I didn’t manage to finish Beauty is a Wound by Eka Kurniawan — as much as I wish I had. It’s simply very long and I grew a bit bored of it’s endless cheerful acceptance of everything — and I love magical realism, the genre this book probably best inhabits.
Or maybe I was just a little bored with the suffering under the Dutch colonialists. I really did like the book, I just ran out of steam. I am sure there is some really good stuff at the end.
It starts with a woman, Dewi Ayu, climbing out of her grave after 21 years, in search of the child she chose to never see because she is so bored of her daughters being beautiful. Between page one and 4 you’re treated to the best set up of a novel I’ve read in a long time.
It’s somewhat relentless in it’s cheerfulness towards terror, grief and hardship — as is the character of Dewi Ayu. This kind of easy acceptance of the horrors, and a half-smile from the narrative voice throughout makes it kind of bounding read, if you’ve got time for it! Maybe I will come back to it.
The other volume I read was a somewhat slimmer one in the for of Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red. Having read RED DOC > last year, I know I am coming at this about-face — but nevermind. Carson’s poetry is some of the only poetry which still sticks the electrodes in. Give me a story about monsters and their suffering, mixed with classicism and a good dose of pathos and bathos and I’m all yours.
Carson is particularly good at these long, modern, narrative poems. Autobiography of Red follows the worried and bullied monster, Geryon. Worried very much about how hard it is to be red, and trying to find acceptance in the arms of a boy too cool for him, Herakles. Geryon is a boy who is also a monster with wings and long stalks with eyes on the end — and as a player in Hercules’ trials, seems desperately resigned to a defeated dark place. It’s a sad brace of pages.
I also read Carson’s If Not. Winter — a translation of Sappho beautifully laid out — each pair of pages showing the Greek and the translation, taking not only the fragments, but reported stories from Dionysius and others — bringing a little more perspective on the lost whole.
This is a ghost house of a translation. Many pages just containing the white space, and a single translated fragment against the Greek. Some of these pages are deeply haunting and will often stop you short. Joyusly short to dash through for it’s scarce use of language.
Finally, I returned to Of Giants: Sex, Monsters, and the Middle Ages by Jeffrey Jerome Cohen and polished off another essay. The book wanders through several version and views of giants and monster from the middle ages. It discusses, in part, how the mutated and unusual bodies which are nearly human but “perverted” and therefore more satisfying for a society’s hero to kill and return back to the status quo which is lauded as natural. It’s a really good crossover of identity politics and medieval literature with some excellent ideas on how giants are represented and used to re-enforce norms.
Thanks! I hope to manage to write up April’s reading without letting it slip into two months again! As always, please find me on the Twitter and sign up to my newsletter about process and ritual here and listen to some field recording here AND go read my lovely article on glitch art here.