Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Five top books on modern misery

Renata Salecl teaches law at the University of Ljubljana in Slovenia, her native country, and is also the Centennial Professor in the department of law at the London School of Economics and Visiting Professor of Law at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law. Her publications include The Tyranny of Choice.

One of five top books on modern misery that she discussed with Tom Dannet at The Browser:
by Tim Winton

Next book?

Tim Winton’s Breath. It’s a novel about a main character Bruce ‘Pikelet’, who as a teenager becomes obsessed with surfing, and who, with his friend ‘Loonie’, starts observing an old surfer, Sando, who used to be an ideal in their little town, and who knows how to catch the best wave. The whole story is really about the enjoyment one finds in transgressing the boundary between life and death, and coming close to death but not dying. It starts with the boys trying to be underwater as long as possible and afterwards it becomes an obsession of going to the edge in many ways. Loonie becomes more of a favourite of Sando, but Bruce finds other enjoyments by starting a sexual relationship with Eva, Sando’s partner. When Sando picks Loonie as his surfing partner, Bruce is left hanging around the house with Eva, and a seduction happens, so, at the age of 14, he is introduced into sexual pleasures which are also an unbelievable edge for him.

What’s interesting are the descriptions of the surfing. It’s the most wonderful description of coming to the edge, searching for ever new extremes, coming to the point of death, and then at the last second avoiding it. A lot of the scenes are when you almost think the two characters have drowned and somehow then they resurface.

I chose it because it picks apart our search for enjoyment in today’s society, and shows how that is often linked to near-death experiences. It’s really interesting how overwhelmingly present the search for extreme sports is now. In Slovenia, as a small country, we have an obsession with people climbing the Himalayas, so every year there’s usually one or more people who die there.

The idea with a lot of these extreme sportists is they’re searching the edge – what death looks like. There is an enjoyment, where again Freud was right: where Eros and Thanatos go hand in hand. Although we try to avoid death in today’s culture, with extreme sports we are actually endlessly testing it, trying to master it, to a point.

The book sounds fairly optimistic.

It is in the end, but it’s definitely about death drive and the search for the ultimate transgression of life, and the sexuality intertwined with it. The main character says that when a surfer finds the most extraordinary wave, that’s the only time he has lived; and you endlessly search for them to the point of killing yourself. You expect that you might lose your life but it’s worth it: that’s the ideology behind it.
Read about the other books Salecl tagged at The Browser.

--Marshal Zeringue