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Friday, 24 October 2014

The optimist aggiornato

Watching an interviewwith Antoine Wilson about his beautiful Panorama City. He says that he tried to write about the Quijote, which led him to Paul Renfro, a character in the book, which has a whole outsider view of life and people in his medium-sized urban assemblage. He views thinking as something that is proscribed and engages heroically in finding time and environment to do some of it - and in a systematic way. Renfro, for instance, when asked about the basic questions that guide his thought, says he hasn't gone so far as to be able to really know what the basic questions are. But Wilson confesses that he lost interest in the thoughts of Renfro, so he became the occasional companion of the main character of Panorama City, Oppen Porter. Porter is a Sancho Panza but also comes out as a Candide of sorts - Wilson says he discovered he was doing a Candide and not a Quijote in the middle of the process of writing. In any case, the book navigates the space of the optimists and investigates what does it take to be an optimist these days.

Maybe Porter's high dyslexia drives him towards his optimism: he is obliged to find in people what others find in books and in social networks and in otherwise reading-dependent media. He lives an oral life. Replacing talking by reading is the topic of Emmanuel Egudu, character in Coetzee's Elizabeth Costello. Egudu argues that in Africa people interact so much that there is no time for novel reading. It is also what makes Joyce remark that an evening in a pub in Dublin would provide conversation worth of a novel he would then not write. Porter seeks oral life - he doesn't write, he records his deeds and thoughts in a tape for his unborn son Juan-George (thinking that he, Porter, will die before Juan-George is born). It is meant to be a written book registering an oral life by oral means. It is like literature spying on non-written life. Thought - praised and stimulated by Paul Renfro - is one of the many things that appear in Porter's life and thinkers tend to bundle together just like professionals, or cyclists, or owners... After forty days in Panorama City, Porter goes back to his natal Madera where he decides he can be a man of the world - and not a 9 to 5 worker. (When in Panorama City, a job in a snack chain shop made him feel discouraged without ever loosing his optimism.) To become a man of the world is, for him, to become a fully aware optimist. Men of the world is something that makes sense mostly in oral contexts, where people had to travel to be acquainted to places and peoples. Back in Madera, he can be a man of the world. The book itself is thoroughly sweet and uplifting but it leaves this bitter taste: is orality and optimism being put at the service of producing commodities for those who live among the written letters?

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