James Clavell

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James Clavell

Postby Pedro I Rengel » Sun Feb 13, 2022 5:15 am

I am starting to re-read Noble House, and suddenly I find myself unable to remember if I am more impressed by it or by Whirlwind. Which is the better book. Getting back into familiarity with one of them, it probably would have to be Whirlwind (which makes sense, Clavell being considerably older and more experienced, more at ease with his craft, and more able to tell what constitutes poetry and what constitutes going on). I remember the first time I read Whirlwind, and still having the potency of the compact romanticism of Noble House, I felt it was maybe a little scatter-brained and aimless. But, with time, like waiting many seconds after a sip of X, the flavours settle and you begin to realize just what a masterpiece it really is. Maybe another reason is that Whirlwind is largely the story of a revolution which, to anyone who has experienced one, might be a little more anxiety-inducing than is strictly entretaining. Because it is a trauma that he himself did not undergo, it is narrated with more ruthlesness than the trauma he did (King Rat P.O.W. story, which reduces to the trauma of unavoidable and collective starvation).

His enamourment with women in Noble House is much more drawn-out and beady-eyed. He asks many more questions about them which, to anyone that has found any of the answers, turn out to be pointless and off-the-mark. In Whirlwind, the urgency of what love or romance is takes much more precedence, center-stage in fact, and he dispenses with the pointless vagueries of whys and wherefores.

So Whirlwind is the better book. But I am looking forward to this re-reading. Ian Dunross is probably an even more fun character than Dirk Struan. I'm not sure the same can be said of Quillian Gornt compared to Tyler Brock, but maybe that slight decrease is what gives Dunross the space to shine. In any event, that image of him racing down steep hills in a 60's MG in a dimly lit, young night is forever burned into my mind.
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Re: James Clavell

Postby Pedro I Rengel » Fri Feb 18, 2022 1:01 am

One forgets just how much of a political genius Clavell was.

What's most astonishing about strategic communist propaganda is that it works. It's so brutal, so simplistic, obviously requiring such an amount of stupidity and outright, deliberate self-dellusion, that no sane man can believe it would work. I have come to believe that this is part of its genius, that it's on purpose, to throw off sane observers. Very often, even in the midst of an on-going operation, sane observers will think "this is preposterous, this wouldn't even work on brainwashed kindergardeners," and so do nothing.

The secret is cracking the minds that come up with such a propaganda, what motivates them. But that's another story.

Every year that passes I fall more in love with it. You can't be angry at fine craftsmanship.
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Re: James Clavell

Postby Pedro I Rengel » Sat Feb 19, 2022 4:58 pm

One interesting thing about King Rat is that it is also the chronicle of an English patrician being converted to free-booting, free-market anarchism.

English patricians, even the old timers of East India Corporation fame, were and are strictly socialist, authoritarian and protectionist.

Compare the so-called "king" of England and the House of "Lords" to the likes of Nigel Farage, who they still openly mock for being a bowler-hat wearing commoner.
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Re: James Clavell

Postby Pedro I Rengel » Sat Feb 19, 2022 5:06 pm

Because of the high amount of privilege and quality education they are exposed to, however, when they do convert, they tend to make some of the finest. But they become outcasts and hated by the "class."

Churchill. Rees-Mogg. Clavell himself.
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Re: James Clavell

Postby Pedro I Rengel » Sat Feb 19, 2022 6:44 pm

Reading the book now, having quit cigarettes but failed to quit tobacco, half the fun is following Armstrong's travails in quitting.
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Re: James Clavell

Postby Pedro I Rengel » Sun Feb 20, 2022 2:55 am

A lot of people might read this book and believe that Clavell's descriptions of Chinese civility and how it compares to Gothic sensibilities are ludicrous, romantic and largely made up for dramatic effect.

But people of great intelligence and sensibility that have dealt with them at the highest level confirm it. Kissinger pretty much says it explicitly every time he mentions them. When he talks about his meetings with Mao, for example, he always describes himself as being slow on the uptake and as an awkward barbarian, saved from embarassment only by the unimaginably vast power he represents.

He had great admiration for the Arabs, too, but the Chinese evoked in him frank awe.
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Re: James Clavell

Postby Pedro I Rengel » Tue Feb 22, 2022 9:52 am

What is it about Changi that made Clavell such a writer?

It's obvious that it was there. You can smell it on him even through the jacket picture. In his thoughts.

It was the capacity for honesty that that type of experience gives.
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Re: James Clavell

Postby Pedro I Rengel » Tue Feb 22, 2022 10:26 am

It's a good thing that the British empire faded. They were still, even they, too tribal for what the world was becoming. Too clanish. The United States was the proper leader. Already internally, the United States is an international state. Unhindered by tribal pride. That is what is behind the famous "gringo love for excellence." They have no ancestral myth or tribal unity to feel pride for. Only their excellence, their technical proficiency, their beating everyone at everything now and in the projectable future, gives them pride. There is definitely a "gringoness," something only of the US, but it is not a tribal thing.

The problem is that there was no continuity, there was no follow-through for Europe. After England there was sort of just, nothing. They were too uptight and worm-up-the-asshole to accept gringo cultural eminence, too unfit to continue the role they had before. The shockwave of socialism which WW2 in reality represented for Europe found an easy pickings. Not a man seems to have survived.

I'm not saying it couldn't have found a follow-through. I think one was staring it in the face. I just think it was too vulnerable, its defences too low, to resist the blanket of mediocrity known as socialism that fell over it.

Which the fuckface sons of bitches were only too happy to export.

It was the innocence of the US, their lack of understanding of how or why anyone would want anything other than excellence, that the socialists slowly exploited to gain their present footing.

Still, and this will be a controversial opinion, but I believe Trump proved it conclusively (if not necessarily as conclusively as one's own innocent desire for excellence would have hoped), their present footing is actually a losing position.
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Re: James Clavell

Postby Pedro I Rengel » Tue Feb 22, 2022 10:31 am

Only China is a real threat, and China is too wise to ever become a real problem, and communism is too unsound for China ever to become powerful enough to require a change of posture.

Right now their chips are on Europe.

LAWL.

Some of their chips.

Like I said, they are wise.
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Re: James Clavell

Postby Pedro I Rengel » Tue Feb 22, 2022 10:35 am

That's what Kissinger discovered.

Deal with China, always with China. If the Russia abandons communism, ok, then maybe Russia. Otherwise, deal always with China.

Too bad we don't have a Kissinger now, Putin would be seeing Russia through a boom.

Well we almost had one. But the commies weren't idle since all the way back when they did their little coup on Nixon.

But still. Most of what Trump did was epochal and irreversible.
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Re: James Clavell

Postby Pedro I Rengel » Tue Feb 22, 2022 10:52 am

What are Putin and the US coupsters doing now?

Arranging a summit, dialoguing through statements. That was unimaginable before Trump.

What were they doing before Trump?

Fuck your summit, send in the tanks. NATO was doing military excercices in Latvia and Lithuania. Hillary Clinton was having histerical fits on television.

Enough about Trump. Just making a point here because, despite himself, and showing less than he actually knows to represent what he knows is the de facto tribalness of the British, Clavell still has that British tendency to mock a power that is their superior in every possible way.

They used to run the world, so we forgive them.
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Re: James Clavell

Postby Pedro I Rengel » Tue Feb 22, 2022 10:55 am

God bless country clubs and golf courses.
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Re: James Clavell

Postby Pedro I Rengel » Tue Feb 22, 2022 12:57 pm

I like a proper Englishman, whose only expression is a scowl of subdued disgust, who has paintings of horses and dogs which are sober to the point of sand-dry, and only paintings of horses and dogs which are sober to the point of sand-dry, whose life is 90% hobbies, none of which he enjoys, who hates French because they love, who is always exactly 2 minutes early.

All the other Englishmen were just their peons.
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Re: James Clavell

Postby Pedro I Rengel » Wed Feb 23, 2022 4:13 am

I must have been a lot younger when I read this. A lot of the stuff I couldn't guess Clavell's reason for including, other than maybe politics, now has me actually splitting in laughter.

Like a part where they try to finesse Casey into not realizing that she's not invited to a golf trip to begin with, and Clavell writes it like this:

She sipped her drink and kept her face clear. So I'm not invited, huh? she thought with a flash of irritation. "You're off Sunday?"

"Yes," Dunross said, sure that the finesse had worked, detecting no change in her.
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Re: James Clavell

Postby Pedro I Rengel » Wed Feb 23, 2022 4:22 am

Women are more dangerous than a bullet dipped in poison consigned to the Devil.
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Re: James Clavell

Postby Pedro I Rengel » Wed Feb 23, 2022 4:57 am

Here's a favoured line that I read in I don't remember what book:

"When do women learn to pretend?"

"Probably around the same time men learn to lie."
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Re: James Clavell

Postby Pedro I Rengel » Wed Feb 23, 2022 12:44 pm

I hadn't realized how in love Clavell was with China the first time around. I am laughing like an idiot. The prose is beautiful.
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Re: James Clavell

Postby Pedro I Rengel » Wed Feb 23, 2022 12:56 pm

The reason Japan was so much easier to forgive after the war was that their motives were so innocent, even honorable, they just wanted to conquer the world.

The Germans had a whole twisted gay S&M inwardly frustrated genocidal fantasy attached to it. World conquest was almost incidental to them.

I don't suppose Clavell would have had much fun writing about the European theatre.

One can, however, possibly imagine him writing some medieval fiction. He would have been cheating on his heart, though.
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Re: James Clavell

Postby Pedro I Rengel » Sat Mar 05, 2022 2:54 pm

In Noble House, though in love, Clavell still believes in his innocent European notions. He still truly believes that Europe is the "old world," or that others may be more ancient but exist somehow outside of Europe's reality, anachronistic if beautiful.

In Whirlwind, he understands fully the extent of European naivete.
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Re: James Clavell

Postby Pedro I Rengel » Sat Mar 05, 2022 4:24 pm

In a word, Europe sincerely believes that morality is illumination, the apex of human understanding.

What it "all has been building towards."

The source and reason for its power.

What truth there is in this is that fanaticism gives an impetus to any innitiative. Morality is even able to step outside of itself and back in, so that it sees itself as "manipulating morality" for "its purposes," without this causing any conflict with the fact that their actual purpose is morality.

This is the stage Clavell is in in Noble House.
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Re: James Clavell

Postby Pedro I Rengel » Sat Mar 05, 2022 4:34 pm

The fanaticism of moralists also largely accounts for the depth and irrationality of their fear of their enemies. Because they are fanatics, they assume their enemies will be as well, but on the side of Evil.
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Re: James Clavell

Postby Pedro I Rengel » Sat Mar 05, 2022 4:42 pm

The bigman Russian spy, in Noble House, is a fearsome if slightly fearful and extremely skilled fanatic.

In Whirlwind, he becomes beautiful and 1000 times deeper and more complex. For these reasons, also considerably more powerful and awesome.

One gets, I believe, the option of believing that the Noble House stage is an actual part of his past and what made him, or that Clavell actually misunderstood him completely.
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Re: James Clavell

Postby Pedro I Rengel » Sat Mar 05, 2022 4:42 pm

All the spies are considerably more beautiful in Whirlwind.
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Re: James Clavell

Postby Pedro I Rengel » Mon Mar 07, 2022 6:32 pm

Done with Noble House. I am both sad and relieved. The first half is a love poem to Hong Kong, the second teeters a little over the abyss of soapyness.

As usual with Clavell, it is not nearly enough, and up next is...

Tai-Pan!
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Re: James Clavell

Postby Pedro I Rengel » Tue Mar 08, 2022 6:52 am

Tai-Pan is a considerably less leisurely book to read. Set in 1841, everything is constantly on the balance, catastrophy and glory a step away, and absolute, all conquests final, all killings final, the air always fresh from God's vagina.

None of the guarantees and insurances and assurances and redundancies and quadruple-redundancies and safety nets and sanities of the modern world. No plasticity to afford refuge or give. No lies one can tell to the salt of the wind. Nothing ceremonial about a blade.
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