Friday, May 2, 2014

On Morel and desire in writing

I recently read 'The Invention of Morel' by Alfredo Bioy Casares. I don't usually do responses. But, I also don't usually finish books. I think I should write this anyway because I am troubled by the book. As I write, four other friends are reading it.
To begin with (and a prologue one must go back to after finishing), Borges writes of the form of the adventure story and how many considered it "practically impossible" to derive any sort of pleasure from a formless, psychological novel, one that doesn't rely on plot and shows no overt objective. But, as Casares (and others) demonstrate (and as Borges states), the beauty and paradox in the adventure story is the very fact that things may happen the way we don't expect them to (at least in novels) - "a person may kill himself because he is so happy...lovers may separate forever as a consequence of love..."  The idea of unacceptable literary inventions is very comforting.
In most reviews I read, the book is described as a work of science fiction with a romantic plot at its core. Again, this is only my interpretation but I disagree. In fact, the novel is hardly about anyone else but the narrator/self. It's quite a treat for someone like me, who spends copious amounts of time with themselves. Why I don't take too seriously the label of romance is because the narrator very early in the story locates and describes, almost deifies an exotic buxom bodied gypsy woman with a red scarf. That's probably the first of the many "images" we begin to live with in this story. From then on and as we discover at the end, the narrator, for me, is already trapped in a loop of a moment-before-meeting. He hesitates, plots chance encounters, glances, reads gestures, gets disappointed and starts over (I almost beamed at his pattern, he is like me in love). What should one make of this tendency to locate an object of admiration and then circle it incessantly with the image in one's head? The distance between that, then making the leap beyond imaginary encounters and then disappointment of real people is for another day.
There is a lot to write about. For instance, it always struck me as odd that some ancient cultures thought photographs steal your soul. This story has to be, by far the most convincing explanation. But, I'll end with my favorite changing painting : Princes of the House of Timur, originally started by the gifted Safavid master-painter, Mir Sayyid Ali in 1549. (The link above gives a comprehensive history of the painting) The short story is that once commissioned by grandfather Humayun, this painting became symbolic of a legacy of Mughals as Timurids and subsequently, Jahangir got it altered to reflect his version of the family story. The painting is very interesting not only because it is a deliberate attempt to retell personal and royal history but it confirms (my) suspicion that stories are seldom about beginnings, ends or plots in themselves. On closer inspection, stories often betray an interwoven strand of desire. As Casares's hero meticulously placed himself just steps ahead of Faustine and Jahangir's sons looked upon him with reverence (or did they?), the buried hearts of those who made these stories peep out from within.

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