August 4, 2008

New ways and days deceive

"Truly new ways and days receive, surround you, and yet the same old human race, the same within, without, faces and hearts the same, feelings the same, yearnings the same, the same old love, beauty and use the same." - Walt Whitman, in Leaves of Grass.
I found the above quote while reading an interview at with Michael Cunningham about his novel Specimen Days, in which he uses the above quote as an epigraph. After the success of The Hours and Home at the End of the World, he has written another well-received and innovative novel (actually three novellas), this one featuring..
..three pairs of protagonists: Simon and Catherine, Simon and Cat, and Simon and Catareen; three New Yorks, circa 1850, 2000, and 2150 (or thereabout); and three narrative styles: a Victorian ghost story, an urban thriller, and science fiction.
Or as the New York magazine review put it:
The three novellas—a ghost story, a neo-noir tale, and a turn at science fiction—feel rather like attempts at exorcism. When characters quote the poet, they’re displaying not an affinity but a symptom. A self-destructive boy blurts out lines of Whitman’s verse as if they were the expletives of a Tourette’s patient or the calculations of an autistic. Terrorists cite Leaves of Grass to justify suicide bombings. A robot with runaway emotionality is irritated by an implanted poetry chip, which causes him to say, “I understand the large hearts of heroes, the courage of present times and all times,” to a surveillance drone considering whether to zap him into molten titanium and gobbets of artificial flesh.
I have not read any of Cunningham's novels. Obviously, this needs to be corrected!

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