divendres, 16 de desembre de 2011

The Cleft vs. the Limp

Let me tell you about the weirdest book I have ever read: Doris Lessing’s The Cleft and I warn you that I have read Woolf’s Orlando and Joyce’s Ulysses.
It starts as the story of a mythical society of women: the cleft watchers, that is to say, the vagina defenders. They lived in Clefts on the beach and they gave birth only to girls without the need of men. They were a happy community. They didn’t keep damaged babies which were given to the eagles as food.
So far, it seems a feminist extreme point of view, challenging Freud’s idea that females lack penises and stating instead that penises are useless deformed limps. However, these primitive inhabitants of the world start giving birth to more and more deformed babies, boys, and the eagles stop eating them and take them to the valley where a society of males is created.  I cannot help thinking that those eagles stand for the US and Capitalism since men are born, in the story, with the instinct of exploring and invading, looking for action and adventures.
Women, at this point, think they don’t need these deformed creatures but they realize they can no longer bring babies to the world on their own as they had been doing for ages, they need those limps now.
The second part of the novel is full of stereotypes and I strongly feel it lacks the creativity of the first half. Women are shown to lack instincts, they are unused to physical activity and they have to teach men to keep their shelters clean. On the other side, men fought each other for no good reason and invented a game that consisted in stone-throwing of which women didn’t see the point.
Lessing seems to be saying at the end that since the day that we needed men to reproduce, human relationships have not changed but I would have preferred a different development of human history or at least less stereotypes.

divendres, 18 de novembre de 2011

Benjamin Button: a curious case of a male world

I’ve always found extremely uncomfortable when a science fiction story is treated as a realistic one that could happen in everyday life. Most of the characters try to deny what is obviously happening in the Curious Case of Benjamin Button by F. Scott Fitzgerald and blame poor Benjamin for refusing to look his own age, as if he could change the nature of his body.
If one idea is present in the short story is the tenet that being different is not well seen by society. Conventions are so strong that Benjamin’s father, instead of lying about their ties of kinship, he prefers to treat him as a baby: ‘Benjamin was a baby and a baby should remain’ as he puts it.  He even gives ‘the child’ a rattle for him to play when what Benjamin really wants to do is smoke cigars. Fitzgerald uses the situation to introduce some comical comments like Mr. Button warning his son that smoking would ‘stunt his growth’.
From the feminist perspective, this short story has a lot to discuss about. Page after page I encountered the same question in my mind: ‘why don’t we hear what the mother has to say?’. In a realistic story she would have died giving birth to such a newborn grandpa but we know she is alive because she is mentioned once to point out she agreed with her husband.  The only women that has somehow a voice is Benjamin’s wife, beautiful and desirable when she is 20 but useless, according to Benjamin, when she turns 50.
After reading the tale, I’ve come to realize what the movie does with the female characters and I love it. In the book at the break of civil war, Benjamin’s father is so upset that he wishes for a dark instant ‘that his son was black’. The film version silences Mr. Roger Button and gives voice to a black woman in charge of an old people’s home who would take care of Benjamin her whole life and, moreover, provides a positive connotation for the protagonist’s redhead friend and lover.
This fable of ageing even though is dark and male biased is incredibly imaginative and is constantly questioning whether being different is as bad as society judges it to be.

dilluns, 14 de novembre de 2011

El Curiós Incident del Gos a Mitjanit

Si voleu conèixer una història misteriosa però senzilla alhora amb un narrador de luxe, no deixeu de llegir aquesta novel·la de Mark Haddon. No s’assembla a res del que he llegit abans. L’argument funciona perquè et manté a l’expectativa part de la lectura però el seu secret de l’èxit té dos aspectes claus.
Un és el seu narrador, en Cristopher, un nen autista afectat pel síndrome d’Asperger que té una rata com a mascota i domina les matemàtiques amb una habilitat que ja voldria jo per mi. La vida és molt més complicada quan no entens les convencions lingüístiques i culturals, cosa que es fa evident en milions de moments que vivim en la seva pell. La seva incapacitat per comprendre les emocions i reaccions dels altres personatges a vegades crea situacions còmiques amb un regust amarg.
No li agrada que el toquin i sobretot, no suporta les coses grogues i marrons, de fet, si veu 3 cotxes grocs, el dia se li espatlla. En un principi hom pot pensar que es una bajanada però, les raons que fan malbé el nostre dia son molt més vàlides que les seves?
El segon motiu que fa d’aquest llibre un bestseller es la incorporació de problemes matemàtics intercalats en la història. Actuen com a mostra de la intel·ligència del protagonista però també s’alcen com a repte per al lector, que fa un parèntesis per intentar entendre la complexitat de les matemàtiques.
En poques paraules, es un llibre perfecte per aquells que no tenen l’hàbit de la lectura i un plaer per aquells que busquen noves dimensions narratives.

Títol original: The Curious Incident of the Dog at Night-Time.

dissabte, 12 de novembre de 2011

The Element: the inspiring utopia

I know I should not be as narrowly minded as to classify books into genres but I have never read any self-help book before. This might have been the first one, if you could label Ken Robinson’s The Element in such fashion.
My first impression was that it was repetitive as hell and I found myself hating all those fortunate people used as examples of finding their elements and being incredibly happy with their lives and achievements.
However, from the chapter called ‘Do you feel lucky?’ onwards, this impression changed and I am not ashamed to admit that I actually began to feel optimistic and hopeful about my own epiphany.  I agree that luck does not have an important role in attaining your dreams but fear and attitude towards opportunities and failures do. This part was sincerely motivating. 
Robinson’s critique of the educational system based on passing tests and excluding arts from the curriculum was very inspiring  too since I used to think teaching was my call in life. School is treated in the book as an entity that suppresses creativity in children and fosters only academic intelligence. According to the author, a lot of kids feel liberated when leaving school so that they can actually explore and find their true passions.
There is no need to say that everyone should pursue their desires but this thesis ends up sounding a little bit naïve to me because even though society needs people to clean the streets, I don’t think that’s anybody’s element... In that perfect world, who would do that?