Politics and Society

Friday, December 30, 2011

Arrgh: A partial review

   I am now in about the middle of Orhan Pamuk's Snow (2001, Eng. trsl. 2004)) and like many others I find it a slog. It is not exactly boring, for the Anatolian cultural tour and the socio-political dynamics are themselves interesting enough, in the abstract (as they must be since the writer only addresses them so), as is the historical-moral fable being played out like a passion play. But that's it. It is like watching an old fashioned theatrical production - the kind towns put on for visiting tourists to provide a sense of the local culture's background and history; NOT its current state of affairs.
   The themes and issues are timely enough and important in themselves, but Pamuk's treatment of them seems ham-handed at best. The characters are more like cartoon figures than people, the scenes are like overly dramatized stage sets and the storyline is just implausible, because the characters aren't realized as people. Instead, they are stalking horses for the tumult of ideas and political and religious impulses that they wear like fashionable winter coats.
   Some critics (see amazon's reviews) say the broad and ever increasing dis-satisfaction with Pamuk, of which my view is a part, is a result of a Western prejudice. I doubt it. Others say that the translation may be at fault; but after six years and lots of evidence, it seems the translation (whatever its flaws) is at least as good as anything Pamuk has to offer in the original Turkish. Many native speakers/reviewers have come forward to testify that it doesn't get any better in the mother tongue. Truth might just be the old dodger is a better journalist and social observer than fiction writer. For example:

             "Then Ka and the hook-nosed agent got back into the army truck and set
             off down the road. A pack of timid dogs walked alongside them, but the
             only other signs of life were the election banners and the anti-suicide
             posters. As they continued along their way, Ka's eyes were drawn to the
             restless children and anxious fathers twitching their closed curtains to catch
             a glimpse of the passing truck." (Pg 191)

   Riddle me this, Batman. If there were no signs of life, were do the children and anxious fathers fit in? BTW, since when do election banners and posters constitute signs of life? (Are we to understand that the truck, which they entered from a building, was in a wasteland without habitations, streets or other signs of human presence? If not, then again, what's with the no signs of life angle?) And why would any writer intent on describing a lifeless scene follow this in the next sentence with the acknowledgment of the presence of the children, etc.? Was he even thinking about the scene when he wrote this? Frankly, I think not!
   Pamuk is likely a nice guy. So is Al Gore. But they both received Nobel prizes for shoddy polemical  work done in areas of expertise in which they have no claim, no right and no real interest.

If I didn't know better, I would guess that this kind of writing is what Pfeiffer gave up writing Doonesbury comic strips to pursue.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

“The Transcendence of the Ego,” by Jean Paul Sartre

The Ontological Foundation of Petulance
A Meditation

   Written in 1936, some 5-6 years before he took time out from his day job at the French Resistance field office and began to work on his famous treatise, Being and Nothingness (1943), Sartre wrote the remarkable essay, “The Transcendence of the Ego.” It is a seminal work of existential Metaphysics, a refutation of Solipsism, and a document of liberation, all at the same time. The last description fulfills his own stated intention of separating Sartre from the putative doctrinal error of his teacher, Edmund Husserl, who had, in his own philosophical investigations, recently taken a regressive step backwards from “pure” phenomenological description to, in Sartre’s view, merely speculative Metaphysics. He committed this unpardonable sin when he went beyond the bounds of pure Phenomenology – his own creation - and posited a transcendent, concrete Ego as the actual, albeit passive, subjective unity of experience.