Thursday, January 31, 2008

Lost in Translation (Annotation G3-5/Goddard)

Julio Cortazar’s Cronopios and Famas is a compilation of four smaller works: “The Instructional Manual,” “Unusual Occupations,” “Unstable Stuff,” and lastly “Cronopios and Famas.” A description of the first three parts are chapterbooks of something between prose and poetry. In the last part, Cortazar strings together an introduction to three classes of people: the Cronopios, the Famas, and the Esperanzas. Although the anecdotes appear innocent enough, something is defineately lost in translation.
A smaller chapter: “Story” in its entirety sums up the nature of a Cronopio:
A small cronopio was looking for the key to the street door on the night table, the night table in the bedroom, the bedroom in the house, the house in the street. Here the cronopio paused, for to go into the street, he needed the key to the door, (Cortazar 135).

Cronopios are easily confused and somewhat childlike. A small lesson in Spanish may illuminate the true nature of a Cronopios. Although not directly translated as a complete word, “cronico,” means chronic, and “piojo,’ is louse. Not dissimilar to the English term dimwit.
Famas are different entirely. A Fama tends to be of a higher class. A Fama has a maid, a Fama operates a garden hose factory, “Famas are capable of gestures of great generosity,” (Cortazar, 131). Famas translates literally into English as Famous. Cortazar uses the adjective Famas as a noun for his group of people. They live up to their names.
Lastly, the Esperanzas are third population in the book. The Esperanzas are the curmudgeon class.
Esperanzas are sedentary. They let things and people slide by them. They’re like statues one has to go visit. They never take the trouble, (Cortazar 122).
Although the Esperanzas behave like the old man next door who seems to be the killjoy of youthful spirits in the neighborhood, they serve a purpose in this world. Esparanza has the direct translation of Hope.
Perhaps it is erroneous to claim something lost in translation. Reading the entire book as a reader of English and this particular translation, the dream-like imagery and curtness of Cortazar’s vignettes are easily understandable. Each page is enjoyable. A more privy reader, one with a rudimentary knowledge of Spanish has the privilege of so much.

Cortazar, Julio. Cronopios and Famas. Trans. Paul Blackburn. New York: New Direction Classics, 1999.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Reliability of Narration in The Razor’s Edge (Annotation G3-4/Goddard)

No doubt arises about who is narrating The Razor’s Edge, as Mr. Maugham uses the first person point of view. On three separate occasions in the course of the novel, he refers to himself by name, twice as Mr. Maugham, and once by Mr. M. Less than subtle preambles, every few chapters the narration takes a tone of apology, cluing in the reader of an inferior memory. If Mr. Maugham’s narrator is unsure of his ability of story telling, how can his readers trust his reliability?
From the first sentence: “I have never begun a novel with more misgiving,” (Maugham, 3) the narrator makes questions of his honesty. In that opening chapter, Mr. Maugham nearly apologizes for his inadequacies as an Englishman writing about Americans. The comparison to Henry James, an American writing about the English, is apt. Whereas James took great strides to capture the English vernacular, Maugham simply avoids nuances in the American dialect. Aside from the normal punctuation in dialogue, there is no real shift in tone or voice from one speaker to the next. Of the major players, Larry, Isabel, Gray, and Elliot, they all speak about the same dialect, something neither English, nor American.
Dialogue opportunities aside, Mr. Maugham introduces Elliot Templeton, as a lifelong acquaintance. Although Elliot is ever present in the beginning of the novel, he is left as just what he is an acquaintance. It’s Elliot’s family, his niece Isabel whose importance to the story is so pertinent. The narrator’s intimacy with his characters stays relatively objective and distant, since years sometimes pass between their meetings.
Objectivity of relations are apparent with the theme of generation and custom with the Elliot character and the Larry character. The narrator is not as old as Elliot and not as young as Larry. Elliot, a representation of the old cares about social status, wealth, and religion (Catholicism) as identity. Larry conversely appears at random intervals of the story and as a direct generational adversary. Larry has no need for money, and he prefers to loaf. In his loafing about the globe, Larry spends time in India where he adopts the local religion. After years of his absence, Larry and Mr. Maugham meet again in Paris. Larry’s long confessions are in a voice and speech pattern strikingly similar to the narrator.
Maugham’s The Razor’s Edge is well written, of course, and the story is compellingly exciting. The apologies at the beginning of nearly every chapter could easily be omitted. His compulsion to tell the reader of his memory, and the possible holes in it, are a distraction to the story.

Maugham, W Somerset. The Razor’s Edge. New York: Vintage International, 2003.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Manifesto Never Printed because it was Raining (Annotation G3-2/Goddard)

Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer never clams to be a manifesto, nor does he write about the rain. Instead, his pages are filled with Paris, sex, books and anarchy. Loaded in soliloquies of heroes and cunt all in an endless stream of consciousness Miller delivers the hypnotic reveries of an American life between bouts his no future existence in Paris.
Perhaps inspired by the Biblical book of Ecclesiastes which claims there is nothing new under the sun, Miller begins on page one by simply stating: “There are no more books to be written, thank God,” (Miller 1). His self-proclamation that his is indeed an artist, and gratitude of no more books being written is erroneous on page one of a novel, which tops three hundred pages. From page one on, he moves through daily life in Paris as a man with no future, no hopes, and utter happiness. Descriptions of Paris are through the meetings of colleges, friends, benefactors, and whores. However, in the reprieve of situations Miller cannot escape the culture he is from. Miller’s feelings of American and her future on the page happen at odd moments. One such odd moment, Miller and a young Indian find themselves in a brothel. As Miller and the young Indian wait for the women:
As I listen to his tales of America I see how absurd it is to expect of Gandhi that miracle which will deroute the trend of destiny. India’s enemy is not England, but America. India’s enemy is not the hand which cannot be turned back. Nothing will avail to offset this virus which is poisoning the whole world. American is the very incarnation of doom. She will drag the whole world down to the bottomless pit, (Miller 94)

In this developed anti-ideal of America, the young Indian continues to tell Miller of his views of American people. This thought, provocative enough is lost moments later in the arms of whores. Stream of consciousness, or not, the potentially powerful statement of social or political thought is lost as quickly as it develops. The opportunity of getting laid trumps the true revelation into mere observation.
In his thematic examinations of America, Miller is able to see both sides of the American sensibility. Comparing his currently life to an imaginary life in the United States, Miller resumes his stance as no-hoper, penniless, no-future Parisian artist.
I had to travel precisely all around the world to find just such a comfortable, agreeable niche such as this. How could I foreseen, in America, with all those firecrackers they put up your ass to give you pep and courage, that the ideal position for a man of my temperament was to look for orthographic mistakes? Over there you think of nothing but becoming President of the United States some day. Potentially every man is Presidential timber. Here it’s different. Here every man is potentially a zero, (Miller 150).

Again, Miller makes a brilliant observation gone the way of hedonistic tendencies. The only thought remaining from presidential timber in one thought to the cunt in the next, is the ass. In one statement there is a firecracker to give pep and courage, and in the next passage his woman is examining the floor of his apartment for fear of splinters in her ass.
Despite the long passages of sex and the great pains the narrator and his characters endure trying to procure sex; Miller does not have a pornographic novel. The conversations of writing, philosophers, and books can be insulated in a few short pages. Lastly, in the flow of thought, the very nature of the young Henry Miller, American in Paris, is clear: “For a little while I would be able to look around me, to take in the meaning of the landscape,” (Miller 318).

Miller, Henry. Tropic of Cancer. New York: Grove Press, 1961.  

Exposition in The Optimist’s Daughter (Annotation G3-3/Goddard)

Eudora Welty’s The Optimist’s Daughter is a short account of the death and burial of Judge McKelva. Laurel McKelva, his daughter returns home to Mount Salus when her father takes ill. The entire plot: Laurel intends to stay with her father during an operation and through his recovery, he dies, they bury him, and within a few weeks, she returns to her home in Chicago. Welty’s choices of exposition make the depth of this short novel more dense than the brief plotline. Of the four parts of the novel, the household objects recovered in the last two parts are the mastery of Welty’s exposition.
Directly after the funeral, Wanda Fay, the dead man’s second wife leaves Mount Salus for Texas leaving Laurel alone in the house where she grew up. Looking through the house, Laurel passes through the memories of her childhood beginning with her father’s desk. The description of the desk itself, being made from old timbers from Scotland, pulls the images of an old family settled in the United States. Even the library where the desk stands holds the families description. As Laurel dusts the books on the shelves, Welty includes book titles, most notably the collected volumes of Charles Dickens. The true impact of these Dickens novels have their pay-off later when Laurel makes her way to her mother’s sewing room. The objects of the sewing room settle many of the concerns Laurel seems to hold from the death of her mother, which took place long before the onset of the novel. The mother’s background in rural West Virginia are somehow summed up in the Dickens novels: “she had run back into the flames and rescued her dead father’s set of Dickens at the risk of her life,” (Welty 149). The burning of the mother’s childhood home somehow erases the life she’d had, leaving only the Dickens. As Laurel recollects her mother, through what remains in the Mount Salus house, her memory is bound to property.
Though Laurel, an only child, has lost everyone in her life, both parents and a husband, these family members make one last presence through a breadboard. In the kitchen on the day of her departure for Chicago Laurel finds the breadboard just as Fay returns to the house. First, the description of the current condition tells so much about Fay. The board is filthy and scared from misuse: cigarette burns, rat’s teeth, and a hammer’s blow. Fay sees the board for what it is a piece of wood. Through Laurel’s words, her mother again comes alive: she had kept the board polished like dishware, and had made the best bread in the county. Lastly, the origins of the board itself, build by Philip Hand, Laurel’s dead husband. The description his process and intent on building the board is beautiful: “My mother blessed him when she saw this. She said it was sound and beautiful and exactly suited her long-felt needs, and she welcomed it into her kitchen,” (Welty 176).
The objects in the house, the desks, the sew room and lastly the breadboard are the tools Welty uses in the exposition and the past of her characters.

Welty, Eudora. The Optimist’s Daughter. New York: Vintage International, 1990.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

The Twins of Housewrights (Annotation G3-1/Goddard)

Art Corriveau’s construction of Housewrights lends itself to the conflicts, which pervades every character during their coming of age from 1908 and 1928. Lily, the central character, is ten years old in 1908 and the only daughter of a Vermont father. Art Corriveau spends the opening chapter on Lily, emphasizing her as the youngest child and only daughter of the rural family. Lily, as well as the reader, meets the Pritchard family, the father of which is contracted to build a new home for Lily Willard’s family. The Pritchard twins Oren and Ian, boys Lily’s age are the first set of twins the reader meets. Textually, the relationship of the twins is clear enough; they are identical and seem to share everything. However, Lily’s relationship as youths in 1908 as well as their return, Oren in 1918, and Ian in 1919 is one of love, romance, marriage, and envy. Lily’s envious feelings are clear in their youth and much more evident in 1928 after the birth of Faith, the daughter of her and Oren. With these four characters, Oren, Ian, Lily and Faith, three sets of twins emerge.
Corriveau’s choice to linger on the exposition in the opening chapter is apt. Lily develops a loving relationship with both twins, playing with them, teaching them to read, and the building of their tree house. Initially being unable to tell the two apart prompts her to make them identity bracelets. Lily’s relationship to them is of friendship and childhood. She becomes more comfortable with them than the other children or her own brothers. Once she is forbidden to play with the boys after the swimming hole incident, Lily attempts to make other friends. “At Sunday school, Lily befriended Hallie Burke, the prissiest girl in class. She feigned interest in paper dolls and pinafores until Hallie invited her over to play,” (Corriveau 21). For Lily the befriending of Hallie is, in part, to placate her mother, but also for her need for friendship. Lily as well as the reader knows Hallie is a poor substitute for the twins.
Later, in 1918, Oren returns alone. He makes his intentions clear and ultimately marries Lily. Once Ian returns from the war, they develop life as one might expect. The seeming peaceful relationship the three had as youths is filled with complication as adults. “It was while Lily was taking him that she felt—for the very first time, perhaps for the last—as though she were Oren’s twin, not Ian,” (Corriveau 121). As children, Lily was on the outside of the two twins, who had a communication of their own. As a married couple shortly after their reunion with Ian, Lily makes shifts the “twin” relationship away from Ian.
Due to issues of townspeople and social stigmas, Ian eventually marries Hallie, and the two couples grow apart. Lily and Oren are the first to have a child, Faith. Assuming this idea of twins, Oren and Ian being actual twins, and Lily feeling (if not fleetingly) a twin to Oren, the third set of twins in the book emerges in the Faith character.
As Faith grows up, she takes on a bit of her mother’s childhood personality. Faith’s relationship with her father is similar to the relationship Lily had with her father. After her curiosity about a dilapidated tree house, Oren tells his daughter about the past. Father and daughter take on the task of rebuilding the tree house. The father—daughter scene in the tree house is reminiscent of the 8-year-old Lily and the twins. The subsequent fall of Oren, removes the third person in their family. When only Lily and Faith remain, the next set of twins develops. Lily gives Faith the soapstone she found long ago. As the child inquires about it, Lily says, “It’s you and me,” (Corriveau 191).

Corriveau, Art. Housewrights. London: Penguin Group, 2002.