Monday, February 05, 2007

The Painted Bird

Well i've just finished the book and I would have to agree with the opinions offered by my esteemed collegues here on PaddyWop. Humans are selfish bags of water whose sole aim in life is to live longer and more lavishly than his neighbour, and if that means being cruel or even taking a life, we find a way to justify it by convincing ourselves that the meaning, and the reason for living is surviving and anything we do in the name of survival is alright. I got the impression while reading that Kosinski felt that humans are the bane of the earth and they have even corrupted the natural world; such as the story of how Lekh took revenge on a stork which ultimately led to its death. Man is fundamentally cruel; in his experiences in the countryside Kosinski came across people who did'nt want to aspire to any 'superman' status, instead he is content to just suvive while cloaking himself in superstition as a means of enhancing some lives while condeming others to misery. Kosinski highlighted that, especially in times of war, everything is decay and decaying and those who live in those times are either decaying or feeding off the decay. On a less depressing note, however, I also think there was a somewhat positive tone, especially toward the end. The episode when he jumped under trains and the feeling he got from that plus his feelings about revenge, were interpreted by me as saying that the best revenge to get on anyone, any god even life itslef, is imply to live and enjoy life and to make it fulfilling.

I'm not sure whether I would consider it to be a great book, not on the surface anyway, but it did raise some interesting philosophical questions. Nor would I consider it to be simply an example of twisted Holocaust-ponro because any book that can provoke the type of complex thought that this book obviously did is worthy of a better description. I was wondering, though what conclusions people drew on the superstition and religion in the book? Are they one in the same?

Finally I would also like to commend Paddy on the most fitting and beautiful eulogy he wrote for the Nanny's below. Ne'er a more fitting wrtiten send off could anyone hope for, nor was there ever anyone more fitting than Nanny.


sobinator said...

"He who was living is now dead
We who were living are now dying
With a little patience"

The Wasteland

I thought your note on Kosinski's view of mankind was accurate. I'm reading Eliot for ms. denize and I thought these lines were rather fitting.

I most enjoyed the entrance of the Russian pyschology. Each transition of ideology for Kosinski is interesting, but when the Russians teach the young boy about Communism and all its great institutions his overwhelming desire to become homogenous with the Red Army is fantastic.

I also liked the boy's fascination with the German's uniform (in the scene where he is beaten by the man with the german shephard). One of us jaded paddywoppers would necessitate some catastrophe to change our live's perspective on good and evil; this boy only needed a clean cut nazi--intense.

Paddy said...

The story of Lekh stuck with me as well, but I had an entirely different take on it. Rather than reading the stork epiode as an example of man corrupting the natural world, I thought that Kosinski was actually making a paallel with the natural world, i.e. making the point that man is a beast who operates according the often strange principles (instincts?) that drive the so-called wild animals. There are several points in the story where Kosinski brilliantly juztaposes a human story with that of an animal. "The world seemed to be pretty much the same everywhere, and even though people differed from one another, just as animals and trees did, one should know fairly well what they looked like after seeing them for years." The boy is a quintessential observer, and it seems to be that he is making the poignant observation that man-in-nature or at his core, acts as bizarrely and cruelly as do the beasts of the woods. The painted bird that Lekh releases, only be destroyed by its own flock, is a mirror of Lekh himself, who lives at the marigins of society, "vainly trying to convince its in that it was one of them...forced farther and farther away as it zealously tried to enter the ranks of the flock." Moreso, it seems that all of the birds described in that one brief episode with Lekh have human counterparts in the story, no?

Paddy said...

Lekh even has the 'delusion' that cuckoos are "people turned into birds -- noblemen, begging God in vain to turn them back into humans." The boy, of course, lives as a human cuckoo, placed for safety in the nests of other birds, which he does not resemble, and who do not accept him as their own. Ludmilla -- and maybe I'm on more tenuous grounds here -- might be equated with the poor stork mother, who has a trick played on her by outsiders (i.e. is raped), and then is blamed and ultimaely killed by her own people for the mishapen thing she has become because of it. And the crows are the Nazis of the bird world, who gather together, "inspired by an Evil one, who tried to instill in them hate for other birds." All-in-all, considering the book's title, I beleive the core of Kosinkis' dark internal message (if indeed there is one here), as YITS pointed out above, is contained in these few pages concerning Lekh and his birds.

sobinator said...

surely, Lekh's passage is the defining portion of the text. What makes this a great book in my opinion though, is Kosinski's ability to write an entire narrative focused, in plot, on a boy's travels, but emphasize more greatly the struggles of all men during that period. Kosinski and a few others, including Wiesel, are among those who have transmitted the complexity of man's suffering through the story of simple (child-like) individuals, perhaps a more empirical and thusly more powerful medium.

I bet Kosinski would have vomitted, had he lived, seeing the modern destruction of peoples, post-holocaust.