A Post-Literate Moment With A GhostMonday, December 15, 2008
At about this time the NY Times Book Review chooses the 10 best books of 2008. I was happy to notice that one of the books was Julian Barnes's Nothing to Be Frightened Of. I was so moved by the reading of this book that I wrote about it here, here and here. My happiness was short lived. Buried in the little Up Front introduction by the editors, who chose the 10 books, was this startling paragraph.
Once again we have followed up our compilation of 100 Notable Books of 2008 with our list of the 10 Best. In keeping with the "tradition" the Book Review established in 2004, the final choices divide equally between fiction and non-fiction. The fiction list, compressed though it is, conveys the continuing vitality of imaginative prose in this supposedly post-literate moment.
Can that be true that we are living in a post-literate moment, or even worse, post-literate times?
What does one talk about in cocktail parties these days? I have always noticed that when I travel to the US, bars usually have a neon sign that reads cocktails. Have we superseded the term cocktail to the less glamorous drink in Canada? When you go to a party "where they serve drinks" you cannot ask, "What are you reading at the moment?" can you? The right question would have to be something like this, "Do you Twitter?" And if you really want to be the focus of the party you would answer, "Not only do I Twitter but I also vlog (video based blogging)."
I would be banished (pronounced in three syllables with a mock Christopher Gaze Shakespearian English) since I do not know the difference between a Rob Roy and a gimlet nor do I Twitter (I tried it for a day and became bored), Facebook, Flickr or MySpace. It is amazing how verbs so suddenly transitive can be so close to the concept of the Aristotelian Unmoved Mover. They are impacting our language for the worse.
Vancouver Poet Laureate, George McWhirter is in the process of translating Homero Aridjis's Los Poemas Solares which is the latest (2005) book of poetry by that favourite Mexican author of mine. Until McWhirter finishes you will have to live with my poor translation of this poem that has been much in my thoughts as I think of Julian Barnes's Nothing to be Frightened Of. As I have mentioned before Aridjis is probably as agnostic as Barnes but because he (Arijdis) is a poet and Barnes is not he (Aridjis) has license to believe in ghosts.
Recommendations for a Ghostly Existence
When you walk on the street, don't kiss your loved one,
besides not seeing you, you might scare her.
When you are run over by a car in traffic,
don't worry, it will have driven over air.
In a room with a nude young woman, don't be anxious,
your desire will be the beating of an empty heart.
If at daybreak the cat is staring at you, don't pet her,
her flashing eyes are seeing nothing.
If your dog crosses you without knowing that you are there, you don't
It will have seen a ghost calling it from the other side of the light.
Recomendaciones para la vida fantasmal
Cuando vayas por la calle, no beses a tu amada,
porque además de no verte, la puedes espantar.
Cuando en el tráfico un coche te atropelle,
no te preocupes, habrá aplastado aire.
En el cuarto con una joven desnuda, no te inquietes,
tu deseo será un pálpito en un saco vacío.
Si al amanecer la gata está mirándote, no la acaricies,
sus ojos fulgurantes estará viendo nada.
Si tu perro te atraviesa sin saber que estás allí, no te
habrá visto a un fantasma llamándolo desde el otro lado
de la luz.
Los poemas Solares, Homero Aridjis, Fondo de Cultura Económica, 2005 Mexico
My lovely ghost is dancer/choreographer Lauri Stallings