Identity

  The novel filled with many motifs that, with the progression of the novel, appear to interconect with one another more and more.  The one major topic that first jumped out at me was the question of identity, especially concerning Clarence.  From this one topic stem subtopics such as race, history, truth vs. deciet, as well as self-image and self-worth.  

  A wide range of racial characteristics and description shows the difficulty in using physical discription to pinpoint identity.  The physical description of the African Americans are complex while the white characters in the novel are simply white, with no other defining characteristics, effectively applying the white stereotype of a homogeneous black population to white people.  These physical discirptions juxtaposed to identity through family history and ancestry highight Mosley’s intentions to really address the issue of African American identity in our modern society.

Upon finishing the first reading assignment, I am left with a few questions and speculations.  I immediately began to think about the Clarence’s love triangle with Bethany and Narciss, and what this will mean to his character.  I also am curious to see how the masks, as well as Narciss affect his feelings of history and self-worth.  I also speculate the white man (somewhat obviously) is the major catalyst for a major and much needed transformation within Clarence that will involve coming to terms with the state of his life, his family history (loss of parents and abusive uncle) and his dishonesty.   

 

Investigation #2: Appearances Decieve

A UVA Graduate and current college English Professor, Claudia Emerson is a Fredericksburg native whose Romantic poems ask readers to consider the importance of the past and the possibilities of the future.  Although I was disappointed that her session opened with a shameless promotion and sales pitch for the “Fall for the Book” event itself and was followed by a misleading introduction from one of Emerson’s somewhat overzealous former students, this deceptive beginning only helped to highlight Emerson’s presence by underscoring the contrast between artists themselves and the ways in which those who admire their works portray them.  

When this seemingly quiet spoken, slender woman finally took her place behind the podium, I expected to hear her read lighthearted, yet insightful poems, similar in tone to the opening remarks of those who had introduced her.  However, as she took her place and began to voice her poems of regret and pain “with the blunt edge of a practiced tongue,” as her works suggest, I was just as surprised to hear the skill of her dark style as I was alarmed to hear a loud clap of thunder from outside, which initiated an approaching storm Emerson aptly claimed to have “brought with her.”   

 For a seemingly quaint, intelligent, soft spoken woman who professed that her roots oriented her small country town as the center of the universe, Claudia Emerson displayed an uncanny ability to voice her emotions in a blunt manner.  As she read the poems out of her most recent of three collections of poetry, entitled “Late Wife,” in which she chronicles her life as she traffics in and out of seasons of singleness, beginning with her painful divorce from a man she trusted and ending with her recent remarriage, Emerson voiced her pain in a shockingly forceful manner which unparalleled the calm tone with which she spoke conversationally.  After powerfully reading explicit poems eloquently attacking her former husband, for instance, Emerson stepped back and teasingly suggested, “Oh come on, it’s not that bad,” thereby effectively highlighting the contrast in tone and proving she was well rehearsed in transitioning in and out of it.  As she continued to rat on her former husband with playful wit, shocking laughter was invoked from the stunned yet intrigued audience.    

Although it seems as though her naturally introverted demeanor may mask some of the painful emotions, strength and opinions she holds, Emerson proved that the release she feels through poetry is as personally effective as it is publicity inspiring.  Not only did reading her works to the audience seem to be cathartic to her, but her poems have won her numerous awards, the most recent being a 2006 Pulitzer Prize.  Further, it seems like Emerson’s mature, yet unconventional conception of writing allowed her to find her original voice.  For instance, just as she noted that an author is only as good as his most recent work, as to live is to fly, she also claimed that she followed poetic rules only when it suited her. 

Judging by the sea blank stares and sincere nods in the audience, Emerson’s work and her fearless demeanor seemed to shock everyone listening in some way.  When she left the podium, the thunderous storm subsided and was replaced by a hesitant, yet heartfelt applause. 

 – Katelyn Christ

 

 

 

 

The Man In My Basement- Blog #1

While reading The Man In My Basement many contradictions surface, primarily within Charles Blakey’s character.  As the main protagonist in the novel, Charles has many demons that interfere with his potential for success, in regards to his personal and professional life.  For instance, the closest people to Charles are his two buddies Clarance and Ricky.  He leans on these two characters for support, financially and emotionally.  But he is quick to insult or disrupt his relationship with those who are close to him, primarily due to his love affair with whiskey.  As a self-proclaimed angry drunk, Charles teases Clarance by calling him offensive pet names like Clarabell and Clara after playing cards and drinking copious amounts of whiskey.  But when talking with Ricky about selling his family heirlooms and sharing a percentage of the profits with his friend for his help Charles says, “I could have called her on my own.  But that would have cut Ricky out- I would never have treated a friend like that.” (p. 53)  In actuality, Charles merely behaves in a self-serving manner, knowing that since he has basically lost Clarance he had better be good to his last remaining friend.  Charles’ internal conflicts transcend into his work life.  Not only does his character struggle with alcohol abuse but also abusing the truth.  Charles lost his job at the bank because he was stealing money.  Furthermore, when confronted by his colleague and friend Lillian about the truth behind his theft, he denies the allegations.  His reputation at the bank has filtered into all other potential job opportunities, leaving Charles in financial woe.  Though at times he tries to get his act together his lies or his drunken state interfere with any real progress.      

Mosley blog-Blakey’s sad existence

I found Blakey’s life in Part I of The Man in My Basement depressing.  Blakey lives in his his own world through memories of his childhood and doesn’t seem to know how to break away from it. Throughout the reading he often makes sense of what has happened or how he is feeling based on what others think or have told him. He is unable to hold a job, care for himself and his house and even hold a conversation without completely doubting himself. He still sleeps in his bed from childhood, hangs out with the same friends and allows his uncle and his parents degrade him even though they are no longer alive. It was depressing to read because he seems so stuck in his situation. Obviously he hasn’t had much change in his life and it seems he doesn’t know how to go about truly changing anything.

The structure of the narrative parallels his adolescence. It jumps around from story to story, past or present or vice versa, with little connection, much like a child he is easily distracted. From the description of the basement as a “prison” for Bennett, I thought of it as a parallel to Blakey. He spends most of his time alone in his house. He is also very much “imprisoned” by his memories of his uncle and by his extreme insecurity.

The Man In My Basement: Late Blog Post

The story begins talking about a 33 year old black male who does not have a job and cannot get one.  We later learn the reason he cannot get a job at any reputable place is because a long time ago when he used to work for the bank he used to steal money.  His intentions were clear when he first set out, he said he was going to borrow twenty dollars now and then pay it back after he had gotten his paycheck; however, he never paid it back.  He continued to do this until the bank let him go.  The police would have been involved, but since all of the black people in the community used that bank to store their money, he instead was just let go from his position.  This all comes later however; in the beginning, we learn that a man wishes to rent his basement starting the first of July for two months or so, we later learn that this man will pay Charles, the main character, nearly $50,000 for his stay at about $750 per day.  Charles cannot believe the figure placed in front of him and being late on several mortgage payments and worrying if they were going to foreclose his home, he had little choice but to accept.  There is also Ricky’s friend who deals with carpentry and art, Ricky had told her about Charles’ items in the basement.  She said everything, the entire lot could be valued from around $40,000 to $100,000 but she noted it would probably be closer to $40,000.  This was amazing to Charles at first, until he learned that it may take several weeks or months to get the money from the “junk” in his basement, which turned out to be many of his family’s cherished possessions.  However, much of his family was dead now and he needed the money either from that or the man who would be trying to stay in his basement to avoid foreclosure.  We later find out that Charles likes the antique dealer, except her, at this time has no interest in him other than the antiques he is going to sell. 

My own reflection is Charles is a very lazy character.  He stated he could of got a job at McDonalds or some sort of department store, he said he would not have enough money to pay for the mortgage, perhaps that is true, but instead, he just gave up.  He also plays to his uncle’s words.  All of the things his uncle used to say about him is the level he expects himself to be at.  He is very child like in his actions and constantly lies about everything and almost to everyone around him.

Racial Characterization and Conflict in The Man In My Basement

Walter Mosley immediately emphasizes the importance of race in The Man In My Basement by juxtaposing Blakely, an African American man in a “secluded colored neighborhood” (3) with the “small white man” (3) at his door.  Indeed, in the first chapter, about four pages long, the word “white” is used eleven times, in reference to Mr. Bennet, white people, white boarders, and a white business card (but mostly to Mr. Bennet).  Blakely, the narrator, refers to Mr. Bennet as “the small white man” more times than “Mr. Bennet” or “the man.”  Interestingly, there is no need to further define Blakely, Ricky, or Clarence as African American men because by repeatedly establishing that Mr. Bennet as a white man, Mosley sets up a contrast between Blakely and his community and the white intruder.  Blakely is taken aback by Bennet’s tone in his request to rent his basement and comments that Bennet was suddenly “one of those no-nonsense-white-men-in-charge.” (5)  Blakely further defines Bennet as an insider when he claims “that white man was a fool” because the people in his completely African American neighborhood “do not take in white boarders” (5).  By selectively defining the race of an intruder, Mosley need not explicitly define the race of our narrator.  He does, however, conclude the first chapter with a contrast of the white man who has just departed and Irene, described in the last paragraph of the chapter as “black as tar” (7).

However, in the very next chapter, the narrator does define the color of his skin in comparison with that of his lifelong friends.  Blakely describes Clarence as a “tan-colored man” (8) and Ricky as “darker than his cousin but not nearly [his] color” (9).  We are also given another aspect of the relationship between Clarence and Charles:  Clarence makes our narrator feel inadequate because the things Clarence has accomplished.  Charles responds to this inadequacy by turning Clarence away via his merciless ridiculing.  Because of the stark contrast presented between the dark-skinned Blakely and the small, white Bennet and the conflict that ensues paired with the inadequacy Charles feels in relation to his tan-colored lifelong friend, it appears that race is an important underlying factor in the relations between the characters, as well as their own internal conflicts.

The Man In My Basement – Blog 1

After reading the first 97 pages of The Man in My Basement, I find the main character, Charles Blakey, very interesting.  He clearly has the mindset of an adolescent even though he is in his thirties.  His constant drinking, lack of a job, and lack of real motivation to find a job so that he can support himself all point to his immaturity.  He also had a job at the bank and began to “borrow” money from his till and was fired for it.  He also seems to lie quite a bit for no reason whatsoever.  He sits around with his friends all the time playing cards and getting drunk, and refuses to take any real responsibility for anything in his life. 

 

I also found it interesting that Blakey seems to be frozen in time along with his house.  There are constant descriptions of Blakey’s mother and Uncle Brent in the house, almost as if they are still living with him as ghosts.  In addition, nothing has changed in the house since he has taken over ownership when his mother died.  He still sleeps on his old room, on his old mattress.  There is a tin trash can in his room, “decorated with astronauts that had sat in the same corner for more than thirty years” (35).  Each room of the house is described with the contents of either Blakey’s mother or Uncle Brent.  The only thing that Blakey himself seems to have added to the house are empty bottles of liquor.

 

However, through the first portion of the book, Blakey seems to be making an effort to change both his adolescent behavior as well as improving the house.  The changes in Blakey and the house, combined with my curiosity about what Anniston Bennet is going to do in Blakey’s basement, make me want to read on to the end of the story to get the answers to my questions.

Low Self-Respect and Lies in “The Man in my Basement” — Blog 1

As I read the first 97 pages of The Man in my Basement, I immediately noticed that Charles’s adolescent-like immaturity and feelings of inadequacy permeated throughout the text.  Despite his 33 years, his irresponsible behaviors and recurring childhood memories suggest that he is frozen in a boyhood/adolescent time warp, and is unable to successfully bridge over to adulthood.  Just as a child would expect and rely on his parents for sustenance, Charles continues to seek his friends and relatives to bail him out of his financial woes.

Of course, his dependency on those around him does not earn him the respect of others or of himself.  When Charles introduces us to Clarance, he bemoans that “he’d always done better than I had” (11) and later reveals that Uncle Brent “loved to tell me what was wrong with me” (13).  In fact, Uncle Brent’s disparaging remarks seem to play on a continuous loop in Charles’s brain.  He hints towards his own feelings of low self-respect when he remarks that “cowards live on back roads, behind closed doors” (18). He might be indirectly referring to himself since he focuses his energies in a house “in a secluded colored neighborhood way back from the highway” (3).

Like his lack of direction on the pathway to adulthood, his life is characterized by his habit of lying.  He rationalizes his dishonesty by claiming that lies can provide people with ‘confidence’ (51).  However, he abandons lies when he interacts with Narciss.  As he watches her carefully examine his family’s belongings, he reveals that he “felt like she was a teacher impressed by my homework assignment” (57).  Most likely, he has not received a feeling of such affirmation from others for a long time.  Perhaps her receptive behavior makes telling the truth less threatening for him. 

Emotionally through with HoL, yet it lingers….

****SPOILER WARNING TO ANY WHO M IGHT MAKE IT TO NEAR THE END OF THIS POST****

After reading House of Leaves, and remembering how drawn out the action was, I let out a big sigh of relief reading just the first page of The Man In My Basement.  Mosley doesn’t waste a second in getting to the action.  I didn’t have to worry about whether there really was going to be a man or a basement (which I could have gathered from the blurb on the back cover, but I’m overly skeptical at this point), whether the basement was going to eat the man alive, or whether I had to follow fonts to follow narrators.  Call me old-fashioned, but I ached for conventional structure and Mosley delivered.
The story and characters, though, aren’t entirely that different from those in HoL.  This early on, it might be interesting and revealing to note some of these parallels  Picture Bennett as a living Zampano, an active force of influence in Blakey’s life, and Blakey as Truant (complete with the Lude character of Clarence).  Bennett comes to ask Blakey, in effect, to make room in his life for Bennett’s project.  In the same way, Zampano’s manuscript compels Truant to make way for him.  Blakey and Truant both delay in doing so, partying and romping with women instead, but end up doing the same thing – sobering up and shutting out most of the world.  Of course there are differences – Blakey is not nearly as mentally engrossed as Truant is when they both make their respective decisions, and I can’t expect a New Englander to party like an L.A. club-hopper.  The results are still similar enough to note.  Blakey learns a great deal about himself and his past and is able to face the skeletons in his closet the more he talks to and learns about Bennett.  Similarly, we learn alot more about Truant the more Zampano’s work continues to break him.  Zampano and Bennett seem to be the solvents that remove the outer layer of the central characters so that readers can finally have a peek at what lies beneath.  If this be so, Zampano is certainly the more abrasive of the two, cutting Truant down to insanity; but Bennett doesn’t expire without leaving his mark on Blakey.  Blakey’s perception of the world and family is drastically altered by the end, leaving him doubtful of creating lasting bonds and therefore doomed to remain perpetually alone.

Race and lies…

Walter Mosley’s The Man in My Basement brought up issues of race, in such a matter of fact way and the reasoning behind every of life’s inconsistencies, and lies.  Concerning race, the main character says, “Being a Negro, I was different. We would never be real friends” (16).  Instantly, I thought, so that’s how this book is going to be.  I actually began to think in terms of race.  When he lies to Ricky about renting out his basement to a “white guy”, I naturally assume he does this because the guy is in fact white.  Is that just me following his precedent for racially divided lines.

The repetitive lies theme also struck me.  I feel, however, that the book or character is playing me so I’m supposed to find importance in the fact that he doesn’t lie to Narcissa.  So far, it is only around the woman that he’s interested in that he does not lie, or seriously considers not.  He does lie to Bethany because of an overwhelming loyalty to his friend.

The whole issue of a strange white guy wanting his basement space for the summer obviously perturbs me.  There is an emphasis on his blue eyes…for a reason?  Unfortunately, someone who owned my copy of the book beforehand was rather interested in the sketchiness of Mr. Bennet.  After reading House of Leaves, I am almost suspicious that he’s in need of containment because he will turn into a monster.  Either that, or he is on some strange path to discovery and demands absolute solitude, which I fear will not go well with Charles.

a good segway for halloween

My first impression after reading 97 pages of this book was “creepy.” Everyone thought “The House of Leaves” was pretty scary, but it was just too far from reality for me. “The Man in My Basement” is creepier in a much more tangible sense. The events in this text are obviously strange, but they are strange in a more comprehendable sense. I’m not really sure how this text is going to progress, but as for right now, it seems to be taking on a lot of modern ghost story elements. I think this idea shows through on page 40: “He told me that it was like a blessing and now the food left over had to be buried in the trash like the dead.” Although we have three ghosts who assert there presence in the text (charles mother and father), Brent is clearly the main ghost. Although dead, he is an avid part of the text through Charles haunting memories. Then we have the creepy little white guy (Bennet). This guy just SCREAMS serial killer. He is flat out weird. He seems friendly enough, but something in his presence is overly ominous. Also we have Charles, who is likeable, yet still creepy. I think his creepiness is derived from his obsession with the spectacle. He is always staring, constantly an observer but never a participant. Although I do sympathize with him to a degree. He appeared to have a difficult childhood, and is still struggling to recover from the detrimental effects of Brent’s criticism. It makes sense that the text is gravitating around a creepy old basement. I think the way Charles handles his family’s assets will largely determine his fate. Once he unlocks the mystery behind these ghostly relics (the masks in particular), he may be able to end his haunting and establish peace of mind.

A bit of disappointment, The Man in My Basement Blog-1

I was very excited when I first saw that we would be reading this novel. The appearance of the cover and the title both seemed intriguing. After reading the first part, I’m a little disappointed. The novel is moving slower than I thought it would, by now I hoped the title of the novel would have come into effect. I’ve read about 1/4 of the novel and Mr. Bennet hasn’t even moved in the house yet. I would also have to agree with some of my classmates where I think I might be overlooking something since everything right now appears to be very simple. I certainly have a uncomfortable feeling that something eerie is going to occur. During Mr. Bennet’s first visit to the house, Charles mentions that it felt like Mr. Bennet was threatening him. He continues by stating “Maybe it was a sales technique that he was working out-that’s what I thought at the time.” This reminds me of Johnny Truant’s introduction to The House of Leaves where he doesn’t suspect the effects of the Navidson Record.

Charles Blakey is presented as a miserable adult who hasn’t figured out his future intentions even at the age of thirty-three. He constantly gets drunk with his friends Clarence and Ricky. He is unemployed and has been fired from his Harbor Savings Bank position due to stealing. Charles is very unstable, he believes that he’ll continue to borrow money from either his Aunt Peaches or his friends and he’ll be fine. Mr. Bennet’s offer is a golden opportunity. I think Charles is hesitant is accepting Mr. Bennet’s offer because he senses the potential problems that could arise. Why would a white man like Mr. Bennet would want to rent his old basement and pay him $50,000 only for 67 days if his intentions were good. I think it’s easier for Charles to take money from his Aunt Peaches to pay for his family house because he isn’t threatened by her. Mr. Bennet presents a threat for Charles since he isn’t certain of his actual intentions for wanting to rent the basement.

Even though I’m a little disappointed that the novel is moving slower than I expected, I’m excited to see what will occur in the remaining two parts.

Laziness and lies

I think that this story really says alot about laziness and how it can destroy lives (or just make life really, really difficult). Our protagonist, Charles, seems to be extremely lazy in the first 97 pages of the book, although he does seem to be getting better now that he has the incentive to work on the house. At first I thought Clarance was just overreacting when he said he didn’t want to be Charles’ friend anymore, but then I thought of my own experiences with people who do not want to work, and I can definitely relate to his frustration. It’s hard to watch someone you love lose motivation. It’s also hard to be used by that person, like Charles was trying to use Clarance (borrowing the money without the intention of returning it). Charles would have done well to take some advice from Shakespeare “Neither a borrower, nor a lender be” – somewhere in Hamlet.
Charles is, for the most part, a pretty bad friend. No one can really trust him, because he lies all the time, and doesn’t seem to even see the value in honesty. Personally, I just think he’s suffering from sin nature, as we all are. It just manifests itself in different ways in all of us. For this reason, though I see alot of flaws in this character, I am unable to condemn him. I simply see in him what is true of people in general, what is true of myself in particular. I think Walter Mosley really makes some key points about human nature in this book. For one thing, it is REALLY hard to motivate myself when I’m feeling lazy. Self-discipline does not come easily. Fortunately for me, I am also easily inspired.
I’m interested in seeing if there will be any redemption for Charles. There seems to be the possibility for it in Narciss, his love interest, but now that isn’t looking too good. She does seem to bring out the best in him, though, because he says that the truth comes easily when he is around her, so maybe something could still work out for them.

disparate elements of conceit and critique: connection unclear

In the first part of Walter Mosley’s The Man in My Basement there is an opposition of themes specific and broad that emerges from the first person narrative of Charles Blakey. Two intriguing instances of this arise from Blakey’s introduction of others into his narrative and his introspections which introduce him to the reader: explorations of race and racial tension (both inter- and intra-racial) and the juxtaposition of youth and maturity.

Every character in this book is immediately defined in terms of skin color. Wilson Ryder and Anniston Bennet are merely white which stands in stark contrast to the detail that goes into describing the specific shades and shifts of coloration in Narciss, Clarance and Ricky. This doesn’t set up any overt tension within the novel but does advance the reader’s perception of heiratic importance. White people are the implicit foreign other; community, commonality and importance are given over to darkness and color.

This is not to imply the absence of explicit tension though. There is the intra-racial issue of Charles’ familial pride. He has been instilled with a notion of ancestral superiority owing to the assertion that his no one in his family were ever slaves. He knows his family freely chose to travel to Sag Harbor as indentured servants and free citizens. This pose of superiority is never openly transferred into bigotry but does serve as the focus for conflict between with the Blakeys. Charles remembers this as the one issue that could anger his father (17) and it is also a central point of Charles’ hatred of his uncle Brent (30). Interestingly this same issue resurfaces as inter-racial tension when Charles essentially sells himself into indentured servitude to Bennet, now, 150 years after the end of slavery.

Within Charles himself there appears a conflict of youth and maturity. He has never left Sag Harbor. He has never lived anywhere other than his family’s house. He still sleeps in the same room he grew up in and his astronaut trash can is filled with empty beer bottles. When he masturbates listening to Ricky and Bethany’s sex in his parents old bedroom he immediately returns to eavesdropping on his parent’s sex as a child. He is possesed of a traditionally childish transcendental abstraction. When he can’t get a job from Ryder he stares at fish for hours and likens it himself to watching an ant explore the floor of his third grade classroom (22). He derives his proof of God from fireflies (46).

Oddly enough it is only after working to ready his basement for the interloper Bennet and laying his family’s tangible history out for Narciss that he notices an unfamiliar air of maturity settling over him (54-55). He also neatly draws up for the reader an integral connection between truth and maturity and youth and lies (51, 55).

The broad social theme of race, exploring its meaning and its context seems to be almost metathematic while this struggle between youth and maturity appears to apply more specifically to the motions of themes within the story: external critique and internal device. But I can’t help wondering if the two are not more closely tied. Maybe Charles is coming to maturity by process of reliving his history. And then, if that’s the case, maybe Charles becomes a trope for Mosley’s racial critique. Then both elements would move internally and externally with the text.

Money, Love and History

I also read a bit ahead in the book, and the second paragraph may have spoilers.

 

Connection to one’s roots seems to be a big theme here. I guess what struck me mos here was the way that whenever Charles describes someone, one of the first things he mentions is not only the color of their skin but the exact shade. I wonder if there could be some sort of symbolism in Narciss’ multicolored skin, relating to the way that as a historian and collector, she sort of accumulates and becomes involved in the various histories of others. It is clear that Charles’ family, though mostly dead or estranged, is still very much present in his life. He thinks about his mother, father and uncle, he talks to them as he talks to himself. He has internalized them; it seems that we can’t get five pages without seeing one of Uncle Brent’s aphorisms.

 

There is definitely a connection between the way the Charles sets out to sell his family’s things and the way that Bennet has helped big business exploit his people. Beyond simply forgetting his origins, Charles seems to enter into really disturbing territory when his history starts to seem like nothing more than a route to easy money. Placed next to what we know Bennet and men like him have done to the impoverished people of the world, this issue of roots comes down to betrayal and the exploitation of one’s own people, especially considering the way that Bennet has effectively removed himself from his roots. It definitely brings up questions: What duty do we have to our own people? How much responsibility do we bear as passive participants? How exactly do you define “our people”? Shouldn’t everyone be considered “our people”?

Thoughts on The Man in My Basement

The main character Charles in The Man in My Basement, is a complex person.  Charles comes across as very intelligent and well-rounded, yet he seems to have a difficult time finding a job or keeping friends around.  He also drinks heavily and for all the money issue he has, it seems like there would be a better way for him to use money.  Women also seem to be an issue in his life.  He describes his past girlfriends, but not with any real enthusiasm.  When Narciss enters the picture, however, he is fascinated with her and cannot stop thinking about her.  Something else i wonder about Charles is his reluctance to have Anniston Bennet as a roommate.  Charles obviously is in dire need of cash, so I wonder why it took so much thought to call Mr.Bennet.  Even when Mr.Bennet offered $47,000, he still thought about it for awhile.  Also, back to Charles’s frivolous spending, when he recived an eight thousand dollar payment up front from Mr. Bennet, he bought large amounts of alcohol.  It made me wonder if he was going to spend the rest of his money that way throughout the story, or whether he was going to use it wisely.  Because Charles seems so intelligent, I hope he starts to make better decisions throughout the book and also find out what Anniston Bennet is up to.  Mr Bennet seems shady and I’m surprised Charles doesn’t make him fess up as to what his plans are before accepting the offer of money.  I am also curious, as Charles is, as to why Mr.Bennet wants his basement.  Whey doesn’t he choose someone else’s?  I hope this question is answered as well as I real further into the novel.

A willful prison.

Yay for reading books at a whack. It was fairly easy with Man In My Basement, given how small the title is.

I will say this about it, in general; I identify a lot with the narrator. We are both science-fiction fans (though whether or not the book is complimentary to science fiction is a matter of some debate), we are both sexually frustrated (and he at least seems to have women who are interested in him!), and we share two other important distinctions. Firstly, we have both sealed ourselves away largely from social contact. It is for different reasons; Blakey does it mostly because of his feeling of listlessness and purposelessness; I did it because I wanted to confirm what my purpose was. Blakey needed a man in a basement to point out his purpose; I only needed to do a few things to confirm mine.

Secondly, we both have a link to international politics and the ruthlessness therein. Blakey’s guest is an international power broker and rogue of the first order.

I’ve seen men like him in action, second hand.

I’ve never actually sold my soul for money (thank god, and I was too young regardless) but I’ve lived overseas for extended periods in the past. I’ve seen the capitalism of the West – not just America, but of all the Industrialized West and even the Industrialized East – abuse and cause misery for the people of third-world countries. I have recieved medical treatment others could have gotten but could not afford; I have seen good people thrown off jobs because they were not considered “useful” anymore; I have seen the West build opulent towers to themselves in a sea of shanties; I have seen children wearing shirts displaying the letters “USA” simply because they had nothing else to wear.

And I have seen dead men lying in the streets, unwanted by their own people and by a civilization which controls theirs and cares only for the profit they produce.

It is one thing to be told all this by a man in a cage, in your basement. It is a rather different thing to witness them.

The only consolation I have is that I was only a child then; there was scant little I could do either way. Older, and perhaps a bit richer, I can disprove Bennet and inject a little bit of that thing called love can exist on its own in the world – that it is not just a tool to be used by certain men.

Most nights, that’s enough to keep me asleep.

Most, but not quite all.

where is this going already??

The whole time I was reading The Man in my Basement I was suspicious of it. It seems too simple and I am afraid that I am missing some important point and I do not really know the hidden issue the story is addressing. I keep waiting for it to get more complicated, and I am pretty sure that it will. Or maybe I am still suffering from the after-effects of House of Leaves. This is likely since I keep comparing the main character, Charles Blakey, of this novel, to our very own Johnny Truant. They have similar lifestyles. They have little motivation, they drink excessively, and they both share their sexual escapades. They also both read a great deal of time (though for different reasons) and constantly miss their dead mothers. Strange old men (Zampano and Anniston Bennet) have or will have an important impact on both their lives.

Another thing I thought was very interesting was the privacy issue in this story. Charles Blakely is constantly holed up in his home because he likes to be alone and Anniston Bennet wants to hide out in the house’s basement in order to escape. But despite all this seeking out of privacy, it is hard to come by. In the very first paragraph of the story, Blakey says that things “don’t go unnoticed” in his neighborhood (3). The old lady who lives across the street is always watching him. Also, when he is cleaning up his lawn people stop to stare. And on more than one occasion, he hears or sees his friends having sex. I am wondering where Mosley will go with this and the rest of the story and I am eager to find out.

Lauren

Lies and the truth in Mosley’s The Man in My Basement

There is a particular emphasis in Part One of “The Man in My Basement” on lies and the truth.  Very early in the novel, page 7 to be exact (paperback edition), Blakey doesn’t tell Irene Littleneck why Bennet visited him, and he observes as he walks back into his house that “all the way across the road those yellow eyes called me a liar.”  This theme develops further as the novel moves on.  For example, later (pg 51) Blakey, after lying again about Bennet, this time to his friend Ricky, admits that lying has always come easily to him.  In fact, it is his comfort with lying that makes it such a shock, to himself and to the reader, when he tells the truth to Narciss Gully about his having fallen asleep in the window after having cleaned out the basement (pg 55).  In Blakey’s mind, there is a clear binary opposition between lies and the truth; lying is easy and harmless, therefore the truth is difficult and potentially harmful.  However, with Narciss the truth comes to Blakey easily and naturally, and when he hears from her something he believes to be the truth, such as his masks being “the history of [his] history,” he for a moment experiences the past as if he lived it (pg 61).  Because truth has been established early on as one of the primary characterists of their relationship, it is significant/important when he speaks the truth to her and she to him.

In an interesting parallel, though, it soon becomes clear that truth is an important characteristic in Blakey’s relationship with Bennet.  Blakey, after discussing the arrangements to be made for Bennet’s stay in the basement (residency seems an innapropriate word, for some reason), points out to Bennet that he could lie to him about the money (pg 74).  In return, Bennet notes that “it’s always easier to keep your word than to enter into lies or intrigue,” a statment that is utterly antithetical to Blakey’s own views, until he remembers “Narciss and how the truth had been so easy with her” (pgs 74, 75).

Clearly Blakey’s relationships with Narciss and Bennet are linked by truth, however it is too early in the novel to tell how this will develop.  It is interesting to note, though, that both the people Blakey finds himself in “truthful” relationships with are practically strangers to him, while the people he lies to (Ricky, Miss Littleneck, his parents) are those he has known all his life.  Perhaps the reason for this is due to the old addage, that it is easier to be truthful with a stranger, but I suspect that as the novel goes on there will be more interesting conclusions to be drawn from these parallel relationships. 

I’m not really sure what all this was about, so please oh please if you have any ideas, comment.

Interview with MZD

Here’s a very insightful interview with Mark Z. Danielewski, in which he talks about both House of Leaves and his new novel, Only Revolutions.

House of Leaves- disjointed thoughts

After finishing the novel, I have a strong desire both to reread it immediately and to never look at it again. I planned on writing my post on authorship and credibility (see my Wikipedia entry, username Carstar, as of now it has not been deleted). Then I decided to finish the book before posting. I focused on one of Johnny’s journal entries in Chapter XXI. The entry for May 4, 1998 (page 503) is a short entry in which Johnny recognizes the date and makes different refereneces to the number nine, first saying “nine years.” The nine years almost certainly refers to his mother’s death as seen in the letter from Whalestoe on page 643. Johnny’s strange addition and emphasis on numbers, notably 9, 36 and 45 led me to take a (too) long look at numbers in play within the story as well as look up the number 9 in trustly Wikipedia. I began adding certain numbers to see if they came out to 9 (such as the two page numbers Johnny references when he reads the copy of the book in the bar- 387 38+7=45 and 117 1+1+7=9). Then I looked at the Wikipedia page that explains how any whole number multiplied by nine and then added until it is a single digit will add up to nine. Unfortunately while looking at the book for references or some significance to numbers I went off on another tangent trying to find some evidence the Pelafina has a greater role in the story, or something linking her to Mary. There are definitely links between Pelafina and the story, the references to toes, the P on the WWII gun, the encoded message about Zampano in Pelafina’s letter, to name a few. At this point I had spent hours picking through the book and was starting to feel that I wasn’t much more sane than Johnny. I looked back at something I had originally planned on posting about. A passage on page 384 where Reston tells Navidson “We can’t do this thing alone.” Through discussions in class where each person has their own reading and picks up on different hints or pieces of the novel, I saw Reston’s words as a way to read the book. I think perceptions are very important within the novel as well as as readers. Throughout the book our perceptions of different characters change just as each character’s perceptions change.

The Man in My Basement Blog 1: Charles Blakey Sitting on the Toilet Waiting for Inspiration

After reading 97 pages of The Man in My Basement, I’m not exactly sure how I feel about this book. Talk about switching gears from the hugely complex and frustrating House of Leaves. It is nice though to read a smaller book which explores a single character in the form of Charles Blakey. Here is a 33 year old who writes that he loves good old hard work such as cleaning his entire house and cutting the grass after letting it nearly fall apart yet cannot seem to hold a normal job. He lives life one day at a time and for the most part, one dollar at a time and one bottle of whiskey at a time. He is in fact so desperate to keep his centuries old house that he is willing to sell off his family history which has collected in his basement. This desperate time seems to have been lifted for the moment at least by a mysterious old man’s offer of renting Blakey’s apartment for a generous amount of money. So here is a character too lazy to hold a job and he has two great money making opportunities fall on his lap.

Perhaps my mind is still in the mode of dissecting and picking apart the text of this book as if it were House of Leaves. Yet just like the previous book, I am having trouble getting a firm grasp on this text. Charles Blakey is certainly an interesting character, particularly when the author explores his childhood and the impact it has on him now, particularly the influence of his cruel uncle Brent. On page 97, Blakey remembers one of his uncle’s sayings about him as “the boy so retarded he sit on the toilet waitin’ for inspiration to wipe his ass.” This seems to sum up Blakey pretty well as someone who just wandered through life yet never really goes anywhere, just waits for something good to clean up his mess. That inspiration seems to have come to Blakey in two forms, one in Anniston Bennet and his strange offer and the other in his newly discovered family history which might make him a fortune with the help of Narciss. Where Blakey seemed to have had no path or purpose to follow before in his life, he now has two paths stretched out in front of him, both offering great financial reward. It will be fascinating to see which path Blakey follows. Although the arrival of Anniston Bennet prompted Blakey to eventually discover his valuable family artifacts in the basement, I have a feeling that Bennet and Blakey’s family history will come into conflict at some point in the novel, particularly with the introduction of Narciss. The book has set up for two people to pull Blakey along two different paths with Narciss offering the reward of uncovering his family history and perhaps becoming a truly better person for it and Bennet, a strange and unnerving man who only offers money as reward for carrying out a plan that will surely not end well.

Thanks for your censorship, Wyatt Riot

http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=House_of_Leaves&diff=prev&oldid=76972620

Wyatt Riot has been working diligently for days to clean up the horrible mess we all made of his baby, deleting entries left and right. Wyatt Riot’s seemingly arbitrary enforcement of Wikipedia policy is what makes me wary of the thing in general. In response, though, I would like to do some Wikipedia Policy referencing myself: as per the editing policy, “Improve pages wherever you can, and don’t worry about leaving them imperfect. Avoid deleting information wherever possible.” (WP:EP)  How’s that for a properly researched and referenced edit, Wyatt?

The free encyclopedia. Define “free,” please.

Blog # 1: The opportunity’s in his basement

“Many things depend on circumstances, Mr. Blakley… Opportunities stem from these circumstances” (77).  Although quite the menacing, suspicisious figure of the story, Anniston Bennet provides more opportunities for Blakey than he could have imagined.  When Bennet enters into the picture, Blakey seems to be sorting through his own muted existence and loss of identity.  In a strage way, Bennet seems to provide Blakey with more than $50,000 to help him pay off his mortgage.  I think one of the main questions behind this novel is to what extent Bennet’s bizarre proposition saves Blackey from ambling through his life: not only does Bennet help bring him out of financial ruin, which gives Barkley the much needed appearance of wealth that his friends and estranged family members believe he can never achieve, but Bennet also seems to appear to want to educate Blackley about how society really works, which is evident in their increasingly intense interactions.  Most importantly, however, I think Bennet’s proposition seems to open up the doors for Blackey to have a sincere understanding and appreciation for his heritage and a genuine relationship with the curator who is helping him uncover his past, Narciss Gully.  If he hadn’t cleaned out his basement, he would have never uncovered any of these discoveries.  

Therefore, not only is he financially and “educationally” better off because of Bennet, but it also seems that by the end of the book Barkley will have reconnected with his heritage more fully and enjoy genuine love for once, instead of just messing around with girls.  Looking beyond the financial aid Bennet provides Blakey with, therefore, it seems as though his proposition, although strange, was purposeful and premeditated.   Although it causes friction in Blakey’s perspective on life, this proposition provides him with opportunities to salvage his past and reconnect with his life in a more sincere way.       

The Psychology of Johnny

While reading House of Leaves, the interpersonal relationships and psychologies of various characters have intrigued me.  One of the most salient and psychologically revealing episodes, in my mind, is when Johnny encounters a stray dog with Johnnie.  As House of Leaves illustrates for the reader, Johnny is not a particularly reliable or trustworthy narrator.  My own suspicions towards Johnny are echoed by his own uneasiness and distrust of Johnnie, the uber-fake and supposed porn star.  After she tells him her laundry list of first names, Johnny remarks that “This is a simple telling of a much more difficult series of questions, the answers to which, in retrospect, were more than likely all made up” (266).  Johnnie’s propensity to lie and embellish echoes Johnny’s tendency to concoct false stories, and let’s not take for granted that even their first names are pronounced alike.  These peculiar similarities suggest the possibility that Johnnie might be a darker, more violent projection of Johnny. 

On the other hand, I sense that Johnny’s instant connection to the puppy stemmed from more than mere pity.  He describes the puppy as “dirty, scared and obviously without owner…..at a loss where to go.  All directions leading to the same place anyway.  Its own end” (266).  He might as well be describing not only the animal but also himself, for he is essentially alone in the world.  His insanity is alienating him from reality and propelling him in a downward spiral.  Johnny’s possible identification with both the helpless, innocent puppy and the deceiving, manipulative Johnnie presents an interesting victim/aggressor relationship that he may be struggling to reconcile.