Food and Drink and Fatherhood is James Rovira’s personal blog, a central location for his publications, projects, interests, and observations. He has two other blogs devoted to his book projects, Blake and Kierkegaard: Creation and Anxiety (Continuum 2010 hardcover, 2011 paperback) and Interpretation: Theory: History (in progress: working title).
What’s magical about used books…
I talked myself into going with my wife to a local Salvation Army thrift store yesterday. The usual routine is that she goes out and then I go out — with three small children, that’s the only way to get anything done. I don’t like the division of our time, though, and wanted to spend time with her, so I suggested that we all just go together. The inevitable — at least, the inevitable as defined by my wife — happened. She shopped very little. I shopped a little more. I bought Stuff for the Kids that they Didn’t Need. We chased children around the store.
But best of all, like most thrift stores this one had a healthy used book section. When I saw a hardcover copy of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s The General in His Labyrinth I couldn’t resist picking it up. There was no need for me to do so, really. I own almost all of Marquez’s novels, probably in first edition hardcover, and have read almost all of them, including this one. I don’t really know why I had to pick up and flip through a book I already own.
I’m glad I did, though. I opened the book to a small collection of about ten or fifteen stamps. Two or three dropped to the floor before I realized they were in there. I asked my son to hand them to me. Then I realized I had to buy the book. Cost wasn’t an issue — the book was $.99. But that wouldn’t matter anyhow. The book had a history. It had been owned. It had traveled. I don’t know why or how it wound up in a thrift store, or why it was filled with stamps, but that’s all part of its history. As an object with a history, it is not in fact identical to the other copy of the same book that I own. It has acquired an originality and uniqueness. The stamps are as much a part of this book, now, as its cover and its words. So it sits on my shelf next to me, apart from the rest of my Marquez titles, having acquired me as part of its history as much as I have acquired it.
And I don’t mind.
Jonathan Carroll’s Glass Soup
Jonathan Carroll’s White Apples and its follow up, Glass Soup, narrates a love affair between Vincent Ettrich and Isabelle Neukor. White Apples begins with Vincent Ettrich still moving through the routines of his daily life with the growing awareness that he’s recently died. Isabelle, his soul mate and lover, brought him back to life, hence his somewhat disoriented wandering of the streets of Vienna. White Apples narrates their reunion and the significance of their unborn child, Anjo, not only to their personal lives, but to the very fabric of existence. In these novels Carroll presents a universe continually expanding in big bangs then contracting back into singularities in repeated cycles, a differently configured universe brought into being with each big bang. Everything that exists has its place in the universe, which for these novels Carroll has conceived of as a grand mosaic; once everything has taken its place in the Mosaic, the universe begins its contraction again.
In the current configuration of the universe the principle of Chaos has taken on a conscious mind and personality and likes it that way, so is attempting to stop the completion of the Mosaic in order to freeze the expansion of the universe in its current configuration. Vincent and Isabelle’s child will be the one who finally defeats Chaos, so Chaos is seeking to destroy both parents and the child. In White Apples, Vincent and Isabelle are reunited and thwart Chaos’s attempt to destroy or damage their unborn son, while Glass Soup continues the story with Chaos’s attempt to permanently separate Vincent and Isabel, ending with Anjo’s birth.
Carroll’s bizarre plot places the White Apples trilogy (Carroll plans a sequence of three books to develop this story) well outside any established genre, but his writing is perhaps best understood as a type of magical, or even supernatural, realism. However, in consideration of western mythology and the gnostic/hermetic tradition that developed from it, this story isn’t so bizarre after all. Athena sprang from Zeus’ head, emanating from Zeus, much like Chaos has sprung from the universe fully conscious. In many gnostic religions the universe has actually been created by divine emanations rather than God, these emanations being embodiments of divine moods or personality traits. In the hermetic tradition the universe is something like God’s body and also follows vast cycles of expansion and contraction. This universal/divine cycle of expansion and contraction finds its highest philosophical expression in Hegel’s philosophy of history, and its best known materialist/scientific expression in the Big Bang theory.
Carroll, deliberately or not, appropriates these ancient traditions to reveal the contours of the human heart — not unlike English Romantics such as William Blake and Percy Shelley. These novels tell, first and foremost, a love story between Vincent and Isabelle. The tensions between chaos and control, the willingness to love the current form of the universe while maintaining openness toward its eventual demise, are all analogs of romantic love: what preserves it, what kills it, what makes it grow. Carroll maps our real lives, our emotional lives, onto a fantastic landscape. His books are our hearts writ large. Only the imaginative can comprehend the insights provided by such imaginative work. If you’re not used to this type of writing, try it…but with an open mind.
For Robert "Scottie" Bowman
An old listserve friend of mine (what’s a “listserve friend”? Someone you’ve conversed with on listserves for seven years but never met) passed away Nov. 24th: Robert “Scottie” Bowman (1928-2005). I just found out as notice of his death was posted to a Salinger listserve just a day or so ago. Scottie is the author of at least two novels: Run to the Sea and The Toy, either of which you might, if you’re lucky, find on Amazon.com at any given time. They’re fairly rare these days, having been published in the 1960s. I was fortunate enough to have found and read Run to the Sea, and if you can imagine a novel written by a British Hemingway, this was it. Scottie was a psychologist by trade but an author at heart (perhaps the two vocations aren’t all that different after all): even his listserve posts were typically characterized by a grace and elegance of prose that’s rare to find anywhere on the internet. In tribute, I’ve reproduced one of his posts to a Salinger listserve from the mid to late 1990s, as there is no better representation of Scottie Bowman than his own words. It’s a description of his first impression of Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye when he read it in 1955 or 56:
One winter evening in 1955 (56 ?), after finishing a clinic session in the Croydon General Hospital, I was scrabbling under a pile of desk debris in search of a pen. I found, instead, a copy of The Catcher which had been abandoned, I presumed, by one of the social workers who occasionally used the same office. (I was sure it couldn’t have been one of my medical colleagues since they were not as a rule sufficiently literate to read anything more demanding than an X-Ray plate.)
I was mildly curious & began reading — though with no particular expectation, since the name Salinger, at that time, meant very virtually nothing to anyone in England.
Long, long before I reached the bottom of the first page I knew I had no choice but to take the book home with me & not leave it out of my hand until I’d finished it. Which I duly did, sometime in the early hours of the next morning. It really didn’t matter to me one damn who might have owned it & I doubt, in fact, I ever returned it. I shouldn’t like to think for how many days thereafter my brain continued in obsessive turmoil over the idea of this young lunatic in the red hunting cap.
This seems a rather different experience from the one Jim & others describe when they tell us of their original contact with Salinger: (`…I didn’t read Catcher until AFTER I graduated college, and I was an English Major…..I only read the opening page of Catcher in a writing class once, that was it…)
This suggests a considerably cooller response to my own & I wonder has it something to do with the way Salinger seems to have been an established figure of literature — set on college courses & so on — by the time most list members first encountered him. For people of my generation who were interested in writing, he represented a bomb going off (“all that David Copperfield crap”) — very much as I imagine Hemingway did to the generation before mine. (I don’t believe he had, in fact, the same potential for liberation that Hemingway presented & I don’t think he has lasted so well, but the parallel may still have some validity.)
Considering my own lifelong & instinctive resistance to books recommended by teachers I wonder would I have ever got round to him — even at this late stage in the proceedings.
Regrettably, I’m the Jim he’s making reference to in the post. The only thing I can say in my defense is that mine was a cooler response only in that I had to read ten or twenty pages before I was hooked, not just one. But I think he has a point about generational differences, though. In 1996 and 2005 Salinger is an institution, not the bomb dropped on the literary scene that he was in the mid 50s.
Scottie’s was an eloquent voice of a past generation that will sorely be missed. I’ll miss you, Scottie.
PS Thanks much to Daniel Yocum for reposting the above to the Salinger listserve and bringing it back to our attention.
James Rovira’s Film Criticism Online
“Casino Royale: Taking It in the Cojones for Her Majesty’s Secret Service”
“Subverting the Mechanisms of Control: Baudrillard, The Matrix Trilogy, and the Future of Religion” at the International Journal of Baudrillard Studies
“Baudrillard and Hollywood: Subverting the Mechanisms of Control and The Matrix.” This essay has been published on Baudrillard on the Web and the Tower of Babel, which has also published a Turkish translation
“V for Vindictive” at Metaphilm
“The Curse of the Were-Rabbit: Fear of a Vegan World” at Metaphilm
“Finding Hulko: Secondary Colors” at Metaphilm
“The Lion King: Hamlet and the Myth of Happy Vengeance” at Metaphilm