Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Roth and Saramago

(EDIT: I noticed that this post had been saved as a "draft" and never been published. I'm publishing now as is. October 19, 2016--originally written in perhaps 2008 or so)

Okay, I started this journal as a forum between me and some friends to have some type of debate: literature v. religion but that didn't really pan out. I keep a journal of reflections on my readings and so I figured I'd just post them up here.

I just finished Philip Roth's American Pastoral and Jose Saramago's All the Names. In Saramago the scene that impressed me most was in the later chapter where Jose ventures deep into the Central Registry at night with Ariadne’s thread around his ankle in search of the death certificate of the woman. Names are one's identity and give a certain presence to persons and things but the title of the novel “All the Names” referred to on pg. 184 is the motto of the General Cemetery. There are comparisons between the Central Registry and the General Cemetery in the story as well, the obvious parallel is that they both deal with dead things, literally or figuratively and in both the line is blurred. The most powerful scene that I referred to in the central registry is when Jose confronts the ominous blank wall. Also interesting is the registrar’s friendliness towards Jose. This is not the God of his Gospel. There is a whim that pervades the novel, the whole quest is done out of whim, Jose endangers himself out of a whim, there is danger in the book but there is a kind of headlong abandonment into that danger as though all else has been used up and that in order to have some sense of life or vitality one must throw one’s self into this rather random quest. I decided to read All the Names after reading an essay by one of my favorite scholars Angus Fletcher titled I believe "Allegories without Ideas." Fletcher listed a few writers including Saramago and another favorite writer of mine, Paul Auster, as exemplifying this kind of Allegory. In both there is a questing for meaning and it is the quest itself rather than the end that drives the search. In All the Names this wall, like Melville's White Whale, seems to be the central looming figure. Saramago likes to make many of his figures speak, including ceilings and although the wall doesn't speak it is definitely an ominous presence.

Recently read an interview with Bloom from the Onion A/V club where Bloom compares Blood Meridian to Roth’s American Pastoral which rather surprised me. A very odd comparison—I remember most from American Pastoral the Whitmanian chant from Seymor on the things he loves which is fiercely mirrored by Merry on the things she hates. There isn’t really an innocence in Blood Meridian unless it is the land itself. There is merely brutality from beginning to end, it is therefore odd that the story begins with a description of the country as “yet harboring a few grey wolves” which suggests a tame landscape. This reflects in the judges statement that the dance will become a false dance. I suppose that if this is a fear in McCarthy that there is an element from the judge we need in some way it is perhaps true that there is this element in American Pastoral as well. There are, say, two sides in each story. There is the na├»ve Swede who is oddly accused of being part of the Vietnam violence and then there are the aware revolutionaries who are more aware of reality and are too rather violent. But both sides have knowledge and the Swede’s seems to be more rooted while Merry’s and Rita’s while visceral is likely more ephemeral. We do not see too much of the lack of knowledge in Blood Meridian because all seem steeped in knowledge if only to greater or lesser degrees, and here I mean by knowledge experience particularly the experience of violence.

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