Books that have ruined me, Pt. 2

The Tartar Steppe, Dino Buzzati

 

Maybe they picked the title up from a ‘great books’ list; maybe it was an Amazon recommendation; maybe – my case – they had read and enjoyed a book of short stories from the author, had memorized its name, and by coincidence a Portuguese publisher had just put out a new edition, which happened to be displayed prominently in a bookstore’s shelf.

My point is: if you find a copy of The Tartar Steppe in your impressionable teenage child’s bedroom, do everything you can to divert their attention to something less psychologically damaging, such as bestiality porn or footage from the Srebrenica massacre. If, alas, they have finished it already, you might want to consider euthanasia. I know it is never an easy decision (aside: for me, there are no easy decisions, partly because of this fucking book), but do try to see it as saving someone from a lifetime of mental anguish.

 

 

Part cautionary tale to parents and future parents of teenagers, part reflection on the long-lasting impact of the 20th century’s greatest literary works, (large) part mental masturbation, with a dash of a cry for help… Stay tuned for more Books that have ruined me! (there might not be any)

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Books that have ruined me, Pt. 1

Waiting for Godot, S. Beckett

You ever read Waiting for Godot? I have – we had to read it at school. About ten years ago, actually – unintended coincidence. I read it as En Attendant Godot, of course, though. As far as I know, Beckett wrote both the English and French versions himself, though I don’t know which came first. Also, as far as I haven’t read the play in surely five years and probably seven or eight and haven’t even stretched my left arm to pick the book up in order to write this text, most of what follows might well be inaccurate, which fact in no way affects the eventual validity or stupidity of the point I’m trying to make.

As an aside: go read the play. If I understand my so-called readership, you are likely to be an adult, the mental frameworks through which you perceive and process life solidly in place and almost fully fleshed out. Sure, books still manage to affect and move you on occasion, but this movement (hah) is mostly minute and occurs within set confines from which you are now unlikely to escape, for good and bad. And it is a transcendentally good play, after all.

 

Anyway, my point is: for me, life is structurally identical to Waiting for Godot: everything is always the same, except worse.

WfG has two acts, which are supposed to represent consecutive days. In each of these acts, the two main characters, Vladimir and Estragon, old friends, tramps, meet after an absence; they interact; two other characters, Pozzo and Lucky, come in; they all interact (more or less); Pozzo and Lucky leave; a boy comes in and says that Mr. Godot could not come today, “but surely tomorrow”; he leaves; Vladimir and Estragon decide to leave.
In Act Two, however, everything is slightly or significantly worse. Where Vladimir and Estragon were delighted to meet again, they are now indifferent or vaguely bitter towards one another. Warmth replaced by spite, cheer by gloom, optimism by despondency. Pozzo, superb and tyrannical, is now blind and helpless. At the end of the play, Vladimir and Estragon try to commit suicide, but fail. They say “I think we should be leaving now.” “Yeah, that’s probably a good idea.” (or maybe “On y va?” “Allons-y.”). End. The second act is much shorter, too.

 

This is how I see life. Each day like the previous one. Each month, each year, too. Endless sameness, always. But worse, always. You lose a bit of something each time, with each iteration of sameness; everything is a copy of a copy of a copy and deteriorates accordingly. If WfG had about five thousand acts, multiple sets, and shittier dialogues, what would distinguish it from life itself?

At some point, your daily ten hours in front of a computer started meaning constant back pain that wouldn’t go away in the remaining fourteen. Same, but worse. At another point, the prospect of an evening with friends began to fill you with indifference or irritation rather than anticipation and lightheartedness. Same. Worse. At yet another, the thought of making year-end balances or plans more than two days in advance would just seem pointless, because the future would come, maybe, or not, whatever, and the past had gone, stick it in a box, store it somewhere, never go back to it, and all that mattered was the present but that wasn’t that great either, but all that mattered was that Mr. Godot would come, tomorrow, yes sir, surely tomorrow, so you went through with it all a little longer.

 

Fuck this. What makes it all worse is not even knowing to which extent all of the above is true. Is it merely an amusingly quirky mental distraction that I presented as truth in order to increase its appeal? Or have I just managed to uncover the mental paradigm through which I frame all of life? Same, but worse. It just fits. So is any of this true? It so, can it be helped?

No, fuck that. What makes it all worse is occasionally coming upon that quote of Beckett’s that goes “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” Fuck you, Sammy B, I might do all of that if I hadn’t been driven to lifelong dejection by reading your stupid fucking play.