It’s our tenth anniversary this year so I and my lovely spouse are just getting into the nitty gritty of the planning as August progresses. One of these plans is for a matching tattoo. I have a few — including a larger piece on my arm — but it’s my lovely spouse’s first one. I’m really enjoying guiding her through the process, helping her decide where she’d like to place it and collaborating on the design. She’s watched me get all of my tattoos, and I’m looking forward to watching her get her first.
It feels like I really need something to look forward to right now. Work has been really crushing, enough so that we’re delegating some of it. I’ve been tired enough that my summer cold is stubbornly hanging on, and yesterday I found my first two grey hairs. Getting older doesn’t scare me for the traditional reasons. I don’t care so much about looking my age, but I worry about whether the stress is aging us faster than I want it to. What it’s doing to our overall health and robustness.
We clearly need some time to relax and take life a bit easier than we have been lately.
How Spooky Is It?
There’s no doubt that Autobiography of a Corpse is a very spooky title, and that’s initially why I chose to read it for Halloween in August. However, the book is more than just a spooky title. The eleven tales contained in this collection of some of Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky’s stories each contain a pervasive sense of the uncanny and of a narrator that exists out of step with time and space. For readers of traditional scary stories, this book will allow you to expand your horizons into more fantastical spaces. But if one is a strict adherent of classical structures and themes, this perhaps is not the book for you.
My favourite stories were:
The titular one, in which a man about to commit suicide writes to the successor of his small room of his struggles with the self and the self in relation to others, as well as a figment that continually haunts his mathematical way of thinking about existence.
‘Yellow Coal’, where the world goes through an energy crisis and scientists discover that they can harness the power of human spite to solve the problem.
‘The Unbitten Elbow’, in which the narrative follows both a man whose ultimate goal in life is to bite his own elbow, and what the media and society does when his story goes the 1920s equivalent of viral.
As you can tell by my extremely short summaries, Krzhizhanovsky is an extremely creative writer. His ideas seem outlandish, but he has an ability to turn them into a very real and profound statement on every subject from politics to human nature. What I truly enjoyed most about the collection was seeing where the narratives led, and what point they ended up making, because usually it wasn’t obvious from the start just where Krzhizhanovsky was going. It made each story a very compelling mystery in and of itself and, for me, that more than made up for the fact that the structure was sometimes looser and stranger than is usually my preference.
A Bit Too Much at Times
It wasn’t so much the strangeness of the narratives that grated at times but the philosophical aspects of the stories. There were paragraphs that dragged and a few extra pages that could have been avoided due to explorations on themes that I would have preferred not to delve into — mathematics or complex theory. A lot of these stories have their primary focus in an internal struggle with the self and how the self fits in a life that must be lived alongside and with others. There’s a lot of exploration of if the self is lost once a person enters into a relationship or throws oneself into a task or a study. While Krzhizhanovsky explores this in astonishingly interesting and fantastical ways, there is still a lot of philosophical language and argument to read through as well.
Autobiography of a Corpse is literature first and spookiness second and, while I would recommend it for a serious read, it’s not the book that will provide simple entertainment on a dark and stormy night. However, I do think it’s important for a reader to push the boundaries of even their favourite niches of literature. I love a scary story, but there’s a lot out there beyond Poe and M R James.
Nervous and Excited
My lovely spouse is both nervous and excited and is rapidly oscillating between both of these states as the initial consultation with the tattoo artist draws near. I’m excited too, if only because I’m going to enjoy the luxury of taking a day off for a trip to the city, getting on a train, and doing something together without the spectre of work hovering in the background.
This week we had news of a death in the family, and that always is a sharp reminder of our own mortality. I desperately do not want to take life for granted. I don’t want to spend more of it than I have to worrying about work.