Sunday, August 2, 2009

The snake swallows its own tail

Just finished A.S. Byatt's Babel Tower. It's a story inside a story, inside more stories. At times it felt the novel was just a vehicle for deep analysis on how we use language--- which in part is the spine of its Biblical counterpart. The snake swallows its own tail. She quotes Nietzsche, Blake, Freud, R.D. Laing, Rilke, Simone de Beauvoir.

The dominant narrative is Frederica's story: A young woman, a young mother, highly educated at Cambridge University, is trying to unravel the knot of an abusive marriage in the late 1960's. For her, there has been no revolution. Educated women are trouble. The judge tells her this in the courtroom during her divorce proceedings.

The other major narrative is an allegory set in the Middle Ages--- there are echoes of Chaucer's dispossessed pilgrims fleeing the plague. The world has become too violent, too brutal and so these gentle patricians, these educated souls set out to create their own world. A new world with new rules. Their ultimate decline towards total sexual anarchy is both erotic and disturbing.

We find that the author of the above story, Jude Mason, is a friend of Frederica's. That she in fact recommended the book to the publisher and it is now on trial for obscenity. Much is made of D.H. Lawrence's trial for Lady Chatterley's Lover. Through all of this then is a constant examination of language--- how to manipulate it, parse it--- how its used in education, in law, in poetry, in philosophy, and last but not least, how it tells stories. The snake swallows its own tail.

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