“Desirable Body” (Post 2/2)

Desirable Body b

[Explanation of Reading Journal Entries/Ratings]

Post 1


[35] Vocabulary:

When would he find the strength to pull himself out of this gangue that had no defined limits?

(p.102)

 

In mining, gangue is the commercially worthless material that surrounds, or is closely mixed with, a wanted mineral in an ore deposit.

[36] Reference:

Thanks to Jean Dausset’s well-known research on tissue compatibility.

(p.104)

 

Jean Dausset (1916-2009) was a French immunologist born in Toulouse, France. Dausset received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1980 along with Baruj Benacerraf and George David Snell for their discovery and characterization of the genes making the major histocompatibility complex. Dausset founded the Human Polymorphism Study Center (CEPH) in 1984.

[37] Reference:

Guided successive generations ad libitum.

(p.106)

More formal term for ad lib.

[38]

On the way back to his room, with a nurse at his elbow as he leaned on a walker, Cedric perplexedly repeated the therapist’s last words: “If you can use metaphors for your pain, it’s a sign that it already hurts less!”

(p.114)

[39] References:

Between the municipalities of Coppet and Versoix, where a literary grande dame had once lived.

(p.115)

 

Coppet is a municipality in the district of Nyon in the canton of Vaud in Switzerland.

Versoix is a municipality in the Canton of Geneva, Switzerland.

I don’t know who the literary grande dame is referring to. Possibly Mary Shelley, who conceived of the idea for Frankenstein while spending a summer near Geneva.

[40]

“Do you think I’ll be able to go home one day?” he asked, without the slightest memory of a place where he’d lived.

(p.128)

[41] Idiom?

“It’s as if we were throwing roses through a circus hoop!”

(p.129)

It might be a saying in French; I couldn’t find anything in English.

[42] Why not say “hardened”? Why go to these uncommon words?

The collar of flesh and slightly indurated skin at his throat and neck.

(p.138)

[43] References:

He remembered having read somewhere in Nerval something like the daylight of dreams has no sun.

(p.147)

 

Gerard de Nerval (1808-1855) was the nom-de-plume of the French writer, poet, and translator Gerard Labrunie. A major figure of French romanticism, he is best known for his poems and novellas, especially the collection Les Filles du feu (The Daughters of Fire), which includes the novella Sylvie and the poem “El Desdichado.”

The quote “the daylight of dreams has no sun” only links back to Desirable Body, though Nerval did write of dreams.

[44] References:

“It’s a triskelion, a Celtic symbol. The three legs represent the sun’s movement. Or the three worlds, those of the spirits, the living, and the dead.”

(p.151)

 

A triskelion or triskele is a motif consisting of a triple spiral exhibiting rotational symmetry. The spiral design can be based on interlocking Archimedean spirals, or represent three bent human legs. A triskelion is a traditional symbol of Sicily, the Isle of Man, and Brittany.

[45] I always get lost when someone is described as wearing too many expressions at once:

He notices her expression of intense curiosity with its traces of desire, almost covetousness, as well as a kind of shocked repugnance.

(p.151)

[46] Reference:

Her perfection lacks nothing, not even the feet and hands of Aphrodite of Knidos.

(p.153)

 

The Aphrodite of Knidos (or Cnidus) was an Ancient Greek sculpture of the goddess Aphrodite created by Praxiteles of Athens around the 4th century BCE. It is one of the first life-sized representations of the nude female form in Greek history, displaying an alternative idea to male heroic nudity. It inspired many similar works; several of those on the Wikipedia page are missing their hands and feet.

[47] Reference:

Beneath the flowers of a handkerchief tree or a red buckeye tree.

(p.161)

 

Davidia involucrata, the dove-tree, handkerchief tree, pocket handkerchief tree, or ghost tree, is a medium-sized deciduous tree. It is native to South Central and Southwest China from Hubei to southern Gansu, south to Guizhou, Sichuan and Yunnan, but is widely cultivated elsewhere. It is best known for its flowers. On a breezy day, the bracts flutter in the wind like white doves or pinched handkerchiefs, hence the English names for this tree.

[48] Reference:

If he were to flee, he would be hunted down wherever he went, like the thief who’d stolen the blue diamond from the Saudi palace.

(p.163)

 

The Blue Diamond Affair is a series of unresolved crimes and embittered diplomatic relations triggered by the 1989 theft of gems belonging to the House of Saud by a Thai employee. The affair has soured relations between Saudi Arabia and Thailand for nearly 30 years. The Thai worker was sentenced to seven years in prison, but was released after three as he cooperated with the police and had confessed. When the items were returned, the Saudi Arabian authorities discovered that the blue diamond was missing and that about half of the gems returned were fake. Rumors fueled Saudi suspicions that Thai police and VIPs had taken the jewels for themselves.

[49] Reference:

Obscenity only comes in when the mind despises and fears the body, and the body hates and resists the mind.” These words from an English novel came back to him.

(p.164)

A quote from Lady Chatterley’s Lover.

[50] Reference:

Why, incidentally, did he think about those society women dipping their handkerchiefs in Eugen Weidmann’s blood at the foot of the guillotine?

(p.164-65)

 

Eugen Weidmann (1908-1939) was a German criminal and serial murderer who was executed by guillotine in France, the last public execution in that country. (Executions by guillotine in private until Hamida Djandoubi’s execution in 1977.) The “hysterical behavior” by spectators at Weidmann’s execution was so scandalous that French President Albert Lebrun immediately banned all future public executions. Unknown to authorities, film of the execution was shot from a private apartment adjacent to the prison. British actor Christopher Lee (17 at the time) witnessed the event.

[51] Vocabulary:

The slow and uncontrollable anamorphosis.

(p.165)

 

noun

1. a distorted projection or drawing that appears normal when viewed from a particular point of with a suitable mirror or lens.

2. (Biology) – a gradual, ascending progression or change of form to a higher type.

[52] Reference:

Swen recalled the amazing adventure of a German paraglider who was caught in a raging storm and had been sucked up to a height of 32,000 feet.

(p.171)

 

Ewa Wisnierska (b.1971) is a Polish-German paraglider, a member of the German national paragliding team, who won the Paragliding World Cup on several occasions. She is mostly known for having survived extreme cold, lightning and lack of oxygen during an ascent to almost 33,000 feet inside a cumulonimbus cloud.

On February 14, 2007, Wisnierska decided to try to fly in order to train for the 2007 paragliding world championship near Manilla, New South Wales, Australia. She got trapped in the updraft of two joining thunderstorms. She landed 3.5 hours later about 37 miles north of her starting position. In the same weather event, the Chinese paraglider He Zhongpin was killed by a lighting strike.

[53] Reference:

“Your name is Swen Geislar, isn’t it? There was a famous German geographer with that name…”

(p.173)

I can’t find any real figures with this name.

[54] Reference:

[He] returned straightway to his room in the Kempinski Palace.

(p.180)

 

Kempinski Palace Portoroz, until 2008 known as Palace Hotel, is a five-star deluxe hotel in Portoroz, a settlement on the Adriatic coast in southwestern Slovenia. The hotel opened in 1910 at the time of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

[55] For the last act of the book, most of the conversations are in Italian, with no translation. I couldn’t follow and it became extremely frustrating. I know part of Haddad’s point is to show that Cedric also doesn’t understand, he wants us to share that confusion, but there must be a better way to do it. We need something to hold onto. Translate:

Sta guardando il mio tatuaggio?” asked the man. “Ne ho anche sulla schiena e sul petto…” (…)

Un vero museo!” he went on. “Lei e inglese? No? Scusa, sara francese allora! Io, sono siciliano, ma parlo molto bene francese…” (…)

Il mio paese!” he shouted. “La Trinacria, sa? Sulla bandiera della sicilia.”

(p.185)

 

Italian: “Are you looking at my tattoo?” [asked the man.] “I also have it on my back and on my chest…” (…)

“A real museum!” [he went on.] “She is English? No? Sorry, I’ll be French then! I am Sicilian, but I speak French very well…” (…)

“My country!” [he shouted.] “La Trinacria, do you know? On the Sicilian flag.”

[56] I don’t like this style:

When one is in a foreign country with very little knowledge of its language, one soon finds oneself outside the world.

(p.187)

[57] I do not agree with this at all. The book doesn’t even agree with this. Cedric wanted to die simply for oblivion.

Before the transplant, when he was begging to be unplugged, it could only have been in the deranged desire for a world beyond. One commits suicide only for a better life.

(p.191)

[58] References:

The madman from Agrigento (…) Empedocles’ correct prophecies before he tumbled into the eternal bath of lava!

(p.192-93)

 

Agrigento is a city on the southern coast of Sicily, Italy and capital of the province of Agrigento. It is renowned as the site of the ancient Greek city of Akragas.

Empedocles (~494-434 BC), the Ancient Greek pre-Socratic philosopher, was a citizen of ancient Akragas. Empedocles’ philosophy is best known for originating the cosmogonic theory of the four classical elements. Empedocles’ death was mythologized by ancient writers, and has been the subject of a number of literary treatments. Diogenes Laertius (3rd century AD) records the legend that Empedocles died by throwing himself into Mount Etna in Sicily, so that the people would believe his body had vanished and he ad turned into an immortal god.

[59] Translate:

Signore, we see many, many road accident victims everyday! Andate pure a richiedere all’amministrazione.”

(p.194)

 

Italian: Go ahead and ask the administration.

[60] Reference:

In the inn’s hallway, a reproduction of Piero della Francesca’s Saint Agatha carrying her severed breasts on a platter hung between the counter and the staircase.

(p.195)

 

Piero della Francesca (~1415-1492) was an Italian painter of the Early Renaissance. To contemporaries he was also known as a mathematician and geometer. His work Flagellation of Christ was referenced in Daphne du Maurier’s novella “Don’t Look Now” (note [8]).

His Polyptych of St Anthony contains a circular detail of Saint Agatha with breasts on a plate. The image can be seen on Wikimedia commons.

Saint Agatha of Sicily (~231-251 AD) is a Christian saint and virgin martyr. Agatha was put to death during the persecution of Decius (250-253) in Catania, Sicily, for her determined profession of faith. Amongst the tortures she underwent while jailed was the cutting off of her breasts with pincers. (There is no real reliable information concerning the details of her death; some think she died in prison, but before that she was sentenced to be burned at the stake.)

[61] Translate:

A Catania,” she said, “amiamo i seni di sant’Agata anche come dolchi.”

(p.195)

 

Italian: “In Catania,” [she said,] “we love the breasts of Saint Agata also as sweets.”

[62] Reference:

One of these severed heads that Gericault procured from the Paris morgue in order to paint them in his studio.

(p.200)

 

Theodore Gericault (1791-1824) was an influential French painter and lithographer, whose best-known painting is The Raft of the Medusa.

Ah, we’ve been here before. Hannibal Lector had a thing for The Raft of the Medusa in Silence of the Lambs (note [26]). Gericault visited morgues in preparation for his work. He painted studies of severed heads and limbs.

[63] Translate:

E lei, il trapiantato!” she cried. “Che onore per la nostra istituzione. Permitttici di prendere una foto di voi davanti all’hotel…”

(p.200)

 

Italian: “And she, the transplanted!” [she cried.] “What an honor for our institution. Permit us to take a picture of you in front of the hotel…”

A couple of times, the translations are giving me feminine pronouns when, by context, I think they should be masculine (referring to Cedric). The above should probably read “And he, the transplanted!”

[64] Reference:

Cedric dimly recalled a poem by Apollinaire.

(p.204)

 

Guillaume Apollinaire (1880-1918) was a French poet, playwright, short story writer, novelist, and art critic of polish-Belarusian descent. He is considered one of the foremost poets of the early 20th century, as well as one of the most impassioned defenders of Cubism and a forefather of Surrealism (he is credited with coining the terms “cubism” and “surrealism” as well).

[65] Translate:

Mai piu a separeremo,” she would say a hundred times, shaking her head. “Mai piu, amore mio!

(p.207)

 

Italian: “Never again will we separate,” [she would say a hundred times, shaking her head.] “Never again, my love!”

[66] Translate:

“I know you don’t drink, Alessandro, che non hai mai bevuto una goccia di alcol, mai, mai…”

(p.209)

 

Italian: that you never drank a drop of alcohol, never, never…

On page 213, an article implies that Alessandro died while driving drunk.

[67] Reference:

He had once read obscure articles on the abdomen’s intellect, the famous Japanese hara.

(p.210)

 

Hara (Japanese: abdomen, should not be translated as “stomach” to avoid confusing it with the organ). In the Japanese medical tradition and in Japanese martial arts traditions, the word Hara is used as a technical term for a specific area (physical/anatomical) or energy field (physiological/energetic) of the body.

[68] Reference:

Anantha had kept all the articles from the Quotidiano di Sicilia that dealt with Alessandro Branci’s accident.

(p.213)

 

Quotidiano di Sicilia is an Italian daily newspaper for the island of Sicily. It was founded in 1979 and is based in Catania. In 2008 the paper had a circulation of 21,500 copies.

[69] Translate:

Non e grazioso, signore!” shouted Anantha.

(p.214)

 

Italian: It’s not pretty, sir!

[70] Reference:

There is no question that La Stidda was involved [in the murder].

(p.221)

 

The Stidda (Sicilian for “star”) is a name for Mafia-type criminal organizations centered in the central-southern part of Sicily in Italy. Members are known as stiddari or stiddaroli. It is most active in the rural parts of southern Sicily and is partially a rival to Cosa Nostra. Some members have a star tattooed on their bodies.


Unfortunately, I enjoyed looking up the references more than reading Desirable Body. It’s horrible to bash on a book and fail to recognize the great amount of effort and work that went into it, so I will say this: Desirable Body is readable. My poor rating is more reflective of my disappointment that this book wasn’t great than a judgement of the book on its own merits. Basically, this book was never going to be 3-stars for me; it was either going to be a 4+ or bust.

I was hoping for another Comemadre and found a repetitive Vonnegut-lite novel. Not recommended. Read Comemadre or even the original Frankenstein instead.

This Friday, another modern-day take on Mary Shelley’s classic: Ahmed Saadawi’s Frankenstein in Baghdad.

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