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Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana XVI -- chapter 15: IN THE WAKE OF GOD ISSUING FROM THE MACHINE

  1. "Maybe I am not dead. If I were, I would feel no worldly passions, no love for my parents or anxiety about the bombings. To die is to remove oneself from the cycle of life and from the beating of one’s heart."  Was he dead and now lives?  Maybe (and this is just me being optimistic, because we still have to gain some additional connection to or by the First Folio) his resurgence--even resurrection--is truly a gift from God, who has emerged from the strange machinations of Yambo's (and Eco's, I think) dirge.
  2. By the context of the book, the machine of it, a great shock was required to bring Yambo back from ... whatever you want to call it.  What else, and anything less Deus ex Machina-like than the Folio, could have done it?
  3. Am I projecting my own beliefs onto the text, or do Yambo's ruminations (consider the evidence of the soul versus that of the encephalogram) have the true whiff of one wrestling with himself over a religious belief and/or awakening?  It was said, after all, in the last chapter that the boy Yambo was religious.
  4. I may not be able to adequately articulate this:  Yambo, before the stroke, was selfish and even dismissive of (1) his past and (2) his loved ones.  Except for the subconscious (maybe that's too kind a word for it) ambition to find his Lila, he was entirely and selfishly only about his immediate "now."  "...may I be granted the gift of fierce selfishness. I live with myself and for myself, and I can remember that which, after my first incident, I had forgotten."  Has the amnesia just been a literal manifestation of what he'd been doing by his negligence as an adult all along, anyway?  Only now after the discovery of the Folio and now powerless within this new fog, everything internal, does he long for his wife and daughters, for a firm grip of and power over the memory and application of his past?
  5. (Angelo Bear and his life and death bear a shocking similarity to Toy Story 3.  Just saying.)
  6. "It is clear now, in the coma’s silence, that I understand better all that has happened to me. Is this the illumination others achieve when they come to the brink, at which point, like Martin Eden, they understand everything, but as they know, they cease to know? I, who am not yet on the brink, have an advantage over those who die. I understand, I know, and I even remember (now) that I know. Does that make me one of the lucky?"

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Wednesday's for Kids XIX -- POP-UP BOOKS

Forget 3D or "Real-D" (whatever that means) movies or television, or even stereoscopes (though stereoscopes are, admittedly, really dang cool); instead go for the real thing and get a POP-UP BOOK!  Sure, they over-simplify the classic stories they attempt to retell (at least when they interpret classics like The Jungle Book or Alice in Wonderland (significantly less so, as it so happens, with The Little Prince)), but they offer engaging introductions to these stories, and whether re-tellings or original creations they are both beautiful and terribly fun.  A word of caution, however: Do not leave them with unsupervised under-fours (or so).

For parents (or anyone else):  While pop-up books are a great window to literature for children, they're also made for and targeted at adults (some favorites or mine, though not "pop-up books" per se, are the books of the Griffin and Sabine series by Nick Bantok, which are absolutely gorgeous and feature letters, envelopes, and postcards removable from their pages and so yet 3D, to a degree, nonetheless).

  • The Little Prince, story by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
  • The Castaway Pirates, by Ray Marshall
  • Alice in Wonderland, story Lewis Carroll; pop-ups by Robert Sabuda
  • Flying Machines, by Ib Penick
  • The Jungle Book, story by Rudyard Kipling; pop-ups book by Matthew Reinhart

The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana XV -- chapter 14: LOCKED AND LOADED

by Gustave Dore'
  1. I’ve claimed elsewhere that I hate exposition.  I need to qualify that.  I hate obvious exposition, or poorly-done, contrived and unnatural exposition.  While Eco, clearly a skilled writer, is telling a story throughout these first 13 or 14 chapters, is it not mostly, if not entirely, exposition?  And if it is indeed and essentially all exposition, is it not also fairly obvious and contrived, no matter how artful?  Read my mind (which, at least in this particular case is and with any luck, is at least fairly aligned with yours): why do I find so much enjoyment here that I would, in otherwise similarly contrived and [never so] lengthy expositions, not find, because, honestly--14 chapters of exposition?
  2. When the memory finally returns, will it be by effect of one particular trigger alone or the weeks of re-living the past in general or the simple heeling effects of time--or all three?
  3. The "Hotel of the Three Roses" becomes another Clarabell's Treasure, as well as, and by the reference "A rose by any other name," another Shakespeare's First Folio.  How do these three things compare to the enigmatic "Mysterious Flames" he's experienced throughout, particularly as none of these three has necessarily sparked such a flame within (at least, in the case of the last of the three, by Yambo's first experience with it at the hands of the mischievous Sibilla)?
  4. Maybe a tough question (so it is for me, anyway, as its answer may include the toppling of gods): Is the sudden and coincidental appearance of the First Folio too much--even a cop out?  Sure, Eco sets it up earlier by Sibilla's joke, but does this feel at all artificial--contrived--to you?  Would anyone in Yambo's circumstances also have to stumble upon their own personal version of the First Folio to shock them back to life (and I'm assuming, not remembering as it so happens, that this is indeed the trigger, based upon the event's placement not only at the end of Yambo's Solara efforts, but also at the end of the section)?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana XIV -- chapter 13: OF DEVILS AND MASONS

While this is my favorite chapter of the book so far, so it contains one of my favorite comparison: that of tapeworms and gall stones to bad poetry, and all its pathetic symptoms and affectations.  Here, though, we have to examine Eco's use of, what he considers as its his own, bad poetry.  The creation and strategic use of intentionally bad poetry is like the now-commonly mentioned (Michael Chabon) generation of intentional coincidences.  A wise student once commented hopefully and pointedly on the poetry I confessed I was writing for a then-current novel.  "I hope you're not trying to write intentionally bad poetry to make it look like a teenager did it," she said.  I admitted that indeed I was not and so assured her with a sincere expression of my insecurity as a poet, (more or less:) "I'm hoping the best poetry I can do can qualify as believably excellent or even just believable teen-poetry."  So I wonder how Eco, certainly an excellent writer, but not necessarily a poet (and so he sagely acknowledges in the end of the chapter in reference to another's poem, "This is beautiful because it is not mine"), approached his poetry attempts, or, as I suspect is the case as with other issues/references in the book, these are autobiographically accurate, and indeed pieces he composed as a precocious teen--that and, well, the poems' apparent and beyond-coincidentally prophetic natures for Yambo's unique future.  For example, bad poetry or not, this is quite telling:
you cannot enter twice
the kingdom of remembrance
and hope to find unspoiled
the unexpected freshness
of the first theft.
  1. The poem of "three days before Christmas" interests me, as in subject (a purity in stark contrast to what we know of the adult Yambo) and prediction (the loss of memory) it is particularly prophetic, appropriate (even mysteriously coincidentally so, as already mentioned above), and perhaps directly metaphoric.  It may even offer a potential explanation for why the memory was lost in the first place (accurate as prediction or not, I don't remember).  Thoughts?
  2. As there are literal rooms of memory in the house that align with Yambo's segmented memories of his past, all of which are natural divisions--segmentations--of life, and with a particularly sturdy and tall wall set ("to put a final seal on memories I was renouncing") between adolescence and young adulthood, high school and college, so his literal loss of memory builds a wall (even a "satanically masonic" wall) between his present and past.  Sounds like a classic, though thoroughly exaggerated, mid-life crisis.
  3. Lila Saba: "saba" is the food for bacteria that create balsamic vinegar.  Consider the various classic metaphors of vinegar, not to mention grapes, as well as the definition of balsam against the mellifluous connection between Lila Saba and Sibilla (additional, of course, to the fact that Lila is a nickname for Sibilla anyway).
  4. An affecting little book: "La Vita Nuova."  Beatrice penetrated all sorts of walls that otherwise held everyone else back in Dante's life; so similar to this Lila who is the only one, besides Gianni, who transcends all of Yambo's barriers, consciously and subconsciously--the "relay race across the years."

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana XIII -- chapter 12: BOTH THE TIME and THE PLOT POINTS, THEY "SI GIRANO"

Ming the Merciless
  1. If Chabon is right (or, at least, if his ideal carries over to Eco in this case), then the story of Saint Antoninus isn't merely told to characterize the little town.  Thoughts?
  2. Superstition, of course, is borne as explanation by the ignorant of an event otherwise unexplained.  Any thoughts on how that applies here with Amalia, and maybe in context of events and information shared to this point?
  3. Wretched simoniacs....
  4. Of course the folio is Clarabell's treasure (or a foreshadowing thereof), and appropriately so, as he found it where he wasn't looking.  But how will this, if so it does, tie into his memory?  Regardless of the imminent connection, why is Shakespeare's first folio appropriate (and not only in personal terms to Yambo)?  Of course, it's not real.  Is it?
  5. "That's my book.  Is it worth it?"
  6. The little bottle atop the bookcase: any connection at all to the "Drink Me" bottle of Wonderland (though not by drinking, surely, or literally so, anyway)?
  7. Gordon, Ming, and the castor oil.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Sunday Poetry XXI -- One for My Daughter, One for Me

The quality of a poem is a very subjective thing.

Slumber Party
My party was the best one yet!
My friends came by and spent the night.
We had a crazy pillow fight.
We laughed until we cried.

My party was the best one yet!
We ate popcorn and watched TV.
We played dress-up and sang off-key.
We danced.  At least, we tried!

My party was the best one yet!
We whispered secrets all night through.
We listened to some records, too.
We played two games, or three.

My party was the best one yet!
And you know why it was such fun?
My friends!  Yes, each and every one
was there along with me.

—from Minnie and Me, My Favorite Book


I Tramp a Perpetual Journey
by Walt Whitman
I know I have the best of time and space, and was never measured and
    never will be measured.
I tramp a perpetual journey, (come listen all!)
My signs are a rain-proof coat, good shoes, and a staff cut from the woods,
No friend of mine takes his ease in my chair,
I have no chair, no church, no philosophy,
I lead no man to a dinner-table, library, exchange,
But each man and each woman of you I lead upon a knoll,
My left hand hooking you round the waist,
My right hand pointing to landscapes of continents and the public road.

Not I, not any one else can travel that road for you,
You must travel it for yourself.

It is not far, it is within reach,
Perhaps you have been on it since you were born and did not know,
Perhaps it is everywhere on water and on land.

Shoulder your duds dear son, and I will mine, and let us hasten forth,
Wonderful cities and free nations we shall fetch as we go.

If you tire, give me both burdens, and rest the chuff of your hand
    on my hip,
And in due time you shall repay the same service to me,
For after we start we never lie by again.

This day before dawn I ascended a hill and look'd at the crowded heaven,
And I said to my spirit When we become the enfolders of those orbs,
    and the pleasure and knowledge of every thing in them, shall we
    be fill'd and satisfied then?
And my spirit said No, we but level that lift to pass and continue beyond.

You are also asking me questions and I hear you,
I answer that I cannot answer, you must find out for yourself.

Sit a while dear son,
Here are biscuits to eat and here is milk to drink,
But as soon as you sleep and renew yourself in sweet clothes, I kiss you
    with a good-by kiss and open the gate for your egress hence.

Long enough have you dream'd contemptible dreams,
Now I wash the gum from your eyes,
You must habit yourself to the dazzle of the light and of every
    moment of your life.

Long have you timidly waded holding a plank by the shore,
Now I will you to be a bold swimmer,
To jump off in the midst of the sea, rise again, nod to me, shout,
    and laughingly dash with your hair.

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana XII -- chapter 11: PHILATELY

I'm tempted to call this chapter a little self-indulgent on the part of Eco, except that I enjoy this chapter.  It's quiet, pensive, and offers an effect of the Calm Before the Storm, and all the little pieces collected might be assembled, somehow, later to make some more complete picture.  Maybe.  Whatever.  As far as I'm concerned, there are only really three questions here:
  1. What parallel can you draw between Yambo and the purportedly poorly-told tale of Queen Loana and her Mysterious Flame, despite Yambo's claim that he must have moved past the lamentable narrative in favor of the exotic and suggestive--mellifluous--names?
  2. What connection is there (indeed identified, at least simply, if no more than skatingly, by Yambo) between philatery and all those comic books, another kind of philately in itself, though with a sort of (this is stretching, I know) tax exemption all its own?
  3. Will the memory return if he jumps into the fog filling the gorge?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana XI -- chapter 10: TIME'S TEMPLE, IMMURED

"Ugolino' by Carpeaux
According to Brer Rabbit, everyone needs a laughing place, which, as far as I'm concerned, is really about as crucial to life and existence as water and food and air and whatever else.  Everyone--more especially, or at visibly, kids, but all adults have them as well, just with more variation in form and location--needs a brier patch, a hiding place, a closet or tree-house or attic or, in this case, a wall-up former-chapel now forgotten where treasures can be stored, secret prayers offered, dark rites performed, etcetera; but how many have such a fantastical treasure house--Cave of Wonders--as does Yambo?  Having such a place is as cliche' a fantasy as immurement is a terror, and here in chapter ten, both coexist and balance, almost symbiotically.  I've hopefully check every attic of every house I've lived in, hoping for that escapist's window to the past, and felt the vicarious thrill of reading about it in books or watching it in movies (Harry Potter's Room of Requirement, the attic here, The Bridge to Terabithia, and even corny movies like The Lake House).  This is why I hope someday to build a house with a private library at the top of a tower accessible exclusively by an iron spiral staircase.  This is why I have family members who love old rundown barns or houses.  This is why I keep a flashlight in the car.  I think I speak for everyone: we all want to discover and possess a secret place grander or more romantic than our current, likely inadequate, laughing place.

  1. Based on Paola's psychologist's explanation, are Yambo's fears and insecurities regarding his past valid?  Along the same lines, cross-textually, who was/is more affected by the Alice books, Alice Liddell or Lewis Carroll/children or adults?  Is Paula over-simplifying?
  2. "This one knows you always bring him chewing gum.  That's all."
  3. How is it appropriate that the doorway is walled up and was also once the entrance to the chapel?
  4. "...and I often hid there and did God knows what."  (Haha!  Get it!?)
  5. This is a circumstantial connection of course, as immurement is among the most primal of fears (and Poe's bread and butter, no less), but this reminds me, at least on the outset, of Count Ugolino from L'Inferno, not to mention all those Poe stories.
  6. "At that moment a thunderstorm was gathering."  In just the last chapter, Yambo (if not Eco, but here I think indistinguishable), criticizes Romance-period writers for their manipulation of the elements to echo a book's plot and circumstances.  Isn't that what he's doing right here?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Wednesdays for Kids XVIII

The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana X -- chapter 9: FLIP-FLOPPING ITALY

  1. This might be entirely out of context or beyond the scope of the book, but the disregard (contextually justified) of his sister's box of elementary- and middle-school things makes me think about the degree of selfishness this trip represents in Yambo.  He has had one afternoon with his daughters and grandchildren that, perhaps, pulled him at least slightly and temporarily away from himself.  Of course we have no indication that their visit did any more to help him than all his much less selfless hours, but yet I wonder: might he not be better off simply living his life as best he can, and if the memories come, great, and if not, then, oh well?  This taps into the issue, of course, that we've touched on already: would a character realistically want to rediscover (and likely thereby have to relive) his past, having to balance and negotiate the potential discovery of unsavory memories, acts, thoughts, etcetera.  None of Yambo's friends or family have acknowledged (beyond his infidelity, which, apparently, is no big secret anyway) that there's anything Yambo should be scared or hesitant to discover, but still, is there a potential advantage (I don't know of any advantage specifically, so I'm throwing the question "out there" for suggestions) to altruism rather than selfish seclusion?
  2. What do you make of Yambo's dubiously effecting act of turning on the radio panel light and then playing a record? The last chapter indicated the necessity of the records rather than radio, but why does he bother with the entirely connotative radio light?
  3. Gee Whiz 1: The B and V phonemes are very similar, and in some alphabets even interchangeable, and commonly misused by children learning to speak, among others.  I'm not going to get into the details, but if you don't believe it, try out each letter and consider what your mouth is doing to produce each sound.
  4. Connect the lie of fog to the fascist propaganda; then disconnect it (or whatever you think best) by the "truth" of fog.
  5. Gee Whiz 2:  Italian pronouns for address, and their levels of formality: tu (singular) = you, informal; lei (singular) = you, formal; voi (also 2nd person plural) = you (singular), more formal; loro (also 3rd person, plural) = you (singular or plural), super formal, as in for royalty or, more likely today, sarcastic formality.
  6. "That song must be why, years later, I took note of this passage from Corazzini’s poem 'The Streetlamp': Murky and scant in the lonely thoroughfare, / in front of the bordello doors, it dims, / and the good smoke that from the censer swims / might be this fog that whitens out the air.  [¶]  "'Lili Marleen' came out not too long after the giddy 'Comrade Richard.' Either we were generally more optimistic than the Germans, or in the interim something had happened, our poor comrade had grown sad and, tired of walking through muck, longed to go back to his streetlamp. But I was coming to realize that the same series of propagandistic songs could explain how we had gone from a dream of victory to one of the welcoming bosom of a whore as hopeless as her clients."
  7. What is the potential for the Italians' experience in WWII to be a parallel of some sort to Yambo's current predicament?
  8. What is the value of one's past childish ambitions and dreams to an adult?
  9. Unbreakable.
  10. "I was still missing some link, perhaps many links. At some point I had changed, but I did not know why."
  11. Finally, what do you make of the chapter title?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

DUBLINERS, by James Joyce: "The Boarding House"

So I've attempted this post three times and three times scrapped the attempts, have I.  So--  Here's number 4, likely to be uncommonly brief, if unlikely to be finished.

First:  I thoroughly enjoyed this tale, much like "Two Gallants," and think that, perhaps, it's even my favorite of the lot thus far.  Like the previous story, there's not quite as much literary meat to sink your teeth into here as "Araby" or "The Sisters," but in a different way--a moralistic way, and all character-driven (whoa!) --there is more here than to any of the stories I so far examined, not to mention the presence of that elusive spark that I just keep kicking and kicking.

Two:  There is an absolutely fantastic balancing act going on under the motives and actions of the three primary characters, the Mother, the Daughter, and the Beau, as well as the menacing local current of the the bulldog Brother.  And this is where the best of the story sits--or leans and sways; among them: why does the Mother bring the Daughter to the house to work?  How does the Beau really feel for the Mother's Daughter?  Is the Daughter an independent contractor, so to speak, or is she working right alongside her otherwise subversive Mother?  The best part of these questions is the same as one of Joyce's primary and greatest (of several) strengths, here realized more fully (and because there is life here!): dichotomy.  No question has but one answer; and any question can be answered in a variety of directions (at least two, but generally more).

Three:  There's a recurrent theme, among others, of sexism in Dubliners, which I haven't really talked about much.  Maybe I was remiss.  Maybe I assumed it a given hallmark of Joyce's writing and wrote it off.  Here, however, faced finally with a contrast and thus bringing it forth from the shadows, there is potential--unanswered, of course--for the typical power of misogyny to be transferred to the narrower, though no less able, shoulders of the story's women.  The Beau is as characteristically impotent as so many of Dublins young men, but if any intentions existed to take advantage of the story's weak young woman, they are not realized.  Of course (and this is one of the reasons I failed the first three attempts of this post) this simple matter doesn't preclude misogyny or, more generally, sexism, in Dubliners, much less Joyce; what we do see is that Joyce, at worst, is equally antipathetic to both sexes--a potentially complete misanthrope, at least for the "anthrops" of Dublin.

Fourth:  Typical of Joyce, there is a novel's worth of substance here in these three thousand-or-so words.  He paints in short strokes with a shockingly broad and expertly wielded brush.  If a picture is worth a thousand words, then one of Joyce's is worth three of any other's.

The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana IX -- chapter 8: PULP FICTION and other POP FROM THE PAST

  1. "Are you clear about the distance between you and these stories?"  Is this a valid question, despite Yambo's argument that he's not crazy?  On the other side of the equation, how might recounting the stories as he is to children and grandchildren be perhaps a better way to spark the flame than simply rereading them alone in the attic?
  2. Why might pulp literature--or even Stevenson--be a better vehicle for the spark and flame than "Homer, Manzoni, and Flaubert"?
  3. "Radio, the voice that enchants"; "enchants," being, of course, the operative word.
  4. Tabula rasa is a Locke coinage, as far as I know.  Certainly Yambo's slate has been razed, but is it true that by listening to his friend it's being spoiled by/with another's memories?
  5. "Over the previous few days, I had been trying to imagine the divided self of a boy exposed to messages of national glory while at the same time daydreaming about the fogs of London, where he would encounter Fantômas battling Sandokan amid a hail of nailshot that ripped holes in the chests and tore off the arms and legs of Sherlock Holmes’s politely perplexed compatriots—and now here I was learning that in those same years the radio had been proposing as an ideal the life of a humble accountant who longed for nothing more than suburban tranquility" (emphasis added).  Yambo seems to worry his way through this and subsequent paragraphs that all the varied media stimuli might have incited moral contradiction and confusion in his past self (though, interestingly, he seem to be observing or discovering his own past in the third person, but not necessarily as the past but as if it were presently happening).  Is the massive exposure to media such a problem as Yambo imagines it to be?  Why might he be worried about it at all, as that boy from the past is him, and, well, hasn't he turned out all right--except for this whole amnesia thing, of course?
  6. So why is it so vital that he find his old schoolbooks?
  7. The woman ("like a saxophone in heat" ... uh, whoa!) in the lyric recalls a bit the women of the cocoa and antacid tins from the previous chapter.  Obviously women play/ed a big role in Yambo's life, but what, by evidence here and elsewhere, do you supposed that role really is?

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana VIII -- chapter 7: THE MEMORIOUS

  1. Just the first two paragraphs of this chapter already give the impression of the trope of one's life flashing before his eyes.  Obviously there are inherent problems to the application of this metaphor here; the Benjamin Button/Signor Pipino complex, on the other hand, may be more appropriate.  Thoughts?
  2. "Sibilla was now beginning to seem like a distant childhood memory, while everything I was gradually excavating from the fog of my past was becoming my present" (emphasis added).  Explain.
  3. In color, Eco's description of the attic resembles that of Joyce's general description of Dublin (a perhaps likely comparison, considering Eco's admiration for Joyce): brown, in all its variations.  However, this attic is nothing like Dublin.  What is the difference--defined in terms of color, or substance--between the two?
  4. I don't generally associate Eco with poetry, the way I do with other prose writers, like, and especially so, Borges (who wrote a lot of poetry); however, this sentence, "If a cellar prefigures the underworld, an attic promises a rather threadbare paradise, where the dead bodies appear in a pulverulent glow, a vegetal elixir that, in the absence of green, makes you feel you are in a parched tropical forest, an artificial canebreak where you are immersed in a tepid sauna," is gorgeous and poetic.  More, there's a potentially fascinating indication in it, ascribing a sort of natural metaphor (and recalling and defining vast amounts of literature in the process) to the house, or even to architecture in general.
  5. Further to the Dantean "Commedic" (#4) and Button/Pipino themes (#1), justify Eco's use of his brief "womb" analogy, and why, perhaps in Yambo's case, the genetic (is the adjectival form of genesis really genetic?) locus of garret is more appropriate than cellar.
  6. Some great "p" words here: pluvial, pulverulent (and here)
  7. What is the inherent problem with Yambo's belief that Clarabelle's treasure is "certainly there"; or, rather, what's the inherent issue to what we might call The Paradox of Clarabelle's Treasure?
  8. Further information of Clarabelle as a name: Clara (also clara/chiara, Italian, meaning "clear"); belle (also bella, Italian, meaning "beautiful" and related to bene, for good); and Claribel, and Clara.
  9. All three tins' illustrations (two of them: the cocoa "Due Vecchi" ("two old people"), the antacid, "Brioschi" (company name)) have a woman serving a man, and note the ages of the women, where given.  Appropriate?  And, of course, the image-within-an-image....
  10. This paragraph with the repeating images and infinite return/regression, is pretty bleak, hopeless.  If he is indeed at the bottom of the regression, holding the tin, then it should be finite, else there would be no bottom; but in fact, by the physics of reflection and Mobius strips and whatnot, it is infinite, in which case Yambo will never arrive at himself.
  11. "At the instant he knew, he ceased to know."  This recalls, of course, the flashing-before-the-eyes mentioned in #1.
  12. Yambo, the author, is the forebear of our protagonist's nickname, yet it's his our hero's hero, Ciuffettino, with whom our Yambo identifies himself.  (Did you get that?)
  13. If you haven't yet read "Funes, His Memory," By Borges, (here, "Funus, the Memorious," and not my preference for translation, ignorant though I am generally of Spanish), you should do so now.
  14. I'm not going to bother with speculations on the cresch's fountain. 

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Sunday Poetry XX -- from ODES TO COMMON THINGS, by Pablo Neruda

Pablo Neruda
I'm not a communist, for whatever that's worth, but I love Pablo Neruda--well, his poetry.  Not even that, really--too broad.  I love his odes.  I confess I didn't discover Neruda until after I'd seen Il Postino, one of my favorite movies, by the way, and which features the Chilean, ex-patriot poet as mentor to a hapless, stricken mailman in the broad, speculative field of Romance.

Here is one of my favorites of his odes--one that reminds me how great life really is.

Ode to things
by Pablo Neruda
I have a crazy,
crazy love of things.
I like pliers,
and scissors.
I love
and bowls –
not to speak, or course,
of hats.
I love
all things,
not just
the grandest,
small –
and flower vases.

Oh yes,
the planet
is sublime!
It’s full of pipes
through tobacco smoke,
and keys
and salt shakers –
I mean,
that is made
by the hand of man, every little thing:
shapely shoes,
and fabric,
and each new
bloodless birth
of gold,
carpenter’s nails,
clocks, compasses,
coins, and the so-soft
softness of chairs.

Mankind has
oh so many
Built them of wool
and of wood,
of glass and
of rope:
ships, and stairways.

I love
not because they are
or sweet-smelling
but because,
I don’t know,
this ocean is yours,
and mine;
these buttons
and wheels
and little
fans upon
whose feathers
love has scattered
its blossoms,
glasses, knives and
scissors –
all bear
the trace
of someone’s fingers
on their handle or surface,
the trace of a distant hand
in the depths of forgetfulness.

I pause in houses,
streets and
touching things,
identifying objects
that I secretly covet;
this one because it rings,
that one because
it’s as soft
as the softness of a woman’s hip,
that one there for its deep-sea color,
and that one for its velvet feel.

O irrevocable
of things:
no one can say
that I loved
or the plants of the jungle and the field,
that I loved
those things that leap and climb, desire, and survive.
It’s not true:
many things conspired
to tell me the whole story.
Not only did they touch me,
or my hand touched them:
they were
so close
that they were a part
of my being,
they were so alive with me
that they lived half my life
and will die half my death.

Saturday, March 19, 2011


  1. I know this seems fairly obvious, and maybe it is so entirely.  Regardless, there are levels and levels of connection and metaphor here, and it's all just so well done and so deep that it's good to see it in words: describe the parallels--from the obvious to the obscure to the speculative--between the central wing (and more than just its contents--also its nature) and Yambo's locked-up brain.
  2. Yambo's grandfather was a "curious collector," according to Amalia.  Yambo is having a hard time recognizing the man's style and taste, and is appalled by some brown, blobby landscapes, which "he could not have loved...," yet he collected them.  If we assume, at least for the moment, that the old man didn't necessarily love what he collected but the act of collecting itself, then (or regardless) what is the comparison between the two men?
  3. This whole chapter is like a giant Rorschach blot--or a million of them.  (I wrote this point out before I got to the joke about the inkblots.  Of course, after the joke, the comment makes more sense anyway, though I meant it initially to allude to the fact that we see what we want to see, even if we don't know it's what we want, in an inkblot: what is Yambo seeing?)
  4. I love Amalia's description of Il Duce.  It makes him sound like Sauron or Voldemort!
  5. Maybe Eco's a fan of Tennessee Williams.  Whatever, right?  Is there something more, however, to the word "desire" ascribed as label to the associatively misread streetcar?
  6. We already talked about Yambo's reversion to childhood.  More than that now, and all the more so echoing his amnesia, he thinks about infancy, as he sees the room which he's deduced to be his parents' and even his birthplace.  All children have amnesia, its onset falling somewhere between the ages of two and four.  Some call it a veil, and it's one that can never be lifted, at least not in this life.  Is there any further connection here between Yambo's situation and the veil over infancy?
  7. To draw another perhaps uncalled-for connection to Harry Potter, this central wing, and especially the attic, becomes a sort of Room of Requirement (a sort of metaphysical Rorschach blot all by itself) --it becomes what we need it to be.
  8. If there's a visual similarity between the fashion illustrations and Sibilla--even possibly in exactitude--would Yambo's draw to her be stronger pre- or post-amnesia?
  9. Flatus Vocis -- do you think this is referring to its literal translation of "breath of voice," and therefor potentially indicating that everything that he experiences in the central wing has deep and specific significance to his life, past, and spirit; or do you think it might translate, at least by application, to the essentially Latin and more vulgar "fart's worth of words" --that is just a whole bunch of stuff--words and words and words and worthless?
  10. A hatchet to the head, or squeezing the skull until the brain bursts from the seams might be an effective way to release what's trapped there.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana VI -- chapter 5: OF GOOD FOOD, GHOSTS, and ... STUFF

a vineyard in the Monferrato hill country, Italy
  1. I think we all knew the Mickey Mouse cartoon about Clarabelle and her treasure would come back.  I suppose the number of sources for metaphors on memory and collecting are endless; so why something like Mickey Mouse et alia?  (And how perfectly the comments from Chapter 4 predict this first point as well as the title of the new section!)
  2. "...I could not help tasting one [fig] and venturing to say that that tree always had been bountiful...."  Is Yambo trying out his ability to generate memory, and to what end?
  3. What of the "memory of humanity," and the peaches, the poop, and the grapes?  When I first read this, it took me by surprise, especially when there was a bathroom just inside.  But consider the contrast from Milan to Solara in the first place.  The descent into the vineyard is perhaps but the final steps of this journey to the bottom of the well, back of the cave, to the very beginning and all its metaphoric baggage.  (Aside from all this, I think these few paragraphs are hilarious.)
  4. Borromini
  5. I wonder about Eco's use of "spirit" here: "In order to rediscover lost time, one should have not diarrhea but asthma. Asthma is pneumatic, it is the breath (however labored) of the spirit: it is for the rich, who can afford cork-lined rooms. The poor, in the fields, attend less to spiritual than to bodily functions. [¶]  "And yet I felt not disinherited but content, and I mean truly content, in a way I had not felt since my reawakening."  Is he admitting a level of spirituality or is it separate and/or euphemistic?
  6. The general American population doesn't understand, or fully comprehend, the level at which other cultures (generally not first world, or which were relatively recently and widely impoverished) hold/value their food.  Like a language, it really has to be lived, rather than just studied.  With few exceptions (generally holidays, though school-day lunch periods may also qualify, though not for reason food quality), we eat simply because we need to, and without ceremony.  Our culture is not built around our meals; we come by them too easily.  Also, and at its simplest, it's also directly connected to that very personal issue of defecation from earlier.
  7. A little Carrollian riddle: How is a Yambo like a house cat?
  8. Owls = ghosts, pretty much always by the way, or phantoms more generally and symbolically speaking.
  9. If Paola is acting mother in the tale, this journey away from her and home, more than just a quest, is also a test: can Yambo control his eating, among other things, without mommy breathing down his neck, making this story a sort of coming-of-age (yes, I'm intentionally avoiding the more "correct" literary snob term).  Thoughts (about the question or the contents of the parentheses)?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

a "jocular coinage"

So Wiktionary describes the utterly ridiculous, perfectly worthless word brought to me by an excited 7th grade science student today.

floccinaucinihilipilification: A jocular coinage, apparently by students at Eton, combining a number of roughly synonymous Latin stems. Latin flocci, from floccus, a wisp or piece of wool + nauci, from naucum, a trifle + nihili, from the Latin pronoun, nihil ("nothing") + pili, from pilus, a hair, something insignificant (all therefore having the sense of "pettiness" or "nothing") + -fication. "Flocci non facio" was a Latin expression of indifference, literally "I do not make a straw of...".

If you still need the definition, here it is, according, again, to Wiktionary: "The act or habit of describing or regarding something as unimportant," which makes me really hope that this word was invented, tongue-in-cheek, simply to invent a big, ridiculous, gratuitously and simultaneously self-referential and worthless word, which, as it turns out, is one letter longer than the only slightly less ridiculous antidisestablishmentarianism (which Blogger, by the way, recognizes as a perfectly "real" and correctly-spelled word).

The thing that bothers me is that this word is recognized by dictionaries (not many, as it turns out, but one's more than enough)!  Dictionaries are supposed to recognize words that are in use.  As far as I can tell, the only usage of this word is not for any sort of communication but merely as a vehicle for the title of world's longest "non-technical" word.  Thankfully, and just so for the blessed sake of the great English language, whose development and evolution I'm generally in favor of, Oxford makes its usage (and only by ignominious association with its by-one-letter-shorter compatriot) simply, and with perfectly little "ink," known here.

The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana V -- chapter 4: PREPARATORY GARDENING AND PRUNING

  1. For whatever reason, Yambo "skated" over his childhood and adolescence, rather than tell his wife all about it.  Something in his past, voluntarily or involuntarily, is being avoided.  I sense a parallel story--or nearly so, because why in the world would Eco not want these two lines to converge!  Of course, the "distant past" will be likely easier to unlock than the more recent.
  2. The same paragraph of Paola's that gave us the skated youth also indicates some other traits/weaknesses of Yambo.  Does the information here lead you to any predictions?
  3. Note the musical preference for pop over "high-culture" opera (though, of course, opera and "classical" music were the pop music of their day).
  4. The general region of the pylorus combined with Yambo's knee-jerk descriptor of a "mysterious flame" seem to indicate something spiritual, or, considering Eco's atheism (and giving Yambo the benefit of the autobiographical doubt), existential--or vertiginous.  Thoughts?
  5. Draw out the repeated connection between memory and collection, both of which, apparently, this book is all about.
  6. I don't know if Eco is a Freudian or not, but I'm guessing that he likely is.  I'm not particularly eager to discuss at length his purchase at the flea market, but manifestations of potentially latent issues may be keys to unlocking the cave.
  7. This is likely a stretch, the continued metaphor from the last chapter of flowers and deflowering; I wonder if there's a connection of some sort (and it seems more Joycean than Freudian--more literary than psychoanalytic--and along the lines of "Araby") between the the impenetrable cave and, say, the protected chalice, carried by "Araby"'s protagonist.  Are all the sexual undercurrents of this chapter indicative of the approaching "deflowering" of the locked-up, otherwise impenetrable Cave of Wonders?  Is this connection inherently flawed, as presupposing similar value upon Yambo's lost past as the flower of virginity (though, of course, he is a bit of an egomaniac)? *** But cultures may get in the way a little bit here, as Italy, as well as much of Europe, is much more sexually progressive than the United States; perhaps virginity is not quite the assumed treasure there as here (and we're losing that!).  Certainly The Virgin is one of the most significant emblems for Italy, as with all dominantly Catholic cultures, and most Christian cultures for that matter, of course, but, perhaps, as Mary was/is the epitomized Virgin, no other virgin need so aspire, so why bother at all?  I don't know.  I'm rambling.  But there seems to me to be something here.  I am, as always, interested in your thoughts.
  8. Flowers, the most glorious of garden elements, may perhaps continue the line of Eden here.  But what happens if you deflower (as in memory and/or virginity, as discussed in 7) Eden?  I mean, is Yambo in his Eden now, or is he seeking to return to it wholly, or is it a step along the way (Solara, then, being Eden) to regain his past?  Yes, I know, this is all very, very speculative, but it's currently interesting me.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana IV -- chapter 3: FLOWERS and MORE FOG

from Benali's edition of Dante's Commedia
So often, chapter titles lend a childish, or, well, a less than sophisticated, sense to a book, not that there's anything wrong with that.  Many of my favorite books, YA or children's, rank right up there with my all-time favorites.  Of "grown-up" books, however, I can only think of a few that manage to use chapter titles especially well: Tortilla Flat, Ender's Game, and, of course, The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana.  In my impatience and eagerness to get to the meat of the next chapter, I often forget to look at the chapter number or, if it's there, the title.  We are now on chapter 3 of Mysterious Flame and only now have I finally looked up at the chapter title.  I flipped back over the first two, and they're great!

  1. What is your impression of Yambo's opinion of himself, especially now that he's seen evidence of his past as a businessman and with (though perhaps he's only invented it, as Gratarolo suggests) Sibilla?
  2. (I will generally leave issues of Italian grammar aside, like, for instance, the differences between tu and lei and their correlates in French, unless you'd like me to load up each post with bits of Italian minutiae; otherwise, if you have a question about anything like this, please ask.)
  3. This chapter makes me really wish I could afford ancient treasure tomes like these!  I am guilty of buying books just because they're pretty, because they feel nice.  I love a library for its smell.  Would I say no to a Nook were it offered me?  Of course not!  But pages and ink and sweat and love packed between stretched, gilt leather covers....  But that's just me.  Is it such a business of passion for Yambo?
  4. "Better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all."  As Yambo has forgotten his past and lost the experiences of love with it, from where will new love build or grow or spring [insert your poetry here]?  In a child, love begins as dependence and trust, and therefore is extended--and only ever around the girth of its own selfishness--to parents, guardians, caregivers.
  5. "Are there drugs for remembering?" // "Maybe Sibilla..."  What is the emotion he's experiencing toward this girl?
  6. So here's the line that provides the chapter's title: "And someone will pluck your flower, mouth of the wellspring, someone who won't even know, a fisher of spongers with take this rare pearl."  The context, of course, provides its own interpretation of jealousy and lust, but there's another use of plucking flowers, or deflowering, which also applies to the source of Yambo's fear--and mixed sense of conquest--for his maybe-relationship with Sibilla.  Also, often, a wellspring is a ready source of ample fog when conditions are right.
  7. Issue of translation and plurals: Umberto Eco carefully supervises the translation of each of his works.  He most certainly was aware of the translator's pluralization of palazzo to palazzos, though the "correct" carry-over pluralization would be palazzi.
  8. At the time the Lira went out for the Euro, 1000 lira was worth about 65 cents (very approximately) --just to give you an idea.
  9. Another brilliant analogy: Yambo compares his loss of past to the loss of the third dimension, leaving everything flat--without depth.
  10. Eco ascribes certain fog quotations to certain characters as their favorites.  Is this meant to indicate character traits or the like, or was the determination arbitrary?
  11. Ah, that last sentence!
Finally, what do you think of the nickname, Yambo?  I don't have an Italian copy of Mysterious Flame, so I don't know if the original uses the Y or the more appropriate Ia (Italian generally skips y/upsilon), like J, K, X, and W (except for carryovers from English or French or whatever else), which are phonetically useless.  It doesn't make much sense to examine it in English, which shows itself mildly as "I am," and all it's Old Testament weight, though I can't totally disregard it.  As it is, "Io," is Italian's first-person singular pronoun.  Closer to its spelling, however, is the Italian of the poetry term, "iamb," "giambo" in Italian ("iambo," "iambe," and "jambo" in others of the Romance languages), which, in English, is a trochee, but in Italian, as "giambo" is actually three syllables, contains in its first two an iamb.  I don't know.  Names are usually important, but I can't find anything more than this.  Thoughts?


Alphabet books are a dime a dozen--at least if you can find the crappy ones in the remainder bins at the back of your local Barnes and Noble or thrift store.  Sure, there are some really good ones out there, and I don't devalue their ability to assist an otherwise stubborn toddler's interest in learning the alphabet, but why let someone else do what your kids can already do better?  My favorite alphabet book isn't really an alphabet book at all, but a word book, the Best Word Book Ever in fact (whose vain title reminds a little of Eggers' A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, and whose content is, in its own sphere, equally staggeringly genius), by Richard Scarry, which I grew up with, examined weekly and carefully as a kid sitting in church (at least until I outgrew that particular kids' luxury), and attempted multiple times over the years to replicate.  At once the best kids' dictionary ever and just plain flippin' fun to look at.

I recommend, highly, Richard Scarry's Best Word Book Ever, not to mention anything else done by the man.

While I don't--or can't, really--recommend any one particular "A Is For..." alphabet book, at least not one that's published, as I mentioned before and if you're dealing with kids, make your own!  Way more fun, the kids get more out of it, and it's something they'll be proud to show off, hang on their wall, and mail to Grandma and Grandpa.  I'm one of my own, in fact and appropriate for the blog, that will be titled, "A Is for Author."  Geeky?  Geeky.  Yes!  And fun!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana III -- chapter 2: I AM A BURNING LOG

Cornell's copy of the "First Folio"
Regardless of the edition you have of the book, you should have something pop-culturish to look at on its cover. This ties into the title of the book, which we'll go into a little deeper a little later.  However, I can't let a title like this of a book like this go without at least some minor examination.  "The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana" is an episode title of an old, American adventure comic called, Tim Tyler's Luck, which was translated into Italian.  With this, as well as any flipping-through you might have done (and which, in this rare case, I encourage), I'd like to preface a secondary "big question" for this book: what does pop culture have to do with the formation of our memory--our memory as it applies to our definition of self, inasmuch as Yambo has lost his (memory/self)?  As it turns out, and if I remember rightly, there's a lot more pop culture affecting this highly-learned man's personal history than stuff so highbrow as Shakespeare's First Folio.

  1. Yambo's discourse about jumping reminds me of Life of Pi: (approximately) You run as far as the legs of reason will carry you and then leap.
  2. I wonder (insubstantially; inconsequentially): If we know our own smells and the smell of our home and car so well that we don't even notice them, would Yambo "notice" his own smell, or that of home, car, wife, kids, etcetera?
  3. Considering the other novels mentioned (The Betrothed, Orlando Furioso, and Le Pere Goriot), what do supposed is Eco's position on Catcher in the Rye?  (Having read a lot of Eco's literary criticism and philosophy, Rye doesn't seem like typical reading for study by Eco.  Salinger is a different kind of brilliant (though, in my opinion, certainly no less, and, well, perhaps even greater) than Proust and Joyce, whom he definitely admires and even loves.
  4. The languages from which Yambo quotes a few verses are also Eco's second languages: German, French, and English.
  5. Interesting that Yambo documented fog even before the amnesia.  Any connection, or just coincidence (as author, certainly Eco did it intentionally, but is there anything to this within the confines of the novel)?  Regardless, fog, if I remember correctly, will be a lasting motif and even theme of the book.  How might one be born into a fog?
  6. Yambo's life was fractious before the amnesia.  Does this lower the significance of the amnesia, or mean that anyone who's life is split like Yambo's undergoes his own kind of amnesia?  Or something else?
  7. As alluded to earlier, Eco doesn't do anything by accident.  What of the mention of the Garden of Eden (despite the shtick of the "tree of good and evil")?
  8. Compare the predictions by the tolling clock to the running start before the leap.
  9. ....like Tom Sawyer ... or Luke Skywalker!
  10. Interesting the automatic response (and the Eco thought of it!) of Yambo's old and best friend, who, in the face of him with whom he's experienced nearly everything and with whom the past doesn't need to be discussed, as it's always been present between them, he can't help--and you get the impression the he can't help finally--reliving all those old events.
  11. Such dividing lines are always marked with turmoil--or tumult.  What we were before the event is very different from the person after the event, though, as far as I've observed and experienced, the change after the fault is usually linked directly to the tumultuous event itself, like changing religions, giving up drugs/alcohol, vowing an honest life.  In this case, Yambo, of course, is entirely innocent of the cause of the divide.  Will he change? Certainly he's different now, but will he remain so--changed, for better or worse--once his self has been returned to him or reclaimed?  For instance, he's discovering that he was quite a playboy.  Does he regret it?  Will it cause change?  (There more's substance for discussing this in the next chapter.)
  12. Finally, keep your eyes open for treasure.  For bibliophiles like us (and I'm assuming, I doubt foolishly or presumptuously, that anyone who actually reads this blog must consider themselves, to one advanced degree or another, bibliophilic), Yambo deals daily in treasure; it's his job.  We will come across the "First Folio" soon (-ish?), as well as other treasures, which will offer substance for discussion.
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