Monday, December 29, 2008

Chronicles of our formation (Books & film - Man in the Holocene by Max Frisch & Seven Up)

Had a lovely holiday with the Ragazzo's parents and then made our way back across Pennsylvania over two days, stopping to visit with friends. In that time I finished Max Frisch's Man in the Holocene. For those of you wondering what exactly the Holocene is, as I did, it is the name for the geological era spanning from the Ice Age through the times in which humans created their civilizations. So we are still in it. Frisch's book is an unusual and humane piece of modernist fiction. It chronicles a few days in the life of Geiser, an elderly man living on his own in the mountains in Switzerland. As landslides threaten the safety of his home, so too is his autonomy threatened by the encroaching challenges of age. He is a researcher by nature, and he collects knowledge to build a fortress of security, as though by the assembly of facts he will protect himself from danger. The text in the book alternates between sparse third person narrative and bits of text collected by Geiser - encyclopedia entries, excerpts from books on geology, and notes he has taken. It is fascinating how these scraps of text, each apparently modest in themselves, assemble to form an intimate narrative of man under siege. I don't want to say more specifically what unfolds, as, if the novels holds any pleasure for the reader, it is in the unpretentious surprise delivered by its simple events.

Also to enjoy under the category of simple pleasures, if you have not yet taken in Michael Apted's sociological documentaries of children in Britain starting with Seven Up, when they were seven years old in 1964 and checking in with them every seven years through (so far) 49 Up, filmed in 2005, then I highly recommend them. The series begins by treating the children like real human beings, asking them questions about class, love, education, and politics. They are charming, funny, touching, remarkable documents of real people that are an object lesson in the influence of both nature and nurture on how human beings create themselves. Most painfully apparent to me in watching the first two films was the deep roots of class differences. Gorgeous pieces of work.

I have begun, and am hoping to finish The Archivist's Story by Travis Holland before the year is out. The novel is about a literature teacher turned prison archivist in Stalinist Russia who must investigate an unauthorized piece of writing by a writer he very much admires - Isaac Babel. It has begun with a lot of promise.

1 comment:

Beth F said...

Interesting review. I hadn't heard of Man in the Holocene. Sounds like a different kind of read; I'll have to keep it in mind.