Saturday, October 30, 2010

Lowell, Mass

Erin’s at UMass Lowell now, after a prep school (pretty much his only school) experience of community college. UMass had a parents day last week, a feature of which was a rendezvous of the various school groups. Erin’s in environmental studies so gathered with them folk. It was nice to see the energy, because all these groups are basically geek havens. I mean geeks in the sense of focused interest. The ‘cool’ kids are in bars or whatever, snubbing the idea of joining.

Anyway, I have been thinking about Lowell, which is a fascinating place. And given that I have lived my whole life nearby, I hardly know the place. But I have impressions.

The bones of Lowell are beautiful, as I have said before. It is a town with waterways. The Concord River enters the Merrimack in Lowell, plus the industrious folk of the 19th century dug canals to transport the fruits of labour. The natural landscape offers rolling hills and a sense of human blessing.

The unnatural landscape is now largely decrepit. Always a home for immigrants, Lowell shows the sure hand of utility. Yes, give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses and I’ll run them into the ground at the mill. What Lowell represents historically is a cornerstone to what is going on here, now. Lowell welcomes those of few means. When I say welcomes, I mean tolerates when useful. I understand that only Phnom Penh has more Cambodians than Lowell. Opportunity doesn’t seem to overflow in Lowell, tho, but the killing fields are more subtle. Subtle, that is, if you think Tea Partiers are subtle.

You will find few places with more stained glass and architectural knick knacks on the most mundane of buildings than Lowell. Lowell is among the prime towns for brick New England factories, which for some reason thrill me. These factories are now repurposed as condos, stores, museums, and such. The factories stand as monuments to when the turbine still surged. Today, the city of Lowell itself is a national park.

As a national park, Lowell receives or has received considerable fed money, without which Lowell would be chugging on empty. I’m not against the funding, but I do not think this will help Lowell get its soul back. The solution is too makeshift.

I have a larger purpose (of consideration) here than just to show off my halfbaked political thoughts, however. Better halfbaked political thinkers than me exist. Instead, I see myself making a mole to get at Tyre.

A couple of weeks ago, the town of Gloucester saw a gathering of people to discuss and honour Charles Olson, he of the almost centenary. I wish I could have attended. At the same time, I am leery of the weight placed on that place. Olson lived in Gloucester, sure, but other places too. Worcester saw his inception, but he did not go back to those roots but the more interesting story of Gloucester. He might have chosen the equally interesting story of Portsmouth, NH, or Salem, MA, if that was all he was on about. Of course, that was NOT all.

Olson wrote of Gloucester in an idiosyncratic and personal way. His local is not about street names, but of the inner/outer conflict between ‘our’ world and the larger thing before us. Thus proprioception is a key word for Olson.

Kerouac is tied to Lowell in a similar way as Olson to Gloucester. It is an old-fashioned romantic notion, of hero and place. Leaning on that biographical detail is lazy. Olson’s writing is not about Gloucester, nor is Kerouac’s about Lowell. Such biographical distraction poorly serves the writers in question. I am not saying that the Olson gathering was like the Melville Society one that Olson himself ranted against, but that rant comes to mind.

Neither Kerouac or Olson made it in their respective towns, they were merest actors briefly on those stages. Place collapses into words, finally, and words collapse into space. Space is empty, yet here we are. The local is when. Our writing, ages and ages of it, strains towards that place where we think we are.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Crime and Punishment

I just wanted to alert you, Gentle Reader, that I have finally counted coup on Dostoyevsky and read one of his books. That I haven’t till now is just one of those holes in my reading. It may not be instructive but it is interesting to note the books and authors that one has not read. I shan’t delve into that now, but I admit that I have yet to read Don Quixote. I guess I had ought to make a list.

I avoided Dostoyevsky for some while because the grimness I inferred to exist in his books was not attractive to me. More lately, I just haven’t gotten around to reading him. I’ve read Tolstoy by Warren Peas, but that had the great historical agitation to interest me. I slogged thru 200 pages of Anna Karenina and got no more than that it was a soap opera, and gave up. I do not claim that as my critical assessment, but I have difficulty brewing up sufficient jimjam to try again.

So I have reached the third paragraph, still nattering. I should have lead with the report that Crime and Punishment was pretty pissa. Surprisingly so, given the grim plot points, and the grind of the philosophical underpinnings.

Raskolnikov fails slightly in the category of lovable, but D manages to keep the character sympathetic and engaging. Not in the sense of readers worrying how he’ll turn out, but in the psychological delineations portrayed within his character. He seems at first like the usual hyper introspective protagonist that goes wrong in a dazzle of novelistic contrivance, canned sorrow. Turns out that D can both philosophize and allow his characters to act like humans. In contradistinction to, say, Ayn Rand and her theories in human form.

D’s touch is superbly light, it seems to me. We catch R in media res, with fully fermented plans all a-bubble. I had absorbed already that he would murder but D did not code it desperately. He let R find his own way.

At the points when D could have popped the cork and gone novelistic, like the actual murder, or later, the suicide of Svidriga├»lov, D drily reports. I think I read that Hemingway radiated from D. That makes sense, not that I’m so keen on the big H.

D’s ability to write of a social nexus makes me think of Balzac. I have not read enough Balzac to make that claim sufficiently, but I think it might be a point to consider. The ending, with R in prison and all that, brought to mind the end of Magic Mountain. Thru out double M, Hans Castorp is a regular character experiencing, you know, stuff. It’s like a conversation, or argument, maybe, whereby Mann donates a bunch of Castorpian stuff to the cause, and the reader muddles thru. The ending, tho, is whammer jammer majestique. Castorp has become a ghostly impetus in the horrid impulse of WWI. Zounds! Uppercut to the chin wowzer.

D pulled way, way back from R, in the final pages, resonating a delivery of thoughtful regard that is a poetic laurel branch. To me, anyway, maybe I am inflating.

Our friend Melville’s emphatic embrace (in Moby Dick most securely) dissolves the margins of novel and plot. D, methinks, follows suit, in some sense. Actions see thought, and thought sees action. I do not think that C&P is a greatest, but D pitched a good game. I am so eager to read The Brothers Karamatsov, both because it is one other by Master D, but also because the shape of it, as I glean by skimming, seems to be of the order of masterpiece. We shall see, and thank you, imaginary and non-existent reader, for following my enthusiasm. Enthusiasm is the delivery of art.