Monday, May 18, 2009

there is no leaving new york.

It's been a while since I recommended something at you. Doing nothing all day long is so much more time consuming than I thought it would be.

Today's recommendation is The History of Love by Nicole Krauss. I got this book for 50 cents at the library book sale (Attn Nicole Krauss: I am sorry I could not contribute to your fabulous royalty check that way, but I'm POOR; please feel free to contribute to my fabulous student loan fund via paypal). I wanted to read something light before I resumed my not-so-fun summer of soul-rending media theory, and this book served its purpose.

Honestly, I'm of two minds about this book & I've spent a week losing sleep about whether or not to Recommend it to you, my beloved blog readers. For one thing (Originally, I wrote "on the one hand" there, then I went back and realized I do not, in fact, have 4 hands), I am very sick of New York novels about precocious Jewish children who have lost their fathers connecting with older people who happen to have survived the Holocaust. Seriously, it's a cottage industry, and it's neither original nor plausible; I don't necessarily seek realism in literature, but I really hate precocious children in general. I think that their overrepresentation in contemporary literature is symptomatic of literature's overconcern with, and over emulation of, the cinema. I know that sounds funny, coming from a cinema "scholar" and all, but my BA is in literature, so I feel somewhat qualified to make that assumption. Frankly, I think the trope of writing through the eyes of a precocious child is a big cop-out. The writers want to affect an innocence & naiveté but they want to keep their snappy one-liners. And of course, having grown up in a media-savvy generation, they only know how to respond to situations with pregnant pauses for laugh tracks & big-eyed, affected wonder.

Another thing I didn't want to like about the book was, well, how elitist it is. This is a book for people with 6-figure incomes (or student loan debt loads), multiple degrees, therapists, and piles of books. This is a book for those who sneer at grammar and see no redeeming features in the masses, if you want to look at it negatively. This book is heavily informed by Borges, who is a writer I adore, and I adore him because I am a reluctant, overeducated elitist (True story: When I was 8 and could not sleep my father tossed Ficciones at me, and I've been a fan ever since, 4realz). This book is totally informed by a Eurocentric worldview, and as much as I identify with that, I find it very problematic lately. I'm not sure this book would be as meaningful or make as much sense to someone who hadn't read Borges or seen Shoah. I admire intertextuality, though, and if this book gets one person to read Borges, I think I'll take back the elitism part of this pseudo-argument.

However, in the end, what really sold me on this work was the problem of language. The book centers on a lost or missing text that has been translated and is being re-translated. The book centers on the problem of a missing object, and whether an object - a narrative - can exist without originals. The book deals centrally with a text to which the reader only has partial access (sort of like Infinite Jest and some other works I can't remember right now; this semester has killed my brain). The novel, in a sense, deals not just with the schmaltzy story of Loooooove and NEW YORK and DEAD FATHERS (not in the Barthelme sense) but with the inadequacies and slipperiness of language. I don't find this book interesting because of the story or the characters, but because of what the text as a whole engages with and tries to represent. Who is an author? What does it mean to translate a work? What does it mean to invent a story? Can a story be owned or attributed? Where is the essence of a story, in which words?

These questions obviously don't have pat answers - and certainly not in The History of Love, but the book begins to take them up, and for that, it is Today's Recommendation.

Stay classy, blog readers.

1 comment:

  1. Hi! I read The History of Love with my book club, and loved it. I like what you say about how it problematizes language and writing, but was surprised about the comment about the precocious child narrator... Maybe it just struck me differently, but I thought that it showed sort of the misguided logic that children can get caught up into. Not sure. Anyway, I can totally second your reccomendation! (even though I have never read any Borges)


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