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"In the city of my birth, I had a dream..."
The Anatomy Lesson by John David Morley 
13th-Mar-2006 11:55 pm
One of Kethylia's Random Author Reads(tm), and, as I suspected, it was worthwhile.

Anyway, I'm going to try to catch up on a really painful reading backlog this month. Think I can do it? ^^;;;;;

Morley, John David. The Anatomy Lesson. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1995.
Summary: Kiddo has always felt like he lived in the shadow of his older brother, the genius Morton. However, Morton develops terminal cancer and, influenced by his apparently inexplicable interest in Rembrandt's painting, insists upon having a public autopsy. It is only afterward that he learns that his brother was influenced as much by love as by hate and that he raped Pietje, the girl that both brothers loved.
Comments: A surprisingly elegant novel that reveals its complexities at a measured, leisurely pace in spite of the brevity (in actuality, the perfect word count for the author's intentions) of the text itself. This is a coming-of-age novel, so of course central to the novel's concerns is to show how Kiddo learns an important lesson growing up. In this case, he learns to let go of his brother, who looms large in his psyche even after he dies. He learns that his brother's soul was riven with hate and that that hate was corrupting him from the inside out. He learns that he never really knew his brother. And so forth. Yet, the way in which Morley weaves together images of death, of physics, of anatomy, of art, and of character development lends itself better to a wholly emotional, irrational immersion, not an impartial analysis. It'll touch you deeply even before you've figured out what message you want to take from it. In fact, one of the most interesting elements, for me, was also one of the least important--the Dutch ethos of social responsibility and how it influences, at least from the perspective of someone who does not fully approve of the welfare state, ambition and motivation.
Notes: hardcover, 1st American edition, out-of-print
Rating: 7/10 - Lovely writing and just enough food for thought to make this short novel feel well worth your time.
14th-Mar-2006 02:40 pm (UTC)
The summary makes it sound weird^^
14th-Mar-2006 02:42 pm (UTC)
No weirder than the usual stuff that I read. *points to her many recent reads* Surely you can't dispute that. XD XD
15th-Mar-2006 02:50 pm (UTC)
Good point^_^
15th-Mar-2006 02:59 pm (UTC)
Innit, though? *grins evilly* You'll never guess what I'm reading now...
15th-Mar-2006 03:04 pm (UTC)
Let's just say that I wouldn't read half of all the novels you're reading. The cover art or summary alone would make me put the book back on its shelf^^
15th-Mar-2006 03:09 pm (UTC)
I'm a literary omnivore. Given the right mood, I'll read almost anything. ^_~

*curious* Anything that I read recently in particular that made you cringe? ^_^;
15th-Mar-2006 03:16 pm (UTC)
Nothing in particular. Just that the recent stuff has my eyebrows up and wondering what the authors were thinking to write such novels^_^
15th-Mar-2006 03:19 pm (UTC)
Heh. Lemme guess...that Barker novel gave you a reflexive twitch?

It's terrible, though. The more I dig around, the more I find that I want to read.
15th-Mar-2006 03:22 pm (UTC)
Not that one. I'm not really intrigued by any of them but the recent list of gay novels you've been reading has me going slightly WTF?^_^ Mostly because they sound like morbid fantasies or the writers trying to exorcise their demons through writing.

Like watching a train wreck huh?^^
15th-Mar-2006 03:27 pm (UTC)
Mostly because they sound like morbid fantasies or the writers trying to exorcise their demons through writing.

That's a common impulse. ^_~ The trick is to do it well.

You know, a lot of writers don't like being pigeonholed. Joyce Carol Oates hates the term "women writer." Michael Cunningham doesn't want to be a "gay writer." Except that Oates wouldn't be where she is now if from a literary perspective she weren't a woman (obviously); ditto with Cunningham being gay. Especially for Cunningham--his writing didn't get GOOD until after the AIDS epidemic had taken its toll and affected his life personally. A Home at the End of the World is explicitly a result of immediate coping; The Hours, considered the most "literary" of his novels, is best understood as long-term coping.
15th-Mar-2006 03:31 pm (UTC)
Of course not. It gives the impression that they're being belittled and that they're writing within a small niche for a specific audience. If I were a writer, I wouldn't like it either.
15th-Mar-2006 03:36 pm (UTC)
But doesn't it sound somewhat self-hating? I mean, you ARE female...you ARE gay. And if being female or homosexual somehow suggests a limit the scope of your writing, aren't you merely reinforcing that notion by decrying the evils of the label?

At least from an academic perspective, the labels are descriptive, not defining--and very useful. But then, I'm quick to tell you that some writer is a rich white guy, too. *chuckles*
15th-Mar-2006 03:40 pm (UTC)
Self hating? I haven't really thought about it like that. More like that people only see ONE aspect of me and focus on it, be it my skin colour/gender/race so it's a bit irritating that way. As if your worth is determined solely on that aspect of you.
15th-Mar-2006 03:43 pm (UTC)
When people say that they're "just a writer" (as opposed to black, woman, lesbian, gay, American, Southern, etc.) it seems like they're whitewashing their own experiences, saying that they don't matter. Anyone who says that who they are in isolation is more important that how the world sees and shapes them--is being naive.
15th-Mar-2006 03:50 pm (UTC)
Well, I don't know about other people. But for me, I just try not to allow people to make a big deal out of whatever aspect they're fixated on. Doesn't mean that I dismiss it or whitewash it^^
15th-Mar-2006 03:53 pm (UTC)
Well, I think it's one thing to point out that you're more than the just a label and another thing to reject labels applied to you entirely. We live in a world that categorizes people, and ignoring that is like ignoring the ground beneath our feet. :P
15th-Mar-2006 04:00 pm (UTC)
I'm guessing those who have such a strong reaction to labels have been objectified in a way all their lives. I kind of know what they feel, but as you point out it just makes you look guilty to protest that much.
15th-Mar-2006 04:02 pm (UTC)
One of the things that Oates in particular argues is that that "writer" is a profession that, like "police officer" or "firefighter" or "garbage collector," always is gendered male by assumption...and I don't agree with that at all. At least, younger Americans don't think that way.
15th-Mar-2006 04:04 pm (UTC)
Perhaps in her time it was so. Actually, in many parts of the world it's still seen as referring to men. When you tell them the writer is a woman, there's always a moment of surprise.
15th-Mar-2006 04:09 pm (UTC)
Heh, but, as these are American writers violently rejecting labels and, like many Americans, the world begins and ends in the US, I'm not convinced that these sorts of arguments are valid on the basis of their own assumptions. :P

It's foolish to hope that everyone can be the same and no matter which way I stack it in my head, pretending certain pre-defined differences don't exist merely exacerbates the problem. Did you see the article I posted? *gargh*
15th-Mar-2006 04:12 pm (UTC)
Then it means that even as Americans they must have experienced some unpleasant encounters. Otherwise why would they protest so much?

Not pretending that they don't exist exactly. But when you're 'different' all you want to be is 'normal'. Never mind that it's a misguided attempt at best and they can't even decide what normal means^_^

I saw it but I didn't read it yet. It's been a turbulent few days at my place.
15th-Mar-2006 04:18 pm (UTC)
Then it means that even as Americans they must have experienced some unpleasant encounters. Otherwise why would they protest so much?

No, no, no--it's an EGO thing. See, "woman writer," according to Oates, means that you write girlie fluff, and she doesn't write fluff, so she doesn't want to be called a "woman writer." See how in this argument she's accepting the essential negative premise? It's self-hating and self-defeating.

But when you're 'different' all you want to be is 'normal'.

Not necessarily true. You sound like one of those people who'd want to "cure" their own homosexuality. :P Sometimes, people just want acceptance and the freedom to be whatever weird thing they choose.
15th-Mar-2006 04:25 pm (UTC)
That's how she understands the term? Wow.

*dies laughing*
No, no! I just want to be seen as a normal person. Not having people constantly make a big deal out of things. So I guess freedom to simply be is my desire^_^
15th-Mar-2006 08:04 pm (UTC)
Actually, whether assimilation (aka normality) for all or freedom to be whatever you desire should be the goal IS an important issue. ^_^ Law professor Kenji Yoshino wrote a book recently about that, actually. I cut his article into my LJ awhile back. Did you get a chance to read it?
15th-Mar-2006 08:56 pm (UTC)
I read it. Though since it was written by a lawyer I had to grin and bite my tongue for how wonderfully polite and politically correct it sounded^_^ None of the anger or accusations one normally sees in such essays.
15th-Mar-2006 09:44 pm (UTC)
*shrugs* Language aside (and I thought it was pretty level-headed AND accessible--something not all lawyers do), he made some really good poins.

Though, while I agree that any improvements should be as inclusive as possible, liberalizing, say, marriage laws does not address the past half of total discrimination--which is why affirmative action and the specific targeting of specifically-named groups is also important. *sighs*
1st-Apr-2006 01:26 pm (UTC)
Review archived.
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