Saturday, 31 December 2016

2016 in reading

It's that time of the year again. I'll now write about 2016 in reading.
It wasn't much. This year I spent more time living, experiencing, exploring, experimenting, absorbing "all the vast range of impressions that life could offer", then moved to Leeds and became extremely busy with studies. Over the past months I've mostly read non-fiction books in or for my course.
I read 2 new books: ****: The Anatomy of Melancholy by my blogger friend Matthew Selwyn, and the Pulitzer prize winner The Sympathiser by Viet Thanh Nguyen, who is in my facebook friend list. I don't think very highly of the latter, which deserves a long essay/ review, but by the time I finished reading it (which took a very long time), I was tired and just wanted to move on with my life. My thoughts summed up in 2 words: "too American".
Let's look back at my reading ideas for 2016
I didn't read more Russian literature- no Dostoyevsky, no Turgenev, no Gogol, no Nabokov... Highly interested in Vasily Grossman at the moment but unable to find time for Life and Fate. However, I did read another Tolstoy book, consisting of "The Cossacks" and "Hadji Murad" (speaking of which, a rather good-looking guy started a conversation with me online a few days ago, but I lost interest the moment he said Tolstoy's a misogynist that was also a bad writer and his wife rewrote all of his novels).
I didn't read more Dickens. Gave up on Bleak House. Instead was another Victorian writer who never seems Victorian- Lewis Carroll. People who associate Victorian literature with social realism and thus tedium should read the 2 Alice books, or someone like Robert Louis Stevenson.
Recently I've just read an Edwardian writer, E. M. Forster's A Room with a View. A rather thin book, enjoyable enough but not great, and maybe this reader was in the wrong mood to appreciate it.
I neither reread Madame Bovary nor got acquainted with other French writers of that period.
I didn't read Norwegian literature.
I didn't read Faulkner or Woolf. Nor early James Joyce, though I did borrow Dubliners in Leeds.
I didn't read another Henry James. Nor Nathaniel Hawthorne and Edith Wharton. 
Looks like a year of failures. 
Except that it couldn't be a bad year, as I discovered Moby Dick, a masterpiece, a novel unlike any other, a book that had a profound impact on my views on literature as well as on my life like Anna Karenina previously did; fell in love with Herman Melville; revisited "Bartleby, the Scrivener" and spent time with the other 2 great Bs "Benito Cereno" and "Billy Budd, Sailor"; read the wonderful "The Encantadas", at least twice, and a bunch of Melville's short stories; and again went to sea with Melville with The Confidence-Man
That, I suppose, isn't too bad. 
Reading ideas for 2017? I'm going to be more busy, not less. There's 1 book in the list: Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman. Anyone's in for a read-along? 

As I'm in Vienna, and have just gone to a concert, here's some music: 

Sunday, 25 December 2016

The jump in A Room with a View

I've watched James Ivory's film adaptation about 3 times or more (mostly because of Daniel Day-Lewis), and have always had a problem with it- or rather, there's always a feeling that something's missing and I don't quite get what's going on and why the characters act the way they do. 
That's why I picked up the book, hoping it would clear a few questions on my mind. 
It didn't. 
After the incident in Florence, Lucy Honeychurch, together with her cousin Charlotte Bartlett, decides to go to Rome to see the Vyses. In the next chapters, we're with other, and new, characters- Lucy's mother Mrs Honeychurch and Lucy's brother Freddy. They're talking, and discussing Lucy and Cecil Vyse. A few pages later, Cecil, whom the readers have never before seen, now appears, and announces that he and our heroine are now engaged. Episodes are cut off. The entire courtship with the 3 proposals is left out. A huge jump in time. And space. 
What does that remind you of? 
The Portrait of a Lady.
The difference is that the engagement news in The Portrait of a Lady produces a shock, puzzlement and a sense of outrage, whereas that in A Room with a View takes us aback because there's hardly any warning but we know nothing about Cecil to know whether or not it's a right choice- other than surprise, there's nothing else. 
I don't mind the jump. What bothers me is the feeling that something's missing- I'm on chapter 11, and I still don't quite understand the relationship between Cecil and Lucy, specifically how she really feels about him, what has happened between them, why she rejects him twice and accepts him the 3rd time, why she thinks she loves him and how she really sees him. I feel cheated. 
My general impression is that E. M. Forster can be rather observant (it's very good how he writes about Charlotte playing the role of a "prematurely aged martyr" to control Lucy and persuade her not to tell her mother about the kiss), and there's a quiet humour about him that can be amusing, but that's it. The kiss between Lucy and George is, I have to say, rather disappointing. Too abrupt.
There are readers out there who enjoy The Room with a View more than I do. 


PS: There's a book that I really, really want to read right now- Life and Fate (though of course not "right now", I don't have time for such a big book). Several people have made me believe that I'd like Vasily Grossman. Thoughts? 
PPS: Oh and I'm in Vienna, by the way. Having a good time. 

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Greetings, etc.

Hello there.
I know, I know, it's been a while.
If anyone cares, I'm all right, alive and kicking- just busy and, as usual, tired, slightly sick and a bit heartbroken. But this too shall pass.
A few months ago I started the A Room with a View read-along (Tom was part of it) and failed miserably, because of studies and everything, but now I've picked it up again. 
2016 has been an interesting and eventful year. In terms of world politics, yes, but not only so. So many things have happened that it wouldn't be too much of a stretch to say that I'm now a different person. Is it a good thing? Or a bad thing? Hard to say. Both, perhaps. But there have been significant changes- 2016 me is not the same as 2015 me. 
So, yeah. 
What can I say. 
Merry Christmas, though. And Happy New Year. 

Tuesday, 8 November 2016


I've just got back from York. Was there from Friday for ASFF (Aesthetica Short Film Festival) and returned to Leeds on Monday morning.
List of films I watched:
1/ Gnome by Sacha Goedegebure
2/ No Place Like Home by Cat Bruce
3/ To Build a Fire by Fx Goby
4/ Bound by Dann Parry
5/ Riflesso by Alice Guzzo& Mateusz Borkowski
6/ Puzzle by Stav Levi
7/ Hobart by Hajnalka Harsanyi
8/ Seven Seven by Georgina Ferguson& Eduarda Lima
9/ Apocalypse Rhyme by Oliver Harrison
10/ Dave by Garry J. Marshall& Chris Watson
11/ Trial& Error by Antje Heyn
12/ About Death by Eunjae Lee
13/ Oh, Morris by Lewis Kyle
14/ Truck by Rob Curry
15/ The Sticks by Jamie Delaney& Russell Davidson
16/ Panic by James Cookson
17/ Insomnolence by Keifer Findlow
18/ Lock In by Neville Pierce
19/ Cork Man by Dawn Han
20/ Severed Garden by Goncalo Almeida
21/ Listen to Me by Rob Ayling
22/ Eat by Carl Shanahan
23/ Smile by Carolina Giammetta
24/ The Understudy by Morgane Polanski
25/ Prey by Sunny King
26/ The Kindness of Strangers by Alkin Emirali
27/ Cerberus by Remy Bazerque
28/ O- the Movie by Frank Aron Gårdsø
29/ Black Woods at Sundown by Tom Oliver
30/ Béatrice by Christophe Previte
31/ Fumes by Tom Werber
32/ The Ditch by Sheena Holliday
34/ Mark Gets Coffee by Richard Starkey
35/ Aquabike by Jean-Baptiste Saurel
36/ The National Facility for the Regulation of Regret by Rachel Genn
37/ City Lights by Ed Wiles
38/ Shabes Morgen by Or Dotan
39/ Headless- The Ed Shades Story by Youself Thami
40/ More Than God by Kev Cahill
41/ One-Minute Time Machine by Devon Avery
42/ Check Please by Daniel Sorochkin
43/ Cropped by Chris Thomas
44/ Lovequake by Stephen Glass
45/ Madam Black by Ivan Barge
46/ Big Boy by Bryan Campbell
47/ Paco by Catalina Jordan Alvarez
48/ The Final Scene by Mark Pressdee
49/ Rhonna& Donna by Daina O. Pusic
50/ Fangirl by Kate Herron
51/ Little Big House by Cat Jones
Seen on vimeo, not at the festival:
52/ Drawcard by Antonio Orena
53/ The Great Moon Hoax by Alex Simon Klug& Daniel Pitts
54/ Fragments of May by Maria Pia Fanigliulo
55/ Aymara by Michele Benigna
56/ Moth Vitals by Nancy Wyllie
57/ Emma, Change the Locks by Julia Hart
58/ Haldernblou- Triptich by Laurent Scheid
59/ Kaltes Tal by Florian Fischer& Johannes Krell
60/ Two Signs' Den: Epilogue by Bruno Decc
61/ Made of Sugar by Kevin Rios
62/ Ravages by Alan Lake
63/ The Museum of Departures by Gautamn Valluri
64/ The Tide by Richard Rudy
65/ Midnight of My Life by Phil Davis
66/ Senses by Zanyar Adami
67/ The Mausoleum by Lauri Randla
68/ Run by Elad Tzadok
69/ Jacked by Rene Pannevis
70/ Pinch Me- For Ted Baker by Crowns& Owls
71/ A Confession by Petros Silvestros
72/ Billy the Kid by Sam Johnson
73/ Across Still Water by Ruth Grimberg
74/ Drifters by Anu Valia
75/ How I Didn't Become a Piano Player by Tommaso Pitta
And other films that won last year and were shown again at ASFF now but I saw before the film festival:
76/ Stutterer by Benjamin Cleary
77/ We Were Evergreen: Daughters by Dominique Rocher
In short, in York I watched 74 short films in total, not counting the one seen on vimeo, and, excluding the films that won last year, I watched 69 out of the 400 films at the film festival. Also went to 2 masterclasses.
Some of the films are in the wrong category, like Oh, Morris is more like comedy than thriller- perhaps it was meant to be a thriller but distorted during filming and turned into comedy by the main actor, the same way Johnny Depp alone made The Tourist a comedy. 
Some to me feel incomplete, like To Build a Fire or Lovequake. Some don't seem to go anywhere, such as EatThe National Facility for the Regulation of Regret, Seven Seven, Big Boy; or can frankly be pointless, like Paco; whilst the experimental films don't speak to me at all.
Some of the films are well done, and might touch some people, but in my opinion are quite unoriginal or simply unremarkable and forgettable: Panic, Lock In, Prey, Listen to Me, Béatrice; whereas Senses has trace of Ingmar Bergman, especially Autumn Sonata, all over it. But it's hard to say. City Lights isn't original; the idea and plot might be said to be banal, the outcome is predictable and even the twist is a bit conventional, but somehow it's OK because it's 1 of those films that are just cute, like Stutterer. Madam Black and Rhonna& Donna are also cute. 
The Sticks has a good turn of events- though, if you think carefully and dig more into your memory, the twist is not really original, it's so effective that that is forgiven. O- The Movie starts from a very simple idea and works around it- it works well because of suspense and intrigue. The same goes for Check Please, though it's a different kind of suspense. 
The Mausoleum is amusing and sharp in its absurdity, and mockery of the USSR. 
Mark Gets Coffee and More Than God are funny- I have no more to say, that word alone would suffice. 
Above all, I like short films that stand out. Puzzle is clever. Trial& Error is an intelligent film that is fascinating in its spontaneity and randomness, starting from a very simple idea- a man loses a button on his jacket and thinks outside the box by using other stuff around his house to keep the 2 parts together, replacing the button. Cerberus is a circle. One-Minute Time Machine plays around with the concept of a time machine that allows you to go back 1 minute, and the idea that each time pushing the button is killing a copy of yourself in a parallel universe, in a flirting scene. But the film I voted for is Aquabike, because of its humour, its illogicality, its absurdity, its originality, and its irreverence for reality or logic or boundaries or anything whatsoever. 
It's a pity that none of the films I like got any award in the end. 
(From last year's winners, my favourites are Billy the Kid and How I Didn't Become a Piano Player- those 2 shorts are worth hunting down). 

Friday, 28 October 2016

Some funny lines in A Room with a View, or maybe I keep laughing in the wrong places

Reading A Room with a View, I sometimes laughed at a phrase or clause that I wasn't sure was meant to be funny.
(Emphasis mine)
Like on the 1st page:
"She looked at the two rows of English people who were sitting at the table; at the row of white bottles of water and red bottles of wine that ran between the English people; at the portraits of the late Queen and the late Poet Laureate that hung behind the English people, heavily framed; at the notice of the English church (Rev. Cuthbert Eager, M. A. Oxon.), that was the only other decoration of the wall."
Or this whole sentence a few pages later:
"He preferred to talk to Lucy, whose playing he remembered, rather than to Miss Bartlett, who probably remembered his sermons."
The information given is a bit strange, I think, or it's the structure of the sentence. 
The funniness of this line is perhaps intended: 
"The clergyman, inwardly cursing the female sex, bowed, and departed with her message." 
Or this line, in the same chapter: 
"The young man gazed down on the three ladies, who felt seated on the floor, so low were their chairs." 
This is how E. M. Forster ends chapter 1: 
"Then she completed her inspection of the room, sighed heavily according to her habit, and went to bed." 
Maybe my laughing is what he intended. The "according to her habit" just sounds funny to me. 
What do I see in chapter 2 then? This is the 1st line: 
"It was pleasant to wake up in Florence, to open the eyes upon a bright bare room, with a floor of red tiles which look clean though they are not; with a painted ceiling whereon pink griffins and blue amorini sport in a forest of yellow violins and bassoons." 
Feel like I keep laughing in the wrong places. 

Startled, shocked, reddened with displeasure: chapter 1 of A Room with a View

Everything seems to be pale and dull after Melville. Except for Tolstoy. The Bronte sisters. Nabokov. 
I've just started reading A Room with a View. The 1st page is about Lucy Honeychurch and Charlotte Bartlett whining about the rooms and being upset with the Signora's Cockney accent or the manners of some ill-bred English folk. So small, so petty, so narrow.
A stranger butts in the conversation.
"Miss Bartlett was startled." 
"Generally at a pension people looked them over for a day or two before speaking, and often did not find out that they would “do” till they had gone." 
When the man and his son George seem to impose on them the idea of exchanging rooms: 
"Miss Bartlett, though skilled in the delicacies of conversation, was powerless in the presence of brutality. It was impossible to snub any one so gross. Her face reddened with displeasure. She looked around as much as to say, “Are you all like this?”..." 
In another mood I may have laughed. 
It is clear we're meant to find Charlotte Bartlett ridiculous. Lucy? I'm sure we're supposed to like Lucy- I've watched the film (with Helena Bonham-Carter and Daniel Day-Lewis). 
Look at this scene: 
"... Hardly had she announced this fell decision when she reversed it. The curtains at the end of the room parted, and revealed a clergyman, stout but attractive, who hurried forward to take his place at the table, cheerfully apologizing for his lateness. Lucy, who had not yet acquired decency, at once rose to her feet, exclaiming: “Oh, oh! Why, it’s Mr. Beebe! Oh, how perfectly lovely! Oh, Charlotte, we must stop now, however bad the rooms are. Oh!”" 
Genteel people have such affected manners it gets on my nerves. 

The Confidence-Man- the end

I've finished The Confidence-Man (after about 2 months?). What should I make of it? 
I don't know what I think. This is a strange book, a very strange book, not weird in the way Gogol is weird, or Lewis Carroll is weird, but unusual, because it doesn't look like a novel, but not in the sense that it encompasses many genres and is many things at once like War and Peace or Moby Dick, it's simply different. This book I must read again later and should write about only when I'm more familiar with Melville as well as Thoreau, Poe, Emerson... 

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Currently reading: Google Maps

Long time no see, folks.
I just moved to Leeds last week. I know, surprise! The reason for the silence is that I've been and still am extremely busy, having a lot to sort out and many other things to do and hardly anyone but myself to rely on, and I haven't been reading anything but Google Maps- only got my student card on Monday and went to the library today to borrow another copy of The Confidence-Man
So, yeah... 
Regarding my new life in Leeds: 

I'm uploading the 1st photos of Leeds. You'll see them soon. 

Saturday, 3 September 2016

The restaurant, the ex-boss, and a moment of schadenfreude [updated]

I've written 3 posts about my experience at the restaurant: 
I never translated the article I wrote and got published. To summarise, it has 5 main points: 
1/ Low pay. No tip, even in cash- everything goes to the boss.
The boss never gave us anything, even at Christmas and New Year. There were only 2 occasions: the 1st time was on her birthday, she gave each a piece of cake; the 2nd time was at Christmas, when there was a special sale of pepperkake, 1 kroner a box. 
2/ No rights. 
3/ No freedom. There are 4 cameras: the 1st one viewing the whole restaurant, the 2nd one pointing at the bar and the cash register, the 3rd one watching the kitchen and the 4th one for the area where people chop meat and vegetables. 
The boss watches her employees all the time, even when she's on vacation. 
The details of these 3 points were in my 1st post about the working conditions. 
4/ Lack of respect for employees. The boss doesn't respect people working for her. She never turns to violence, but scolding, insulting and humiliating are common, especially for the students working part-time. 
Once, the mobile phone used for accepting takeaway orders and table reservations was lost at the end of the day. It's a crappy phone that nobody would bother to take, cheaper than our own phones. The next day, whilst people assumed it could have been accidentally swept into a waste basket and lost, the boss went around saying loudly that it was certainly stolen, and accused 2 persons of stealing who were present the day the phone was lost but absent that day and unable to defend themselves. 
5/ The boss only thinks about her own gains. In the article I only told 3 stories: 
- Once, some time before Tết, the boss got as gift a box of cookies, which she put on display at the restaurant for decoration. A woman, some kind of manager just below her in power, opened the box and let the employees eat. That evening, I saw the boss phone the woman to scold her- why did you open the box? who told you? that box was for decorating the restaurant, if it expires then throw it away, who told you to let them eat, etc. 
- There were 2 exchange students who registered for a Norwegian-language class, twice a week. The 2nd day was on a Wednesday. The boss whined, why learn Norwegian when the restaurant didn't have enough workers. Finally, as though coming to Norway to work in a restaurant instead of studying, those 2 students had to skip a few classes in order to take turns to work on Wednesdays. That time it was none of my business but I jumped in because there was actually a girl, working full-time, who was free on Wednesday and didn't have to do anything. I asked why not ask her to switch because the Norwegian course was temporary and it was a class, whereas that girl didn't have to do anything, it just happened to be her day off. However, the 2 students were not me, they agreed, and that's that. 
- The 3rd incident was some time before I quit. Back then, I worked as a waitress and a cashier. 1 time, when the cash register was transferred from a man to me, I discovered that there was a difference in over 400 kroner between the cash I counted and the amount in the system. I could have been a mess at waitressing, but never screwed up at the cash register, but that man sometimes did, and we often covered up for him- however, because it was such a large amount, I had to tell the boss. It turned out that he made a mistake in inserting an amount, and instead of pressing "retur" to fix it, he inserted it again and doubled the mistake. In other words, no money was actually lost. What he could have done was to press "retur" to delete the whole amount. For fear of getting trouble with the tax agency and being accused of using "retur" to take money for herself, the boss insisted on him taking money from his own pockets to make the amount the same as in the system. I stress again, the money wasn't really lost, but she forced the man to do so. 
The amount was about more than 3 times as much as his pay per hour. 
I would have fought to the end (within the time working at the restaurant, I challenged the boss at least 3 times). He didn't. He acquiesced. 
I write about these incidents to let you see that my ex-boss isn't an ordinary exploiter, which is typical for immigrant restaurant owners. She's a special case. One may even see her as an interesting case study, if not for her pettiness, stinginess and cruelty. 
My 2 blog posts in August were updates on what happened after my article. My friend, who started working there together with me and stayed after I quit, has been working nonstop, without a day off, since 25/7 for lack of workers. When I went out with her on Tuesday, 23/8, she told me that, after working every day for a long time, she worked for 11 hours and a half on Sunday (21/8), and on Monday (22/8). We hung out for some hours, then she went to work. Even now, she hasn't had a day off, since the last day off on 25/7. Today is 3/9, you make the calculations. 
I asked my friend if she could at least get overtidtillegg (extra pay when one exceeds the limit of working hours), she asked "Do you seriously think there is overtidtillegg at that woman's restaurant?". Don't ask me how the bitch evades the law, I have no idea. 
Not only so, recently my friend told me that she asked the bitch to send her salary early to pay the rent. It didn't come. My friend texted to remind her, and got no response till the next day, and from the looks of it, would get her money next week. She also said once the woman that managed things asked about a late pay, and the shameless bitch asked "Why do you love money so much?". 
(At this point, your question is why my friend continues working there. It's difficult for her to get another job, having no formal training in restaurant work, and even though she speaks better Norwegian than I do, she's very shy, so shy that she works inside, cutting vegetables, preparing food and making starters, rather than meet people. Besides, as she works all the time, it's impossible to go anywhere to ask for another job). 
Now you see why I use the word "the bitch". It is justifiable. 
However, here are the news I've just got lately: 
1/ The bitch has just had some kind of trouble with the tax agency. She probably has to pay some fines. I don't know the details, that information comes from 1 of the waitresses, who, by the way, has been working since February without a contract. 
2/ After me, some other people also quit. 1 of the cooks transferred to another restaurant. 
3/ Lately, the bitch can't hire anyone. I don't know if it's her luck, or 1 of the effects of my article, but she can't find anyone working for her. 
4/ Mattilsynet (Norwegian Food Safety Authority) have just come for a check-up, and given the restaurant a sad face :( 
I don't particularly like revealing the name of the restaurant, but here is proof
The other restaurant of the same boss seems to do better, but the last result :) was in April, and after 1 :( and 2 :| 
According to 1 of the waitresses at the other restaurant, the boss said there were complaints in the papers about bad service, but because she didn't say which newspaper, it could have been a lie she made up to scold her employees. 
5/ There's some trouble between the bitch and her young boyfriend, whom we often call her gigolo or toyboy, not only because he's nearly 20 years younger but also because he is unemployed, lives on social benefits for people with mental health (he once stabbed someone, or so the rumour says) and she treats him with contempt. Again, it's hearsay, so I don't know, but apparently the man stole some money and jewellery, so it's quite a big deal now, involving the police and the court and all that. 
These things are nothing compared to what she has done, but allow me to be childish and have a moment of schadenfreude. I don't have 1 bit of guilt. 


Update on 6/9/2016: 
In Norway there's something called feriepenger (ferie= holiday; penger= money), which is money that employers have to pay employees for the summer holiday and which is typically paid before holiday, for example, in June. 
It is now September, the summer is over, and the bitch hasn't paid feriepenger to anyone except a Bulgarian woman who, after asking many times, mentioned the law and threatened to sue, and me. 
My hard-working friend hasn't got her feriepenger. Her salary went into the account yesterday. Not only was it late and without overtidtillegg even though my friend had been working every day for over a month, but the salary was also 1000 kroner short, apparently because of fears of some issues with the tax agency, according to my friend. The bitch said, that 1000 kroner would be added to next month. 
You'd think a person like that sounds more like a caricature in a novel. 

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

The style of The Confidence-Man

Reading The Confidence-Man, I sometimes come across a rather tiresome sentence, though not as odd as many sentences written by Henry James. 
For example, from chapter VII: 
“Upon his hitherto moderate enough companion, this suggestion had an effect illustrative in a sort of that notion of Socrates, that the soul is a harmony; for as the sound of a flute, in any particular key, will, it is said, audibly affect the corresponding chord of any harp in good tune, within hearing, just so now did some string in him respond, and with animation.Which animation, by the way, might seem more or less out of character in the man in gray, considering his unsprightly manner when first introduced, had he not already, in certain after colloquies, given proof, in some degree, of the fact, that, with certain natures, a soberly continent air at times, so far from arguing emptiness of stuff, is good proof it is there, and plenty of it, because unwasted, and may be used the more effectively, too, when opportunity offers.” 
Or from chapter XII: 
“What made it yet more lamentable was, that the unfortunate man, thinking that, before the court, his wisest plan, as well as the most Christian besides, being, as he deemed, not at variance with the truth of the matter, would be to put forth the plea of the mental derangement of Goneril, which done, he could, with less of mortification to himself, and odium to her, reveal in self-defense those eccentricities which had led to his retirement from the joys of wedlock, had much ado in the end to prevent this charge of derangement from fatally recoiling upon himself—especially, when, among other things, he alleged her mysterious teachings.” 
At this point I don’t have much to say. The only thing is that the novel’s very different from Moby Dick. The exuberance, the joy and enthusiasm of Melville’s magnum opus are not to be found here. Nor is humour as we see in Moby Dick, though perhaps The Confidence-Man does have humour, a different kind. 
I’m noting, not really complaining. 
What do you think? 

Thursday, 18 August 2016

Melville's The Confidence-Man: who is the con man in chapter 3?

I've returned to Melville- I'm reading The Confidence-Man: His Masquerade. What can be a better read now, whilst one follows the elections in the US? 
People who know the book all know that it's about a con man or more in different disguises. What bothers me is, who is the con man in chapter 3? Everywhere I look, people say it's the crippled black man, because he wins people's pity and thus gets money, but is he? What I see in the chapter is that out of nowhere "a limping, gimlet-eyed, sour-faced person", a custom-house officer, appears and loudly says the black man's deformity is a sham, "got up for financial purposes". How does he know? What are those allegations based on? Does he have evidence or anything to back up those claims?After saying it's a sham, the custom-house officer just says "He can walk fast enough when he tries, a good deal faster than I; but he can lie yet faster. He's some white operator, betwisted and painted up for a decoy. He and his friends are all humbugs." but doesn't bother to prove any of his words. He is like a Donald Trump, loudly and confidently throwing out claims and accusations based on nothing, showing no regard for facts. Then he leaves, but before that, has successfully sowed a seed of doubt in everyone's minds. 
Doesn't that make him, rather than the black cripple, a con artist? 

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Updates: life, The Sympathiser, the restaurant

Here I am again.
Last week, some time after my trip to Greece, I finished reading The Sympathiser, and should have written a review or something by now. Sadly, the problem with taking so long to read a book that isn't so thick is that once you're finally done with it, you no longer feel the urge to write anything, and just want to move on with your life. What can I say? On the 1 hand, the sense of responsibility keeps nagging me- as a Vietnamese who feels strongly about literature and about the war and who has an advantage over many Vietnamese people in that she can read the Pulitzer-winning book in the original instead of waiting for a translation that perhaps would never come, I should write a few words. On the other hand, I've been changing from a watcher to a doer, having fun, enjoying life, trying out fascinating stuff and experimenting, and then analysing myself as I've just discovered another side of myself. At the moment it appears a bit pointless to get worked up about a book when I just prefer to embrace my joie de vivre philosophy instead (which, I know, is merely a fancy way of saying I'm just frivolous and lazy).
Perhaps some day I'll write. The verdict: I'm not impressed.
To get back to the restaurant, I keep in touch with a few former co-workers to know that the ex-boss aka the bitch still talks of me constantly, and would never forget me because she has owned a restaurant for 28 years and nobody has ever dared to write a word, so on and so forth. She should have known better than to mess with me, I thought, if she couldn't handle something so light, let's go hardcore. But now, except for a few headaches, I'm generally in such a good mood that I don't bother- after all, who cares really, I didn't hear it, she didn't say to my face.
I'm feeling great.
Here's some Louis Armstrong:

Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Some note on my waitressing experience

As you may remember, in May I stopped working at the restaurant and had a rant about it on my blog
Soon afterwards I started writing for Trẻ magazine, and in July, used my own experience to write about the working conditions in 1 Vietnamese restaurant in Oslo, which was published on 27/7. The article was shared around and apparently became a thing in the Vietnamese community in Oslo, at least among the restaurant people, and reached the owner of the restaurant, my former boss. She called me last Saturday, 30/7. The conversation lasted about half an hour- long story short, she spoke of the reactions in the community and their fear of its effect on the restaurant business, explained several points in the article, tried to justify herself, spoke of things I'd said at the beginning, asked why I included so many details, said she didn't remember such trifles, noted that other restaurants of Vietnamese people paid their employees the same salaries and of course wouldn't be the same as Norwegian restaurants, on the 1 hand, wanted to put me down and made it personal, on the other hand, asked me to understand and sympathise, and tried to sweet-talk me into taking down the article. 
(That was a surprise. I rather expected some furious insults). 
I did say it's not personal- if I had really wanted a revenge, I would have filmed or recorded her and taken it to the Norwegian media or even the tax agency, or at least named the restaurant and included photos of it in my article. 
On the same day, 2 girls from the restaurant contacted me. For 1 thing, many of my former co-workers have read the article, and like it- it's all correct, they said. They even asked why I didn't publish in a Norwegian newspaper*. 
More importantly, the boss called the restaurant to ask how people felt about working for her, and over the past few days, has been nicer and more gentle than usual. She even asked 1 of the 2 girls about her pay, and decided to raise it herself. 
I'm too cynical and pessimistic to believe that 1 article of mine can change a person- she's 60 years old, but it feels good anyway. At least I made her think a bit. 

*: To be truthful, I wanted to bring down the whole restaurant. Then I contacted Arbeidstilsynet and realised that Norwegian's law is actually fucked up, and didn't bother... That article I wrote mostly for the fun of it. 

Monday, 1 August 2016

Some top 10 lists about books

- 10 favourite novels (updated):
Anna Karenina by Lev Tolstoy
War and Peace by Lev Tolstoy
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
Pnin by Vladimir Nabokov
Mansfield Park by Jane Austen
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol
Notes from Underground by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Sentimental Education by Gustave Flaubert
The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner

- 10 most important novels- 10 novels that have most influenced me or been most significant to me in some ways:
Anna Karenina by Lev Tolstoy
War and Peace by Lev Tolstoy
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
Middlemarch by George Eliot
Emma by Jane Austen
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

- 10 novels I hate the most:
The Book of Daniel by E. L. Doctorow
The Quiet American by Graham Greene
Corregidora by Gayl Jones
The Tattooed Girls by Joyce Carol Oates
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel
Twilight by Stephenie Meyer
Kitchen by Banana Yoshimoto
(A possible candidate for 1 of the 2 empty spots might be The Sympathiser, but I have to finish the book). 

- 10 novels I feel worst for not having read:  
The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky 
Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe 
Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes* 
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain 
Bleak House by Charles Dickens**
The Tin Drum by Gunter Grass** 
Hunger by Knut Hamsun** 
To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf** 
Les Miserables by Victor Hugo** 
Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

- 10 novels I very much want to read but won't read any time soon: 
Ulysses by James Joyce
In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust 
The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov**  
Dream of the Red Chamber by Cao Xueqin
The Red and the Black by Stendhal 
The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco 
Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray 
Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov
And Quiet Flows the Don by Mikhail Sholokhov 
The Golden Bowl by Henry James

- 10 novels I don't think I'll ever read: 
Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien 
Nausea by Jean-Paul Sartre 
Finnegans Wake by James Joyce 
Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys** 
Min Kamp by Karl Ove Knausgård
Nỗi buồn chiến tranh by Bảo Ninh
Anything by V. S. Naipaul
or Graham Greene
or E. L. Doctorow 
or Ayn Rand

*: I believe the book I read as a kid was an abridged version. Not sure. 
**: I tried and gave up on these books. 

Thursday, 21 July 2016

Brief comments on The Sympathiser

Hello folks. 
After a period of silence, here I am again. 
I've been busy, writing for Trẻ magazine, watching Eurocup (Portugal becoming the champion is 1 of the most ridiculous things in football history, I have to say), facebooking, arguing about Donald and Melania Trump, following the protests in Vietnam regarding Formosa and the mass fish deaths, exploring things, etc. 
Reading-wise, I've been dealing with 2 books at the same time: Joseph Epstein's Plausible Prejudices and Viet Thanh Nguyen's The Sympathiser (actually The Sympathizer, but I write British English).
Usually, instead of 1 long essay or review, I write a series of posts whilst reading the book, comment on things I notice, and often change my mind as I go along. This time I choose not to do so, believing it better to know the whole book and understand the author's point of view, and only make notes for myself. 
However, here are some brief comments I've posted on facebook: 

Let's see. 

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Revisiting "Bartleby"- questions and more questions

How can I find anything new to write about "Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street", Melville's 2nd most known work and perhaps most widely read work, more than Moby Dick (because it's short, more accessible, and taught in schools)?
1 thing though, I won't make any claims or conclusions, because after several readings I've decided that "Bartleby" is a rich, open and ambiguous work that supports multiple interpretations and can mean many things at once.

1/ 1 Sunday morning, the narrator goes to church and, finding it early, decides to go to his office. To his surprise, he discovers that the door is locked from the inside, and:
"... thrusting his lean visage at me, and holding the door ajar, the apparition of Bartleby appeared, in his shirt sleeves, and otherwise in a strangely tattered dishabille, saying quietly that he was sorry, but he was deeply engaged just then, and—preferred not admitting me at present. In a brief word or two, he moreover added, that perhaps I had better walk round the block two or three times, and by that time he would probably have concluded his affairs."
What's Bartleby doing then?

2/ How does the narrator feel, upon discovering that Bartleby has been making the office his home?
"Immediately then the thought came sweeping across me, What miserable friendlessness and loneliness are here revealed! His poverty is great; but his solitude, how horrible! Think of it. Of a Sunday, Wall-street is deserted as Petra; and every night of every day it is an emptiness. This building too, which of week-days hums with industry and life, at nightfall echoes with sheer vacancy, and all through Sunday is forlorn. And here Bartleby makes his home; sole spectator of a solitude which he has seen all populous—a sort of innocent and transformed Marius brooding among the ruins of Carthage!
For the first time in my life a feeling of overpowering stinging melancholy seized me. Before, I had never experienced aught but a not-unpleasing sadness. The bond of a common humanity now drew me irresistibly to gloom. A fraternal melancholy! For both I and Bartleby were sons of Adam."
That feeling doesn't last long.
"... Revolving all these things, and coupling them with the recently discovered fact that he made my office his constant abiding place and home, and not forgetful of his morbid moodiness; revolving all these things, a prudential feeling began to steal over me. My first emotions had been those of pure melancholy and sincerest pity; but just in proportion as the forlornness of Bartleby grew and grew to my imagination, did that same melancholy merge into fear, that pity into repulsion. So true it is, and so terrible too, that up to a certain point the thought or sight of misery enlists our best affections; but, in certain special cases, beyond that point it does not. They err who would assert that invariably this is owing to the inherent selfishness of the human heart. It rather proceeds from a certain hopelessness of remedying excessive and organic ill. To a sensitive being, pity is not seldom pain. And when at last it is perceived that such pity cannot lead to effectual succor, common sense bids the soul rid of it. What I saw that morning persuaded me that the scrivener was the victim of innate and incurable disorder. I might give alms to his body; but his body did not pain him; it was his soul that suffered, and his soul I could not reach."
Then he decides to fire him. That he doesn't do yet, as we see in the next scenes, but he thinks of firing him, even though at that point Bartleby hasn't stopped copying.
The narrator isn't as kind as he thinks and says he is.

3/ Later, having sacked Bartleby, given him money and expected him to have gone, our narrator comes to his office the next morning in a feeling of relief mixed with uncertainty.
"As I had intended, I was earlier than usual at my office door. I stood listening for a moment. All was still. He must be gone. I tried the knob. The door was locked. Yes, my procedure had worked to a charm; he indeed must be vanished. Yet a certain melancholy mixed with this: I was almost sorry for my brilliant success. I was fumbling under the door mat for the key, which Bartleby was to have left there for me, when accidentally my knee knocked against a panel, producing a summoning sound, and in response a voice came to me from within—'Not yet; I am occupied'."
At this point, Bartleby has given up on copying (actually, the word in the text is "writing"). The only thing he does all day, according to the narrator, is standing and staring at the wall.
What's he possibly doing then? Occupied with what?
To me, it's unlikely that he's simply standing there in his dead-wall reveries. There must be something secretive that Bartleby does in the office before other people show up. I have no idea. Let's start speculating.

4/ This is the goodbye scene, when the narrator changes his office:
"I re-entered, with my hand in my pocket—and—and my heart in my mouth.
'Good-bye, Bartleby; I am going—good-bye, and God some way bless you; and take that,' slipping something in his hand. But it dropped upon the floor, and then,—strange to say—I tore myself from him whom I had so longed to be rid of."
What is the something?

5/ Look at Bartleby's corpse: 
"Strangely huddled at the base of the wall, his knees drawn up, and lying on his side, his head touching the cold stones, I saw the wasted Bartleby. " 
Like a foetus? 

Friday, 24 June 2016

Vere the tyrant

My book Melville's Short Novels—Norton Critical Edition includes some criticisms, and from the look of it, readers of “Billy Budd, Sailor”, as with “Benito Cereno”, fall into 2 camps: Vere or anti-Vere. 
Here are Robert K. Martin Jr’s anti-Vere arguments in “Is Vere a Hero?”: 
1/ “Nothing that we know about the role of the Captain from the earlier works could lead us to believe that Melville would create a captain who represents the moral perspective of the author: every Captain in Melville is corrupt, a tyrant, or a madman.” 
2/ Vere is a snob. What does he read? “Those books that ‘every serious mind of superior order occupying any active post of authority in the world naturally inclines’ toward (my emphasis). His conservatism is not the product of careful reflection on new ideas, but instead ‘a dike against those invading waters of novel opinion social, political and otherwise’.” 
That’s a good point. Let’s look at Melville’s text. 
“In this line of reading he found confirmation of his own more reserved thoughts—confirmation which he had vainly sought in social converse, so that as touching most fundamental topics, there had got to be established in him some positive convictions which he forefelt would abide in him essentially unmodified so long as his intelligent part remained unimpaired.” 
Vere reads to find confirmation of his own ideas, i.e. avoids books that challenge them. That is narrow-mindedness. We see that later, when Billy Budd strikes Claggart dead, he decides at once that “the angel must hang” and afterwards sticks to it, without much struggle.  
Let’s go on. 
“While other members of that aristocracy to which by birth he belonged were incensed at the innovators mainly because their theories were inimical to the privileged classes, not alone Captain Vere disinterestedly opposed them because they seemed to him incapable of embodiment in lasting institutions, but at war with the peace of the world and the true welfare of mankind.” 
He’s afraid of change, afraid of anything that looks like a threat to his sense of peace and stability. His fear of such threats later becomes so strong, stronger than anything, that he forgets justice and conscience in his judgement of Billy. 
The narrator then says that Vere lacks “the companionable quality”*, that he is dry and bookish. We see later that Vere thinks in the abstract and forgets that Billy Budd is a human being. 
Besides, speaking of snobbishness, Vere makes allusions without caring whether or not his listeners understand them. 
3/ Martin notes that Vere “betrays the very code he claims to believe in. It is not even necessary to accept the idea of a moral code higher than military justice (although I am certain that Melville did) in order to condemn Vere. Revolution may be a legitimate fear, but does it justify the suspension of legal procedure? And if Vere acts only out of a justified fear of mutiny, why not act on that basis instead of cloaking his behavior in legal self-righteousness.” 
The court doesn’t determine evidence.
“Vere is the accuser, the witness, and the judge; he is even the defense counsel at moments. No witnesses are heard; no attempt is even made to determine the truth of Claggart’s accusation. Of course, the fact that the accusation is false does not alter the fact that Billy killed Claggart, but it does determine a great deal about motive and justification.” 
Martin adds, “it is Vere’s assumption of the danger of mutiny that justifies his suspension of proper procedure, although no effort whatever is made to examine that assumption. Vere has decided Billy’s fate before the court meets, and he uses his power to manipulate the court’s decision. The trial is a sham, the pretense of justice and not justice itself”. 
Now let’s examine Vere’s language as he speaks before the drumhead court. 
“Quite apart from any conceivable motive actuating the master-at-arms, and irrespective of the provocation to the blow, a martial court must needs in the present case confine its attention to the blow’s consequence, which consequence justly is to be deemed not otherwise than as the striker’s deed.” (the italics are Martin’s, to emphasise Vere’s exploitation of the legalese) 
All of those words mean nothing but that Billy struck Claggart. 
“It is not possible to imagine that Melville would cast as hero a man who could so abuse the language.” 
4/ Martin says, defenders of Vere argue that he represents “a higher ethic” than “justice to the individual”, namely “the claims of civilized society”. 
That is not true. “Vere’s decision to hold the court is contrary to law and to the opinion of his officers. It corresponds only to his own desires. Far from establishing a higher social order, Vere imposes the rule of the individual (himself) over social justice.” 
5/ “Vere, that double of Claggart, is driven by ‘the most secret of all passions, ambition’. But as Claggart is never able to profit from his currying of favor with higher authority by denouncing Billy, since he is killed by Billy, so Vere does not live long enough to attain to ‘the fulness of fame’, since he is killed in battle by the French shortly after Billy’s execution. The deaths of the 2 men who might have gained by the death of Billy adds a final turn of the ironic screw: all that killing, and not even ambition is served.” 

*: This is a quality that Melville ranks high, as Carolyn L. Karcher argues in “Melville and Revolution”: For example, see Melville’s description of John Marr “to a man wonted… to the free-and-easy tavern clubs… in certain old and comfortable sea-port towns of that time, and yet more familiar with the companionship afloat of the sailors… something was lacking [in the company of his neighbors]. That something was geniality, the flower of life springing from some sense of joy in it, more or less”. Or Melville’s disparagement of Emerson’s lack of convivial geniality. 

Thursday, 23 June 2016

The 2 halves of "Billy Budd, Sailor"

What can I possibly say that hasn't been said of "Billy Budd, Sailor"? 
The story is cut into 2 halves, by the scene of John Claggart speaking to captain Edward Fairfax Vere: 
- The 1st part is chiefly about 2 things: Claggart's envy and Billy Budd's innocence. 
Regarding envy, Melville makes an interesting point: 
"... Now envy and antipathy, passions irreconcilable in reason, nevertheless in fact may spring conjoined like Chang and Eng in one birth. Is Envy then such a monster? Well, though many an arraigned mortal has in hopes of mitigated penalty pleaded guilty to horrible actions, did ever anybody seriously confess to envy? Something there is in it universally felt to be more shameful than even felonious crime."
It makes me think of a passage by Angus Wilson: 
"All the seven deadly sins are self-destroying, morbid appetites, but in their early stages at least, lust and gluttony, avarice and sloth know some gratification, while anger and pride have power, even though that power eventually destroys itself. Envy is impotent, numbed with fear, never ceasing in its appetite, and it knows no gratification, but endless self-torment. It has the ugliness of a trapped rat, which gnaws its own foot in an effort to escape." 
Linked to the theme of envy is the theme of evil and human nature. Knowledge of the world and knowledge of human nature are "distinct branches", and some people, like Claggart, are "a nut not be cracked by the tap of a lady's fan". This theme is connected with another one- Billy Budd's innocence, or his inability to recognise and acknowledge evil. 
- In the 2nd part, Billy Budd fades into the background. He's still there, the characters talk about him, the actions concern and affect him, but the 2nd part is more about captain Vere- more specifically, his rigidity, his reasoning and all of his actions that cause Billy's death. 
There can be several themes: Vere's rigidity and his abstract thinking (reminiscent of Shakespeare's Brutus), the law (Vere mounts a drumhead court instead of turning the case to admirals, and takes over as sole witness, prosecutor, judge, and executioner), and the harm of the inaction of those who are unable to change a thing (intellectually inferior, the men of the drumhead court are unable to articulate their disagreements or hesitations) or who are able but indifferent (the surgeon and the chaplain), for example. 
"Billy Budd, Sailor" is so rich, as Melville's works usually are. We can go on and on and talk about other themes, like Christ, Adam, angels, father and son, Abraham and Isaac (if Vere is Abraham sacrificing his son Isaac, that is, Billy Budd, what does he sacrifice him for?), conscience, fate, God, Billy's last words and Vere's last words, the falsified report... but I'll stop here. (If you're a student stealing my ideas for an essay, please let me know which grade you get). 
What I find really interesting is how sharply divided in half the story is, at least that's how it feels to me.
Do you feel the same? 

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Billy Budd's character

I finished reading Matthew Selwyn's book last Wednesday. My initial plan was to read The Sympathiser next, but, as rules are made to be broken, plans are made to be changed- to be safe, I returned to the Melville book, and have been reading "Billy Budd, Sailor". 
What can we say about Billy, more formally William Budd, more tenderly Baby? 
Innocent and simple. The word attached to the character is innocence, innocence, innocence. 
Melville establishes and depicts Billy Budd's character through: 
I/ Telling
II/ Showing (his actions and reactions show naivete, simplicity and slowness)
III/ Imagery, metaphors and similes 
As one may expect, he's compared to a child: 
"In certain matters, some sailors even in mature life remain unsophisticated enough. But a young seafarer of the disposition of our athletic Foretopman, is much of a child-man." 
The narrator goes on to say: 
"And yet a child's utter innocence is but its blank ignorance, and the innocence more or less wanes as intelligence waxes. But in Billy Budd intelligence, such as it was, had advanced, while yet his simplemindedness remained for the most part unaffected. Experience is a teacher indeed; yet did Billy's years make his experience small. Besides, he had none of that intuitive knowledge of the bad which in natures not good or incompletely so foreruns experience, and therefore may pertain, as in some instances it too clearly does pertain, even to youth."
Here is another thing "Billy Budd, Sailor" has in common with "Benito Cereno", besides the ship setting: the incapacity in some people to comprehend and acknowledge evil. 
I also notice that, unlike other characters, he's constantly compared to animals: 
"To the surprise of the ship's company, though much to the Lieutenant's satisfaction, Billy made no demur. But, indeed, any demur would have been as idle as the protest of a goldfinch popped into a cage."
"Like the animals, though no philosopher, he was, without knowing it, practically a fatalist." 
"The ear, small and shapely, the arch of the foot, the curve in mouth and nostril, even the indurated hand dyed to the orange-tawny of the toucan's bill, a hand telling alike of the halyards and tar-bucket..."
"Noble descent was as evident in him as in a blood horse."
"For the rest, with little or no sharpness of faculty or any trace of the wisdom of the serpent, nor yet quite a dove, he possessed that kind and degree of intelligence going along with the unconventional rectitude of a sound human creature, one to whom not yet has been proffered the questionable apple of knowledge. He was illiterate; he could not read, but he could sing, and like the illiterate nightingale was sometimes the composer of his own song.
Of self-consciousness he seemed to have little or none, or about as much as we may reasonably impute to a dog of Saint Bernard's breed."
"Now when the Master-at-arms noticed whence came that greasy fluid streaming before his feet, he must have taken it--to some extent wilfully, perhaps--not for the mere accident it assuredly was, but for the sly escape of a spontaneous feeling on Billy's part more or less answering to the antipathy on his own. In effect a foolish demonstration he must have thought, and very harmless, like the futile kick of a heifer, which yet were the heifer a shod stallion, would not be so harmless."
"In his disgustful recoil from an overture which tho' he but ill comprehended he instinctively knew must involve evil of some sort, Billy Budd was like a young horse fresh from the pasture suddenly inhaling a vile whiff from some chemical factory, and by repeated snortings tries to get it out of his nostrils and lungs."
"This utterance, the full significance of which it was not at all likely that Billy took in, nevertheless caused him to turn a wistful interrogative look toward the speaker, a look in its dumb expressiveness not unlike that which a dog of generous breed might turn upon his master seeking in his face some elucidation of a previous gesture ambiguous to the canine intelligence."
(emphasis mine)
I suppose this means: 1, Billy Budd's simplicity is the simplicity of animals, he neither has nor recognises the hypocrisy, cunning and deceit of people; 2, Billy Budd's position is like that of animals, with little freedom and few rights (the ship he says goodbye to is called Rights of Man). 
What I find intriguing is, do you see how feminine he is? Not only is Billy Budd extolled for his beauty and described as having rosy cheeks, he's compared to women: 
"As the Handsome Sailor, Billy Budd's position aboard the seventy-four was something analogous to that of a rustic beauty transplanted from the provinces and brought into competition with the highborn dames of the court."
And later: 
"Though our Handsome Sailor had as much of masculine beauty as one can expect anywhere to see; nevertheless, like the beautiful woman in one of Hawthorne 's minor tales, there was just one thing amiss in him. No visible blemish, indeed, as with the lady; no, but an occasional liability to a vocal defect."
(emphasis mine) 
What does it mean? That Billy Budd is, like women at the time, limited by nature and oppressed by society? 
Or that Billy is actually a female figure, who is only a man because the setting of Melville's work is a ship? 
Or perhaps the comparisons should be taken singly and have no general significance.