FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Slowness of Bel Canto

by KATHLEEN WALLACE

Most likely you’ve read the luscious novel Bel Canto by Ann Patchett. It’s a bit over a decade old, and it received quite a bit of attention at the time. If you haven’t read it, but plan to, please cease and desist the reading of this piece as I will for certain spoil it for you. Otherwise, join me as there are things to consider about this work. The novel has an whisper thin subversive nature, lightly denigrating the state, as well as all societal roles imbued with hierarchy.

International guests gather in an unnamed South American locale to celebrate a Japanese business leader’s birthday, all are there to hear Bel Canto, the beautiful music emanating from an arranged operatic performance by a famous soprano. Things go badly sometimes with opera, maybe a poor performance or a terrible seat, but in this case the night is marred by hostage taking. The nation’s president is the true target, but he was fortunate enough to have decided to stay home that night to catch his favorite soap opera. The guerrillas take all of the men, as well as the soprano, as substitute hostages. Their nebulous list of demands are never truly taken seriously, and the situation becomes a warmth soaked standoff.

One review of the book indicates that a situation that could have gone Lord of the Flies instead  goes Lord of the Butterflies. The hostages are in the home of the vice-president where the birthday festivities were to occur. They are living in extreme proximity to the hostage takers, many of whom are simply teenagers from the rural poor areas of the nation. Lanky man-boys and even two females guerrillas hold the prisoners in the home during this odd confluence. Something non-linear happens, and the motionless pace of life lends itself to the inhabitants doing what we all know that we should, that is, living in the very moment we are in. No thought to past, no nod to the future. The spark towards beauty comes from the music, the disruption in the air from the voice of the soprano as she settles into daily warbling. Instead of the chain reaction towards violence that is so often the narrative we know, the reaction tumbles into a place of languid sensuality. Those inclined towards such things let themselves fall. A young female militant falls madly in reciprocal love with a Japanese translator. Their  love coalesces as he teaches her to read. Normally this would be a trite literary move, but in the ethereal world created in this strange book, it is natural– what should happen. It’s even comic how they try to engage in ever shorter sessions of learning before succumbing to other pursuits.

All of the characters find a nod to the moment, a call to what they cherish. The prisoners aren’t allowed anything that could be an easy weapon, so even the earthy call of gardening is done with the forced slowness of spoons. They can’t be trusted with knives, so the guerrillas are called on for the sensuous preparation of eggplant, all thrust into realms of unrestrained enjoyment of simple things. The driven businessman who all this formed around, finds delight in the quiet movement of his body through the night, walking without sound to the bed of Roxane, the source of the Bel Canto that brought forth so much beauty. The sight of him sleeping late in a love exacerbated coma confuses all who witness it. Men like that are always up early; they don’t sleep with that assurance. And others take to naps when they desire, this is how we all should sleep, and would if enough pretense could be removed. Oddly enough it takes guns and guards to make this transformation to the now for these individuals. Some suspension of disbelief is required, but it comes easily, naturally even, and all is done with a pace of leisure, which I completely give allegiance to. Hey, I’m just now talking about a book written over a decade ago, and only recently finished 2004’s “In Praise of Slow”, but I did read it quickly so I could mention it to you. I do praise slow, but sadly I don’t get to church often enough to give it proper worship. By that I mean, I hurry too much. I don’t really go to church.

It’s just that the lightness and joy of our existence is so often drowned out by our pace, by the pain of being hurtled towards an inexplicable something always just beyond our grasp. The inherent failure of such a scheme only given the briefest of consideration for a few seconds at 2:00 am by most of us. Then it is hastily shaken off for the cold husk of it. The ability to ignore this is now even more pronounced by the presence of digital distractions. Few moments are allowed to stand without spinning. It’s all as subtle and non-offensive as Butterfly McQueen doing a commercial for the hospital’s new birth center.

But the world we are in is not set up for the slowness of an eggplant’s curves and color. And so in the novel, the newly created world cannot stand. The state steps in, and instead of resolving the stand-off in a peaceful manner, the guerrillas are all shot down, the beautiful girl wanting to learn fresh languages, the boy with the beautiful voice, all of them. Killed and taken from the moment. Even the businessman who just learned, finally, to sleep late in bliss, is caught by a bullet. The hierarchy must stand, the pulse of the seconds must be currency, not the beat of our hearts.

The abrupt end to the novel is much like the raging moment of an alarm clock, our inner world taken and replaced by an artificial directive. The rolling dreams interrupted.

It is stark, and we are taken from the now, moved towards plans and haste. But this is how we really want to live, in a world created by us, not forced upon us.

Kathleen Wallace writes out of the US Midwest and can be reached at klwallace@riseup.net

Kathleen Wallace writes out of the US Midwest and can be reached at klwallace@riseup.net

February 08, 2016
Paul Craig Roberts – Michael Hudson
Privatization: the Atlanticist Tactic to Attack Russia
Mumia Abu-Jamal
Water War Against the Poor: Flint and the Crimes of Capital
John V. Walsh
Did Hillary’s Machine Rig Iowa? The Highly Improbable Iowa Coin Tosses
Vincent Emanuele
The Curse and Failure of Identity Politics
Eliza A. Webb
Hillary Clinton’s Populist Charade
Uri Avnery
Optimism of the Will
Roy Eidelson Trudy Bond, Stephen Soldz, Steven Reisner, Jean Maria Arrigo, Brad Olson, and Bryant Welch
Preserve Do-No-Harm for Military Psychologists: Coalition Responds to Department of Defense Letter to the APA
Patrick Cockburn
Oil Prices and ISIS Ruin Kurdish Dreams of Riches
Binoy Kampmark
Julian Assange, the UN and Meanings of Arbitrary Detention
Shamus Cooke
The Labor Movement’s Pearl Harbor Moment
W. T. Whitney
Cuba, War and Ana Belen Montes
Jim Goodman
Congress Must Kill the Trans Pacific Partnership
Peter White
Meeting John Ross
Colin Todhunter
Organic Agriculture, Capitalism and the Parallel World of the Pro-GMO Evangelist
Ralph Nader
They’re Just Not Answering!
Cesar Chelala
Beware of the Harm on Eyes Digital Devices Can Cause
Weekend Edition
February 5-7, 2016
Jeffrey St. Clair
When Chivalry Fails: St. Bernard and the Machine
Leonard Peltier
My 40 Years in Prison
John Pilger
Freeing Julian Assange: the Final Chapter
Garry Leech
Terrifying Ted and His Ultra-Conservative Vision for America
Andrew Levine
Smash Clintonism: Why Democrats, Not Republicans, are the Problem
William Blum
Is Bernie Sanders a “Socialist”?
Daniel Raventós - Julie Wark
We Can’t Afford These Billionaires
Enrique C. Ochoa
Super Bowl 50: American Inequality on Display
Jonathan Cook
The Liberal Hounding of Julian Assange: From Alex Gibney to The Guardian
George Wuerthner
How the Bundy Gang Won
Mike Whitney
Peace Talks “Paused” After Putin’s Triumph in Aleppo 
Ted Rall
Hillary Clinton: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Gary Leupp
Is a “Socialist” Really Unelectable? The Potential Significance of the Sanders Campaign
Vijay Prashad
The Fault Line of Race in America
Eoin Higgins
Please Clap: the Jeb Bush Campaign Pre-Mortem
Joseph Mangano – Janette D. Sherman
The Invisible Epidemic: Radiation and Rising Rates of Thyroid Cancer
Andre Vltchek
Europe is Built on Corpses and Plunder
Jack Smith
Obama Readies to Fight in Libya, Again
Robert Fantina
As Goes Iowa, So Goes the Nation?
John Grant
Israel Moves to Check Its Artists
Dean Baker
Market Turmoil, the Fed and the Presidential Election
John Wight
Who Was Cecil Rhodes?
David Macaray
Will There Ever Be Anyone Better Than Bernie Sanders?
Christopher Brauchli
Suffer Little Children: From Brazil to Flint
JP Sottile
Did Fox News Help the GOP Establishment Get Its Groove Back?
Binoy Kampmark
Legalizing Cruelties: the Australian High Court and Indefinite Offshore Detention
John Feffer
Wrestling With Iran
Rob Prince – Ibrahim Kazerooni
Syria Again
Louisa Willcox
Park Service Finally Stands Up for Grizzlies and Us
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail