By Wislawa Szymborska
Translated by Clare Cavanagh and Stanislaw Baranczak
Nothing can ever happen twice.
In consequence, the sorry fact is
that we arrive here improvised
and leave without the chance to practice.
Even if there is no one dumber,
if you're the planet's biggest dunce,
you can't repeat the class in summer:
this course is only offered once.
No day copies yesterday,
no two nights will teach what bliss is
in precisely the same way,
with precisely the same kisses.
One day, perhaps some idle tongue
mentions your name by accident:
I feel as if a rose were flung
into the room, all hue and scent.
The next day, though you're here with me,
I can't help looking at the clock:
A rose? A rose? What could that be?
Is it a flower or a rock?
Why do we treat the fleeting day
with so much needless fear and sorrow?
It's in its nature not to stay:
Today is always gone tomorrow.
With smiles and kisses, we prefer
to seek accord beneath our star,
although we're different (we concur)
just as two drops of water are.
Paul took the van, since his doesn't have air conditioning and it was predicted to be nearly 90 degrees here, so I stayed home all day and did work, the most significant portion of which was a review of Star Trek: The Next Generation's "Parallels", a.k.a. the episode in which Worf and Troi are married and Riker goes nuts. I meant to get a bunch of other things done, but I ended up reading in one sitting Never Let Me Go. Quite often when non-science fiction writers grab hold of a sci-fi premise, it ends up turning into an overblown and not very original novel -- see The Road, or rather don't read or see it unless you love Viggo Mortensen a lot more than I do -- but I was curious about Never Let Me Go because a couple of reviews of the film made it sound like a pretentious riff on a Michael Bay movie, and I figured any novel by the author of The Remains of the Day must have more going for it than that. In fact, I was wrong.
Spoilers: I know that in Ishiguro's 's novels, we're expected to admire repression while at the same time never blaming the oppressed for fitting themselves with a minimum of fuss into the roles in society that have been carved out for them, but in Never Let Me Go -- which is supposed to be a moving and profound meditation on what it means to be human -- I felt only irritation and a sense of being manipulated, followed by outrage not on behalf of the characters but at them. It's narrated by a woman, who, naturally, wants little more out of life than love and understanding, which to a very great degree is true also of the other main female character, her friend and rival. They have what's supposed to be an idyllic childhood at a boarding school, except it's obvious very early on that there's nothing idyllic about it, though they can be forgiven for not knowing that. But when they're adults and no longer completely isolated -- when they learn that they are, in fact, clones, who are expected to care for dying clones until it's their turn to give up their own organs one by one and die -- they never fight this fate, never try to subvert it among themselves or with others, and the only thing they really want out of life is to get a few extra years to Find True Love.
I don't care if it makes me anti-literary or insensitive; I prefer Bay's The Island, shallow ripoff sci-fi schlock in which people find out they're clones bred for replacement organs, get upset, fight their way to freedom with guns and car chases, and prevent further clone abuse by blowing things up. It's absurd, with mediocre acting (except Sean Bean as the villain, of course) and terrible pacing. I'd rather watch it ten more times than see Never Let Me Go, even with the generally awesome Carey Mulligan. By the end of the novel, I'd concluded that although humanity itself had predictably (and didactically) become dehumanized by treating clones as less than human, the clones were less than human; even the ones raised in the exclusive school where they were taught art and poetry in the hope of proving that they have human souls grow up devoid of passion. Which I suppose is the point, but it made it impossible to root for anyone. I'm told regularly by the media that it dehumanizes us to witness violence, but these people would have seemed much more human if they'd killed those responsible, or random people who refused to take up their cause, or even themselves just to thwart the system. They didn't even think of it. They seemed completely phony, clones and non-clones alike.
Hmm, that's the longest rant I've written about a book in ages; my policy for the past several years is that if a book hasn't grabbed me by 30 pages in, life's too short to bother finishing it, so I must have been engaged on some level with the story before it started to enrage me. And thematically it ties in nicely with the evening's Smallville season premiere -- don't get me wrong, I'm very glad the show is back, but I wasn't all that happy with the episode, though for a few minutes the storyline sounded so much like one of the Christopher Reeve films that I expected Clark to learn to fly and make the world spin backward. Spoilers: I might have enjoyed that more than what we got -- I don't like that Tess and Lois both required saving and that Chloe put her sanity at risk over Oliver, though at least Clark put Lois before a street full of strangers, meaning he has the same weakness. I was willing to forgive that they brought back a Lex who wasn't Michael Rosenbaum, particularly Little Boy Lex, but even creepy older man Lex, until he wore out his welcome by rewriting first season history and asking us to buy that version of events -- after Clark first saved Lex, the clone says, something new had crept into Clark's heart: "Pride." I liked it much better when it was lust.
Fannish5: Name five characters who would hate attending a family reunion.
1. Alan Shore, Boston Legal
2. Sirius Black, Harry Potter
3. Gary Ewing. Knots Landing
4. Ares, Xena
5. Ray Kowalski, Due South
The other significant event of my day was celebrating Daniel's birthday with my parents, who served us awesome Greek food -- Daniel had wanted gyros, which I don't eat, but I had falafel, spanakopita, tiropitakia, potatoes, and some kind of eggplant dip that was delicious -- plus a giant cookie birthday cake, which was also what Daniel wanted. We rewatched Jon Stewart's interview with King Abdullah on the rerun of last night's Daily Show because I thought it was excellent and really wanted the others to see it. After Smallville, Daniel wanted to watch some Monty Python -- he got Stewart's Earth and a Monty Python calendar as early birthday presents -- so that was our evening!
Daniel with my mom and his birthday cake.
And Daniel with us and his birthday cake.
A chipmunk at Penn State.
A lorikeet at the National Aviary.
Birds in the wetlands.
A hibiscus in North Carolina.
A bee at Longwood Gardens.
And goslings at Washingtonian, because, GOSLINGS.
Farewell Eddie Fisher. My mother used to sing "Oh My Papa" -- she lost her own father at a young age -- back when I was much too young to know who Elizabeth Taylor was. I'm not sure I knew who Eddie was either before I saw his daughter in Star Wars, but I will never forget the song.