“This disputatious stance, the aggressively marginal sensibility, the disavowal of community ties, the taste for scrutinizing a social event as though it were a dream or a work of art — to Zuckerman this was the very mark of the intellectual Jews in their thirties and forties on whom he was modeling his own style of thought.”
– “The Anatomy Lesson”
Maybe it’s pure jealousy that prevents me from appreciating the Ghost Writer. I’m basically Alvin Pepler minus the graphic memory, of course it would be harder to witness his confidence and certainty of his own literary talent at the beginning of his inevitable ascendance, than to entertain his newly acquired swagger at the peak of his sudden fame at mid-age in the second book. But it’s no accident he would be so successful in his lifetime. His writing appeals to (this is not to suggest in any way opportunistic exploit) certain WASP fantasy of being alienated as an alternated ego, like how the life of a vagabond would appear full of excitement to middle class home owners, with the added flavor of a misunderstood sage. “Stand alone. Like Swift and Dostoevsky and Joyce and Flaubert. Obstinate independence. Unshakable defiance. Perilous Freedom. No. in thunder.” Saying the same thing five different ways to exhausted all nuisances, and then, a punch line for good measures. His mastery of the English language is of the populist kind too, “one-liners” readily made to entice a knowing smile for the average Joe. And I do mean that as a compliment. Joyce requires total submission on page 1 and punishing endurance for each page after in exchange for just a glimpse of his dominance of the English language. I cannot count how many times I’ve put down Ulysses in utter exasperation, together with the other three books of annotation and explanatory notes. It’s purely because of my OCD, which prevents me from leaving an unfinished book weighing on my conscience, that I’m now on page 650, a year and a half after I picked it up for the first time. But when I do understand a paragraph, after rereading it for the fifth time, my God I’m always in awe that this kind of erudite is possible to a human being. It’s a miracle, i.e. a genetic abnormality, cause it’s not otherwise achievable by aspiration and hard work. A graphic memory for words and the even greater power of association. Isn’t it said that talent in any field is just the ability to making connections? I was smitten by Beckett’s innovative approach to words when I read his trilogy. Looking back he was to a large extend paying homage (I don’t want to say imitate) to his master. In a sense they both mock their own talents by exposing the inadequacy of words. Beckett’s approach I want to say (risking casting stones on things I didn’t even begin to understand) is of a destructive nature. Each sentence is masterly constructed but putting together it becomes this shapeless, monstrous thing that you see in a low budget horror movie. In comparison Joyce’s is deeply rooted in the literature legacies (see the Oxen Sun) and thus of a more constructive kind. Maybe it’s because my meager comprehension power, when I read a passage in Ulysses that mimics a certain literature style, I often cannot be sure if he intended to be satirical or he just writes like that cause he can. And on a whole it does have a disciplined structure, it does not have to make conventional sense but it’s a highly elaborated system with rigid rules. They might be equally outlandish, the difference is everyone knows what a monster is when seeing one, but it takes educated guess to figure out what a complicated machine is intended for. Back to Philip Roth. He pegged himself, every other page, as the Jew universally hated by all other Jews, you can’t get More alienated than a man outcasted by his own alienated tribe, the only other man boasted an equal status is Jesus Christ the Word. “A Jew set free even from Jews — yet only by maintaining self-consciousness as a Jew.” Like every “Who am I” in the book has an underlying “I’m Zuckerman the Writer” (both direct quotes), the apparent mud-sling in Carnovsky has an underlying “Only I can say this because it’s part of me” (not a quote). Self-mockery is a show of strength, and add the sense of representation you have Carnovsky, or really, Zuckerman. But isn’t that a bit like Ryan Gosling in The Believer? Or, if we really want to be cynical, Tim the Dentist in Jerry Seinfeld (played by the then young Bryan Cranston with wavy hairs nonetheless) who converted to Judaism solely to tell Jewish jokes? The appeal of alienation though, as said earlier, is universal. So it’s probably no wonder that I came to “identify” with him, of course in my smallish, secret way. Swap every word of “Jew” with “Chinese” and it’s a book I wish to write, I would have written if I have not lost my ability to write in, well, Chinese.