Friday, November 09, 2007

The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana

In my big long post about going to San Francisco to see Hyde last year I mentioned that I went into a book store in San Francisco to get a book by Umberto Eco and walked out with the book I wanted to buy in Britain two years earlier. So I went and got the Eco before I went to Nashville. I didn't get it for the title (ha, ha).

So, I read it during the week of the conference. It was a much faster read than say, Foucault's Pendulum. It was also illustrated. :)

The premise is a man who has had a stroke and cannot remember his own personal history but random quotes from everything that he has ever read haunt him and come unbidden to his mind. The first chapter have passages of random quotes--jumbled together. I recognized some pieces but not others. So much to read--so little time.

So here's a test for you:
...the marchioness went out at five o'clock in the middle of the journey of our life, Abraham begat Isaac and Isaac begat Jacob and Jacob begat the man of La Mancha, and that was when I saw the pendulum betwixt a smile and tear, on the branch of Lake Como where late the sweet birds sang, the snows of yesteryear softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves, messieurs les Anglais je me suis couche de bonne heure, though words cannot heal the women come and go, here we shall make Italy or a kss is just a kiss, tu quoque alea, a man without qualities fights and runs away, brothers of Italy ask not what you can do for your country, the plow that makes the furrow will live to fight another day, I mean a Nose by any other name, Italy is made now the rest is commentary, mi espiritu se purifica en Paris con aguacero, don't ask us for the word crazed with light, we'll have our battle in the sade and suddenly it's evening, around my heart three ladies' arms I sing, oh Valentino Valentino wherefore art thou, happy families are all alike said the bridegroom to the bride, Guido I wish that mother died today, I recognized the trembling of man's first disobedience, de las musique ou marchant des colombes, go little book to where the lemons blossom, once upon a time there lived Achilles son of Peleus, and the earth was without form and too much with us, Licht mehr licht uber alles, Contessa, what oh is life? and Jill came tumbling after.

"The earth was without form and too much with us," made me laugh out loud for some reason.

The only reason I would want to learn Italian would be know the original of this line:
"There was a continuous drone, as though I were being devoured by celibate machines with whetted teeth."!!!

When asked his name he says, "My name is Arthur Gordon Pym" (Poe). Then "Call me...Ishmael?" (which was funny to read back to back, but not as unexpected as below--in a book of memory of literature one is bound to find that line--there is also "For a longtime I had gone to bed early") And when he cannot find his name:
Like running into a wall. Saying Euclid or Ishmael was easy, like saying Jack and Jill went up a hill. Saying who I was, on the other hand, was like turning around and finding that wall.

All sensations are new to him--touching his nose:
I understood perfectly what my right hand was, and my nose. Bulls eye. But the sensation was absolutely new. Touching your nose is like having an eye on the tip of your index finger, looking you in the face.

Or brushing his teeth:
You have to start with the toothpaste and squeeze the tube. Exquisite sensation, I ought to do it frequently. But at a certain point you have to quit--that white paste at first pops, like a bubble, but then it all comes out like le serpent qui danse.
...I also ran the bristles over my tongue. You feel a sort of shudder, but in the end if you don't press down too hard it's okay.

But the really fascinating parts are the discussion of memory--that implicit memory is the kind that allows us to ride a bike after having not ridden for years. But that explicit memory is how we remember things and know we're remembering them. And that explicit memory is further broken down into semantic memory--"the one that tells us a swallow is a kind of bird." But the second type is autobiographical. "It's episodic memory that establishes a link between who we are today and who we have been, and without it, when we say I, we're referring only to what we're feeling now, not to what we have felt before, which gets lost, as you say, in the fog."

[My family] were cramming a thousand details of my life into my head, but they were like dry beans: when you moved the pot, they slid around in there but stayed raw, not soaking up any broth or cream--nothing to titillate the taste buds, nothing you would care to taste again.

Even more fascinating was the fact that when implicit memory of a fact--such as President Kennedy's death--became entwined with the personal by emotion, he could not remember it either and was surprised to hear that Kennedy had died.

You can't think of memory as a warehouse where you deposit past events and retrieve them later just as they were when you put them there,...when you remember something, you're constructing a new profile of neuronal excitation. Let's suppose that in a certain place you had some unpleasant experience. When afterwards you remember that place, you reactivate that initial pattern of neuronal excitation with a profile of excitation that's similar to but not the same as that which was originally stimulated...In short, to remember is to reconstruct, in part on the basis of what we have learned or said since.

You're saying you no longer live in time. We are the time we live in...We live in the three moments of expectation, attention, and memory, and none of them can exist without the others. You can't stretch toward the future because you've lost your past. And knowing what Julius Cesar did doesn't help you figure out what you yourself should do.

Which is, perhaps, both the curse and blessing of reading at all. All this vicarious living.

I'm a sterile genius, you used to say; in this world you either read or write, and writers write out of contempt for their colleagues, out of a desire to have something good to read once in a while.

And so, our protagonist tries to recapture his memories, first at his home, then his work--he is a dealer in antiquarian books (of course!), and finally at his childhood home (which he fortunately still owns).

And it is there where the story shifts and becomes (for me at least--others might differ), a study in what it meant to grow up in Fascist Italy. Something I had not really considered before. The propaganda being fed to the young and thy cynicism it engendered as the reality was all too apparent. The book is illustrated with the comics, song sheets, film posters and books of his youth. In some ways it becomes almost straightforward as he works his way up to the defining moments of his early life.

And then...

That's all I'll say.

Additionally, of course, the internet provides all:
http://queenloana.wikispaces.com/Chapter+1

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