Monday, November 27, 2017

Book Review: The Year of Magical Thinking


The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The title of this book refers to magical thinking in the anthropological sense, thinking that if a person hopes for something hard enough or performs the right actions long enough that an unavoidable event can be averted. Didion reports many instances of her own magical thinking, particularly the story in which she cannot give away her husbands shoes, as he would need them when he returned.
Didion makes a distinction between grief, which is passive, and mourning, which like Mrs. Post's instructions is active.
I myself find the notion that one should simply move on with their lives after they have suffered through the loss of a loved one absurd, but it also appears as if it is inevitable. Time unfortunately does heal all wounds. So it becomes a constant battle to maintain the memory of the value of what you lost. Which is why mourning is active. Grief comes later and if your lucky, never at all.
When someone you love dies the immediate question posed becomes, which version of this person do I choose to remember, which memories do I overlook? We engage in this type of revisionism because we feel guilty at having hated them or not having loved them enough, we feel almost responsible for their deaths, guilty that we are still alive, at least for the moment.
But the idea of merely coping with the loss of someone you love is a horrifying idea. I wouldn’t want to get over it, I wouldn’t want to go on. I would want to feel the pain everyday from the moment I woke up until the moment I fell asleep. I would want to suffer. I would never want to forget what I had and lost. I would want to know that it was real. I would never want it to become like a dream. They were real once and I knew them. They won't be forgotten, at least by me. I would want to go mad with grief. They were once a human being, a person with feelings and memories, fears, loves and hopes and I will not just wipe that away with the notion that I should somehow move on with my life.
I will gladly suffer quietly. Maybe only because it would simply be easier to go insane rather than acknowledge the fact that they will never return. But it feels like something else entirely. As Didion herself says, “The apprehension that our life together will decreasingly be the center of my everyday seemed today on Lexington Avenue so distinct a betrayal that I lost all sense of oncoming traffic.” I myself steadfastly refuse to cast them into the void willingly and completely, at least as long as I am still alive and capable of doing otherwise.


Sunday, November 19, 2017

Book Review: The Metamorphosis and Other Stories


The Metamorphosis and Other Stories by Franz Kafka
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Bureaucracy is our only real contact with the divine in our modern secular time. Bureaucracy in Kafka's works, rather than being representative of any particular legal or political entity, is usually interpreted to represent a collection of anonymous, incomprehensible forces. These are hidden from individuals but control their lives nevertheless in numerous ways. Individuals become innocent victims of systems beyond their control.
In his short story “The Metamorphosis” we are presented with a story perfectly encapsulating how bureaucracy operating within a capitalist society demands too much of its workers, which in turn causes them to lose their very humanity. Placed in that type of environment we become less and less human everyday, until, like Gregor, we became something else entirely.
In “The Judegment” the man from the country is an hysteric whose desire is obsessed by the secret behind the door, but there is nothing beyond the door. Kafka points out that the ultimate secret of the law is that it does not exist.
Part of Kafka’s genius was to eroticize bureaucracy itself. Bureaucracy in many of his stories came to embody what Lacan referred to as jouissance, which is that which we can never reach, attain, and that which we can never get rid of, which Kafka portrays perfectly in his nightmarish stories, as the quintessence of the whole human condition.


Saturday, November 4, 2017

Book Review: Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis


Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“Maybe the poor deserve their lot in life.” This old party line has always given those disinclined to part with their own money an excuse not to feel guilty about their own greed and self-interests. But honestly, where does the blame stop and sympathy begin?
The problem with living in constant economic insecurity is not a lack of thrift, its that people in these circumstances are always focused on the current crisis. They can't plan for the future because they have so much to deal with in the present. And the future seems so bleak that it feels futile to sacrifice for it.
Vance argues that hillbillies are only partially to blame for those circumstances. In the course of his journey from Middletown to the Marines to Yale, Vance finds that hillbilly pessimism is, in its toxicity, equalled only by the disdain that metropolitan people feel for those they call “rednecks” or “white trash.” Jim Goad said it best when he observed that, “Redneck is the racial slur liberals use for people they assume are always using racial slurs.” Adding, “I for one am sick of the upper and middle class hypocrisy that sheds tears for the black "struggle" while laughing at my white-trash roots. I have come to hate liberalism for the same reasons I hate religion, it lied to me.”
What liberal America loathes these days are poor and “poorish” people, especially the kind who look and sound like they might live in a trailer. They will of course swear on a stack of Lands' End catalogs that they are not bigots, but, human nature being what it is, we are all kicking someone else's dog around, whether we admit it or not.
Some of us make it out of poverty, that much we know to be true, but this doesn't prove that classism is dead. It just proves that some of us are lucky.