Friday, 20 May 2011

Agota Kristof's The Notebook

A series of ten sentences on The Notebook read as a story
We contrive to have people insult us, and we observe that we have now reached the stage where we don't care anymore. 
But there are the old words.
Mother used to say to us.
"My darlings! My loves! My Joy! My adorable little babies!"
When we remember these words, our eyes fill with tears.

1. Through the introduction of agency and deliberate decision making where this is impossible, i.e. in children, The Notebook makes strange the staged process of desensitisation of human beings in war. 
2. Children suffer in war and their suffering appears in numerous categories and registers: famine, fear, loss of loved ones, increased freedom, shocking events, violence, dirt, unpredictability, aberrant behaviours and so on. 
3. In The Notebook we are presented with children who anticipate, or process, these categories of suffering and apply them voluntarily to themselves as 'exercises'. 
4. That which occurs 'naturally' as a collateral side effect of war, i.e. the degradation of human beings, is deliberately sought out and engaged with by the two child protagonists. 
5. That progressive reduction of people which is ordinarily invisible to those who go through it, and which turns them into instruments of external forces, is here introjected by conscious design. 
6. The protagonists perceive the violent nature of the world and decide to desensitise themselves in accordance with that violence. 
7. They undertake military exercises of fasting, immobility, cruelty, toughening the body, toughening the mind, begging, blindness and deafness. 
8. Where others survive but are brutalised, the protagonists survive because they have brutalised themselves. 
9. And most unbelievably of all, this internalised brutalisation has only strengthened the iron law of their ethical code which they apply in all circumstances. 
10. By deliberately absorbing the lessons of war, and refusing to be its victims, they are able to maintain their miraculous autonomy.


A series of six sentences on The Notebook approached as a military exercise.
Words that define feelings are very vague. It is better to avoid using them and stick to the description of objects, human beings, and oneself, that is to say, to the faithful description of facts.
1. The bare bones of all war stories, and of all stories of survival against the odds, are bared here as bones
2. Every convention and ruse of the storytelling of war is recorded here so that when we encounter such stories again we shall recognise them as the motifs that they are. 
3. We see the methods by which storytelling presents these motifs: of the necessities of survival, of degradation, of casual brutality, of petty-mindedness, of small comforts, of savage relations, of arbitrariness, of heightened states of awareness, of hunger, of raggedness, of anxiety, of the unknown and unpredictable, of external forces personified. 
4. But in The Notebook we are asked to observe how such storytelling conventions are worked upon us without their being worked upon us in this story.
5. Therefore,The Notebook is a military exercise in exposing the categories of narrative sensitisation as these are deployed in stories of war.
6. As readers we may become familiar with these categories and use them ourselves as 'exercises' in our self-desensitisation.
7. Our familiarity with the hidden mechanisms that are present in the war narratives of others causes us to be less susceptible to seduction by them.

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