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Saturday, June 6, 2015

Sheltering whatever

 

Some time ago, I was searching GOOGLE for the The Sheltering Desert about two young German geologists who sat out the Second World War in the Namib Desert when, by sheer serendipity, I also came across a reference to The Sheltering Sky. Reading on, I was immediately hooked by what I had discovered and it didn't take me long to get the book and the movie, both of which have become my favourites (well, my favourites among many other favourites ☺)

You know, the most fundamental delight which literature can offer has something to do with the perception or discovery of truth, not necessarily a profound or complex or earthshaking truth, but a particular truth of some order. This "epiphany" comes at the moment of recognition when the reader's experience is reflected back at him. This is what happened to me when I read this book. For example:

“Before I was twenty, I mean, I used to think that life was a thing that kept gaining impetus. It would get richer and deeper each year. You kept learning more, getting wiser, having more insight, going further into the truth—” She hesitated. Port laughed abruptly. “And now you know it’s not like that. Right? It’s more like smoking a cigarette. The first few puffs it tastes wonderful, and you don’t even think of its ever being used up. Then you begin taking it for granted. Suddenly you realize it’s nearly burned down to the end. And then’s when you’re conscious of the bitter taste.” “But I’m always conscious of the unpleasant taste and of the end approaching,” she said.” Reminds me a bit of Alvy Singer in the Woody Allen movie 'Annie Hall' saying, “There's an old joke: uh, two elderly women are at a Catskill mountain resort [clears his throat], and one of 'em says, ‘Boy, the food at this place is really terrible.’ The other one says, ‘Yeah, I know, and such small portions.’"

“Whereas the tourist generally hurries back home at the end of a few weeks or months, the traveler belonging no more to one place than to the next, moves slowly over periods of years, from one part of the earth to another. Indeed, he would have found it difficult to tell, among the many places he had lived, precisely where it was he had felt most at home.”

...

“Whenever he was en route from one place to another, he was able to look at his life with a little more objectivity than usual. it was often on trips that he thought most clearly, and made the decisions that he could not reach when he was stationary.”

...

“And it occurred to him that a walk through the countryside was a sort of epitome of the passage through life itself. One never took the time to savor the details; one said: another day, but always with the hidden knowledge that each day was unique and final, that there never would be a return, another time.”

The narrator is in fact Paul Bowles, the book's author

“Death is always on the way, but the fact that you don't know when it will arrive seems to take away from the finiteness of life. It's that terrible precision that we hate so much. But because we don't know, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens a certain number of times, and a very small number, really. How many more times will you remember a certain afternoon of your childhood, some afternoon that's so deeply a part of your being that you can't even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four or five times more. Perhaps not even that. How many more times will you watch the full moon rise? Perhaps twenty. And yet it all seems limitless.”

As for the movie, the book's author commented on it with words to the effect of, "How can you make a movie when all the action takes place inside people's heads?" which just about sums it up but it's still nice to watch if only for the grand scenery.