Quote of the Day: From J. M. Coetzee’s YOUTH

Self finished reading Middlesex yesterday. Unexpectedly found herself breezing through second half of the book, like a galloping racehorse. Reason for this unseemly haste still a mystery.

Anyhoo, today self is reading Part 2 of J. M. Coetzee’s autobiography, his follow-up to Boyhood, Youth.

On p. 16 (Quite a feat to get here, since today self also had to: (1) read much of the next book she’s reviewing for SF Chronicle Book Review (2) grade tons of student papers (3) read and correct more student papers for three hours at NDNU Writing Center; and (4) watch Michael Clayton!), there’s a description of an encounter Coetzee and a friend have with a wandering milkman. This is South Africa, pre-“truth & reconciliation”. Coetzee and a friend named Paul have missed the last train to their destination, so have decided, on impulse, to walk the 12 miles thither. And, just past midnight, they encounter the milkman. Self thinks the encounter is Chekhovian in the extreme. Moreover, there’s the interesting fact that Coetzee refers to himself in the third person, as “he” (in much the same way that self refers to herself as “self”):

The milkman is young and handsome and bursting with energy. Even the big white horse with the shaggy hooves does not seem to mind being up in the middle of the night.

He marvels. All the business he knew nothing about, being carried on while people sleep: streets being swept, milk being delivered on doorsteps! But one thing puzzles him. Why is the milk not stolen? Why are there not thieves who follow in the milkman’s footsteps and filch each bottle he sets down? In a land where property is crime and anything and everything can be stolen, what renders milk exempt? The fact that stealing it is too easy? Are there standards of conduct even among thieves? Or do thieves take pity on milkmen, who are for the most part young and black and powerless?

He would like to believe this last explanation. He would like to believe there is enough pity in the air for black people and their lot, enough of a desire to deal honourably with them, to make up for the cruelty of the laws. But he knows it is not so. Between black and white there is a gulf fixed. Deeper than pity, deeper than honourable dealings, deeper even than goodwill, lies an awareness on both sides that people like Paul and himself, with their pianos and violins, are here on this earth, the earth of South Africa, on the shakiest of pretexts. This very milkman, who a year ago must have been just a boy herding cattle in the deepest Transkei, must know it. In fact, from Africans in general, even from Coloured people, he feels a curious, amused tenderness emanating: a sense that he must be a simpleton, in need of protection, if he imagines he can get by on the basis of straight looks and and honourable dealings when the ground beneath his feet is soaked with blood and the vast backward depth of history rings with shouts of anger.

Brain Cloud, Tuesday Evening in November: Watching MICHAEL CLAYTON, and a Talk on the Politics of Motherhood

Self dashes into house, absolutely famished. Had nothing to eat all day but one hot dog with pickle relish at Bayshore Century Park 12, where self got to swoon over gorgeous George in Michael Clayton. Of course, right after that self had to floor it to Belmont, where she put in three hours at NDNU Writing Center. When she arrived, speechless (but only 5 minutes late), the other Writing Center occupants were deep into a discussion about in vitro fertilization (!!@@##)

What can self say about Michael Clayton? First of all, watching movies in the old theatre on Bayshore, self is in a continual state of suspense, wondering if this time projector will behave as it is supposed to. Twice before now, projector has failed to run and self has had to leave disappointed. Today, the audio was exceptionally loud, and then suddenly the sign telling people to turn off their cell phones came on-screen. And — nothing else happened for 10 minutes. Finally, one of the extremely forbearing patrons stood up and went to look for management, and then the previews came on, and self got to watch two movies she thinks look really good: Vantage Point (with some of the most handsome assassins self has ever seen on-screen, as well as Forrest Whitaker); and, well, self’s brain cells must be going because she can’t remember what the other preview was at the moment; all she remembers is that it looked pretty exciting.

Self thought Michael Clayton was superb, just superb. She loved everything about it: from the sleek cinematography, from George Clooney and Tilda Swinton’s rightness for their roles (How self loves that Tilda’s body looks like that of a normal woman’s, love handles and all), to the extremeley intelligent script, to Tom Wilkinson’s magnetic voice-over in the very opening scenes (talking of stopping in the middle of Manhattan’s 6th Avenue, and feeling covered with goo), to Sidney Lumet — yes, Sidney Lumet is in this movie, imagine that, dear blog readers! And self thinks this is the best role she’s ever seen George Clooney in, better even than the one in Syriana where all he did was look pudgy and righteous — though Danny Ocean is a close second.

Anyhoo, self had an enormously satisfying afternoon.

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