Thursday, 11 February 2010

52 for 2010 #4 and #5

I have lost the will to read. Or at least to write about reading. Suffice it to say that I have actually read some books in the last couple of weeks. They were: How to Talk about Books You Haven't Read by Pierre Bayard, and Messiah by Gore Vidal. Both were okay.

I suppose that, if only for my own sake, I should endeavour to render a precis.

In HtTaBYHR the literary critic Pierre Bayard takes a sort of epistemological look at the act of reading and points out that it's not all it's cracked up to be. We may talk with authority about books we've read, but the reality is that we hardly remember them; rather, we cling to fragments and impressions that are really just reflections of our own internal book/s. Thus, it may appear that two people are discussing Ulysses (curse you, Ulysses!), but in reality they're just comparing notes on their own psyches. Or something. (I know: so far, so Reception Theory.)

This may sound high falutin, and it is, but it's argued fairly convincingly. Who could reject the claim that reading is a vague and ill-disciplined practice, and that most of what we read is instantly forgotten? Of course, being a French theoretician, Bayard has to go and systemise the whole affair (references to "inner books," "screen books," "phantom books," "virtual libraries" et cetera abound), sending good, empirical British eyebrows climbing to the safety of the hairline. But at least there are some tasty literary examples to munch on, from Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose to Robert Musil's The Man with No Qualities and something by Balzac (more French stuff, jeez).

Messiah, meanwhile, is a cautionary tale somewhat in the style of 1984 (which predates it by only four years...way to live forever, Gore). And, hey, it's not even about communism! It's about religion and advertising, two infinitely more insidious fields. In it, a fellow by the name of John Cave has an epiphany--death is nothing to be afraid of--and becomes a new messiah, with the help of an ambitious advertising executive, an aspiring historian, a psychoanalyst and et cetera. His religion, Caveism, really takes off, particularly when he gets involuntarily martyred. Ho ho!

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