Sunday, 31 July 2011

The October Country

I have many books, some I've read and reread many times, some I've wanted to read but haven't quite gotten around to reading yet. The October Country, by Ray Bradbury is (was) one in the haven't-quite-gotten-around-to section. What a delightful surprise.

The first two short stories - I didn't mention that The October Country is an anthology - seemed to me like out-takes, seemingly incomplete and unrelated snippets (I thought the book was a novel), but I persisted; the third called, The Watchful Poker Chip of H. Mattise, struck me like a thunderbolt.

Bradbury is a true master: "an author whose fanciful imagination, poetic prose and mature understanding of human character have won him an international reputation" as a New York Times critic croons across the expanse from that October Country shortly after the harvest of American literary greats.

The juxtaposition of mass culture and avante-garde culture, from a distance in time (my perspective) confirms to me the greatness of Bradbury's insights into human nature. His book should be required reading in sociological departments of all learned institutions, from Tartu to Harvard.

This gem made me realize that the non-descript dullardry of mass culture gave birth to, made possible, psychoanalysis and then these post-modern art- and literary- movements that would have never come to be weren't it for the stifling culture of conformity, shimmeringly incipient in the 18th and 19th centuries and exploding in our times; the story made me realize that human history is not told or written about but lived in restlessness and repose, balance and counter-balance, yin and yang, in culture and counter-culture.

We have a huge problem of suicide by Inuit in these times as if we are tacitly aware of something that we cannot quite put our finger on nor articulate into a self-consistent form much like a boorish drunkard who doesn't quite realize he is really a nihilist at heart. The recent Inuit narrative is one of colonialism and general feelings of having been conquered by an alien force that comes with it but one that was by and large bloodless and no rising up in arms to resist the occupation.

This foreign occupation has brought with it its own sense of place and identity and displaced (violently or otherwise) the aboriginals' with no foreseeable promise of satisfaction and psychological re-settling proffered in turn. This unsettled spectre so far has not found its center, its zeitgeist, its counterpoint, its own voice as other conquered peoples have (the Scots, the Irish, the African-American, the Greenlanders, the Maori, etc.) as it is all yet caught up and entangled in the mesmerizing wonder and loathing of that which is seemingly denied and inaccessible riches of the other. We put on the make-up and costumes but we walk funny and ackward, not used to the high-heels, not used to seeing ourselves and feeling beautiful, not yet secure in our own skin which is our own unrecognized beauty.

Many more will die meaningless deaths for this is not a clinical issue nor a question of mental illness but a disease of the identity and the collective heart; sadly, whose cure cannot be prescribed, only transcended with hard-won, conscious effort by the sufferer. The October Country has lots of artisans but no artists, lots of technicians but no original creators, lots of slumber but no dreams, no reinvention, no ownership of the narrative...

Jay

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