heath 1 Nov 03 028

There have been some wonderful moments in recent Salon conversations– after the struggle to organize, to find your way, to get through the reading, to be here, to be here on time, to be here on time and awake–when the heat and force of a new idea, of an insight gleaned from close attention to language and human behaviour pulls us all along into the depths where the buzz quiets and you can feel your mind focusing, sharpening, discovering….in the supportive company of other explorers.

There is currently an interesting thread on the ’10 best long reads’ at the Guardian website. The comments stir me towards defining what we want or expect out of a great work of literature and why a long work should somehow prove itself even more worthy of our attention. Of course, time being the precious commodity that it is, we want to know that devoting ourselves to months of reading on e book will payoff. But what is the payoff?

I am thinking about this particularly as I prepare the Thomas Mann study to start in November. This is a long book and will require a significant dedication of time– this book was referenced often in the comments as an example of a work worth the time–but daunting to readers. So of course, is Ulysses, a Salon cornerstone. The Magic Mountain is more lulling; it does not require the hard work immediately that Ulysses does– but for Mann to construct a scenario that allows his characters to explore the philosophies and strategies that we employ to make life of value, he must immerse the reader in the strange world of his characters– and this takes time.  Reading The Magic Mountain will let us stretch into the ideas around he humanist philosophy, our understanding of death, the guidance of the spirit, the submersion in eroticism, the desire for order and integrity in a listless world– the choice to be in the world in spite of the flaws and failures of the spirit. I hope you can join us….

In Wide Sargasso Sea last Friday, we probed the consequences of colonialism on the intimate relationships of those left undone by an exploding society in the aftermath of Caribbean slavery. Jean Rhys gives voice to the dislocation of those living in the shadow of a history of dehumanisation–both the oppressors and the oppressed. We entered into the lush and sensual world of the Windward Isles and understood how this exotic realm could torment a visitor whose cultural norms have overturned–or been revealed as corrupt.

The Sound and the Fury we are looking closely at how time traps human action. Quentin’s father, as he gives him he family heirloom of his grandfather’s watch, offers these words of despair: “Clocks slay time… time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels; only when the clock stops does time come to life.”
This, for me, is the work of reading a book like S & F. I can think: ‘Well, yes, of course I struggle with time: I always want more time, I regret when I have wasted my time– I struggle to keep on top of time…’ but then here comes Faulkner who, through Quentin, makes me go beneath the obvious surface of temporality and think about how desperate we are in our spirit to feel we control our destiny–and that idea is enmeshed in the role of time. IN other words, as Sartre proposes (in his essay “Time in the work of Faulkner”), Quentin’s narration reflects an inconceivable present–he does not feel as though he has any future (literally and philosophically) and his tragedy–a pathos not a heroic one– is to conceive what is noble and possible in life (in love) but to be unable to affect this in his life. And so his narration is formed in a pedantic present– a present that can not happen but has already happened and can never be fresh and possible for him. So of course he must step out of this present.