Saturday, May 04, 2019

Disquiet In The Soul

Here are the Kindle notes I highlighted from the book I finished recently: Soul by Andrey Platonov.

Background: It's 1935 Russia, a writer is sent to find and reunite the cultural people of his youth, who had been dispersed and lost in the deserts between Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. They don't want to be found, however, don't want to be reunited. They haven't the will to live or the energy to die. And yet...

Sound depressing? Well, it isn'... OK, well it is a little bit. Naturally I loved it, mainly for lines like these:


"We can live without thinking anything and pretend we’re not us.”

There are no living people here, only people who haven’t yet died.

They sat on the ground and fell into thought, even though, given their advanced years, they had already had more than enough time to think everything through and arrive at truth.

Sigh. I should be wise by now.

“Things just say themselves in my mouth—I don’t know why.”

...from them came the sounds of ... people carrying on their old discourse with one another, an eternal conversation, as if they lacked the wit to come to a definite conclusion and fall silent.

...this master of samovars was unable to forget what, even just once, had touched his heart, and anyway life is too short — you can’t forget everything.

The song told how every human being has their own pitiful dream, some beloved insignificant feeling, that separates them from everyone else — and this is how the life inside us closes our eyes to the world, to other people, and to the beauty of the flowers that live in the sands in spring.

"I’m not a rich man, I’ve nowhere to live but my own body.”


You get the idea.


Doesn't that all sound like Fernando Pessoa? His Book of Disquiet - I've blogged about him before - sits on my bedside table. The Portuguese multi-poet-personality from the same era as Platinov. It must be a modernism thing. I wonder if anyone has ever linked them before?

Here are some Pessoa quotes (pasted from Goodreads, not me - you want me to get up, go to the bedside table 12 feet away, pick up the book and find some quotes myself? What are you on? OK maybe later.):

“Literature is the most agreeable way of ignoring life.”

“The feelings that hurt most, the emotions that sting most, are those that are absurd - The longing for impossible things, precisely because they are impossible; nostalgia for what never was; the desire for what could have been; regret over not being someone else; dissatisfaction with the world’s existence. All these half-tones of the soul’s consciousness create in us a painful landscape, an eternal sunset of what we are.”

“No intelligent idea can gain general acceptance unless some stupidity is mixed in with it”

You get the idea. Life is shit, people are shit, but hey, Tim Tams make an excellent chocolate straw for your white Russians, and someone else is always more unhappy with things than you are (or are pretending to be).

Pretending? Just ask


Saturday, February 16, 2019

A Sand Archive - Goodreads Review

A Sand ArchiveA Sand Archive by Gregory Day

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The narrator works in a second-hand bookstore in Geelong, Victoria, Australia. Gregory Day works in a second-hand bookstore in Geelong, Victoria, Australia. Or worked: it closed its doors at the end of last year (2018). The narrator has issues with pretentious or nervous customers. I have anxiety when confronted with pretentious book-sellers. Gregory Day is a nice person, doesn't seem to have trouble with customers. He carried a box of books to my car for me, smiled and we chatted briefly about the store's closure. I didn't get anxious.

I read a piece in a local newspaper about the passing of a singular character in Geelong, the man who worked to save the sand-dunes from destroying the work of those who built the Great Ocean Road from Anglesea to Apollo Bay, and on other beaches on the Surf Coast of Victoria. That's around Bell's Beach, for those who remember the first Point Break movie. The article said a novel had been written about this man (whose name escapes me). The novel was written by Gregory Day, an award winning writer, who works at arguably the best second-hand bookstore in the region. (I'd mark the old Daylesford one as tops. Or was it Hepburn Springs?)

So, I had to buy the novel.

Unfortunately, the heavy burden of being in the proximity of so many books has worn Gregory down. The names of authors and musicians and biographers of writers from his bookshelves just keep spilling out. At first I thought he was being ironical with a pretence of the snobbery that had always set me on edge in bookshops (was my choice of books sneer-worthy, or intellectually impressive?). Eduardo Galeano (I had to look him up too), Proust (in Lydia Davis's translation, mais oui), Flaubert, Tolstoy, Enid Blyton (which made me think he was havin' a laugh), Sartre, Louise Cruppi, Faure, Cesar Franck, Debussy... all mentioned in the first few pages. After doggedly continuing, I was not sure about the author's intention to be ironical. Helene Cixous, really? But I pushed on further.

FB Herschell is the character who resembles that local man whose obituary I had read. He is a mysterious, dare I say phlegmatic, man who has been taking notes on his work on the sand-dunes of the coast and written them in a published book. He was a frequent, quiet visitor to the books-store. The narrator, Gregory's alter-ego, has Herchell's notebook and as he reads it, he places between the lines the story of Herchell's visit to Paris in 1968, ostensibly to study the management of sand-dunes in the south of France. In the city of love, Herschell has become obsessed with the daughter of the man he has come to study with (I hope I am getting this right, I refuse to go back and check), then gets caught up in the Paris riots, finds out about an Algerian massacre on a bridge there, gets to visit the lady's phlegmatic father's farm, stays in their moulin, I mean old mill-house...

And then I gave up.

I was halfway through the novel (it had taken over a month to get that far) and three times had Day used the word "phlegmatic". Thrice, as Day would himself say, no doubt. He insisted on calling the mill-house a "moulin", and many other words that could easily be written in English without any loss were italicised and in Francais. But it was when he spoke of an "indelible heap" that I closed the book for the last time. Heaps can't be indelible. Memories can be indelible, impressions (caused by heaps?), ink stains. Sigh. It is a molehill of an issue: a poorly chosen metaphor, I've written hundreds of them myself, but it became a mountain range (an impassable heap) I could not cross.

I really wanted to like this book, about a fascinating local character, written by a well-liked, award winning, local author, a nice man who carried my box of books for me.

Unfortunately Gregory Day carries his own box of book learning too heavily on his sleeve, and his novel has so many marks of non-ironic pretentiousness that I, a normally phlegmatic person, must whinge, and give it only 2 stars.

Mine is the lowest rating on Goodreads, so obviously other readers have really enjoyed the book. Perhaps I am being harsh. Perhaps if I had finished I would realise he WAS being ironic, perhaps a French moulin is a completely different thing from an old English mill, perhaps there are more phlegmatic people around than I have previously noticed, perhaps heaps are indeed indelible in some mysterious way, but, at the moment...

As Miss Piggy would say: "Pretentious? Moi?"

E@L? Je suis E@L!

View all my reviews

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

In Unrelated News: Umbrella Sales Have Plummeted

E@L has noticed, or their presence has been thrust upon him by the number of diversions and obstruction to his perambulations lately, sheltering awnings being constructed on footpaths (motorised-scooterpaths, motorised-skateboardpaths, shared-bikepaths) all around District 11 in recent months. He first noticed it when bus-stops were becoming linked to other bus-stops and to MRT stations with these rain aggregators and warm-air accumulators, and when very high shelters were being built over the driveways of condos and the petroleum dispensing convenience stores in his vicinity.

Rain aggregators? Because there is no guttering, the water falls in sheets from either side in drops larger than rain itself and, if there's a wind, it blows them onto the pedestrians (scooter riders, skateboard riders, bicyclists) with an enhanced density no matter where they traverse under the awning.

Warm-air accumulators? Because the hot sun blasting onto the roofs of these shelters warms them up like an oven to cook the scalps of passing alopeican pedestrian (etc.), while the exhaust from passing traffic gathers in its lees to makes the air taste stale and noxious.

And what happens when one walks in their umbrage, expecting an alleged degree of protection, as could possibly be the case, E@L concedes, in certain instances, and one had therefore left home sans umbrella and sans beret, but then, without warning, they stop. One becomes bereft of their shelter on exiting District 11, E@L supposes. E@L will tell one what happens. When the weather is inclement, or extra-clement as the case may be, one gets wet, and the bald ones get frontally, parietally, and temporally scorched.

Is this the Singapore one is comfortable (oh so comfortable) living in?

Add to this the luminal pollution! Singapore already has the highest light pollution score in the world, and when the many globes in these pathways are turned on at night, they will add (by reflection from the expanded areas of concrete beneath one's foot presumably) to this plethoric aura, it could jump a few places even higher!

By the way (way = path, geddit?), speaking of concrete, in order to foot (foot = walk, geddit?) the stands for this urban extravaganza, some of the paths do have to be widened, and so the council of District 11 (did E@L tell everyone he lives in District 11?) has decided it is an opportune time to build over many of the open drains which festoon the area. Shame! These rain-water runoffs do not sit filled with noisome stagnant "water" as in many other SEA cities (Bangkok, Jakarta, take a bow) but act efficiently when the downpour hits, and their lusty bubbling sounds are most restful E@L finds, from the shelter of his umbrella as he trudges in sodden sandals down the slight rise from Spooky Mansion* on Gilstead Rd. Hardly any of the children from the adjacent kindergarten fall in and get washed away, never to be seen or heard from again. Those open spaces are often the homes to well-rooted trees of prodigious size and they really add to the indiscrete charm of this bourgeois part of town. E@L will miss them (the trees, the gutters, the bourgeoisie), as he often does, fortunately, when rolling home mostly inebriated and partially disoriented from a night at various pub trivia events (his sole social encounterings these long, wearying days).



But E@L's sense of outrage is actually more of political and economic nature, and the prior observations are demonstrative of mild (indeed hypothetical) inconveniences to himself. Grumpy E@L Syndrome. Something akin to the infamous existential angst the great German writer Thomas Mann experienced when confronted (y-fronted) by the inconvenience that No.4 size underpants were too small, and No.5 size underpants too big. "Acid indigestion and constipation!" he exclaimed.


The true cause of E@L's adversarial stance to these structures is their demonstration of the outlandish profligacy of governmental expenditure - viz: it must cost a fucking fortune. Yes, surprise surprise surprise, the Singapore Gahmen has shit-loads of money. Obviously. Money to spend on completely unnecessary projects like these. (Take a fucking umbrella, people. You live in the fucking tropics! It's either going to be fucking hot, or fucking hot AND fucking raining at 2pm!)

Point being: they could be allocating this money elsewhere - especially social welfare (how many aunties and uncles cleaning up after in hawker centres for a pittance because they have no other income, or a living pension, or family support?), and a minimum wage... The Gahmen can complain about the loss of billions on bad investments, yet still have money floating around to fund grandiose extension to the MRT systems (already brilliant) and these dicky-little footpath covers. Jaysus!


Singapore political blogger Yawning Bread recently asks the question as to why would a country feel proud that hawker food is really cheap, and answers that it should be a national embarrassment that many Singaporeans don't make enough money to afford anything more elaborate. Hawker food for Singaporeans could be thought of (if it wasn't so brilliant) as the equivalent of what Maccas is for the indigent and for poor families in other countries. YB's issue is that lack of a minimum wage is screwing the spread of income, and income disparity is the underlying reason for cheap food in hawker centres.

Maybe we ought to be ashamed of our hawker prices and food court scene. The contradiction between the wide demand for cheap food and the high per-capita GDP suggests something really wrong with income and wealth distribution in Singapore.


When E@L hit the town in 2004, he purchased the most brilliant laksa he had ever had for $2.50. Now, 15 years later, in certain stalls in certain hawker centres, he can buy an equally damn good laksa for, maybe, $4.00. The YB link above cites a article on a hawker stall where the $1 price of a nasi lemak has remained unchanged for 32 years. You can't tell E@L that costs of producing this deal of a meal haven't risen extortionately.

And people says there's such a thing as progress!


Mind you, since certain changes *cough* have progressed (regressed?) at work, E@L's salary is not a million miles/dollar from what it was in 2004, and in fact it is a tad reduced from those yawning heights, plus he doesn't get business class flights on long hauls anymore. Even so, he remains a (slightly less) ridiculously overpaid expat, dragging away employment opportunities from locals, and he can go to Woolies and rack up a $200 bill in a heart-beat. (You can too, rich reader!)

Or E@L can get a taxi to a hawker centre, as has often done, which may seem perverse ($15 ride to get a $10 feast - including a large Tiger) when the MRT and buses are so cheap and convenient.

There is a bipolar wage level in Singapore... Income disparity. Do we blame capitalism, fascism, the PAP/Gahmen/Lee family, cult of personality, Thomas Picketty, Obama, Reagan & Thatcher & Malcolm Fraser, cultural Marxbrothersism, libertarianism, communism, Ismism?

Or do we blame "foreign talent" such as


*Spooky House.

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