William Faulkner understood The Catcher in the Rye as this, “His (Holden’s) tragedy was that when he attempted to enter the human race, there was no human race there…. until he either gave up or was himself, by himself, by his own frantic buzzing, destroyed.”
This book is a funny one. Not blatantly entertaining but surreptitiously so. If somebody hands you a classic, they hand you a perspective to go with it. And gradually, as you read it, your mind’s eye recedes and your understanding of the protagonist becomes submerged and buoyed in the immediate nature of the story. And a story like Holden’s, with its undefeated realism, seems stagnant. But is it really?
Holden is an intelligently sensitive character. He demands your complete attention or nothing at all. As a reader, you can only inhabit either one of the extremes. The story he narrates to you is but an echo through his own becoming. He reels you in in how carefully and incisively he tells his story. I observed that his telling of his own despair, his hopelessness, his aloofness, his angst, is ultimately how he shields that very depressive realism of the world from the world. Let me explain.
Depressive realism is the state of letting go of delusion. The very notion that a certain kind of living can make you feel happy, loved, worthy, and accepted is what’s challenged here. In Holden’s story, this is a fine education, women, friendship, and parenthood. Examples of this view are everywhere in the book. What if, on the contrary, you viewed Holden as not a tragic hero or a great American teenager, but as a flawed human being? You recognise his naïveté as a part of growing up. His pinching indifference as the drawing out of a psyche that is more complex than the world would want him to believe.
I remember contemplating Siddhartha’s spiritual journey in Herman Hesse’s novel as a solitary one. The ironic completeness of his protagonist through enlightened and carnal pleasures and Siddhartha’s conscious approach to living them. Through The Hero With a Thousand Faces, the portal of change and illumination is revealed once more. Though less lyrically and more symbolically. You can read it as a profound guide to the consistency and relevancy of myth suffused in history, religion, psychology, and spirituality.
There is something truly revealing about Joseph Campbell’s manner of writing. It questions modern psychology and myth through the lens of human plight. It threads the ascend and descend of human endeavor: highlighting its rusty and familiar bits. You read it not as a scholar would to cultivate an interpretation or hypothesis. The structure is not dogmatically dragging. It’s individual and consciously aware – it’s hopeful.
Self-reflection is never possible on a collective scale. It’s never about the others, it’s always about you. Such lonely and shape-shifting contemplation and confrontation with the self can seem alarming and intimidating. But this book makes it easier. So to reflect on the staggering and revelatory questions of life on a human level, to respond to it through your psyche alone opens up a new, deeper understanding. Then you have the tools to achieve self-reconciliation and gain back the beauty and terror of human nature.
It is possible, I believe, to awaken the memory of myth as it is to get closer to symbols and stories. To explore the labyrinth of self-expression and consciousness again, in its vital and resplendent capacities, and find in them the prophetic oneness of human psychology. Is it the otherness of human life that makes you understand yourself? Or is it your own reflection you are so afraid of learning about when you do?
“Why did they make birds so delicate and fine as those sea swallows when the ocean can be so cruel?”
To read Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and The Sea without remembering its contemplative and thrilling playfulness is difficult. I haven’t read much of Ernest Hemingway besides A Moveable Feast though I have all of his works; The Old Man and The Sea, in its entirety, is the loneliest book I’ve read in a long time. It’s more than enough to read about a gruesomely tiring tale of an old fisherman and a fish. But to have the little boy cast a spell of more solitude and persistence in the old man gives you, the reader, a deeper sorrow to swallow.
Hemingway once wrote, “Writing, at its best, is a lonely life.” And that if a writer is good enough he is destined to “face eternity, or the lack of it, each day.” This is deeply and eloquently mirrored in Hemingway’s writing. Those simple words do more than their definitions to illuminate a desolate and cruel world. A world in which old age is often spoken about for longer than it is understood.
This book doesn’t speak of old age. Nor does it show you what it’s like for the world. The structure and language are omnipresent in that they offer you a voyage where you inhabit the vast nature of the sea and the undying and unforgiving nature of the old man. And how the roles keep reversing from one to the other.
You say this is just a story about an old man unwilling to let go. I say this is human nature. To find something that serves you and to see an image of yourself reflected in it, no matter how young or old and small or big it makes you, something that you know better than anyone or anything, and it knows you. I figured it doesn’t matter whether you lose or win to the world. You’ve already won by never giving it up.
Does all deep and unfortunate pain that is closed off and suffocated turn into distorted and excessive desire? The kind of yearning that, in imagination, relinquishes and claims the stillness, the emptiness, and non-existence of time’s passing. So what is to be is you and your desire and everything you do to prove, to nobody but yourself, that it still is yours. . Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby is often misconstrued as a romantic novel. The sort in which our character, Jay Gatsby, falls in love and abandons himself in a dream. Through an ironic display of grandiose materialism and wealth, he seeks to take back and pardon those lost years between his conquest, Daisy.
And there exists our protagonist, Nick Carraway, though solitarily. As he fastens his grip on the knife’s sharpest edge, you see characters like Jay Gatsby, Daisy, Tom, Myrtle, and Jordan taking shape. Their unconscious movement and uniformity arouse complete dormancy of identity. Is that tragic? What stroke of living could possibly negate the nausea of such self-deception? Or is it that the few who do survive sail in the same boat that goes “against the current” and shoulders the weight of “the past” as Nick Carraway?
The Great Gatsby exists in the known and the unknown. It tests its limit on how far you, the reader, can go before injuring the innocence of each of its characters. So the most predictable way of navigating this tragic and loathsome story is to perceive in it a different kind of beauty. A beauty that exists not as a quality in the lives of the characters but as a beauty that lets us into their self-serving psyches as a standard of desire and its unending pursuit.
A deeply disturbing story that evolves through time as it shifts and surpasses the boundaries of literary worlds. What if what we perceive as the boundaries of our objective universe isn’t the only space we inhabit? The story of Perfume and the provocative and redolent sphere it creates definitely makes a good argument for it.
It inhabits a blip in time; a black hole of the universe’s most cruel joke which is to become an accessory to fragrance. Now, we think of fragrance as having a more meek quality. Imagine a world where we were the meek ones. It can be mystifying, titillating but knuckled under a growing horror. Perfume: The Story of a Murderer discovers the atoms and molecules of such a world in its every breath. It’s a celebration of the living world but carried out through its destruction.
The book is full of effulgent descriptions, the poetics of perfuming, and finally, murder blanketed as a sensual remedy for isolation. The path it takes is profoundly imaginative, horrific, and unpredictable. It’s not a historical tale, not a mystery, not a crime novel, nor is it horror. Most of the time, the stamp of a book is not what it is for the world, but what it becomes, detached, for itself. And that’s exactly the kind of book Perfume: The Story of a Murderer is.
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