Pages

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Note to self

1/ Spend less time on fb.
2/ Read more. 
3/ Produce, produce! 
4/ Walk more, go out more. 
5/ Connect with people. 
6/ Don't demand too much from others, but you should learn to trust people. 
7/ Stop thinking of yourself as a victim. 
8/ Stop overthinking. 
9/ Remember: this too shall pass. 
10/ Whenever feeling down, think of Harvie Krumpet. 
11/ Life isn't fair, accept it. 
12/ It's OK to be scared and vulnerable. 
13/ It's OK to be different.
14/ Whenever angry, sit down for 15 minutes, drink some water, don't act right away. 
15/ In relationships, before doing something, think if Jane Austen would have laughed at it. 
16/ Everybody has something to learn from. 
17/ It's OK to let go and lose some self-control now and then. 
18/ Don't think in terms of being chosen or not being chosen. It doesn't determine your worth. 
19/ There's a first time for everything.
20/ Get rid of bad habits. 
21/ Keep your laughter. 
22/ Embrace everything. 
23/ Do your best and stop worrying about being mediocre. 
24/ If something doesn't work, try something else. 
25/ Keep your sense of wonder. 

New photos- fish- Untitled set


Click here for full set. 
Photos taken and edited by me.


If the link isn't available, that means I have deactivated my fb account. Wait until I'm back. 

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Melville vs James, or Writers and taste buds

Over the past few days, besides "Cock-A-Doodle-Doo", "The Lightning-Rod Man" and "The Encantadas, or Enchanted Isles", I also read but didn't write about "The Fiddler", "The Paradise of Bachelors and the Tartarus of Maids", and a few hours ago, finished reading "I and My Chimney".
My collection is from Oxford World's Classics. 
Look at these lines about "I and My Chimney" from Robert Milder's introduction: 
"The remarkable thing about 'I and My Chimney', at any rate, is how wonderfully comic it is, how little it is given to bitterness, self-pity or despair. 1 of the last of Melville's tales, it is also 1 of the most genial, the work of a man who has come to take a virtuoso's pleasure in his craft and thereby, without ever solving the problems that troubled him, slowly to find his way back to the living." 
I like that. So now I decide to let go, enjoying "I and My Chimney" for what it is and what it does and what it's like without worrying much about what it means and what it represents. As with Kafka. And Gogol. 
Anyway, I've been thinking about Melville and Henry James, idly wondering if I'd have enjoyed The Portrait of a Lady if I'd read it a short time after Moby Dick. Probably not. I remember seeing a few years ago someone comparing Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte using the analogy of taste, likening the former to sushi and the latter to barbecue, which means that both are good, but if you eat sushi right after something as strong and rich as barbecue, you can't taste anything at all, it's just raw fish, and as a result, you'll find it bad. I don't know if it's true- haven't tried. Perhaps not, as I like Jane Austen terribly much, with all of her humour, irony and sarcasm, and her stabs at people, whereas Charlotte Bronte I have some reservations against. Perhaps it would work if you replaced Charlotte with Emily, my favourite of the Brontes. In any case, it's a useful, or at least an interesting, concept. The refined, controlled, subtle James would be sushi, and Melville, with his exuberance and intensity, would be barbecue. In James, at least in The Portrait of a Lady and the short works I've read, much is hidden or left out, much is just hinted or suggested, and his greatness is in noticing and capturing the subtleties that easily escape people. I imagine that after reading Melville and enjoying his intensity, his striking images and complex layers of symbols and metaphors, his larger-than-life characters, his rhythmic style mixed with dramatic, hyperbolic or mock-heroic language, one would find James rather dull, as though the strong flavour of Melville kills some of one's taste buds. One would find James limiting, and limited, in his obsession with a perfect form, with harmony and completeness, when Melville tests the possibilities of literature and tries to expand the form of the novel, to make it encompass a lot more, do a lot more. 
Luckily, I read The Portrait of a Lady 1st. 

Monday, 16 May 2016

Interesting whale facts

From Leviathan or, The Whale by Philip Hoare:
1/ “The beluga is the most vocal of all whales, known by sailors as the canary of the sea...”
2/ “No one really knows why whales leap. Almost every species does it—from the smallest dolphin to the greatest blue whale—in their own style: backward breaches, belly-flops, half-hearted lunges or full-blown somersaults.”
“It seems likely that their aerobatics are an energetic means of communication—advertisements of physical power and presence, telling other whales ‘Here I am’ and ‘Aren’t I splendid?’. But when you see a whale leap out of the water like a giant penguin, your 1st thought is that it looks fun. The fact that calves and young whales are more prone to breach reinforces this idea.”
Reminds of this line from Moby Dick about the whale:
“…as a general thing, he enjoys such high health; taking abundance of exercise; always out of doors; though, it is true, seldom in the open air…”
3/ Cetaceans—from the Greek ketos for sea monster—fall neatly into 2 suborders. The toothed odontocetes—71 species of porpoises, river and ocean dolphins, beaked whales, orcas and sperm whales—feed on fish and squid. The mysticetes or moustached whales—of which there are at least 14 species—filter their diet of plankton and smaller fish through their baleen.”
4/ “Although mysticetes foetuses have teeth buds, these are resorbed into their jaws before being born, to be replaced by sprouts of fibrous protein called keratin, the same material that furnishes humans with their fingernails.”
5/ Whales “have bad breath, and shit reddish water.”
6/ Humpbacks eat a ton of fish a day, “mostly sand eels which, with their salt-excreting glands, are full of fresh water and therefore sate the animals’ thirst. Whales might live in the world’s greatest bodies of water, but they can never drink.”
Later in the book, Hoare says Malcom Clarke tells him about “how the contents of sperm whales’ stomachs would yield dozens of unidentified species: in one he found no fewer than 18000 beaks”. 
7/ “Their nearest relation on land is the hippopotamus…”
8/ Food found in sperm whales’ bellies seldom shows tooth marks; juveniles eat squid and fish long before developing teeth and females don’t develop teeth till late in maturity, if at all; their teeth aren’t necessary for sustenance. Their function is obscure.
“This great predator does not chew its prey; rather, it sucks it in like a giant vacuum cleaner, as the presence of ventral pleats on its throat indicates.”
Reminds of Captain Boomer in Moby Dick:
“…I'm thinking Moby Dick doesn't bite so much as he swallows.”
9/ Male sperm whales may be twice the size of females.
10/ Female sperm whales produce single calves only once every 4-6 years.
11/ Their heart beats 10 times/ minute.
12/ “At the surface, the sperm whale is slower, less agile and has less time and energy than other whales—and is therefore less able to flee such an unnatural predator as man.” Philip Hoare calls it “an inexplicable and potentially fatal evolutionary flaw” and mentions that John Fowles wonders why the sperm whale “has never acquired—as it easily could in physical terms—an efficient flight behavior when faced with man. At times, it will almost queue up to be gunned… The poor brutes just never learnt.”
13/ “Not only did [the right whale] boast plentiful blubber, but its particularly long baleen, when heated, could be moulded into shape for umbrellas, corset stays and venetian blinds, or used as bristles for brushes.”
14/ Male right whales “assert their supremacy by multiple matings rather than fighting for favours” and females “will even permit more than 1 partner to enter them at the same time, after sessions of delicate foreplay in which the courting animals use their flippers to stroke each other with inordinate gentleness; like all whales, their skin is incredibly sensitive, and the pressure of a human finger can send their entire body quivering”.
15/ Hoare describes the right whale’s smell as “a deep insupportable smell, somewhere between a cow’s fart and a fishy wharf, a pungent reminder of its function as a processing plant for plankton”. 
16/ Belugas “are born grey, and only achieve pure white in late adulthood, becoming sinless with old age”. Narwhals also change colour over time.
17/ The name of narwhals comes from Old Norse “nar” and “hvalr”, meaning “corpse whale”, “because its smudges resemble the livid blemishes on a dead body”.
18/ The Latin name for the killer whale, or more correctly, whale-killer, Ornicus orca, has its root in orcus, which means “belonging to the kingdom of the dead”. Hoare adds, “a reflection of its reputation as the only non-human enemy of the great whales”.
19/ “The narwhal’s tusk is actually an overgrown, living tooth which erupts to pierce its owner’s lip on the left-hand side and spirals up to 9 feet long, sometimes even longer”. “Unlike other teeth, its surface has open tubules connected to inner nerves; it is, in effect, a giant sense organ, lined with 10 million nerve endings to enable the animal to detect subtle changes in temperature and pressure. […] Other research indicates that the tusk is not only a sensory probe, but may also be a transmitter or receiver of sound, and even of electricity.” 
20/ Discovery of stone or ivory harpoons in whales suggests that they can live longer than we think they can. Dr. Jeffrey L. Bada of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in California, using “a technique for dating animals from changes in the aspartic acid levels in their eyes”, “examined tissue from whales caught by the Inupiat hunters” and found that most were 20-60 years old when they died, but of 5 large male bowheads, 1 was 90 years old, 4 were between 135 and 180 years old, and 1 was 211 years old.
21/ “While I read illicit American comics under my bedclothes, fantasizing about a world of sleek-suited superheroes, new processes—sulphurization, saponification, distillation—extended and rationalized the use of whales in lubricants, paint, varnish, ink, detergent, leather and food: hydrogenation made whale oil palatable, sanitizing its taste. Efficiency ruled, in place of the early whalers’ waste. Whale liver yielded vitamin A, and whale glands were used to make insulin for diabetics and corticotrophin to treat arthritis. 19th century trains had run on whale oil; now streamlined cars with sleek chrome fins used brake fluids made from the same stuff. Victorian New Englanders had relished doughnuts fried in whale oil; now children with crew-cuts and stripy T-shirts licked ice cream made from it. Their bright shiny faces were washed with whale soap, and having tied their shoelaces of whale skin, they marched off to school, past gardens nurtured on whale fertilizer, to draw with whale crayons while Mum sewed their clothes on a machine lubricated with whale oil, and fed the family cat on whale meat. In her office, big sister transcribed memos on typewriter ribbon charged with whale ink, pausing to apply her whale lipstick. Later that afternoon, she would play a game of tennis with a whale-strung racquet. Back home, Daddy lined up the family to take their photograph on film glazed with whale gelatine.”
Later in the book: “… whale meat was ground into flour for use as animal food. European cattle fed on whales. Nothing was wasted. […] The whale’s liver produced vitamin extracts. The teeth were used to create scrimshaw, destined to gather dust on tourist’ shelves at home.” 
22/ “Research on humpback brains has also discovered the presence of spindle neurons, otherwise confined only to primates and dolphins. These cells—important in learning, memory and recognizing the world around and, perhaps, one’s self—first appeared in man’s ancestors 15 million years ago. In cetaceans, they may have evolved 30 million years ago.”
23/ Whales may have culture. Research “suggests entire communities of whales, ocean-wide clans moving in distinctive patterns and ‘speaking’ in distinctive repertoire of clicks, like humans sharing the same language. Separate groups of the same species will act in different ways, foraging for food in different manners—methods learned maternally, passed on from generation to generation.”
Dr Hal Whitehead organises the sperm whale’s clicks into: “usual clicks, about 2 a second, made by foraging whales; creaks, a regular, more rapid succession of clicks which he describes as sounding like the rusty hinge on an opening door, and which indicate a whale homing in on its prey, or scanning other whales at the surface; the communicative sequence of codas—such as click-click-click-pause-click—a kind of cetacean Morse code which suggests ‘conversations’, although ‘we do not know what information is being transmitted’. Most mysterious of all are the slow clicks or clangs made by mature males and which Whitehead compares to ‘a jailhouse door being slammed every 7 seconds’.” 
24/ “Although Ishmael declares that it was whale oil that was rubbed on the British sovereign’s head in the coronation service, this was in fact an ambergris-infused concoction…” The new monarch “is marked on the head, heart, shoulders, hands and elbows with this oil”. 
25/ Hoare says that ambergris is actually whale shit. 
“Light-giving wax, lubricating oil, scented faeces: sometimes it seems as though the whales are cetacean Magi, bringing offerings that presage their own sacrifice.”

Tortoises in "The Encantadas"

Reading Moby Dick, a newbie (at least this one) is likely to wonder if Melville, like Ishmael, is obsessed with whales. But no. In these short stories and novellas I’ve been reading, whales are only mentioned in passing, or not at all. In “Cock-A-Doodle-Do” for example, the narrator writes about a rooster the way Ishmael writes about whales, showing that Melville’s able to read meaning into everything and elevate all creatures into something higher, something philosophic and symbolic. 
In “The Encantadas”, he focuses on tortoises. 

(photo source)
The short story, in the form of travelogue, comprises of 10 sketches. Sketch 1st is an overview of the Encantadas or the Enchanted Isles—here tortoises are mentioned for the 1st time: 
“Little but reptile life is here found: tortoises, lizards, immense spiders, snakes, and that strangest anomaly of outlandish nature, the iguana.” 
Melville, as Salvator R. Tarnmoor, mentions the superstition that wicked sea captions are at death transformed into tortoises, and remarks:
“Doubtless, so quaintly dolorous a thought was originally inspired by the woebegone landscape itself; but more particularly, perhaps, by the tortoises. For, apart from their strictly physical features, there is something strangely self-condemned in the appearance of these creatures. Lasting sorrow and penal hopelessness are in no animal form so suppliantly expressed as in theirs; while the thought of their wonderful longevity does not fail to enhance the impression.” 
Gertrude Stein would say, a tortoise is a tortoise is a tortoise. The narrator would laugh. He dedicates the whole sketch 2nd to tortoises and turns meditative: 
“In view of the description given, may one be gay upon the Encantadas? Yes: that is, find one the gaiety, and he will be gay. And, indeed, sackcloth and ashes as they are, the isles are not perhaps unmitigated gloom. For while no spectator can deny their claims to a most solemn and superstitious consideration, no more than my firmest resolutions can decline to behold the specter-tortoise when emerging from its shadowy recess; yet even the tortoise, dark and melancholy as it is upon the back, still possesses a bright side; its calipee or breastplate being sometimes of a faint yellowish or golden tinge. Moreover, everyone knows that tortoises as well as turtle are of such a make that if you but put them on their backs you thereby expose their bright sides without the possibility of their recovering themselves, and turning into view the other. But after you have done this, and because you have done this, you should not swear that the tortoise has no dark side. Enjoy the bright, keep it turned up perpetually if you can, but be honest, and don't deny the black. Neither should he who cannot turn the tortoise from its natural position so as to hide the darker and expose his livelier aspect, like a great October pumpkin in the sun, for that cause declare the creature to be one total inky blot. The tortoise is both black and bright.” 
The dark and light/ black and bright issue he has explored in other works (in Moby Dick and “The Fiddler” especially), Melville now brings to the tortoise. 
Earlier, the narrator speaks of tortoises as haunting reminders of mortality: 
“… often in scenes of social merriment, and especially at revels held by candlelight in old-fashioned mansions, so that shadows are thrown into the further recesses of an angular and spacious room, making them put on a look of haunted undergrowth of lonely woods, I have drawn the attention of my comrades by my fixed gaze and sudden change of air, as I have seemed to see, slowly emerging from those imagined solitudes, and heavily crawling along the floor, the ghost of a gigantic tortoise, with ‘Memento * * * *’ burning in live letters upon his back.” 
Now in sketch 2nd, they’re embodiments of stubbornness, inflexibility and obsession with a hopeless toil:   
“As I lay in my hammock that night, overhead I heard the slow weary draggings of the three ponderous strangers along the encumbered deck. Their stupidity or their resolution was so great that they never went aside for any impediment. One ceased his movements altogether just before the mid-watch. At sunrise I found him butted like a battering ram against the immovable foot of the foremast, and still striving, tooth and nail, to force the impossible passage. That these tortoises are the victims of a penal, or malignant, or perhaps a downright diabolical, enchanter, seems in nothing more likely than in that strange infatuation of hopeless toil which so often possesses them. I have known them in their journeyings ram themselves heroically against rocks, and long abide there, nudging, wriggling, wedging, in order to displace them, and so hold on their inflexible path. Their crowning curse is their drudging impulse to straightforwardness in a belittered world.” 
That inflexibility also reflects the characteristic lack of change on the isles: 
“… But the special curse, as one may call it, of the Encantadas, that which exalts them in desolation above Idumea and the Pole, is that to them change never comes; neither the change of seasons nor of sorrows. Cut by the Equator, they know not autumn, and they know not spring; while, already reduced to the lees of fire, ruin itself can work little more upon them…”  
From the tortoise as a species he goes to 3 individual tortoises that he comes across, the way Ishmael goes from whales in general to Moby Dick: 
“…behold these really wondrous tortoises […]. These mystic creatures, suddenly translated by night from unutterable solitudes to our peopled deck, affected me in a manner not easy to unfold. They seemed newly crawled forth from beneath the foundations of the world. Yea, they seemed the identical tortoises whereon the Hindu plants this total sphere. With a lantern I inspected them more closely. Such worshipful venerableness of aspect! Such furry greenness mantling the rude peelings and healing the fissures of their shattered shells. I no more saw three tortoises. They expanded—became transfigured. I seemed to see three Roman Coliseums in magnificent decay.” 
Mystic? Venerable?
“…. next evening, strange to say, I sat down with my shipmates and made a merry repast from tortoise steaks and tortoise stews; and, supper over, out knife, and helped convert the three mighty concave shells into three fanciful soup tureens, and polished the three flat yellowish calipees into three gorgeous salvers.”
Nothing is holy. Everything goes down the stomach. Don’t people eat whales—the magnificent, mysterious creatures, the largest beings on earth? Go ask Stubb. 
After being eaten, tortoises are absent in the next 2 sketches, leaving space for birds and other animals, and reappear in the last 6 sketches: 
- As food—a delicacy as well as a means of survival
- As an economic good (tortoise oil) 
- As a kind of currency (“It was arranged that the expenses of the passage home should not be payable in silver, but in tortoises -- one hundred tortoises ready captured to the returning captain's hand”)
- As a trap/ a kind of destruction/ a cause of death (it’s for tortoise-hunting that Felipe and his brother-in-law Truxill are lured to an island and then drown, and Hunilla is stuck on the island, waiting for a ship that never returns) 
- As a present/ token of gratitude (from Hunilla to the captain that rescues her)
- As signs of life in a dreary and desolate, even hellish, place 
- As companions 
Tortoises are all over “The Encantadas”, even if they’re not always in the foreground. In a way, they’re what holds the sketches together. 
And in the end, they would be the survivors, the victors, when the runaways, castaways, buccaneers… have perished. 

Sunday, 15 May 2016

The 1st book you read by an author

I've just come across a blog post suggesting that readers intimidated by "long, challenging, and/or depressing classic novels" should read those writers' shorter/ easier works. 
I won't discuss that point. But here's a record of my first dates with several authors: 
William Shakespeare: Hamlet
Jane Austen: Emma
Charles Dickens: Oliver Twist 
Charlotte Bronte: Jane Eyre 
Anne Bronte: Agnes Grey 
George Eliot: Adam Bede
Lev Tolstoy: Anna Karenina 
Fyodor Dostoyevsky: Crime and Punishment 
Nikolai Gogol: Dead Souls 
Ivan Turgenev: Fathers and Sons 
Gustave Flaubert: Madame Bovary
Henry James: "Daisy Miller" and some other short stories 
Herman Melville: Moby Dick 
Mark Twain: The Prince and the Pauper
Virginia Woolf: Mrs Dalloway 
George Orwell: 1984
Franz Kafka: short and ultra-short stories 
Vladimir Nabokov: lecture on "The Metamorphosis"; if fiction only, Lolita 
J. D. Salinger: The Catcher in the Rye
F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Great Gatsby 
William Faulkner: "A Rose for Emily" 
Gabriel Garcia Marquez: short stories 
Isabel Allende: The House of the Spirits 
Milan Kundera: The Art of the Novel; if fiction only, The Unbearable Lightness of Being 
Elfriede Jelinek: The Piano Teacher
Toni Morrison: Beloved
Paulo Coelho: The Devil and Miss Prym 
Haruki Murakami: South of the Border, West of the Sun
Patrick Suskind: Perfume: The Story of a Murderer

What does it show? 
1/ I don't mind long novels. But you know that. 
2/ I have a different approach: often go straight to the most famous/ acclaimed work or 1 of them. If I'm impressed, most of the time it leads me to the author's other works; if I don't particularly like it, but feel intrigued, and question my own response, I might try again by reading another book by the same writer. If I hate it or am simply indifferent, at least I've read an important work often included among the greatest books we should read before we die, and know what it's like. 

______________________________________________________

Now, same writers but a different list- the book that made me fall in love with the author: 
William Shakespeare: Julius Caesar 
Jane Austen: Mansfield Park 
Charles Dickens: "A Christmas Carol" 
Charlotte Bronte: Jane Eyre, now we're just friends 
Anne Bronte: The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, but I just like her 
George Eliot: I don't think I'm quite in love with her yet; no chemistry 
Lev Tolstoy: Anna Karenina 
Fyodor Dostoyevsky: Notes from Underground 
Nikolai Gogol: Dead Souls 
Ivan Turgenev: Fathers and Sons 
Gustave Flaubert: Madame Bovary
Henry James: "Daisy Miller" 
Herman Melville: Moby Dick 
Mark Twain: not there yet, but I'll come back to him some day
Virginia Woolf: A Common Reader or A Room of One's Own 
George Orwell: 1984
Franz Kafka: "The Metamorphosis" 
Vladimir Nabokov: Lolita 
J. D. Salinger: 9 Stories 
F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Great Gatsby 
William Faulkner: As I Lay Dying 
Gabriel Garcia Marquez: Chronicle of a Death Foretold 
Isabel Allende: The House of the Spirits, but when was the last time I went out with Isabel? Portrait in Sepia? Or Ines of My Soul
Milan Kundera: The Unbearable Lightness of Being 
Elfriede Jelinek: my feeling about Jelinek is complicated 
Toni Morrison: Beloved
Paulo Coelho: I fell in love (sort of), and fell out of love
Haruki Murakami: now enemies, I don't want to talk about it 
Patrick Suskind: Perfume: The Story of a Murderer

Saturday, 14 May 2016

Laws, workers' rights and a waitress's woes

“There are certain queer times and occasions in this strange mixed affair we call life when a man takes this whole universe for a vast practical joke, though the wit thereof he but dimly discerns, and more than suspects that the joke is at nobody's expense but his own.”  
(Moby Dick, chapter 49) 

Since July last year I’ve been working part-time at a Vietnamese restaurant, as a waitress and cashier. Today was my last day at work. I’ve quit. 
I’ve quit before finding another job. 
Why? Though I have a temper, and can sometimes act before thinking and fuck everything up, it wasn’t an impulsive act in a heated moment. In most things in life, there’s a line, and once you cross it, there’s no way back—long story short, my boss said something that at that point my options were either leaving or staying with the implication that there was no line and that from then on she could say whatever she liked to me, as though I had no self-respect and depended on her and needed her more than she needed me. I couldn’t allow that.  
To be frank, I should have left a long time ago, which my friends urged me to do. It was a bad job, my labour was literally exploited, I felt like a slave. I stayed for the money, and for experience—in both senses of the word, working experience that I can include in my CV and bring to another workplace, and more importantly, personal experience of working in a restaurant, working for Vietnamese immigrants, and being close to the working class*. Without the experience, how could I know what I know? So how bad was the job, you’d like to ask. To paint a full picture would require a whole book, I can only give a few facts: 
- Low pay. Without disclosing the precise amount, I will only say that my pay per hour is lower than the price of a single takeaway dish. 
- No extra pay on weekends or on holidays. Except for 24 and 25/12, the restaurant is always opened, which means that the employees work on New Year’s Eve, on New Year’s Day, on Lunar New Year’s Day, during Easter, on 1/5, on 17/5 (Norway’s national day)… for the same wage. 
- No extra pay when exceeding limit of working hours (overtidtillegg), because the numbers are changed in the notebook. 
- No pay during sick leave for those who are paid by the hour (timelønn). 
- No tips—all money, including tips in cash, goes to the boss. 
- No insurance, at least no mention of it in the contract. 
- No julebord, no New Year presents. 
- The pay is often late. Usually people have to ask for salary. Sometimes, someone’s salary is forgotten altogether. 
- 4 cameras for surveillance of employees (not customers), viewable on the boss’s iPad and phone. 
- Etc.
Now you get the idea. And I’ve just thrown out a few facts. 
Here’s another fact: my boss owns 2 restaurants, and the other one gets a lot more customers than this one. However, in order to pay less tax, she deliberately doesn’t own a house. 
Isn’t that unfair? The ironic part is that this woman came to Norway as 1 of the boat people, fleeing from an authoritarian regime, and the name of the restaurant is to me a rather political name—now look at how she treats her own people. Not only does she exploit people’s labour, but she also abuses them verbally, by complaining, scolding, shouting, insulting and humiliating. But no matter—her business still flourishes and she travels several times a year. People come and go indeed, but there are always others that come, and even if they go after a while, which they usually do, there will be others. In this game she will never lose. 
Is there any justice in life? I think of all the people I know of who are unkind and awful, or even cruel, ruthless and inhuman, yet never suffer; and wonder where is God’s punishment? where is karma? where is justice? I see none. 
My only choice, my only way of resisting, was to be Bartleby. Work continuously for more than 8 hours? I would prefer not to. Work on New Year’s Day, 1/5 or 17/5 for the same wage? I would prefer not to. Sacrifice a trip? I would prefer not to. Cancel my concert plans? I would prefer not to.
Now, after a while, I dropped it all together. I quit. 
But I didn’t want to be Bartleby. I poked around, did some research, read some laws, and contacted Arbeidstilsynet. Imagine my agony as I read their answers to my questions: 
- Norway doesn’t have a general minimum wage (generell lovfeste minstelønn). Certain jobs such as construction workers or cleaners have a minimum wage, but there’s no such thing for waiters. 
- There are no laws about extra pay on Sunday or bevegelige helligdager. However, according to law, workers are entitled to extra pay on 1/5 and 17/5, which are considered høgtidsdager. 
- There are laws about overtid, but because the numbers are corrected in the notebook and the employees don’t object, there’s nothing I can do about it. 
- Surveillance of employees is legal. 
- There are no laws about who gets the tips. It depends on agreement between the employer and the employees. 
Apparently, Norway doesn’t really protect workers as most people think. I felt like being slapped in the face—no, knocked in the head. Because the laws are non-existent, my boss hardly violates anything—her actions may be condemned as inhuman, but can’t be called illegal, and that means I can’t do anything about it. 
Any wish for “revenge” is now thwarted. 
Oh the hopelessness! The despair! 





*: Considering my hostility towards Marxism, I’m not fond of seeing people in terms of class, and I definitely don’t look down on the people in this restaurant, but it would be naïve to suggest that there are no differences whatsoever between them and the intellectuals with whom I often associate. 

Friday, 13 May 2016

"The Lightning-Rod Man"

In thunder a man appears, like a Satan figure with dark countenance and a tri-forked thing. He's a salesman of lightning rods. After a long conversation, the narrator mocks:
"You pretended envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary to and from Jupiter Tonans, you mere man who come here to put you and your pipestem between clay and sky, do you think that because you can strike a bit of green light from the Leyden jar, that you can thoroughly avert the supernal bolt? Your rod rusts, or breaks, and where are you? Who has empowered you, you Tetzel, to peddle round your indulgences from divine ordinations? The hairs of our heads are numbered, and the days of our lives. In thunder as in sunshine, I stand at ease in the hands of my God. False negotiator, away! See, the scroll of the storm is rolled back; the house is unharmed; and in the blue heavens I read in the rainbow, that the Deity will not, of purpose, make war on man's earth."
1/ The salesman's like a Calvinist preacher, who speaks of God's wrath to cause fear and takes advantage of that fear to persuade people to convert. I can't help thinking of Jonathan Edwards. 
"Mine is the only true rod." My faith is the only truth. My religion is your only salvation. 
That's against Ishmael's embracing views. In Moby Dick, Ishmael says to Peleg and Bildad that Queequeg is "a born member of the First Congregational Church" and explains: 
"I mean, sir, the same ancient Catholic Church to which you and I, and Captain Peleg there, and Queequeg here, and all of us, and every mother's son and soul of us belong; the great and everlasting First Congregation of this whole worshipping world; we all belong to that; only some of us cherish some queer crotchets no ways touching the grand belief; in that we all join hands." 
Earlier, he joins Queequeg in praying to Yojo (after Queequeg goes to his church and listens to a sermon): 
"I was a good Christian; born and bred in the bosom of the infallible Presbyterian Church. How then could I unite with this wild idolator in worshipping his piece of wood? But what is worship? thought I. Do you suppose now, Ishmael, that the magnanimous God of heaven and earth—pagans and all included—can possibly be jealous of an insignificant bit of black wood? Impossible! But what is worship?—to do the will of God—that is worship. And what is the will of God?—to do to my fellow man what I would have my fellow man to do to me—that is the will of God. Now, Queequeg is my fellow man. And what do I wish that this Queequeg would do to me? Why, unite with me in my particular Presbyterian form of worship. Consequently, I must then unite with him in his; ergo, I must turn idolator. So I kindled the shavings; helped prop up the innocent little idol; offered him burnt biscuit with Queequeg; salamed before him twice or thrice; kissed his nose; and that done, we undressed and went to bed, at peace with our own consciences and all the world. But we did not go to sleep without some little chat."
2/ The passage above is reminiscent of something else in Moby Dick: Ahab, the blasphemous Ahab, thinks that a harpoon forged in blood and tipped in St Elmo's fire can make him a winner in a fight against nature. Ah the fool. Here because the narrator "can strike a bit of green light from the Leyden jar", he thinks he "can thoroughly avert the supernal bolt". 

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

"Cock-A-Doodle-Doo! or, The Crowing of the Noble Cock Beneventano"

1/ The story begins with a rant against life and God, against modernisation and industrialisation. 
2/ "I marked the fact, but only grinned at it with a ghastly grin." 
He sounds rather mad. 
3/ "My friends, that must be a Shanghai; no domestic-born cock could crow in such prodigious exulting strains." 
The rooster, however, turns out not to be a Shanghai, but a domestic breed. Neither does it belong to a "gentleman". I don't think it's without meaning. 
4/ If in Moby Dick, Melville elevates the whale to a magnificent creature, the strangest, most mysterious and complex of animals, a genius, a philosopher, see how he writes about a rooster:
"Hark! there goes the cock! How shall I describe the crow of the Shanghai at noontide! His sunrise crow was a whisper to it. It was the loudest, longest and most strangely musical crow that ever amazed mortal man. I had heard plenty of cock-crows before, and many fine ones;—but this one! so smooth, and flute-like in its very clamor—so self-possessed in its very rapture of exultation—so vast, mounting, swelling, soaring, as if spurted out from a golden throat, thrown far back. Nor did it sound like the foolish, vain-glorious crow of some young sophomorean cock, who knew not the world, and was beginning life in audacious gay spirits, because in wretched ignorance of what might be to come. It was the crow of a cock who crowed not without advice; the crow of a cock who knew a thing or two; the crow of a cock who had fought the world and got the better of it and was resolved to crow, though the earth should heave and the heavens should fall. It was a wise crow; an invincible crow; a philosophic crow; a crow of all crows."
5/ Our (mad?) narrator interprets the row as something positive, celebratory, triumphant, inspiring, "[c]lear, shrill, full of pluck, full of fire, full of fun, full of glee", something that brings him vitality and takes him out of his depressed moods. 
Is it? 
He wants brown-stout and a beefsteak whilst deep in debt. He refuses to return money and treats his creditor, whom he calls a dun, as though it's the creditor that owes him something or comes to beg, and then turns violent towards him. And how does he justify himself? 
"Bless my stars, what a crow! Shanghai sent up such a perfect pagan and laudamus—such a trumpet blast of triumph, that my soul fairly snorted in me. Duns!—I could have fought an army of them! Plainly, Shanghai was of the opinion that duns only came into the world to be kicked, hanged, bruised, battered, choked, walloped, hammered, drowned, clubbed!" 
Later, he haggles over the rooster, with money he doesn't have. 
6/ The episode with the dun makes me wonder: Melville's so strange, is there any writer weird like that in British literature? 19th century American literature I barely know. In Russian literature, there are a few. 
7/ The word "lusty" appears 5 times in the story. "Lustily", 3 times. "Lustiness", once. All cases refer to the rooster's crow. 
8/ Another set associated with the crow is jubilant- jubilate- jubilation. 
9/ Bartleby turns inward. The narrator of this story turns outward. 
10/ "I felt as though I could meet Death, and invite him to dinner, and toast the Catacombs with him, in pure overflow of self-reliance and a sense of universal security." 
I don't quite know what that means, but that phrase "self-reliance" can't not be a reference to Emerson. 
11/ "If at times I would relapse into my doleful dumps straightway at the sound of the exultant and defiant crow, my soul, too, would turn chanticleer, and clap her wings, and throw back her throat, and breathe forth a cheerful challenge to all the world of woes." 
He's drawn to the crow, and lets himself get carried away by it, because of its defiance. He too wants to challenge the world, like Bartleby, in a different way. 
12/ 1 bird messes up a man's life. Makes me think of Patrick Suskind's The Pigeon
13/ My copy of the book (Oxford World's Classics) calls Merrymusk a philosophical optimist. Is he? 
14/ Merrymusk's in denial. No, it's all misery and despair, he has to cling to something to survive, and that something is Trumpet. Otherwise, nothing makes sense. He clings to Trumpet like Felicité clings to her parrot. 
15/ A bird in a scene of death and destruction- this is like the ending of Moby Dick


PS: Here is a post about the birds in Moby Dick

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Melville's marvellous cock

Did I get your attention? Now that title is a fine example of clickbait, is it not?



_______________________________________________


Today I'm sick- not working, not going out (oh the sun!), so I'll have plenty of time to read and write.

After leaving the Pequod, I remained at sea for some time and was about to venture far out into the Straits of Florida, but later decided to return to Herman and follow him instead, and now am back on land. 
"In all parts of the world many high-spirited revolts from rascally despotisms had of late been knocked on the head; many dreadful casualties, by locomotive and steamer, had likewise knocked hundreds of high-spirited travelers on the head (I lost a dear friend in one of them); my own private affairs were also full of despotisms, casualties, and knockings on the head, when early one morning in spring, being too full of hypoes to sleep, I sallied out to walk on my hillside pasture."
No, that's not Ishmael. Speaking is the narrator of "Cock-A-Doodle-Doo! or, The Crowing of the Noble Cock Beneventano". The story was published in 1853, hence 2 years after Moby Dick. Miserable, and angry at the world, Ishmael goes to sea, our narrator goes for a country walk. 
I'd like to draw your attention to this passage:
"Whose cock is that? [...] Bless me it makes my blood bound—I feel wild. [...] Marvelous cock! [...] Yes, yes; even cocks have to succumb to the universal spell of tribulation: jubilant in the beginning, but down in the mouth at the end."
"Oh, noble cock! [...] my dear and glorious cock...", muses our narrator.
And this passage:
"'Well, well,' he drawled, 'I don't know—the Widow Crowfoot has a cock—and Squire Squaretoes has a cock—and I have a cock...'"
Later in the story, when asked, another character says: 
"I know of no gentleman who has what might well be called an extraordinary cock."
And when our narrator has a chance to behold the cock: 
"A cock, more like a field marshal than a cock. A cock, more like Lord Nelson with all his glittering arms on, standing on the Vanguard's quarter-deck going into battle, than a cock. A cock, more like the Emperor Charlemagne in his robes at Aix la Chapelle, than a cock.
Such a cock!" 
Of course Melville's talking about a rooster- what else do you think?
Now, after joking around (which hopefully gets some people interested in reading "Cock-A-Doodle-Doo! or, The Crowing of the Noble Cock Beneventano"), I'll leave it to other people (or myself when I'm better) to talk about the social/ philosophical/ religious meaning of the story and its artistic merits. 


"I stood awhile admiring the cock, and wondering at the man."

Sunday, 8 May 2016

Reasons I didn’t read your novel

Inspired by biblioklept.

1/ You write plain prose.
2/ You write unreadable purple prose.
3/ Too long.
4/ You don't have my interest even after 100 pages.
5/ I made the mistake of reading the introduction and was out of breath when finished with it.
6/ It's ngôn tình (term for Chinese internet romance novels).
7/ You barely read, and write from experience.
8/ You write in Chinese and I have the English and Norwegian translation but not Vietnamese.
9/ Your novel is a sequel or prequel or spin-off or modernisation of a classic work.
10/ Worse if that happens to be a favourite of mine.
11/ You're compared to Jane Austen.
12/ Or Tolstoy.
13/ So much praise that I'd probably prefer the novel in my head. 
14/ Banal and unintentionally filled with clichés.
15/ Too "experimental".
16/ It's young adult fiction.
17/ Your novel about high school is compared to The Catcher in the Rye.
18/ Too unreal and unconvincing (not in the sense that it's not realistic, but in the sense that things don't make sense in the world of the book).
19/ Too deeply rooted in realism- "pure", bare social realism.
20/ Your novel is morally instructive? I'm happy with my immoralities.
21/ You avoid writing "I blushed" by going for "I must be the colour of the Communist Manifesto".
22/ Your novel sounds depressing and I happen to be depressed.
23/ You sound like a feminazi, with a shade of misandry.
24/ You're a male writer in the 21st century and say you have no interest in books by/about women.
25/ Your sex scenes make me laugh.
26/ Or want to watch porn instead.
27/ You're praised for being bold, honest, not afraid of being controversial.
28/ Don't you think it'd do your novel an injustice to read it right after a Tolstoy, Melville or Nabokov?
29/ You write about the Vietnam war.
30/ You think Mao's wonderful.
31/ Or Stalin. Or Lenin. Or Marx.
32/ Or Hồ Chí Minh.
33/ You make me think of Haruki Murakami.
34/ After 10 pages I decide you're more like a storyteller than a writer.
35/ I'll watch the film instead.
36/ I've watched the more-famous film.
37/ Your novel's part of a trilogy.
38/ You write about the experience of immigrants and their children.
39/ Too much passion and rage.
40/ Too little passion.
41/ A minor Tolstoy seems less like a waste of time.
42/ Your characters, except the villain, are all stupid, and their stupidity is needed for the plot. 
43/ I don't recognise the title.
44/ The pages are yellow and the letters are small.
45/ All of your sentences are so short I get a hiccup.
46/ Your magical realism unties all the knots.
47/ Your characters sound emo.
48/ Your protagonist is a nerd.
49/ I see too much of myself in your novel.
50/ Sounds like misery memoir.
51/ Your novel makes me feel stupid because I don't understand it.
52/ Your novel makes me feel stupid for reading it.
53/ I feel sorry for all the trees that have been sacrificed for your book to be published.
54/ Too vague.
55/ No ambiguity or multiple meaning.
56/ Your main character is a Mary Sue.
57/ Your narrator is a literature student that reduces books such as Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre to romance stories.
58/ You know nothing about your characters' jobs (when they have a job).
59/ Your prose reads like translation.
60/ You're fond of name-dropping, which reminds me of other writers I should be reading instead. 
61/ I'm lazy.
62/ I find you lazy.
63/ The person that recommended your novel to me is a fan of Stephenie Meyer or E. L. James.
64/ Too general- details, where are details?
65/ I suddenly remembered that I had something else to do.
66/ Your novel might have worked better as a cartoon.
67/ You're unbelievably ignorant.
68/ You obviously write with a thesaurus.
69/ Neither my university library nor the public library have your novel and I don't feel like buying it.
70/ I feed it to bookworms.
71/ You've written more than 50 books.
72/ You claimed not to have taken to editing.
73/ It's sunny outside and I prefer to go out instead.
74/ I'm drunk.
75/ You sound drunk.
76/ All characters, including the working class, philosophise.
77/ I've read 5 of your novels and know the 6th would be exactly the same as those 5.
78/ Your novel doesn't demand from me any effort.
79/ You cling to lexical teddy bears. 
80/ Oh, 1 character is a robot that has emotions? How original.
81/ You're an AI.
82/ You take pride in being sincere.
83/ Your novel is described as Dickensian, but the word doesn't refer to style or characterisation. 
84/ You're too careless, disrespectful towards readers.
85/ Too serious- why so serious?
86/ Too politically correct.
87/ Your novel makes me doubt the fairness of the world.
88/ I'm envious.
89/ Too many aliens.
90/ All characters refer to the vagina as "hole".
91/ The marginalia are more interesting.
92/ I fancy that I have ADHD.
93/ Another novel of yours has killed the appreciationist in me.
94/ Everyone finds your protagonist- narrator relatable. 
95/ All characters have unusual names. 
96/ Your novel's torn apart by my imaginary dog.
97/ It's not a novel I'd like to be in the middle of reading if I die before completing it.
98/ You're alive.
99/ Worse, I know you.

"Littlest Things"- Lily Allen




Friday, 6 May 2016

"Smoke Gets In Your Eyes"- The Platters




Sea serpents

1/ Philip Hoare's Leviathan is a fascinating book, though the structure is a bit messy. 
Before reading, I thought it's only a scientific/ historical book about whales and whaling, with a few allusions to Moby Dick, but the novel is referenced throughout the book, with analysis and some Melville biography, that it feels like a companion to Melville's novel. It's almost similar to Michael Gorra's Portrait of a Novel

2/ I've just read a part in Hoare's book about sea serpents, or to be precise, about people's reports of seeing sea serpents. 
Let me digress a bit by saying that I've never been very fond of the ocean. I mean, the beach is fine and I like aquariums and I don't mind getting on a ship or a boat (I once travelled by ferry from Oslo to Copenhagen, for example) and the idea of being on a fancy cruise ship is very nice indeed. But that's it. That I decided to read Moby Dick, and then love it, I myself find strange. The ocean has always terrified me, being full of haunting, disgusting-looking creatures such as the red-lipped batfish, the humpback anglerfish, the blob fish, the hagfish, the monkfish, the goblin shark, and so on and so forth, all the stuff that nightmares are made of. 
Now, after reading about sea serpents in Hoare's book, I did a bit googling. Sea serpents have been suggested to be filled sharks, oarfishes or lungfishes
Somebody can't sleep tonight. 

3/ "Sea snakes or coral reef snakes don't look so bad", I thought. Then I remembered that they're snakes, and snakes are never not bad. 

4/ Pictures of sea serpents look like Chinese dragons

5/ Hoare mentions a New Bedford whaler named the Monongahela that "claimed not only to have seen a sea serpent, but to have pursued and harpooned it like a whale". This was reported in the British journal Zoology, "after the whale-ship had gammed with a brig which brought back the captain's letters describing the monster". However, the ship never returned. "A year later she was lost at sea with all hands, and her incredible cargo". 
Now I wish there had been a novel about that ship and the sea serpent. 

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Why is Ishmael saved?

1/ In A Reading of Moby-Dick, M. O. Percival raises the question: Why is Ishmael chosen to survive, rather than another?
“The man to be saved should be a man of a little faith, could such a one be found, especially since it was a lack of faith that ruined Ahab.”
Can it be Starbuck?
“He has moral instincts and moral insight. He alone is reluctant to take the oath, and when, having given in, his stubbornness flares up again, the low, triumphant laugh of the Parsee, still hidden in the hold, dies away. From the 1st Starbuck knows that Ahab is mad; he once considers murder in order to avert the fate which he foresees for all the crew; he pleads with Ahab to return. It is in the light of Starbuck’s eyes that Ahab reads the story of his life aright.”
However, Starbuck is weak. He has neither the strength of mind to comprehend Ahab’s problem (as Ishmael does) nor the strength of will to do what he knows is right, Percival remarks. His tragedy stands out more clearly when polarised with the weakness of Stubb.
“Stubb could be a character in a comedy of humors, his humor being jollity. He goes down to Davy Jones’s locker, jesting, grinning at the grinning whale, reading Moby Dick, as Ahab does, in terms of his ruling passion. […] But in a crisis a laugh evades the issue as much as sentimentalism does.”
As Ahab says, they are “the opposite poles of 1 thing; Starbuck is Stubb reversed, and Stubb is Starbuck”.
Ishmael is different.
“It must be remembered that he went to sea in order to meditate upon the world and the occupants thereof, including the white whale. He solved his problem day by day, responding with a poet’s sensitivity to mood and character and situation and with a poet’s disdain of logical consistency. If a pattern can be discovered in a bewildering variety of musings and meditations, it is 1 that might be thought of, in musical metaphor, as divisions upon a ground. The ground has been laid down by Solomon and Ecclesiastes. The theme is weariness and disillusion. All things are full of labor; man cannot utter it. It is wise to live sparely. Be like the whale, Ishmael advises, equalize your temperature. If an even balance proves difficult, lean to the sad side. But don’t lean too far over.”
Percival refers to the eagle quote—a wisdom that is woe (Ecclesiastes’) and a woe that is madness (Ahab’s), and says:
“Ishmael admires the souls that can soar like the Catskill eagle, and his own soul can take flight occasionally.”
More importantly:
“The essential thing about [his] character is its apparently limitless understanding and compassion. Ishmael lends his own identity to others, even to the point of having little of none himself. He pulls an oar in Queequeg’s boat when boats are lowered, but he is seldom seen in this or any other physical activity. But spiritually he is everywhere and nowhere, observing and comprehending. In a dictator’s way it is Ahab’s crew; they jump when he commands. In a poet’s way the crew is Ishmael’s; they are his by assimilation.”
An acceptance of all men is a kind of religious faith, something that Ishmael has and which he shares with Queequeg. “This is the bond that makes them brothers”, and their relationship becomes metaphysical.
“On the morning after their 1st night together, Ishmael awoke to find Queequeg’s arm thrown round him. That arm was again thrown round him when he floated off to safety on Queequeg’s life-buoy.”
2/ James McIntosh makes a similar point in “The Mariner’s Multiple Quest”:
“… Melville leaves it ambiguous as to whether [Ishmael] survives because of his superior virtue. He is both morally involved in the doomed crew and set apart from it in the story. […] On the Pequod he joins his shipmates in their pleasures and aspirations, but also separates himself from them. He shares in their work and recreation, never missing a chance for carousing even after he leaves the ship. At the same time, his narrative of bloodthirsty scenes in the middle of the book shows repeatedly that he can learn compassion for the whale from observing his murder by man. And he appears to renounce Ahab’s feud before his final chase.
[…]
He participates in their imaginations; their different renderings of the voyage as part of what he learns in his own search for knowledge. […] Successively he takes on the coloration of a Father Mapple, a Queequeg, an Ahab, or a Stubb. As such, he is the right recording angel for the many possibilities of the soul these characters represent. […] Because he loves Queequeg, he can share Queequeg’s sense of peace with the world and participate at least once in his inscrutable understanding of the prospect of death. Because he distances himself through pity from the crew and from Ahab, he can also maintain his distance from their predatory feuds. And yet not wholly. As their narrative vehicle, they continue to be part of him even after he has apparently renounced them. Functionally, it is impossible for him to take an active stand against them. […] [T]he result for Ishmael is that he is a passive, shifty, elusive character, with moments of moral virtue that disappear into the flow of his consciousness. He learns from his multiple perspectives to be not only a moralist but also an ironist whose irony incapacitates him for action. Aware of the possible meaninglessness of his aggregate of perspectives, he takes refuge in ironic loquaciousness.”
McIntosh concludes:
“Ishmael is no hero. Yet 1 implication of my approach is that Moby-Dick has no single hero. Ishmael at least is a visionary survivor, which may be all one can ask for on this evening sea.”
However, McIntosh notes “Melville, I believe, was intuitively aware of Ishmael’s drawbacks and possibilities, for he splendidly sustains his ambiguous characterization of him in the Epilogue.”
It seems that Melville doesn’t want his book to be “comfortably resolved”, and “Ishmael continues to have several roles even when he has no shipmates to project himself on imaginatively”.
1st, as “an insignificant and passive member of the crew”, “he is a mere chance fugitive from the wreck of the Pequod, owing his survival to ‘the Fates’.”
2nd, as “a lover of Queequeg and of natural beauty”, he survives through “friendship and natural magic”. “He thus renews his bosom friendship with Queequeg even after Queequeg takes his last long dive”. The coffin is Queequeg’s last gift to him. “Ishmael is saved by love and mysterious knowledge”.
3rd, he survives “as a witness of a disaster”. “As messenger he does not act, has no positive character. Yet as the teller of the tragic saga of the Pequod, Ishmael is potentially a tragic and ironic artist who can pitch his story to the reader-as-Job, the reader who should by now be aware that man’s aspirations for knowledge bring misery as well as wonder.”
In McIntosh’s view, “Ishmael remains Protean, in keeping with his Protean nature as narrator of a multiple quest”.