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Original Essays | June 20, 2014

Lisa Howorth: IMG So Many Books, So Many Writers



I'm not a bookseller, but I'm married to one, and Square Books is a family. And we all know about families and how hard it is to disassociate... Continue »
  1. $18.20 Sale Hardcover add to wish list

    Flying Shoes

    Lisa Howorth 9781620403013

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Customer Comments

Inquisitor of Irony has commented on (3) products.

Inquisitor of Irony, August 8, 2012

Eco's Foucault's Pendulum is one of the truly superior technical achievements in the history of 20th Century literature. There is not a single thread left unaccounted for, and we are not talking about a 150 pg. work here. Robert Bolano considered the novel as the most imperfect of the literary arts and considered that the imperfections exponentially increased as the work became more elaborate. While this may be the rule, FP is the definitive exception. It is difficult for any type of writer not to turn green with envy when, for example, a minor story line occurring in the first 50 pages of the novel suddenly crops up 500 pages later in its full glory only to be neatly tied up, like a bow on a Christmas present. Bravo!
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Sabbath's Theater by Philip Roth
Sabbath's Theater

Inquisitor of Irony, August 8, 2012

I first read Sabbath's Theater--my first encounter with Roth, for that matter--when it was initially published in the late 90s. I thought that it was the funniest book that I had ever encountered. I laughed so much that my girlfriend could not wait for me to finish it and went to buy her own copy. I was at that age when I had life by the tail. I was just finishing my MA, I was entirely comfortable with my subject, I was in love with a girl to whom I would eventually become wed, the gym, my bicycle, Nietzsche, Foucault: hell, life in general. In short, in spite of having had a brain tumor and thus possessing an understanding of the precarity (if I may employ a neologism) of life, or perhaps precisely because of that fact, I felt as if nothing in the world could slow me down. I was the illusory master of my universe. In Roth, and to the extent that Mickey Sabbath appeared to me to be so entirely himself I simply found confirmation that such mastery was indeed possible. For there is no doubt that ST is a text of absolute unmitigated brilliance; and, it was so incredibly, side-splitting funny.

Alas, having been thoroughly dethroned, Cronos having faced the Zeus that is life with all of its contingencies, I decided that I needed something a bit less morose than Iris Murdoch. Thus, I approached ST for the second time with a sense of great anticipation; I really needed something to lighten the load. In was during this encounter that I discovered what effect a true piece of art can impose upon its consumer. (I employ this term in the sense of taking into oneself and making a part of oneself, not in the sense of one who purchases things in a willy-nilly search for authenticity.) Indeed, 10 years, a proliferation of physical problems resulting from the earlier tumor, a divorce, and a 15 hour separation from my young child later, I discovered the "truth" of ST; it is one of the saddest works of fiction that I have ever encountered. Suddenly, Mikey Sabbath was a pitiful old man, thoroughly beaten by life. What I formerly perceived as his brilliant sense of humor was transformed into nothing more than a pervasive cynicism, which was absolutely necessary for him to hold on to, as it was his final impotent way in which to believe himself to exercise some control over the vicissitudes of life.

In short, re-reading ST, in an entirely different situation elicited an entirely different, indeed, diametrically opposed, reaction from me. Rather than despair, however, I suddenly understood that I was in possession of a truly sublime work of art. I could not recommend this book any more forcefully. It should be mandatory reading for any educated person, as should the rest of Roth's considerable oeuvre.
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Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami
Kafka on the Shore

Inquisitor of Irony, August 8, 2012

Having never heard of Murakami prior to the publication of Kafka on the Shore, I resisted purchasing it time and again. After all, it does not follow that simply because one employs a particularly beloved signifier in a title, that the object signified by said title accrues some metaphysical value, which is not credited to texts bereft of such clever strategies. Indeed, one must be quite bold to actually invoke "Kafka" before many who will examine and possibly read it has any other experience of one's work. As it turns out, Murakami is absolutely justified in his appropriation of Kafka's name in title of this wondrous work of imaginative brilliance.

Notwithstanding the very real and significant contributions Freud made to our understanding to the workings of the mind, I maintain that his true claim to fame is as the greatest mythologist of the 20th century, especially in his later writings, and most especially in his books dealing with the socio-political foundations of society--The Future of an Illusion & Totem and Taboo come to mind--and commentary on such relations, which are found throughout his work. In order to walk away from these amazing books having gained anything of value, one has to be willing to give Freud a certain amount of artistic license and suspend disbelief. Having done so, the payoff is immense. For example, I found that The Future of an Illusion is a perfect way to off-set Aristotle, J. S. Mill, and old Manny Kant, in that it offers a such a radically different account of the foundations of and motivation to morality that students must rethink all of the theories from beginning to end. (I don't use Nietzsche's On the Genealogy of Morals for reasons of temporal economy.)

A similar act of faith is the very condition of the possibility of reading much more than 15 pages of this work of shockingly expansive imagination. As something of a fetishist for magical realism, I am more than prepared to have characters give birth to cats, dance with the devil, and defy the never questioned convention that holds that nature is ruled by certain unbreakable laws, such as gravity, when, in fact, the strongest claim that we can make as to the continuation gravity's felicitous effects is that they have not failed to obtain to this point in human history, as far as we know. I must say, however, that neither de Bernieres (I am thinking not of Corelli's Mandolin, but of his early trilogy, which elaborates the history of the fantastic village of Cochadebajo, which is in the same metaphysical neighborhood as the village to which Kafka Tamura, the title character as you will have guessed, travels in seeking to achieve what Nietzsche calls the most difficult task: becoming what one is.)nor Borges, Bulgakov (The Master and Margarita) nor Allende, not even Garcia Marquez,the Master himself, prepared me in the least for what lay ahead in Kafka on the Shore.

Frankly, Murakami is in a league all his own. He requires not simply that we suspend disbelief, but that, in addition, we suspend all belief as well. In order to fully enjoy such an adventure as he has created in Kafka on the Shore, it is necessary that we do everything we can to approach the text with a tabula rosa. The less we know--or, shall I say ironic as this combination of words may appear, the less we believe ourselves to know, the more receptive we will be to the actuality of the work of art that is in front of us.

There are plenty of talented, even brilliant writers. There are even quite a few whose talents reach far beyond a technical competence for putting a story together in a coherent and compelling fashion, but I have never encountered a writer with the temerity of Murakami. Kafka on the Shore would be just as easily at home in a class introducing metaphysics, specifically regarding time and identity, as in a survey of postmodern or contemporary fiction. Indeed, I would have hesitated not to give it a double classification Literature/Philosophy were I a publisher more interested in veracity than in the philosophy of money.

One could easily write a book on Murakami's theory of time, the profound elaborations of which I have not seen the likes of since Faulkner's Oh, Jerusalem I Forget Thee, or Wild Palms. Likewise, there is an entire physics of identity, which lay at the heart of the book. One, moreover, which is rather Freudian, to say the least. For as it turns out, Kafka seeks nothing more than to avoid his father's curse that he will be murdered by Kafka, who will then sleep with this mother and his sister: Aeschylus by the Shore just does not have the right ring to it.

Starting off from this premise--of which the reader remains ignorant well into the text--Kafka, who is 15, runs away from home and by virtue of a force no more under the power of his will than pure contingency, he ends up in Takamatsu. As serendipity would have it, this is the very same town to which Mr. Nakata, who has murdered Kafka's father--ignoring the fact that he somehow deposits bloody evidence some distance away from the scene of the crime, where Kafka happens to have blacked out--also eventually travels. Mr. Nakata is one of the more interesting characters in literary history. He is not very smart, not being able to read or write, but he has the singular ability to converse with cats. That is, until he encounters Johnny Walker; whether Mr. Walker is red, black, or blue we have no indication. Suffice it to say that Colonel Sanders is dealing in something more than 12 original herbs and spices these days; though the women for whom he serves as pimp are spicier than anything one may find on one's fried hen, if the example we are introduced to is any indication. Yet, he remains a friend to the community and not simply a trafficker in sex, for without him neither Kafka, Mr. Nakata, nor any number of secondary characters would be able to fulfill their destinies.

So, are you following me? No? Good, then you have some idea, however penurious and nebulous, of what it is like to take a trip to the shore in the mind of Haruki Marakami. Hell, Kafka reads like Kant when placed beside this fantastic phantasmagoric writer the internal logic of whose book is unimpeachable. And this is perhaps the most stunning feat of all the various and sundry Enquirer like activiities that occur in the novel; this most impossible narrative turns out to have been obeying the laws of (dia)logical formations from the very beginning. Though it takes far longer to comprehend this than it does in your average everyday ontologically unstable narrative, the events of the story have unfolded according to a certain necessity, which was laid out from the very first pages: absolutely stunning!

In short, I recommend this intellectual adventure to everyone who thinks it exciting to think differently than one did the day before, and is willing to continue to have one's thinking evolve to the point of devolution. Fortunately, and perhaps this is the true gift that Murakami possesses, the author takes us time and time to the edge of reason and sense, only to pull us back just when we have been convinced that it may be best, if we were to go ahead and plunge body and mind into the abyss. Indeed, for those whose intellectual promiscuity is somewhat more reckless than the average homo sapien, it would be difficult not to feel let down at having been teased with the possibility of a beautifully transgressive literary experience, were it not for the fact that the next available opportunity for trying on a novel identity is found on the very next page or sooner. I do, however, have one rather serious warning; Kafka on the Shore is not for herd animals or for anyone who believes that syllogistic logic is the be all and end all of human intellectual achievemenet, which really amount to the same thing, when one thinks about it. Long live narrative and ontological uncertainty! Long live Haruki Murakami!
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