What I've Been Reading | August 2023
Ferrante, Llosa, Bolaño, and Alamariu
More fiction than usual. I’ve been working on projects requiring more targeted philosophical reading, but that’s a matter for another day.
📖 The Neapolitan Quartet by Elena Ferrante
The Neapolitan quartet is a fictional memoir of Elena Ferrante and follows her life in four volumes. The beginning of the Neapolitan quartet is nearly perfect. The story picks up halfway through the first volume and is in full swing by the second. The length measures a life well. The writing is excellent.
However, the primary character became completely uninteresting to me by the 3rd movement so I abandoned it. She’s too self-absorbed and insecure. A pseudointellectual. She interacts with ideas in a purely social way, always seeking approval. One is constantly thinking of Girard throughout the book.
Many reviewers take these books to be feminist, but that seems like the wrong reading to me. I’m not that surprised by the fact that it’s likely, even if not more likely than not, that Elena Ferrante is a man. That’s not to say that it’s anti-feminist or conservative.
One way to understand this book is that it paints anti-models. Characters are, by and large, not that good to each other. Elena approaches a threshold to a better life, but never crosses over it. But perhaps that is too crude. One reviewer wrote the following:
The people who don’t see Ferrante’s genius are those who can’t face her uncomfortable truths: that women’s friendships are as much about hatred as love; that our projections determine our stories as much as does any fact; that we carry our origins, indelibly, to our graves. To imbue fiction with the undiluted energy of life — to make of it not just words upon a page but a visceral force — is the greatest artistic achievement.
I could see myself returning to this series in a decade or two and thinking differently about it. Perhaps it’s not an accident that I found it unbearable at precisely the point when Elena approached my age.
📖 Bronze Age Mindset By Bronze Age Pervert
The author is a committed edge lord, so it’s not clear to know what to take from it. It’s full of wild speculation, humor, and offense – mixed with occasional insight.
There is not enough time, nor enough number of specimens, nor the kinds of “mutations” observed to support either natural selection or Lamarckianism as explanations for evolution. Many of the mathematical models for how a trait will spread in a population have failed—they don’t tell you this.
Tyler Cowen once said “In my view, the so-called “New Right” needs to learn to live with feminization, one way or another. I think of BAP as “Cope” for those people who will not or cannot do so.” That seems largely accurate to me. One should not devalue and dismiss.
In The Ones Who Leave and The Ones Who Stay. Elena describes her friend, Lila, as someone who can think.
She notes that she, like most people, does not. They merely parrot. The author of Bronze Age Mindset, Constin Alamariu (Bronze Age Pervert), can think – or at least poke fun. Say what you will about the substance of those thoughts.
If you’ve never heard of this book before, stay away. Try Nietzsche instead.
📖 Nazi Literature in the Americas by Roberto Bolaño
Amusing and sharp. Especially so if you're familiar with dissident movements.
Essentially, it’s a rogues gallery of fictional fascist literary figures.
Roberto Bolaño said that "much of the time, in reality, I'm talking about the left" in this book. Today, a talented writer could write this book about contemporary communists, anarcho-primitivists, or the dissident right. Constin Alamariu would fit into the last set.
The entries on the female fascists are the most interesting. The last entry is the best, which is likely why Roberto Bolano expanded it into the novella A Distant Star.
📖 By Night in Chile by Roberto Bolaño
Father Urrutia’s deathbed monologue. Tight, fast, hallucinogenic.
There's an obvious political reading to work, but it doesn't seem like the most profitable one. It's a general meditation on disappointing earlier versions of ourselves too. But one gets the sense that Father Urrutia is hiding something deeper, something barely said, and that's what feeds his disturbing dreams.
The Judas Tree! I thought I was going to die right there and then. Everything stopped. Rodrigo was still perched on the branch. The paved courtyard was still illuminated by Selene's rays. Everything stopped. Then I began to walk towards the Judas Tree. At first, I tried to pray, but I had forgotten all the prayers I ever knew.
The Stoics suggest that living well and dying well come together. Father Urrutia does not die well.
📖 Harsh Times by Mario Vargas Llosa
Well done historical fiction. Guatemala in the 1950s. Americans and Dominicans help overthrow a “communist” president, Jacabo Árbenz. Includes the slimy secret service agent, Johnny Abbes García, from Feast of the Goat.
It’s fast and illuminating.
📖 The War of the End of The World by Mario Vargas Llosa
Against this work, however, Harsh Times becomes a merely good novel. This sublime historical fiction is about The War of Canudos. Brutal, senseless, and, at times, amazing.
The battles are propulsive yet exhausting. Mario Vargas Llosa paints one of the best portrayals of religious power I’ve seen in works of fiction. He makes irremediable characters sympathetic. Once virtuous characters lose their senses and character. Life goes on. The desire for salvation remains.
The Counselor brought about that miracle, he turned the wolf into the lamb, he brought him into the fold. And because he turned wolves into lambs, because he gave people who knew only fear and hatred, hunger, crime, and pillaging reasons to change their lives, because he brought spirituality where there had been cruelty, they are sending army after army to these lands to exterminate these people. How has Brazil, how has the world been overcome with such confusion as to commit such an abominable deed? Isn't that sufficient proof that the Counselor is right, that Satan has indeed taken possession of Brazil, that the Republic is the Antichrist?