Dark Curricula: September 2016
Misanthropy. But not vehemently. I mean, not the Unibomber. I mean the kind of inactive casual disgust with the rest of humanity where the only relief is self-creation, self-isolation, reduction, and skepticism. Russian literature of the 19th and 20th centuries has and, I'll bet, continues to be a go-to for people whose suspicions are that civilization isn't what it exactly says it is. A world view that implies a deep dysfunction and a broken promise. And so, in that spirit, this month's reading.
Not sure what it is about this book that I specifically love. I will not give you a plot summary, since, when I started, I had no idea what the plot was either. Not saying it's one of those "YOU'LL NEVER GUESS WHAT HAPPENS" books, with some clever ending. Quite the opposite. It begins as a traditional Russian tale. I mean traditional in the 19th-20th sense -- there's a doctor, he's got to get to a town, it's snowing, and the mail carrier doesn't want to move his horses. It's Russian. It's obviously Russian. In that way you'd read Dostoevsky or Chekhov and you'd never, ever, in a million years think it was anything other than Russian. The flavor, it's vodka, and bread, and a countryside, and eccentricities, and hardship, and pince-nez's. There has got to be some mention of a prince-nez. Fine. But there's something there, here, in this book. Its imperfection is perfect. Its initial, somewhat slight, mangling of reality is exaggerated until you're not quite sure what is what. But snow. And a prince-nez. And the miller's wife. And little, tiny, horses. Love this book.
Soon enough, the book makes it clear that it is set in the 21st century, a near future in which Russia has been plunged into darkness. People use oil lamps, wood stoves and samovars. There is gasoline, but it is prohibitively expensive and the vehicles it powers are exceedingly rare. The exchange rate appears to be one canister of low-octane fuel to one young colt to two dresses plus two suit jackets... more
Fuck it, all in on Russian. Bulgakov was injured during the First World War. He became addicted to morphine. This chronicles that descent into desperation, with a self-knowledge that makes it even more painful. A short piece, it lacks the absurd world view you'd find in "Hear Of A Dog" or "Master And Margarita", and seems more of a study -- admittedly with his eye and power of language. Required reading for Bulgakov fans, perhaps not as meaningful for others.
Looks like was a recent film made of "Morphine".
The Bee-Loud Glade
This was not written by a Russian. But, it very well could've been. I was hesitant. This seems like it may be one of those modern novels written by an American professional writer-slash academic. Maybe he is. I'm not going to slip into one of those disparaging rants about homogenization of creativity through academic institutions. This is a good book. There is something wispy, something tangential, something slightly akin to the other two I've included this month. An existentialism. A sense of misanthropy. A desire for escape, but knowing somehow there is no real escape.
The plot is basically this: an office worker, at a horticultural company, is laid off and slips into modern hermitage. What could this be? Hiding in your apartment and watching Animal Planet. And the logical 21st century conclusion to this? Why, of course being hired by a billionaire to live on his extensive grounds as an ornamental hermit. Apparently this was something done in the 19th century by wealthy land owners who thought it was all the fashion to hire a person, a hermit, and have them live in a cave on the estate.
The ruminations of Mr Finch are familiar. Strikingly familiar. I'm not such a rube as to think I'm a special individual with special individual thoughts, and this proves that, there are sequences where I said to myself "I swear I have written this thing. I have at least thought exactly this thing."
Great read, highly pertinent to your disparaging sensibilities.