As to an old friend, I returned yesterday and began re-watching "Peaky Blinders," a Netflix TV serial done in tandem with or for the BBC. Wikipedia describes the series as "a British historical crime drama ... starring Cillian Murphy as a gangster operating in Birmingham, England, during the aftermath of World War I."
It is rich and full of human foibles, many of which are made more powerful by the fact that they go unstated. Very human, flawed stuff to which I have no difficulty in turning over my credulity. The humanity of it -- even if blurred on occasion by the accents reaching my ear -- is wonderful.
Simultaneously, as a soporific, I have taken to dawdling through "Foucault's Pendulum," before going to sleep each night. The novel by Umberto Eco is so unremittingly intelligent and abstruse that it is hard to imagine a sensible human being's having written it. It reminds me most of James Joyce and a remark I once made to my father (a wildly enthusiastic love of Joyce) after reading one story or another: "He's (Joyce) like a 99.9-percent efficient machine: It pretends to tell a story about people, but he (Joyce) doesn't love people." It is a critique I see little reason to revise and am comfortable appending to Umberto Eco.
But it is not the criticism or the scrumptiousness that a critic can find when s/he herself has accomplished nothing but snarky criticism that interests me. Actually, I am more astounded that a writer might go to so much trouble to sidestep the richness of humanity -- rich and messy and bubbling and unpredictable and flawed and soaring -- in favor of the cookie cutters of intelligence and control.
Why I continue to turn the pages of "Foucault's Pendulum" eludes me except in the sense that I simply cannot imagine how a writer could write about people and yet not be hoisted by his own petard ... lowered into the rich humus of a "Peaky Blinders" or some similar well of richness. To live in such a cold place, fictitious or otherwise, strikes me as impossibly, insanely ... afraid. Afraid and cowardly in a universe that requires down-and-dirty courage if it's going to be any good.
I sort of want to pray for the likes of Umberto Eco and yet know that there is a universe in which he is at home and praised ... and masturbation is better than sex ... and prayers are utterly useless.