Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘totalitarian regime

“Invitation to a Beheading” by Vladimir Nabokov

This indirect review is extracted from “Reading Lolita in Tehran” by Azar Nafisi.

Nafisi had invited 7 of its students to her home “sanctuary” to discuss literature, primarily English books. For two years, the students showed up every Thursday morning, rain or shine, with reading assignment completed and noted down in diaries…

The original Russian version was published in installments in 1935, and the English version was published in 1959.

Nabokov begins with the announcement that Cincinnatus C., his fragile hero, has been sentenced to death for the crime of “gnostic turpitude”: All citizens are expected to be “transparent”for the common “good feeling” of the community…

Worse, a condemned person to death has this “privilege” of knowing the time of the execution. Cincinnatus C was not to have any idea when his time has come. This is one of the many arbitrariness of the system.

In fact, the executioner, Mr. Pierre, is the cell-mate of the hero, and the hero doesn’t know it. The two prisoners must learn to befriend and cooperate in the act of the execution…

Everything in the cell is fake: the windows, the moon, the spider in the corner…The director of the prison, the jailer,  the defense lawyer are the same person: They change roles and positions.

The world of the novel is one of empty rituals, celebrated in a gaudy feast: Every act has no significant sense, and death is a spectacle that citizens are invited to purchase ticket to watch the execution…

It is through these empty rituals that Brutality becomes possible. This close relation between banality and brutality is expressed by the term “Poshlust

Poshlust is not simply the trashy exhibitionist: It is the falsely “importance, beauty, cleverness, attractiveness…” of authority figures, politicians, the dominant classes…that are required to display…

What standout in the novel is this nightmarish quality of living in a totalitarian atmosphere of perpetual dread…The forces of Evils are also frail creatures and ridiculous, and can be easily defeated: This tragedy of total waste…

Cincinnatus C. is fighting with his instincts and he takes refuge in writing as means for escape, an open space: He refuses to become like all the rest in the community.

In totalitarian and theocratic systems, citizens poke fun at their own miseries, in order to survive, one day at a time: There is no knowing when the arbitrary and absurd decision strikes down

You are completely alone in an illusory world, full of false promises, unable to discriminate the savior from the executioner: An acute sense that reality is fickle and frail.

And yet, when all options are taken away, there is this possibility of a boundless freedom: You could invent to be the violin or be devoured by the void in the empty room...(I am reminded of the movie of the Marquis de Sade who wrote erotic novels, and when all options to write were denied him, even with his blood, he used his excrement to write on the walls of his prison cell…)

At the start of the first session, one of the girls shouted “Upsilambda“. This word is Nabokov’ creation , a possible combination of the 20th Greek letter and the 11th letter. It might signify that vague sense of joy, the impossible joy of a suspended leap, a symbol for a sensation that separates the good readers from the ordinary ones…

Nabokov novel is the modern time initiator to many other novels that tried to describe and express what goes on in totalitarian systems, like “1984” by George Orwell or Fahrenheit…

Note 1: Nabokov wrote in the foreword of the English version: “This novel does not offer “tout pour tout”: It is a violin in the void…I know…a few readers will jump up, ruffling their hair…”

Note 2: To Azar, the work of fiction that would most resonates with lives in this Islamic Republic of Iran are:

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark, 1984 (George Orwell), Invitation to a beheading (Vladimir Nabokov), Lolita (Vladimir Nabokov), Persian classical literature, A Thousand and One Night, Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austin), Madam Bovary (Flaubert), Daisy Miller, The Dean’s December, and of course Lolita

“Fahrenheit 451” by Ray Bradbury (written in March 28, 2007)

The novel “Fahrenheit 451” is set in the USA, around the year 2450 as the “citizens” have given up on reading books, and reverted for instant audio-visual communication media, or at best, very abridged versions of the original work.

The firefighters’ job has changed into burning book,s and people in their residences are doing their best to holding on to their private libraries. The trend is to substitute the “how to do things” for the “why things are done”.

And the historical processes, which led to the current life style in the most advanced country, are relegated to seeking continuous fun and never caring for the consequences of these attitudes that are demanding only safety, comfort and peace of mind, and forgetting the responsibilities toward the neighbors or the under-developed countries.

            In order to bring his main idea into focus, the author Ray Bradbury loads his novel with quotations from famous writers. The firefighter Captain Beatty has reached a desperate state and wanted to end his life; thus, he pushed so hard the firefighter Guy Montag to react to his harassment and of burning his apartment, along with the few books that Guy stole while burning private libraries, which Guy had to burn with Beaty’s fire torch.

Before this event, Beatty is talking to Montag about a fictitious dream he had, and the dialogue between him, the Devil, and the righteous Montag. Most of the dialogue are extracts from famous writers such as: “Sweet food of sweetly uttered knowledge,” in contrast to “Words are like leaves; much fruit of sense beneath is rarely found”

And  the following quotations “A little learning is a dangerous thing; the shallow draughts of the Pierian spring intoxicate the brain, and drinking deeply and largely sober us again;” or “Knowledge is more than equivalent to force;” or “He is no wise man who will quit a certainty for an uncertainty;” or “Truth will come to light, murder will not be hid long;” or “The Devil can cite scripture for his purpose

Or “The dignity of truth is lost with much protesting;” or “A dwarf on a giant’s shoulders sees the farthest of the two” to be retorted by “The folly of mistaking a metaphor for a proof, a torrent of verbiage for a spring of capital truths, and oneself as an oracle, is inborn in us;” or “The terrible tyranny of the majority; the solid unmoving cattle of the majority who is the most dangerous enemy to truth and freedom.”

Latimer said to Nicholas Ridley, as they were being burnt alive at Oxford for heresy in 1555,  “Master Ridley, we shall this day light such a candle, by God’s grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.”

Ray Bradbury had this outlandish notion, fifty years ago, that the visual memories of what we had read are stored intact, and a technique will be developed to retrieve the contents of books. Consequently, the intellectuals who fled from the cities to the countryside, wandering like hobos along the old railroad track that is no longer used, have each of them specialized in memorizing a book or sections of books when the current Dark Age is over.

This new version has a coda by the author that focus on the new realities in book publishing, where the publishers are taking liberty to self-censuring sections and paragraphs that are deemed hurtful to the powerful minorities so that they might sell better and avoid group harassments.

For example, the supporters of dwarf, orangutan, dolphin, nuclear non-proliferation, environmentalist, Neo-Luddite, Unitarian, Irish, Italian, octogenarian, Buddhist, Zionist, Women’s Lib, and so forth want to impose and interfere with aesthetics.

Consequently, books that focus mainly on a single gender or race or a nationality or use detailed descriptions on the diversity in culture and life style are vigorously classified as non-publishable.

Most of books are revisited and abridged for high school readers that render the style of the books alike. For example, Twain read like Poe who read like Shakespeare who read like Dostoevsky.

Digressions which are the sunshine, the life, and the soul of reading are scraped in these abridged versions; consequently, if we take-out philosophy away from Dante and Milton works, for example, then what stays are dry bones.”

It is no wonder why every organized minority has as a priority to own its publishing business;

It is no wonder that I feel the US novels are all the same in style and composition and are no longer exciting if we are seeking variety, innovation, and contradiction.

Note: You may read current accounts on this topic in https://adonis49.wordpress.com/2011/09/18/who-is-controlling-the-present-controlled-the-past-is-set-to-control-the-future/


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

October 2020
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