Monday, August 20, 2012

2012.08.12 — Gilgamesh by Anonymous finished 2012.07.15

I recently re-read a verse translation of the Sumerian epic Gllgamesh, the ancient king of Uruk (Iraq) and his encounter with Enkidu, the man of the wilds.

Originally published circa 3000BC. This translation is by Herbert Mason.
Printed by A Mentor Book,
an imprint of The New American Library, Inc.
This edition lacks an ISBN.
[The New American Library, Inc. is now an imprint of Penguin Books.]

I first read Gilgamesh about 20 years ago — not this translation — because it was referred to as an important psychological text by mythologist Joseph Campbell and poet and social critic Robert Bly. I confess to having been very disappointed in it at the time. However, my expectations were very high because of the recommendations. And, as it turns out, I lacked
the understanding to appreciate the text, because at the time I simply did not get it.

Well, let that be a lesson. Now, older, I have grown into being able to appreciate the subtlety and psychological sophistication that Campbell and Bly (and others) were alluding to. Amusingly, I seem to be on a binge of seeing in the creative things around me endless manifestations of Zen's The Ten Ox Herding Songs, A.K.A. The Ten Bulls*.
I am being a little loose here, because Gilgamesh's journey doesn't exactly follow the Songs, but it is metaphorically very close, which is that the path to spiritual enlightenment requires getting one's feet dirty in the mucky waters of the physical universe.

[* For example, I recently explored how the movie The Devil Wears Prada is also an example, in a highly westernized disguise, of the Ten Bulls. I have blogged this argument @ 2012.08.21 — The Devil Wears Prada: A Ten Bulls Review. And, also, education critic and revisionist Sir Kenneth Robinson makes a similar allusion in his critique of education and the development or expungement of creativity in his TED talk Schools Kill Creativity.]

Here is a passage I flagged. I like it because I find it evocative and stimulating, but I am not sure what it means.
I think compassion is our God's pure act
Which burns forever,
And be it in Heaven or in Hell
Doesn't matter for me; because
Hell is the everlasting gift
Of His presence
to the lonely heart who is longing
Amidst perishing phantoms and doesn't care
To find immortality
If not in the pure loneliness of the Holy One,
This loneliness which He enjoys forever
Inside and outside of His creation.
It is enough for one who loves
To find his Only One singled in Himself.
And this is the cup of immortality! (p74-5.)
I did not come out [because of my parents' sexual desire] like you,
Said Utnapishtim; I was the choice of others (p75).
And… Well, I hesitate to write this, because it is rather odd. But, here goes. While reading this I experienced a bizarre and sad fushigi. It began with a bizarre cartoon-like industrial accident that killed someone. I heard the story on TV 2012.07.10. Here's the news item as reported in a local paper:
Man Crushed To Death by Load of Gravel at LaFarge Canada Site in South Vancouver by Zoe McKnight The Vancouver Sun July 10, 2012.

VANCOUVER - WorkSafe BC continues to investigate how a man was crushed to death by a load of gravel on a Vancouver job site this morning.

Spokeswoman Donna Freeman said the man was likely behind the gravel truck when the load elevated and the truck's back gate opened, and the load dumped onto the worker, killing him.

Provincial inspectors were called to the Lafarge Canada ready-mix cement site on Kent Street just before 9 a.m. Tuesday.
(Click here for the complete story.)

Well, the following day, 2012.07.11 I continued my perusal of Gilgamesh. And here is what I read:
It was a restless night for both [Gilgamesh and Enkidu]. One snatched
At sleep and sprang awake from dreams.

[When] Gilgamesh awoke [he] could not hear
His friend in agony; [Enkidu] still was captive to his dreams
Which he would tell aloud to exorcise:
I saw us standing in a mountain gorge,
A rockslide fell on us, we seemed no more
Than insects under it.
And then
A solitary graceful man appeared
And pulled me out from under the mountain.
He gave me water and I felt released.

Tomorrow you will be victorious,
Enkidu said, to whom the dream brought chills
(For only one of them, he knew would be released)
Which Gilgamesh could not perceive in the darkness
For he went back to sleep without responding
To his friend's interpretation of his dream (36-7).
It wasn't until after I was finalizing this blog that I linked Ken Robinson's talk "Schools Kill Creativity" to it. And I had the strangest thought: in Gilgamesh, Gilgamesh's nascent spiritual growth begins when he becomes aware of the real dirty world of the 'animalistic' Enkidu. But it wasn't enough: until Enkidu — Gilgamesh's source of grounded creative energy — was killed Gilgamesh's spiritual journey was incomplete. Very interesting.

[Fushigi addendum: 2012.08.20 9:40pm]
Tonight M, from the Goodreads book-biased social networking site, posted a top ten list of songs he would want in an iPod. It is an interesting list, and one in which I do not have even one of the songs in my 4421 loaded in iTunes or in any of my still un-'iTuned' CDs. So, I went to look to see what were my most played songs in iTunes. Here is what I posted:
Here's my list of most played songs in iTunes. It isn't quite accurate because it doesn't include all the times I actually play CDs in the car or in the stereo down stairs, but it is statistically representative! (LoL.)

   1) Bang on a Can's cover of Brian Eno's Music for Airports: 1/1 - (253 plays)
   2) Bang on a Can's cover of Brian Eno's Music for Airports 1/2 - (235 plays - not a transposition)
   3) Philip GlassSerra Pelada from Powaqqatsi - (226 plays)
   4) Philip Glass — The Title from Powaqqatsi - (226 plays)
   5) Bang on a Can's cover of Brian Eno's Music for Airports 2/1 (215 plays)
   6) Philip Glass — Anthem Part 1 from Powaqqatsi - (213 plays)
   7) Philip Glass — That Place from Powaqqatsi - (201 plays)
   8) Philip Glass — Anthem Part 2 from Powaqqatsi - (201 plays)
   9) Bang on a Can's cover of Brian Eno's Music for Airports - (197 plays)
10) Philip Glass — Anthem Part 3 from Powaqqatsi - (189 plays).

My listening practice is to listen to albums. It is a rare thing for me to put music on random by single song, or to even listen to a single song extracted from an album — or to buy anthologies — I allow radio listening to provide that. iTunes and the iPod allow for random play by album which is my default. However, I have a tendency to repeat songs that really catch my ear. For example, Chantal Keviazuk. I've listened to Surrounded and Believer 56 times from her album Under These Rocks and Stones*. But the rest of the songs on the album less than 20 plays. It is very rare for me to not delete one or two songs in an album. Off the top of my head the only example that comes immediately to mind is Africa by Toto.

*Fushigi moment. Earlier this evening I finished posting my review of Gilgamesh in my book blog. In it I include a fushigi about an industrial accident here in metro Vancouver that involved a man getting buried under a dump truck load of rocks. In Gilgamesh, Enkidu dreams that he and Gilgamesh get buried under a rock slide, and that Enkidu dies.

Okay, not sure if it counts as a fushigi or near fushigi, but while doing this posting I was playing around with iTunes. Right now, by random chance by album, I am listening to Rush from their album 'Moving Pictures'. The song that is playing is Witch Hunt.
The night is black, without a moon.
The air is thick and still.
The vigilantes gather on
The lonely torchlit hill.

The reason I included Witch Hunt is because late last night I posted a response to M's initial reaction and query regarding my Jungian / Zen movie review of The Devil Wears Prada. As I mentioned that movie in this blog post, and in my response to M I wrote the following line:

So why then are woman so enamoured of shoes? Excellent question.

Yes, shoes do represent a type of animus possession. IMO, anyway. But I am not properly a Jungian, so please take my observation with lots of salt and consider it something to moil up the clouds of understanding

Your speculation is accurate. But I would like to elaborate the discussion by noting that the Judaeo-Christian societies have been generally brutally dismissive of the feminine. With Christianity this has been despite Christ having, in his time, fully embraced female equality. This was one of the key aspects of very early Christianity that helped make it popular. However once Christianity got going the men took it over and evicted the female presence from its power structure and largely emphasized the female as evil temptress, and/or weak victim. Within the Christian ethos, a compensatory effect of the devaluation of the feminine was the increased elevation of Mary mother of Christ to the point where churches were built in her name. Pragmatically, the feminine was burnt if too powerful (Joan of Arc, witches), but when they were 'kept' or stayed in their place they were elevated to untouchable grace and beauty and the object of endless songs and poems of unrealistic projections of the ideal feminine. All this occurred before the serious elevation of the mind over matter theology that Rene Descartes and Newton successfully created and popularized, and whose social philosophy of life became the fundamental truth that 'proper' human beings used to confirm the 'truth' of what was or was not 'real'.
And so it was that I was 'forced' to post that review and the text around it. Bizarre fushigi. Bizarre.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

2012.08.04 — Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn: Almost Read

Gone Girl: A Novel
by Gillian Flynn.
Publisher: Crown (Random House)
ISBN: 978-0-307-58838-8 (0-307-58838-6)

Almost Read.

GG was a rare, for me, almost-read book. Rare, not because I didn't really finish it, but rare because I began reading it because of a review.

Isn't that a curious hypocrisy?! I rarely read books because of a review, and yet here I am writing a review in a blog I have created for the sole purpose of writing book reviews! What does that say about me? I wonder. Perhaps that I am narcissistic? Or maybe, to put a positive spin on this, that I like to learn about who I am by examining my reactions to what I read. And that is something I find I am unable to do with reading book reviews. Maybe it is simply that from personal experience I trust that the universe will bring me the books I 'need' when I need them, and my reading reviews is not a big part of that process. Of course, I just about completely stopped reading reviews when I realized that the 'official' book review process through the media was largely designed to sell books and newsprint. I was becoming aware at that time that motivation in any activity is of crucial importance in creating that indefinable quality in a final product that separates the creative output from being merely adequate or good to being brilliant.

Yikes! You can tell I was not too impressed by GG as I wax on philosophically and narcissistically about reviews. Okay. Here is my review:

A few months ago, I seem to vaguely remember, I read a review of GG that caught my interest. I've long since forgotten the review, or even where I read it but I suspect it was from Powell's Books' 'Daily Dose.' At that time I reserved the book from the NWPL. I received notice of it being my turn to read it just three weeks ago. Because of the long wait I asked the representative at the checkout 'Excuse me, how many people are on hold behind me?' 'Forty-four,' she said. 'I guess my hoping to renew it is pretty much not going to happen, then?' 'Nope.' And the copy I got was obviously unsullied new, so the library has purchased several if not many copies to keep up with demand.

And so I was hoping against my experience that a popular book would be, for a change, one also liked by me. But alas, GG has re-confirmed that I am not a part of the mainstream of popular culture's consumption of fiction. (Okay, there are exceptions, such as Michael Ondaatje. But then, I imagine he sells less than a tenth of the books of a Stephen King, Jackie Collins, or Len Deighton, so even he is not really mainstream.)

GG was sharply written, meaning Flynn wrote clear well constructed sentences that painted the scene very well. And the scenery is very pretty. However, it had a kind of cleverness that struck me as being glib. Or maybe it was kind of unnecessarily mean in a way that David Letterman's humour always strikes me. And like his jokes, Flynn's writing lacked vitality, and I cannot at this time clearly pinpoint why.

I have been wrestling in my mind with this review for several days. And I keep drifting to the idea that GG lacked depth of human understanding. Flynn was trying to show psychological sophistication, but her writing did not get much deeper into the people than their skin. This may reflect her background as an entertainment magazine writer or, perhaps Flynn having accepted, either consciously or unconsciously, the philosophical belief that the expression of human psychology is delimited by personal experience instead of what a person is able to imagine.

The next bit will be a bit of a spoiler, so don't read anymore if my negative review is proof enough that GG is indeed a worth while read for you.

The marriage, under stress from failed expectations and the financial and emotional dynamics of unemployment, is celebrating an anniversary. The wife, as has been customary, sets up a treasure hunt that the husband is to solve clue-by-clue to a great surprise and celebration. That the husband has failed every previous one miserably in the past drives him to spend much of the anniversary with his best friend and business partner — they own a bar — his sister. He gets the dreaded call: OMG, the wife appears to have been kidnapped on their anniversary, but has managed to leave behind the first clue. And, OMG, it looks like the husband did it.

I just sighed a great big sigh as I wrote that, despite sighing through my initial realization while reading it that this was of course staged, and that the set-up was deliberate to bring a spark back into the marriage. So, here is Flynn's first glib act: that we the readers are supposed to realize that it was staged so that she can twist the denouement.

As I continued reading I kept hoping that the real twist would be that the kidnapping wasn't staged. But the husband's bland stupidity, despite been painted as a clever writer, left me struggling with ennui and the conviction that Flynn was setting us up for the staging.

When I came to accept that I would not be finishing GG, I cheated and jumped to the end. I wanted to see how clever Flynn really was. And the so-called double twist I discovered was when I first thought 'Yup, glib and clever, but without anything revivifying.' Yes, it was indeed staged to make the husband look like the killer, but more importantly that staging was just so the wife could stage a murder she would be able to get away with, and which would save their failing marriage.

And now I have returned it unfinished and disappointed. I had so wanted it to be better than it was. For a summer read, I do not recommend GG but would suggest perhaps Ondaatje's The Cat's Table which exceeded my expectations when I read it last year: Finished 2011.10.23.