"in those days, pleasure was not considered fashionable; indeed, we on the left saw it as a vaguely right-wing feeling." --bernardo bertolucci
i was turned on to this book- film: the critics choice over at FSFF. it's a beautifully designed coffee table book that also happens to be pretty high on substance. heavy hitters like david bordwell and peter wollen among other contribute with bernardo bertolucci writing a short intro that's really quite passionate and polemical. buy it used for mere pennies.
"'first love,' hina alvi says, 'is like your first heart attack. chances are that you'll survive it, but you don't outlive it. that first gasp for air is the beginning of the end. you have managed to breath some air in, and you think you are all right. you might think it's a matter of lifestyle, quit this, cut out red meat, walk, run, get a personal trainer, try shitting standing up, but...it'll get you in the end.'" -our lady of alice bhatti
our lady of alice bhatti is pretty unusual for a pakistani novel. there is fair bit of violence in it, and sex too, which may not appeal to the exact stratum of society that especially needs to read it. while much south asian literature tends to vacillate between depicting pakistan as a nostalgic space of diaspora or a geopolitical hotbed of fundamentalism, this novel does neither. it offers a portrait of contemporary urban pakistan that is complex, layered and entirely unsentimental. at times it is brutal, but the dark brutality rests on a kind of insight that should not be dismissed. a lot of pundits continue to ask why pakistan remains a country at crossroads sixty five years on. this is not a book specifically setting out to answer that question, but it does get at a certain kind of truth about it.
like mohsin hamid’s moth smoke, our lady unfolds as a modern crime noir. it’s a tragedy about a woman who is punished not for what she has done but for who she is. she is a reluctant femme fatale- her sexuality a weapon not because she chooses to wield it but merely because she possesses it. and her story is an indictment against a society that remains handicapped not by it’s polarization against the west as the nightly news would have us believe, but rather because of an internal class based system of misogyny that is condoned by a corrupt church-state system. this is a country out of order, and the external pressures of the new great game have spun it out of control.
despite all this it would still be dismissive to categorize this novel as a timely political thriller, because i think it gets at something even deeper than the current state of affairs in pakistan. at it’s heart it’s a feminist novel. it’s about how the bodies of women are being trampled, displaced and discarded in lieu of rational discourse. this war is not being waged by outlaw forces in turbans but by fathers, husbands and brothers who have acquiesced to a society of inequity. and it’s happening because a country has turned in on itself. the daily human suffering that has come out of this cannibalization is what our lady is really about. combined with hanif’s previous a case of exploding mangoes, it’s a must read.
“it turns out that bliss- a second-by-second joy + gratitude at the gift of being alive, conscious- lies on the other side of crushing boredom. pay close attention to the most tedious thing you can find (tax returns, televised golf), and, in waves, a boredom like you’ve never known will wash over you and just about kill you. ride these out, and it’s like stepping from black and white into color. like water after days in the desert. constant bliss in every atom.”
“it is the key to modern life. if you are immune to boredom, there is literally nothing you cannot accomplish.”
- the pale king
a lot has been written about david foster wallace’s “the pale king.” there are entire conferences and academic discourses devoted to this book. it’s definitely unlike anything else i’ve read. it’s a halting, disrupted and completely postmodern novel, but also really enjoyable, particularly for it’s ultra detailed characterizations and insights into the extraordinary qualities that lie in the most seemingly un-extraordinary people. the book takes something truly banal and through a deep dissection of it, elevates that ordinary thing to the sublime. and i think this way of writing is tied up in what is a commentary on the ordinary day to day completely uninteresting types of work people do that make our society function. tax examination, while skull crushingly boring becomes one of the foundations of a system in our society that remains invisible but facilitates our way of life. in this way, something complete dull and ubiquitous becomes a heroic endeavor.
i’m not a tax examiner or an accountant. but i found as i read this book that i could relate to what lies at the heart of it. i work in a profession that lives on the periphery of something that is pretty exciting and glamorous. but computer graphics itself is not. one could argue that exciting things can happen in computer graphics but for most people the exciting stuff is really the end result. the road itself is paved with lots of solitary hours watching pixels accumulate one by one. watching software crash. tumbling a camera around in 3d space. hitting render. waiting. doing it again a hundred times before lunch. hand crafting bespoke images that in succession comprise hours of entertainment but individually cannot even be detected by the human eye. thousands of hours reading logs and debugging code to fix part of an image that may never register on screen. the best work of your life possibly universally reviled. the satisfaction lies in the result and the result can be poetic. but the process is grueling, lonely, and spine crushingly repetitive. and like the irs tax examiners in “the pale king” the army of people who craft cg take on a heroic quality. it’s not an overstatement and there’s nothing dramatic about it. it’s just work. and i imagine there are a lot of jobs out that that fall under this sort of rubric. this book made me think about my own work in a way that is complex, interesting, mundane and yet still satisfying...
"the wrath of god lies sleeping. it was hid a million years before men were and only men have the power to wake it. hell aint half full. hear me. ye carry war of a man's making onto a foreign land. ye'll wake more than the dogs."
while reading blood meridian it occurred to me in the back of my mind that the violence and brutality of the american frontier as described by cormac mccarthy had a familiar ring to it. as i thought about it more i realized that perhaps sam peckinpah's wild bunch was the cinematic counterpoint to mccarthy's literary wild west. on the surface it seems obvious. a group of marauding opportunist outlaws make their way across the american west killing with impunity. an irrational body count lies in their wake, resulting in a bleak unsentimental survey of the american myth. it seems however, that the movie and the book do not arrive at the same conclusion.
there is certainly a connection between mccarthy's biblical evocation of language and peckinpah's visual blood ballet. i will not contest the visceral success of peckinpah's style in evoking both disgust and horror through the use of violence. i did however find that any attempt at realism and critique the film offers is completely undermined by it's sentimental stance towards the western hero.
in mccarthy's west there are men who deliberately seek out evil and those that go along with it. both are culpable but he does not present any sentiment about it. the dispassionate violence daws us to this conclusion, rendering it more palpable. peckinpah's heroes however, operate within the confines of the hollywood western and even as they attempt to explode the myth, they are in fact over determined by it. they operate within the romanticized notion of a "code" and yet they abandon it at will. when they die by that code is it meaningless and nihilistic. this tension is what makes the movie thoughtful and interesting and ultimately modern. but it also makes it a less searing indictment of the west because the feeling we are left with is that time passed these men by. they were noble and the land around them had become amoral and so they had to die. in mccarthy's west it is the amorality of the men that in fact molds the landscape. they do not die nobly. they just pass into the evil that exists and will continue to exist- it's part of the landscape and the people. it's part of us. this is much more depressing, but perhaps more truthful.
stills from sam peckinpah's the wild bunch, 1969