Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Read and Review

One of the best things about being abroad is the free time I have for reading. Over the past few months I've read over ten books. In the last week or two I've read more than five. Oh yeah, I've put in spoilers. If you care about that shit I advise not reading much more.

I began my trip overseas by reading "Sex at Dawn." The non fiction "anthropological" book primarily argues against the institution of monogamy. The book focuses on the failings of marraige and the trappings of sexual chasteness. The authors argue that humans are sexual animals, one of the more sexual beasts that crawl the earth. The book compares man-beasts lecherous nature with those of chimps and bonobos, who are not only our closest biological relatives but also as driven by their genitals as we are. The testicle size and penile length of our close cousins is even compared to ours. Did you know that human males have the largest dicks, far outsizing the crawling gorillas of the jungle? Women have the largest breasts as well. We are not the top list in terms of testicle sizes, Chimps and Bonobos outsize us. Bummer.

Along with the length and size of our loins the authors also talk about other physiological aspects of human sexual nature including women's tendency to be outspoken while in the act of coitus. Why is that? The authors ask. The writers argue that the tendency for women to be talkative is an alert to let other members of the species that she is ripe, and well willing (at least at the time).

The authors also depict societies in which there is no parental certainty as being advantageous to the offspring. The children are well taken care of as there is no validity to the male parent so the responsibility is shared, and so are the impregnation duties in some societies.

The strength of this book is simple it just restates an obvious fact, humans are highly sexual beasts. When we are not fucking, we are wanting to fuck, looking at each other fuck (usually in some sort of mediated form), and planning on who to fuck next. The problem with human sexuality as it is today hasn't been solved by the glorious institution of monogamy, nor has it been doing much better under the rubric of polyamory especially in "radical circles." It certainly doesn't help that capital is always dabbing its finger into the pudding. Until somehow our world becomes a different place, with different mores, its still tisk, tisk, to human sexuality in whatever its social incarnations.
I love short stories. They are short and succinct. I think the talents of a writer can oft be seen in their ability to weave a short tale. F.Scott Fitzgerald never struck me as a short story type. I found his large collection in a bookstore in San Francisco. I picked it up because it was long and I figured it would pass the time whilst abroad. Its been three months since I read the collection. My recollections aren't that accurate. I don't remember each story, nor do I care. The stories are mainly about a middle class man's love and pursuit of an upper class woman. BORING!!! As a caveat I'd like to mention that if an upperclass woman adored me, with more than her love perhaps some financial backing, this working class prole would be happy. Fitzgerald's fascination with upper class women and adoring middle class men has probably a bit to do with his personal life.

My housemate gave a presentation on a Graham Greene essay. The essay was "Can I borrow your husband," or something like that. The story told of a newly wed couple who come to an inn in Europe or some other banal place. The narrator of the story is a writer onlooking the events. The new bride, whose name is Poopie, a rather unfortunate name don't you think, is unaware of the true gender dynamics of what happens. The couple comes to the inn where a homosexual couple are staying, they decide to stay a little longer in hopes of turning the groom. They jaunt about the countryside with the new groom and seduce him.

The seduction and the stealing of a partner continues, well in some ways, in Graham Greene's novel "The Quiet American." The title is quite ironic, as the antagonist is a rather naive and annoying American. Again the narrator is a writer, a reporter in Vietnam. The narrator is dating a local girl, ooh how exotic. The woman has the bare outlines of a personality, with the majority of her character being flushed out by her sister who merely wants her married off and secure. The antagonist, a bastardly American attempts to steal the local girl away. The narrator and the antagonist have a gut wrenching conversation in the trenches and luckily by the end of the novel the antagonist is dead. Thank the gods for that. A dead American is a quiet American.

I've read a couple Ernest Hemingway books now. I think I wrote about "Across the River and into the Trees" The bookstores here in Bangkok aren't that great. The largest one is in Siam Paragon. Their literature section is poor with classics but little of interest. So I picked up another Hemingway Novel. Continuing on the theme of amorous woman; "The Sun Also Rises: Fiesta" follows a stoic narrator, surprise, surprise. The narrator has an affair with a woman who is engaged. Then she runs off and has other affairs with other men. Everyone goes to Spain to some some bullfighting, very macho! Her finance comes along on the fiesta. The narrator, the fiance, a guy she slept with and one more dude go out to together. Bulls are killed. Sentences are short. The woman runs off with a bull fighter. He is bludgeoned by the jealous ex lover (not the narrator). The fiance gets drunk. The woman stays for a while with the matador. He is young, talented, and apt to hit the ceiling of his talent. Their youthful relationship fails. The woman goes back with the narrator. She needs someone. Hemingway's women are so fickle, oh how typical.

In my continuing pursuit of happiness, or some sort of Thai literature education I've scoured the book stores for more Thai literature. Mad Dogs and Company by Chart Korbjitti is the third novel I've read by the SEA award winner and a definitive departure from the other novels I've read by the author. The story follows a few friends as they grow up in and around Bangkok. The friends become hippies and hang out in Pattaya. They have problems with their families, grinding against institution of the family. They grow out of their "situations" and eventually find redemption and the eventual approval of their family to a greater or lesser extent. Like Hemingway's novels the women in this novel are barely there. The women are wives, or mothers with little to any decision making ability. Poo! Poo! I might become a feminist one day if I keep reading about boring women. It was an okay novel if you like reading about partying and working class thai dudes getting drunk. Oh yeah and the ending is quite trope. One of the friends is a writer who has been forwarded some money to write a book, but at the end, the writer doesn't know what to possibly write about and then... an IDEA! Write about life with his friends. How novel! A novel of 510 pages in fact, which makes me wonder if Korbjitti was paid per page.

While out of chronological order, in terms of when I read them, I think Sightseeing by Rattuwat Lapcharoensap is more than worth mentioning. Lapcharaoensap's collection of short stories is by far one of the best english written pieces of Thai literature that I've come across. I highly recommend this book. The first story is quite amusing and presents a different perspective of the farang experience, and dealings with the west in a different light, with perhaps a hint of resentment. Let me hear it kids! That's right Schadenfreue!

The story; "Farangs," opens with a island thai boy. His mother has been jaded by the tourists that come through, with a fair amount of lineage, the boy's father was an army officer that stayed awhile then vamoosed. The mother's bitterness isn't a part of the boy's pysche who falls for an exotic american girl who, gasps, wears a budweiser bikini. What a slut! The american girl has a fight with her boyfriend. The thai boy has a pig. She sees the bovine and loves the beast. The thai boy is smitten. The boy takes her on an elephant ride. He sees her boobs. They have dinner. He brings the pig. Her boyfriend comes along. "Oh I'm sorry about the isaan prostitute darling, it was all just fun and games." She forgives him. They walk on the beach. The thai boy scolds his misfortune and walks off to the beach. He climbs a tree and consoles his fate with his friend. The boyfriend and that budweiser thong come jaunting along the beach. They see the pig. The male goes on a hunting quest. Aghast the thai boy starts to throw hard mangoes at the stupid farang. The thai friend joins in. They hit the girl too. Well aimed! It was nice to read a story that had a go at some farang.

I enjoyed the story because of its different way of dealing with the West. Thai's normally deal with the West in a couple ways. In "The Ambiguous Allure of the West," a collection of essays on colonialism in Thailand, Thongchai Winichakul writes an excellent essay "Coming to Terms with the West: Intellectual strategies of Bifurcation and Post-Westernism in Siam." The title is long, and the essay excellent. Winichikaul describes the main ways in which the West has been dealt with. Winichakul states that Thais have dealt with the West in a way that has created an almost Manichean division between Thainess and the West.
"Bifurcation is based on interlocking series of binaries that now dominate much public discourse.
West Vs Thai
Other Vs Self
Worldly/material vs Spiritual, religious, moral
Outside/outer vs Inside/Inner
Decadent vs Pure
Public, work vs Private Family life
(p.139 Coming to Terms with the West)

The sense of Thai idenity (kwaambpenthai), Thainess, is a crucial aspect of Thailand and this sense of being is oft created in opposition to other identities. Winichakul points this out in his excellent "Siam Mapped," the daily morning radio programs that talk about what is wrong with other countries, and juxtapose it with how good Thailand is. The problems of other countries are evil while Thailand is good.

Winichakul marks the influence of the West, and the lack thereof on the academy. The author hilariously points out the disappointments of Thailand never having been colonized. An extended quote is worth reading:

While Thais are proud of never having been colonized and of not requiring a European tongue as their second language, the effects of the language barrier on Thai scholarship have rarely been considered. It is certainly politically incorrect in Thailand, and probably even a taboo among Thais, to suggest that Siam may have suffered any negative consequences from not having been colonized. However one negative effect has been a greater limitation of the flow of scholarship between European and Thai languages than in formerly colonized countries, simply because there is a smaller number of scholars on both sides of the Thai-Western relationship who are linguistically skilled enough to facilitate the cross-border flow of scholarship as translators, interpreters, or most importantly , as intellectual interlocutors (p. 147 Coming to terms with the West Thongchai Winichakul).

Hilarious! I would be better read in Thai literature if only Thailand had been colonized, aw schucks!

While keeping in the country I read "Bangkok Pool Blues" a short look at the BKK pool scene by Tom Crowley. Its quite good and gives a quick glimpse at the subculture. It also has a few short looks at some of the characters in the scene. Its quite good and succinct.

I've continued on my noir track in general with "L.A. Confidential," by James Ellroy. I've seen the excellent movie starring Guy Pearce, Rusell Crowe, and Kevin Spacey. The convoluted plot follows the careers of three detectives, a thuggish cop, a goody goody, and a third who is quite fond of drugs and scandal sheets. Ellroy's writing style annoyed me at first. It comes across as almost stream of consciousness. The short sentences are brief and non-attached. The narrative was long and complex. It wasn't especially good but it was good to read as I took in during my extended vacation in koh samui.

The most recent book I've read was much better. Iain Banks "The Wasp Factory," is the second novel I've read by the sci fi author, although this novel, his first, is not science fiction. The first person narrative is told from the perspective of a young man, about seventeen years old, stuck on an island in scotland. He's had some sort of accident when he was young and now spends his time blowing up shit and having imaginary battles around his home. While he was growing up into a hyper violent young man he killed three people, according to him though it was just a phase. The story is driven by the arrival of his brother, who went mad.

The older sibling went crazy as he worked at a laboratory during med school. The older brother was taking care of some children in a hospital late at night. Many of the youths were just born and had deformities. The brother was having difficulty feeding one. The baby giggled and looked at him stupidly. The child had a plate on his head for some reason. A fly came out of the plate. The brother lifted the plate and saw, gasp, a handful of maggots that were laying in wait to be born into flies. The brother went mad.

The story is a bildsungroman highlights both ritual, gender, and the awesome aspects of the grotesque. Its a tight ass book focusing on a young killer.

Speaking of kilers I've read a couple of the Dexter series, out of order. The books by Jeff Lindsay are easy pulpy reads which are not nearly as good as the television series. The books are still quite fun to read. I wouldn't recommend them that much.

Along with all the reading I've also been watching a fair amount of tv series and movies. Notable recent watches have been Suckerpunch, which sucked. There were hardly any boobs in it. A lot of violence, mainly cgi. It was meh.

I saw Rango. It was quite cute.

Finally I've been watching Mad Men. Its excellent, and mainly looks at white people's dealings with gender. Of course the class background is quite important and goes largely unspoken as does the relations between people. The show gains its poignancy by what goes unsaid. It'd probably be easy for some hack academic looking for their master's degree to write about the show and Hollywood's portrayal of gender.

Hopefully I'll do more reading while I'm here, once I remember what words mean.

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