Busytown by Jolisa Gracewood

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Busytown: What was lost

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  • Jackie Clark, in reply to Jolisa,

    Her memoir made for very good reading, Jolisa.

    Mt Eden, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3136 posts Report Reply

  • Jolisa, in reply to Jackie Clark,

    Putting it on the list - ta!

    Auckland, NZ • Since Nov 2006 • 1472 posts Report Reply

  • Carol Stewart,

    I wonder if you've got any thoughts on the post 9/11 literature, Jolisa?Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely loud and incredibly close would be one example; also the writings of Jonathan Raban over in Seattle, both fictional and non. You probably know of lots more.

    Wellington • Since Jul 2008 • 828 posts Report Reply

  • recordari, in reply to Carol Stewart,

    One post 9/11 I would recommend, which I was just reminded is based in Lahore Pakistan, was The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid. My recollection is that it was subtle and thought provoking, and raised many questions about identity and patriotism.

    I haven’t read Extremely loud and incredibly close, but it’s in the pile already.

    AUCKLAND • Since Dec 2009 • 2607 posts Report Reply

  • Creon Upton, in reply to Rob Stowell,

    The symbolism of the twin towers falling was profound

    Yeah, it was. But more than that, it generated a whole symbolic world, a whole order of meaning-making that -- though obviously intimately associated with "real world" (and appalling) events -- was somehow always detached from them in a way, allowing them to go on, because the language never became real, remained the language of, well, sentiment and Hollywood basically.

    Bush vs bin Laden, Bush in his flak suit, "terror", WMDs, caves, operatives, stars and stripes, training camps, infidels, enhanced interrogation, etc etc.

    And I don't mean there's no truth to those things -- but that the truth, the reality, (whatever you will) lies somewhere so distant from this metalanguage that it could never be accessed through that language.

    And reading Jolisa's piece was so refreshing for me, having come from those other threads where there's so much earnest talk about "reality" when I feel like there is no possible apprehension of such reality that is not utterly predetermined by the language of what seems like some abandoned, early script of Wag the Dog.

    Cos I think that when you're dealing in symbolic language it can only have real meaning at a very private level I guess.

    And while you're right that hopefully this can bring back some sanity to the world, it does upset me that it's happened without any abandonment of the symbolic narrative -- the shoot-out, the Dead Enemy, God bless those Navy SEALS, and God Bless America, etc etc. Cos we just couldn't bear the tedium of an actual trial, of disclosure, of truth -- of actual humanity in all its flavours and contradictions and uncertainties and absurdities.

    So (and I've really surprised myself at my level of interest) I've felt a kind of double-sadness: there's the sadness and grief that finally comes when a painful thing finally passes; but there's also a sadness at seeing how the world remains so swept up in a symbolic discourse that it allows itself to cheer when it should be sad; to gloat when it should be quiet; to pontificate when it should reflect; to view a single, pathetic death as a victory for righteousness when we are all so very very far from being righteous.

    Christchurch • Since Aug 2007 • 68 posts Report Reply

  • Islander, in reply to Creon Upton,

    O- welcome to the real haphazard nothing-means-anything & nothing means any thing world Creon!
    Been here since beings got up on their hinds - or otherwise developed social brains- and started thinking- and realised their thinking meant bugger-all.
    Their love for each other is the only meaning - and, since we developed that marvellous tool, science, whatever rationales & knowledge we can hand on to the next generations.
    All we can do otherwise is bask in the extreme beauties -and horrors - and terrors - and utterly wonderous music of our little pale blue dot, as it is- JOY!

    Big O, Mahitahi, Te Wahi … • Since Feb 2007 • 5643 posts Report Reply

  • Creon Upton,

    True enough, Islander, true enough. Funny how we (or I at least) need reminding now and then.

    Joy, huh?

    I'll keep my eye out.

    Christchurch • Since Aug 2007 • 68 posts Report Reply

  • Islander, in reply to Creon Upton,

    And your ear in- I live a place of bird music, which helps - but the other sounds we can store, from drums, human voices, all the world of birds & our musics and the long sound of the sea...it's our's-

    Big O, Mahitahi, Te Wahi … • Since Feb 2007 • 5643 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Islander,

    And your ear in- I live a place of bird music, which helps - but the other sounds we can store, from drums, human voices, all the world of birds & our musics and the long sound of the sea...it's our's-

    OMG, how freaky. I was just lying in bed contemplating getting up, and I ran a program on my Android, which creates a choice of ambient sounds. I selected bird songs, drums, ocean sounds and a low hubbub of people talking, all pleasantly relaxing.....

    .....until a loud chirrup in my ear announced that one of my American colleagues had seen me come online on Skype, and he wanted to discuss a bug in my code. That sort of thing never happens in my idle fantasies of a simple life by the shore.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10657 posts Report Reply

  • recordari, in reply to BenWilson,

    .....until a loud chirrup in my ear announced that one of my American colleagues had seen me come online on Skype, and he wanted to discuss a bug in my code.

    Codus interruptus.

    <01100011 01101111 01100001 01110100>

    AUCKLAND • Since Dec 2009 • 2607 posts Report Reply

  • Jolisa, in reply to Carol Stewart,

    Great question, Carol... I'd need to get my head around that before answering at length. I'd have to say I think I prefer books that allow the subject in sideways, rather than tackle it head-on. And more and more seem to do that, in a way that's both subtle and authentic. Allegra Goodman's The Cookbook Collector (a sort of rewrite of Sense and Sensibility set during the dotcom bubble) was one recent example.

    I tried to read Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close when it first came out, but it felt too soon. And also, somehow, a bit off; the precocious child narrator didn't quite do it for me (and it's probably telling that I think of the title as Extremely Loud and Incredibly False). Apparently I wasn't alone, but it would be interesting to try it again.

    Like Jackson, I loved The Reluctant Fundamentalist -- a quick and beguiling read, with bonus attraction for anyone who's ever flirted with the world of management consulting. But I read the ending three times and am still not entirely sure what actually happened, in the end. (Dunno if that's a failure of writing, or of reading). Coincidentally, there was a really nice piece by Mohsin Hamid in the Guardian the other day, on the strain (or absence thereof) of inhabiting two places and two languages as a child.

    James Hynes (whose earlier academic fantasias I absolutely loved) tackles 9/11 obliquely in his latest novel, Next. Alas, I thought it rang false at every level, but enough people loved it that The Believer just picked it as their novel of the year. Go figure!

    Here's an interesting article on which of the early 9/11 novels still stand up - I've read two of the three mentioned, and wasn't crazy about them. Again, go figure.

    Would love to hear other people's recommendations and impressions - thank you for the question, Carol!

    Auckland, NZ • Since Nov 2006 • 1472 posts Report Reply

  • Jolisa,

    A couple of serendipitous links via my twitterstream from the last few days: James Wood, writing in October 2001, about the possible impact of the attack on the novel in general, and novels about New York in particular:

    Fiction may well be, as Stendhal wrote, a mirror carried down the middle of a road; but the Stendhalian mirror would explode with reflections were it now being walked around Manhattan.

    And then Zadie Smith's brilliantly stroppy reply the following week -- "writers do not write what they want, they write what they can":

    I want to defend the future possibility of some words appearing on pages that will be equal to these times and to what I feel and what you feel and what James Wood feels; that is, this fear that has got us all by the throat. He argues against silence and against intellectual obfuscation. He says: tell us how it feels. Well, we are trying. I am trying. But as DeLillo dramatised (again, in White Noise), it is difficult to discuss feelings when the TV speaks so loudly; cries so operatically; seems always, in everything, one step ahead.

    (Both worth reading in full, of course).

    Auckland, NZ • Since Nov 2006 • 1472 posts Report Reply

  • Jackie Clark, in reply to Jolisa,

    Oh, I've just got the Cookbook Collector out of the library! Good. I also enjoyed Don deLillo's novel, Falling Man.

    Mt Eden, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3136 posts Report Reply

  • Carol Stewart,

    Thanks Jackie for that suggestion. I have Falling Man sitting on my bedside table (snapped up at a school book fair, of all places) so will move him up the queue. The Reluctant Fundamentalist is now on my list too.
    Jolisa - thank you very much for your interesting thoughts. I quite enjoyed Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and was interested to note that it's on the EngIish syllabus for my teenage nephews who go to school in Perth, WA (Perth Modern, amazing school). More, I think, as an example of postmodernism than anything else. The manic tone seemed strangely appropriate in the context of the novel being about a nine year old boy trying to make sense of it all.
    I mentioned Jonathan Raban's books before - I just finished reading Surveillance, a novel set in Seattle in 2006 in an atmosphere of ramped-up fear, paranoia, spying and prying, all in the name of homeland security. It's a very subtle exploration of these themes, I think. One of the reviewers reckoned he'd reach for it first if putting together a 2006 time capsule.

    Must get back to work now, but will quickly note that Kim Hill is interviewing David Mitchell on her show tomorrow, at 11:05. I didn't realise that he is himself a stammerer and is going to talk about that - he described it so, so well in Black Swan Green. (now, that was a case study in how to do a young narrator).

    Wellington • Since Jul 2008 • 828 posts Report Reply

  • recordari, in reply to Jolisa,

    But I read the ending three times and am still not entirely sure what actually happened, in the end.

    You are not alone on that one. What did happened? I need to read it again, possibly more than once.

    AUCKLAND • Since Dec 2009 • 2607 posts Report Reply

  • Jolisa, in reply to recordari,

    You know what, I think (on reflection) that the ending of The Reluctant Fundamentalist is meant to be unfinished, wide open and (like the title) completely ambiguous. It's a little frustrating, given the thriller-like structure of the novel, not to find out What Happened; but I think the author very cunningly holds up a mirror to our own prejudices and expectations, showing us that the dots can be joined in many different ways to make many different pictures. (I also think that had he come down on one side or the other, readers would still have been mad or frustrated, just more simplistically so).

    Interesting round-up of the reviews here.

    I love this particular thought from an interview with Mohsin Hamid:

    I was, in four and a half years, never an American; I was immediately a New Yorker

    That's definitely what I was trying to get at, about why the attack on New York felt so fundamentally wrong. Not that an attack on, say, Disneyland, or the Mall of America, would have been in any way right. But an attack on New-York-as-America is just wrongheaded. When you're inside the place, New York is in some powerful way not really American, but truly global in its composition and outlook - a cosmopolis, a world-city, not a nation-city.

    NB This might be just a collective fantasy of the inhabitants, but it feels real -- and here I thank Creon for enthusing about the value of the symbolic -- and so I was thrilled to see Hamid put it into those words.

    (Is there a NZ parallel - 'I was, in four and a half years, never a New Zealander; I was immediately an Aucklander'?? OK, maybe Wellington?)

    Auckland, NZ • Since Nov 2006 • 1472 posts Report Reply

  • recordari, in reply to Jolisa,

    (Is there a NZ parallel - 'I was, in four and a half years, never a New Zealander; I was immediately an Aucklander'?? OK, maybe Wellington?)

    Yes, Wellington. I only lived there for a year 22 years ago, but tend to support Wellington teams and associate with a 'Wellington State of Mind', to continue the analogy.

    On the Fundamentalist, I think you might be right. Is this the precursor to a terrorist act, or merely a reflection on the alienation of the individual from the world in which they inhabit? Either way, we have to decide where our sympathies lie, and what that says about 'US'.

    AUCKLAND • Since Dec 2009 • 2607 posts Report Reply

  • Ross Mason,

    Dubya - but mainly his henchmen - lost the plot when he announced "you are either for us or against us". He wasn't doing too bad up to that point. Everything afterwards was/is a sham. The lies, the deceit, the gas, the oil.

    And isn't Asia is much pleasanter way to get to Europe these days......

    Upper Hutt • Since Jun 2007 • 1590 posts Report Reply

  • recordari, in reply to Jolisa,

    OK, maybe Wellington?

    Ok, so I only just had the chance to watch that video. Talk about 'Warning!' That's not quite the 'shirts off' for Wellington I remember. Mine was more poets, dealer galleries, Downstage, the NAG and Iconographers, but YMMV.

    AUCKLAND • Since Dec 2009 • 2607 posts Report Reply

  • Rob Stowell, in reply to Creon Upton,

    Completely expectedly, the New Yorker has an interesting and varied round-up of its writers’ reactions.
    You might be curious about how US law interprets the ’rules of engagement’ (bin Laden was apparently classed as an enemy combatant).
    Comments following are less-than-convinced.
    There’s so much more that could- and no doubt will- be said about the symbolism. But thank goodness: no photos.

    Whakaraupo • Since Nov 2006 • 2110 posts Report Reply

  • Rob Stowell,

    What was (also) lost: Diana Wynn Jones. :-(
    (also a good article about Chch in the latest Werewolf- thanks Gordon Campbell)

    Whakaraupo • Since Nov 2006 • 2110 posts Report Reply

  • ChrisW, in reply to Ross Mason,

    Dubya - but mainly his henchmen - lost the plot when he announced "you are either for us or against us".

    Bush may have said this later, but in the first instance he put it in more profoundly extreme binary form - "either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists." This on 20 September 2001 in a speech (to the world) in Congress - highlighted here from an impeccable contemporary source.

    In this form, it's easy to see that Bush's proposition will have been a specific encouragement to many on the other side of his forced dichotomy to take him seriously and decide to be active terrorists.

    Gisborne • Since Apr 2009 • 851 posts Report Reply

  • Kyle Matthews,

    (Is there a NZ parallel – ‘I was, in four and a half years, never a New Zealander; I was immediately an Aucklander’?? OK, maybe Wellington?)

    Several people have posted here in recent months about how the earthquake made them realise that they were from Christchurch in ways they hadn't thought of the city before. In terms of an event affecting your thoughts of place.

    Since Nov 2006 • 6243 posts Report Reply

  • Lynley Chapman,

    Jolisa I have just read the article, based on this post, in KiwiParent and wanted to let you know that I was deeply moved by what you wrote. I had missed your post here earlier this year.

    It is one of the meatiest, indepth pieces that has appeared in that magazine for a long, long time.

    The photo of the young man holding the placard with the quote on it "Any man's death..." speaks profoundly to me.
    Thank you for such incisive, authentic writing.

    Porirua • Since Aug 2011 • 45 posts Report Reply

  • Jolisa,

    Lynley, thank you so much for these extraordinarily kind words. And thank you for joining here, in order to say them. I hope you'll stick around!

    Auckland, NZ • Since Nov 2006 • 1472 posts Report Reply

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