Thursday, 22 March 2018

#Amreading Kureshi, Dermansky, and Nguyen. Am pondering sex in novels.

I just finished reading Kureshi’s The Nothing. The protagonist sits on his wife’s face. Or else, he reams out her arsehole. My sense of smell would not allow me to participate in either scene, and I would certainly not get off on it. Maybe the wife didn’t either – Kureshi doesn’t say if she did. Perhaps she (that is, the woman he imagined) was a masochist and in need of degradation, and those acts had nothing to do with sexual gratification.

Now I’m reading Dermansky’s The Red Car, and her protagonist provides blow jobs and does sixty-nine, on the beach, on a couch, in the backseat of a car, and in some bushes in a park. Maybe that didn’t have anything to do with sexual gratification either. The author describes it as being an essential effort, like trying to do well on SATs.

Doesn’t anyone have sex for pleasure anymore? Or because they are attracted to their partner? No, that question is incidental.
“Please don’t break up with me,” he said. “I need you.”
And, according to Dermansky, she obliged and didn’t.
I wonder if Kureshi’s protagonist would have gotten off his wife’s face if  he had asked him nicely.

But really, I think Viet Thanh Nguyen got it right: Dating in America isn’t about sex. It’s business, he says in The Sympathizer. “A male and a female set a mutually agreeable time to meet, as if to negotiate a potentially profitable business venture.” It’s about investment and gain, whereas old-fashioned romantics see it as courting loss.

Thursday, 11 January 2018


Dry weather going through Texas (no surprise there).

Wet in L.A., but at least no mudslides.

And now for something entirely different (and no, I don't wish I was there! The air is too thin for me in the Himalayas).

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Image from 3bp.blogspot

The novel follows the lives of three families in Budapest through WWII and its political aftermath into the post-communist era. It is a tragic tale, in which the survivors are filled with guilt and regret and the dead continue to wander the streets full of longing.
Irén reflects on the nature of time.
The past is inescapable. It is not only facts that are irreversible; our past reactions and feelings are too. One can neither relive them nor alter them.
We do not appreciate the present. You always realize too late the importance of drawing out the moment while you can, while it is still possible. I was always in too much of a hurry, I just wanted the time to pass.
And when old age arrives, she realizes:

The most frightening thing about the loss of youth is not what is taken away but what is granted in exchange. Not wisdom. Not serenity. Not sound judgment or tranquility. Only the awareness of universal disintegration.

Monday, 23 October 2017


The Gestapo kept Kurt Schuschnigg in solitary confinement except for weekly visits by his wife, Vera. He worried about his son, Kurt Jr., who was not allowed to attend school in Vienna and had to be put into a boarding school in Munich.

Vera to Hermann Wopfner, 26 Jänner 1941
We have now removed the boy from classes, and he studies privately with the director of his boarding school. It is an expensive proposition, but it had to be done. He couldn’t cope with a number of subjects and was at risk of failing in the fall. Under the present arrangement, he has to try harder and learns a great deal more. We hope he will pass. This business of his schooling is really a cross to bear!

Vera to Hermann Wopfner, 28 Feb 1941
You are asking about Kurt Jr. That is a difficult chapter. He could be an excellent student if he wanted to. He isn’t stupid after all, but unfortunately he does not want to study! He is terribly absentminded and playful and has no idea of the seriousness of life. Things are improved now because he is taught together with only one other pupil, so that he can be put under greater pressure. Poor Kurt [Sr.] is very concerned about him. I would like to get the boy into a military academy. Seven new schools have been established on the initiative of the army, and he urgently needs discipline. But it is questionable whether I will succeed. I always come up against difficulties, but in my opinion it would be the best solution for him.  

Kurt Schuschnigg to his brother Artur, 7 Mai 1941

Many thanks for taking my Kurt [Jr.] to the opera! Please keep an eye on him if you can and it’s not too much bother. I would like him to develop some interests, and not just in airplanes and tanks! I’m sometimes concerned about the boy. Of course things aren’t entirely his fault. In the final analysis he is a victim of the times. Vera troubles herself a great deal about him, but she can’t work miracles. He is basically a good soul, but easy-going and immature. I am very attached to him! Well, you know yourself how much wife and children mean to a man!  
(My trans. from Sofort Vernichten, ed. A. Binder and H. Schuschnigg)

Monday, 16 October 2017


After Kurt Schuschnigg resigned as chancellor of Austria, he was arrested on 12 March 1938 and kept in solitary confinement at Gestapo headquarters.  He married his fiancée, Vera Countess Czernin, by proxy in June 1938. She took over the care of his son Kurt Junior. The 12-year old boy was forced to leave school and lived with his former nanny. Vera arranged for private tutoring at her own cost. In 1939 she secured for Kurt a place in a boarding school in Munich.

Vera to Hermann Wopfner, 9 Dec 1938 
[I am supporting the boy out of my own funds.] So far it worked out reasonably well because it was an interim solution with relatively cheap assistant teachers. Now however the question of the boy’s education has been settled with the authorities, which was not easy, as you can imagine, since I had to find people who suited both me and them (and since I can’t send him to school here)…We need two teachers, which is rather expensive, even if I economize in every possible way. It can hardly be done under 200 Marks per month. Kurt and I would be immensely grateful if you could contribute something to this amount – something small, whatever you think fit. Any amount will help us.

Vera to Hermann Wopfner, 8 November 1939
I have decided to send Kurtl to a school in Munich. I have achieved that much last week…he attends the gymnasium in Schwabing in the morning and afterwards goes to the Salesianum, a boarding school. For the time being he will be there only during the day because a room is available only as of 15 November…The boy is quite happy, and this solution provided great relief to me. It was quite impossible to arrange anything here [in Vienna]. I did not even get an answer to my petition.

Vera to Hermann Wopfner, 18 April 1940
Today he is still a child. All I want is that he will recognize later on that I never even for a second distinguished [between him and my own children]. I am just as strict with my own when they do anything stupid. In my opinion one can’t be strict enough nowadays. I have certainly been brought up in an old-fashioned way, but I know that’s not the worst education. Without moral and spiritual principles I would never have been able to win through this time of great sorrow, this ordeal, and remain unshattered. And I want to arm all my children against sorrow – happy times are easy to weather!

(Translated from Sofort vernichten. Die vertraulichen Briefe Kurt und Vera von Schuschniggs, 1938-1945, ed. Dieter A. Binder and Heinrich Schuschnigg)