It is the absence of all those sentences that had circulated through me for a period of my life. A complex root system, extracted.

Even printed, on pages that are bound, sentences remain unsettled organisms. Years later, I can always reach out to smooth a stray hair. And yet, at a certain point, I must walk away, trusting them to do their work. I am left looking over my shoulder, wondering if I might have structured one more effectively. This is why I avoid reading the books I’ve written. Why, when I must, I approach the book as a stranger, and pretend the sentences were written by someone else.


Jhumpa Lahiri is the author of “Unaccustomed Earth,” “The Namesake” and “Interpreter of Maladies.”

This warms the cockles of my heart

If only because it makes my current position just a touch less insufferable: New York’s Literary Cubs.

Fueled by B.Y.O.B. bourbon, impressive degrees and the angst that comes with being young and unmoored, members spend their hours filling the air with talk of Edmund Wilson and poststructuralism.

Intellectual circle jerk for the win, Comp Lit seminar redux.

Unemployed Columbia grads are relegated to sponsor their own obscure literary interests whereas the market is rewarding the creative labors of people like Kim Kardashian with numerous book deals.  In theory, copyright laws promote innovation and creativity, but you really begin to question the validity of that statement when society just doesn’t have a demand for anything resembling intellectual efforts. So, the theoretical purpose of the system of protection is kinda moot if there’s not market demand.

J’ai tant reve de toi

J’ai tant rêvé de toi
que tu perds ta réalité.
Est-il encore temps d’atteindre ce corps vivant et de baiser
sur cette bouche la naissance de la voix qui m’est chère?

J’ai tant rêvé de toi
que mes bras habitués en étreignant ton ombre
à se croiser sur ma poitrine
ne se plieraient pas au contour de ton corps, peut-être.
Et que, devant l’apparence réelle de ce qui me hante et
me gouverne depuis des jours et des années,
je deviendrais une ombre sans doute.
O balances sentimentales.

J’ai tant rêvé de toi
qu’il n’est plus temps sans doute que je m’éveille.
Je dors debout, le corps exposé à toutes les apparences de la vie
et de l’amour et toi, la seule qui compte aujourd’hui pour moi,
je pourrais moins toucher ton front et tes lèvres
que les premières lèvres et le premier front venu.

J’ai tant rêvé de toi,
tant marché, parlé, couché avec ton fantôme
qu’il ne me reste plus peut-être, et pourtant,
qu’à être fantôme parmi les fantômes et
plus ombre cent fois que l’ombre qui se promène et
se promènera allégrement sur le cadran solaire de ta vie.

I’m reading a book named after this famous Robert Desnos poem. It’s kind of a historical fiction, kinda Marguerite Duras-esque. Totally a little cheesy but kind of geeked out over it, I just spent all morning on wiki.

plein de souffrance.

This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang, but a whimper

Tweeted this earlier today. I’m realizing the concept is not only applicable to grand schemes, but to anything that meets an end. Isn’t it true, that most things end with a whimper. There isn’t much flair, drama or climax in life; mostly plateaus, melodrama and disenchantment.

libertinage du sentiment

came across this phrase earlier today in a marivaux play; this could make for an interesting post.

Essentially, I was writing about the romantic temperament. Jim Willard is so overwhelmed by a first love affair that he finds all other lovers wanting. He can only live in the past, as he imagined the past, or in the future as he hopes it will be when he finds Bob again. He has no present. So whether the first love object is a boy or girl is not really all that important. The novel was not about the city so much as about the pillar of salt, the looking back that destroys. Nabokov handled this same theme with infinitely greater elegance in Lolita. But I was only twenty when I made my attempt, while he was half as old as time. Anyway, my story could only have had a disastrous ending. Obviously, killing Bob was a bit much even though the original narrative was carefully vague on that point. Did he or didn’t he kill him? Actually, what was being killed was the idea of perfect love that had existed only in the romantic’s mind. The other person—the beloved object—had forgotten all about it.

– Gore Vidal, Paris Review

split screen sadness

This review of “Super Sad True Love Story” covers everything I could hope to say about the artificial human interaction and fleeting attention spans aspect of the book (in more poignant and elegant words than I can reach for at this moment, because I am being told awkward phrasing can be preferable!) I’ve referenced this book no less than 15 times in everyday conversation since I read it in September (last real book before I became consumed by asinine tortfeasors and such). Seriously, so relevant; give it a go. At least read the review, it’s alarming and tragic. The cerebral side of me shed a silent, virtual tear.

Another aspect is more political, the review briefly brushed over the whole RMB pegged USD, and what do you know, 20 minutes later, I read this.

 

Agiter la vie!

I just read and reread this book, “Desolation” by Yasmina Reza, which could be my credo. If you want a deeper look at my disturbing psyche, feel free to pick it up and have a skim. (English versions are available.)

This post will have no common thread, which is the common thread to this blog as a whole. So, a microcosm for my life, perhaps.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote, and quickly privatized (which apparently does not bypass the cache of rss feeds and readers) a long post about assholes, which in my usage has a broad coverage of everyone from a douchebag, an imbecile with no common sense, to a malicious human with not an ounce of empathy. Well, I still feel the same way. People seem to manifest and iterate my peeves. What can I say? You make it hard for me to be a decent human being, which at the end makes me feel like an asshole (of the last and worst category). It is exhausting. I would like to be able to be indiscriminate when it comes to tolerance, but I lack the altruism. I can’t find it in my heart to have a more profound faith in humanity and overlook certain bs traits that proliferate in so many. Worst of all, the unaware and hypocritical.

Y’all annoy the last ounce of kindness out of me.

And I ask, how did you get to be 23+, but still more boring than the rocks I kick on the way to class?

I am bored with life right now. I mean, two days ago, I was so bored I made mac and cheese from a box. (Can you even?)

I don’t hate law school, I’m mostly ambivalent about it. There’s nothing intrinsically stirring about it to evoke anything other than apathy, ya know? I suppose this is how I’ll feel about my career for the next 40 years. And…I am kind of apathetic about that prospect, too. It’s a matter of fact. (AM I DEAD INSIDE? JK)

I also wish I could just have fun with any and every one or that I could be more of a people’s person. It doesn’t necessarily make me act like a giant ball of hostile bitchiness, really; just a lot of internal awkwardness, which thanks to my impeccably cool front, translates as cold hearted misanthropy.

Life might be a big misunderstanding. Sometimes I think about how much grief and heartache is caused by miscommunication and misguided speculations and I wish to go resolve everything with anyone I’ve ever known (ok, maybe not everyone). (For example, a couple of weeks ago, someone told me that I have intimacy issues. And well, while the statement bore no legitimacy and validity to the parties in that particular conversation, it’s not the first time I’ve heard it and I’ve also considered if anything I do give off that impression, especially, to people whose opinion I’d respect and care for.) Unfortunately, this society doesn’t appreciate that kind of directness and transparency, so we’ll continue being vaguely happy but “peaceful” with the occasional, dull aches.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m generally happy with my lot, chipper even. I just need some change! Obvious change, like punctuations! Yes, right now, I feel like I’m in the middle of a run on sentence which has no end in sight, no strong thesis, and is unnecessarily complicated (like any good run on sentence should be).

I don’t want anyone to hate me, either. I’m just as disappointed as you are about this (though probably for different reasons). I’ve come to have less specific expectations about people and relationships, not exactly lowering my standards, but still I face inevitable disappointment. There have been two instances where all my expectations or lack thereof were completely squashed and thrown out the window like the silly, meaningless, juvenile projections they were. This may be why these two continue to retain so much respect in my mind. The moment I realized that you will never come close to that was when I said, I value respect in a relationship and you said, it doesn’t matter how much you respect a horse, it’s still a horse. I still have no idea what that even means other than that there is a fundamental difference that cannot be reconciled.

So many dalliances are marked by pervasive indifference, at best there are rare moments of intrigue, that with enough optimism, effort to exaggerate, sometimes carry it and prolong mild interest. People disappoint in the dullest way possible, the kind of disappointment that doesn’t even move you, like oh, you’ve disappointed me so much to the core that I feel the need to reevaluate my perspective. No, it’s all, more or less, yes, of course, another utter failure of a disconnect. Of course, moving on.

Last night, a friend asked me why I blog and if I really want people to read my thoughts and then comment — rather I think said friend meant why people, in general, make public that which seems so privy. I couldn’t answer the question with much thought as I was at a poetry slam, but I’ve been giving it some thought.

Last month, I attended a seminar on the French writer, philosopher, man of general awesomeness, Denis Diderot. The last segment of the conference broached and delved into the idea of the private/public and their intersection in the work of Diderot and really in philosophy at large. In one of the entries contributed by Diderot, there was a footnote that while addressing the asterik also had a separate intention which eluded the public, or most of his readers. This footnote had a hidden layer of address to Jean Jacques Rousseau, with whom Diderot supposedly had beef. In another entry, Diderot addressed the blindly faithful religieux of his epoque, but it was later discovered that the entry closely resembles a letter to Diderot’s own brother, an abbey. In this way, Diderot conflates the public and the private in a clever and crafted way. Even in putting such private matters in such a public medium, he retains this element of privacy as the second layer of meaning would only be interpreted by the person to whom it is addressed. Or you know, centuries later, by obsessed Diderot experts. 

Then minutes after she posed the question, I became privy to extremely personal and vulnerable details of complete strangers through their performances, the inflections of their voices, highs and lows of life resonating in the highs and lows of their voices, expressions, metaphors, words and poetry.

Why put that out there? Why share these anecdotes with a room full of strangers you’ve never known and may never see again?

With all of the means of communication that we have now, why and how do we make any choice of which way to communicate what? Why do I sometimes see Twitter or Facebook Statuses that are so obviously addressed to a specific person? Why do I choose to have extended conversations through a series of text messages rather than a phone call? Why are there so many privacy settings on Facebook? How do we keep information to ourselves and maintain privacy in a sphere of such public accessibility?

At the end of the night, after almost twenty stories of personal consequence in slam poetry form, I found myself wondering how much of that frustration, shared with so many tonight, has been addressed with the source. How much after so much is spoken, is still left unspoken. And then, in our daily exchanges, behind the facade of jest, snark, sarcastic banterings, and sideways remarks, how much is still left unspoken.  How do we choose what to share publicly and what to keep in “private”?

Obviously, blogs are very public; theoretically, this or any other existing blog can be read by anyone, anywhere in the world. But at the same time, with its anonymity, blogging can be private. I have no idea who reads my blog [except for the friends that message me about certain entries. Is this a circle of trust? or a circle of lovveeeee. lol], and save for my friends, people may read the blog, but they have no idea who I am, even if they come to learn about my life and thoughts.

In some of my entries, there is the same tactic of mixing the private and public. Even in this entry, in talking about generalities, I am projecting some of my own frustrations with communication. It’s all very passive aggressive, because in those instances of layered private messages, it is still left unresolved even as the person reads it. It doesn’t become a dialogue, it becomes some encrypted message that leaves everyone trying to decode it including the person you’re trying to reach. How many of these entries have you read or written? I read and wrote madddaaadem [mad of them]. But for the most part, my entries are more self-indulgent than anything else.

Obviously, many blogs are much less calculated. There is always an element of narcisissm and ego whenever someone starts a blog; you assume that people want to read it or that you contribute something that has yet been formulated by someone else or simply for the fact that your perspective is so legit [too legit to quittt] that it has to be heard. So then, what’s really the problem with a little ego and giving the little narcissist in you a wink of acknowledgment? Shit, my narcissist, being a reflection of me, is hot.

Cue: This is Why I’m hot.

I don’t know how it got obnox, I meant to be just a pinch positive, but then…whatever, you love it.

Or should I say, you know you love me. xoxo gossip girl [returns in a week!!]