Monday, January 19, 2004

More Etc.

How in god's name does Christopher Hitchens chainsmoke Rothman's? I tried the Rothman's blues, the "King Size" last fall and they were tasty but very powerful. But J-5 bought me a pack of the reds, the "Special"s, which I believe are Hitchens's favoured, when he and Poly went to Eureka Springs. Jesus Christ, yes, they are still tasty but these things make a Winston heavy load feel just as airy as what I imagine an Eve or "Vagina Slime" would be. I feel like I need to be hooked to a respirator after burning one of them. It took me nearly a month to smoke the whole pack. All I can say is Hitchens must be quite robust; if I smoked them like I smoke Marlboro Lights I'd have all the lung power of a geriatric coal miner.

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I havent been paying attention to Iowa or much of any of the political happenings lately. I still catch some things at yahoo news sometimes, and I still read Atrios even while I've been busy the last month or so. I will be back into the swing of things, though. My time for fun and leisure is almost over again. Maybe one more trip, though.

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One of Ala's prezzies to me was a copy of The Da Vinci Code, which I blew through during the intense part of my illness, Friday and Saturday. It was pretty good. The Leonardo stuff was wholly new to me, as far as the secret messages and tricks in his paintings go, but the grail stuff is old hat. I like that sort of pulp, though, that is infused with so many esoteric facts; it's useful pulp, where you dont feel that you've wasted time just because a plot was addictive (characters, of course, cardboard as they are, wont ever have the chance of wasting my time). I liked it. It's been too damn long since I read for pure pleasure or as an at least partial diversion, anyway.

I figured out the villain, "The Teacher" well in time before the author unmasked him; the problem with this sort of pulp, and it's probably mostly unavoidable, is that its producers are thinking as scriptwriters rather than novelists. Therefore it's easy to cheat to figure out "whodunnit" using Roger Ebert's old "Law of the Economy Of Characters", which is pretty much self-explanatory when you think of it. Still, I was either too slow in figuring it out or too fast -- it donned on me before the manservant got the call to watch the monk but to not show his face. Anyway, I might as well note that I'm the crappiest in the world to figure out movies or books in this way -- I dont like to try; I'm almost always completely passive as a viewer and reader (which is why, I suppose, I struggle to read the "active reader" French shit of midcentury).

Now I know why my Ala likes it so much -- of course there's the art subject of it, her first best love interest. It's full of history but, and this is the main thing, it's popular but potentially subversive: the facts it presents and the theories and mythologies it offers are a blow, and a righteous and factual and welcome one, to organised religion. Inevitably, anything that dredges the history of the middle ages will make the church look as awful as it was and is, and this novel is no exception, for it shows what abominable misogynists the early Christian thugs were. Also, what opportunists they were in coopting older established symbols and ritual. And, of course, how prone they were to burning alive "witches" and "heretics". The real heros of the story are the artists, belle letterists, and polymaths who kept the "sacred feminine" alive, the Da Vincis, Newtons, Hugos; and NOT the protagonist of the novel himself, the "Harvard Symbologist".

But the protagonist is who pisses me off, actually, and turns what could have been a very entertaining and subversive book into merely a very entertaining book : Brown fashions him as a moral/political coward. Always he draws the distinction between the old chruch and the modern, with maximum deference given to the "good" of the latter (except for Opus Dei, the superreactionary subcatholic sect that is genuinely creepy and unfortunately all too real). In the novel's climax the protagonist is prefectly content to let the status quo reign, while the baddy of the book of course wants the truth of the secret documents (which would tell of how the Church censored Jesus Christ's life with Mary Magdalene) to come out, humiliating the Church and exposing millions to the sobriety of the fact that their myth is not even merely a story but a LIE. The lesson then is, plainly, that only baddies want truth while Good Guys are content to let the Linuses have their blankets; while the author clearly believes this to be sympathetic, I view it as abject cynicism. Though the Christian myth is exactly like Santa Claus in factual basis, its believers ARENT children (and even if they were, does anyone think that if children killed each other over clashes in their ideas of Santa Claus, that parents would still bother to push the lie of the fat man's existence?)

A nice companion to The Da Vinci Code, but one too darkly comic and therefore too true to be as popular, is Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum, which is massively more larded with history, but in the same vein : full of Grail Lore, Templars, Rosicrucians and modern True Believers with more than too much time on their hands and up to no good. But it's also a black comedy of sorts, or at least it's intelligent enough to use irony, in the sense that, when people who know that myths arent true begin to toy with myths to have some fun or make a buck, they shouldnt be surprised that credulous people take their myth and run with it, and even kill its creators in an attempt to learn the myth's secrets which, of course, never really existed anyway.

I once wrote a very long essay here on Eco and two of his novels, an essay which blogger felt happy enough to eat, leaving me with nothing. I wont do that again, and would rather not spoil the book for Ala or anyone else anyway, so I'll just conclude by saying that, if you like The Da Vinci Code , please read Eco's novel and tell me which one you liked more.

By the way:
Czesc Ala w polska. Muuah kochanie! :D

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