Being Human

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/5/52/John_Everett_Millais_-_Glen_Birnam.JPGMy big category is “being human“, generalising from myself and quoting accumulated wisdom-stuff about being human, and I am a big fan of “Being Human“, which ended its fifth and final series this week with a glorious happy ending which definitively ends it, and put a huge smile of delight on me. It was sweet, lovely and heart-warming.

I am ploughing my way through “The Prisoner”, volume 5 of In Search of Lost Time, and it is difficult. More than half of the book is one day, in which Marcel frets jealously about Albertine because she is out, and he does not know where she is or with whom, and manipulates her, and treats her monstrously, then goes out for an evening party with the Verdurins. Here is wit and insight, a real human being stripped bare with his insights and his blindnesses, and it is a struggle. He is impossible to admire, hard to like, and that matters to me. It makes reading a struggle.

I am rather a snob about fiction, and have interrupted The Prisoner for “The Year of the Flood” by Margaret Atwood (upper-middle brow), “The Left Hand of Darkness” by Ursula K LeGuin (upper-middle brow unless you are completely prejudiced against speculative fiction) and the two Uplift Trilogies by David Brin. This is barely middle-brow. It is unashamed space-opera, even though he is a sometimes serious author with serious concerns in some of his science fiction: here, at one point aliens invade and the Resistance retreat to the jungles as guerillas, forsooth. It is great fun; though characters are one-dimensional, the culture of the Five Galaxies is beautifully realised, and there is discussion of the meaning of “Redemption”.

Atwood disappointed me. The book runs parallel to Oryx and Crake, in which she wiped out most of humanity after showing it in a nasty and brutish dystopia. I was hoping for new revelations to make the bleakness of the first book pale into insignificance, and found more of the same.

Why do I read Proust? I have no idea. There are moments of description which delight and amaze me, such as Bergotte’s last illness: Maddened by uninterrupted pain, to which was added insomnia broken only by brief spells of nightmare. Yet I know that in great part I am reading it in order to have read it, not out of snobbery so much as for my own self-image. I like to think of myself as the kind of person who reads Proust, and Bertrand Russell, and Montaigne. But I would far rather be immersed in the planet Jijo where the Jophur oppress the G’Kek, or in Honolulu Heights where decent people face terrible problems with courage, and win through.

What do I want to read? I am conflicted. I really want to manage my image of myself, for myself- I read Serious Literature because I am Keltured and Idiocated. I do. So I am still reading Proust, mostly in bored distaste but sometimes entranced; and I take long breaks on alien worlds. Well, I can. There are no rules about this.

12 thoughts on “Being Human

  1. Ha! You are a self confessed self improver. Okay, that is no sin. Your mind can choose, and is always learning. But, your image of yourself…..is more opaque.

    Since I find that my image of myself varies so much these days, I would rather not bother with it at all. One’s image of oneself is open to manipulation by the ego……and the ego is, well, speaking personally, the ego is a bit of waste of time.

    XXXX 🙂

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    • Possibly ones image of onesself is the ego. And- how can I distinguish ego-motivation (bad) from Heart/Spirit/God motivation (good) except by thinking about it?

      It is worse than that, though. I am not sure I want to be a self-improver so much as to seem to myself to be a self-improver. Or something, or a bit of both, or self-improve by reading Proust occasionally rather than by, say, doing an Open University degree.

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  2. Clare,
    You’re a brave girl to tackle Proust! I have gone through periods in my life when I read for self-improvement. Now I only read what pleases me and give up on the rest. Certainly, reading Proust can enrich, and for that reason, it may be worthwhile. Perhaps in small doses… 🙂

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    • I would like the novel abridged: ideally by taking “best of” paragraphs and summarising the bits between, in italics to show which bits are summary- down to ten percent of the whole novel. But you can spend hours with it at a time, and read a tiny part of it. I have been at it for two years.

      We need to know how the World ticks, and Great Literature is one way into that, but eventually we lose the appetite for learning more in that way, or learning more in that way becomes more difficult.

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  3. There’s such a difference between reading for entertainment and reading to expand horizons. I completely relate to getting lost in some mindless fantasy and enjoying every minute of it even though there nothing new or of any value, and trudging through some basically dull (for me at least) work of ‘high’ literature because other people seem to think it’s worthwhile, or because it might have a few great moments. I now have no shame in abandoning books after a few chapters if it’s just not doing it for me. The majestical themes of Dostoevsky can be appreciated by someone else! I love what you said the previous comment: “We need to know how the World ticks, and Great Literature is one way into that, but eventually we lose the appetite for learning more in that way, or learning more in that way becomes more difficult.”

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    • Thank you. And- sympathy for characters matters to me. Alex is a great-hearted hero. Her mistakes come from naivete and her mistakes in dealing with the dark world of vampires draw us in to that world. Marcel is weak, foolish, mean, easily hurt, and as he plots foolishly against Albertine, fearing unlikelihoods and probably missing real hurts, their “love” both trying to suck on a teat rather than adult relationship, my two hundred page long cringe of embarrassment, feeling with him over one day gets wearing. Alex cheers me up.

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    • Thank you. Nishita is a theme designed for photographs, so the wide column shows it off beautifully. I get it from Wikimedia.

      I love what is written at http://taraerin.wordpress.com/. My only criticism is that there is too little of it. If that is you, your link on your comment is not working properly: I can tell you how to change it if you like, or I could change it myself. Anyway, welcome, it is lovely to hear from you.

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      • I’d love to fix my comments link if there is a problem – didn’t realize it, so thanks for advising, and if you can explain the fix I’d be ever so grateful!

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        • It is fixed already.

          Long explanation: On the black strip above your blog or blog dashboard, if you click on your blog-name on the right, you get to “Account options”, and the third down is “Web address”, “Shown publicly when you comment on blogs and in your Gravatar profile”. If you hover over your name on your first comment on this post, you will see the link is to http://tara-erin.wordpress.com/, which does not exist, though WordPress now suggests your actual blog name. However, it is now fixed: clicking on your name on your second comment leads to your blog.

          If you have made comments in the past, which have the wrong link, I don’t think that can be fixed except by deleting the comment and making it again, now the link is correct. Too much work, I think.

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  4. I really loved Oryx and Crake, but as you say The Year of the Flood was disappointing. I know that the purpose of it was too run parallel but it is a shame she didn’t advance the plot by more than about two minutes!

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    • Hello, and welcome. After being repeatedly shocked by Atwood’s bleakness, I started YoF intending to enjoy it, so I was egging her on. Sexual slavery and “Pain ball”- oh come on, Toad, you can do better than that, I thought.

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