Wednesday, February 24, 2010

...without man, it sank back into the realm of the unimagined and unconceived and hence into meaninglessness...

"...if, in his house in the mountains, he was being observed less and less, so rarely that, when he pointed his mirror telescope at people who he presumed were observing him from the cliff, they turned out to be observing not him but something else through their field glasses, chamois or mountain climbers or whatnot, this state of not being observed would begin to torment him after a while, much more than the knowledge of being observed had bothered him earlier, so that he would virtually yearn for those rocks to be thrown at his house, because not being watched would make him feel not worth noticing, not being worth noticing would make him feel disrespected, being disrespected would make him feel insignificant, being insignificant would make him feel meaningless, and, he imagined, the end result might be a hopeless depression, in fact he might even give up his unsuccessful academic career as meaningless, and would have to conclude that other people suffered as much from not being observed as he did, that they, too, felt meaningless unless they were being observed, and that this was the reason why they all observed and took snapshots and movies of each other, for fear of experiencing the meaninglessness of their existence in the face of a dispersing universe with billions of Milky Ways like our own, settled with countless of life-bearing but hopelessly remote and therefore isolated planets like out own, a cosmos filled with incessant pulsations of exploding and collapsing suns, leaving no one, except man himself, to pay any attention to man and thereby lend him meaning..."

-from The Assignment, or, On The Observing of the Observer of the Observers, Friedrich D├╝rrenmatt (Agee translation)

D├╝rrenmatt surprised me, when I opened the book and the chapter long sentences left me breathlessly trying to keep up with a hyperactive train of thought that continued until it found its destination: the sub-text. (I would try to pull off un-punctuation here, but I just haven't got it in me right now. A few long sentences will have to suffice.) I think that kind of free-form, rolling structure left the book much more open to exploring the ideas behind the text because the characters were not immersed in keeping track of "he said, she said" and all sorts of awkward exposition. The point of the book is definitely not the plot. I've been considering the difference between "literature" and popular novels lately, and it seems like "literature" is more often about the ideas behind the story, while popular works are more plot-centric. These of course follow Freytag's dramatic arc of exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution (also see Aristotle's Poetics for a good lesson in why your writing isn't up to snuff). The Assignment does follow the same arc, but manages to sound like voices in your head rather than words on a page, thus, at least for me, expressing itself without needing analysis.

And if any of my writing about books seems a bit odd, it's because I've been voraciously reading Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series. By book four I've grown to accept the fact that popping in and out of chalk pavement pictures books and working alongside fictional characters like Emperor Zhark and Hamlet is just as normal as time travel. Highly recommended, although I haven't finished books four and five just yet.

1 comment:

  1. Amazing quote and I am happy to find that you think time travel "normal." Did I give you that book?