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Life of Pi

post #1 of 31
Thread Starter 
Well, it's come up enough in threads in PO...

Yann Martel's novel Life of Pi. Winner of the Man Booker Prize. Beloved by many readers. Others, like my wife, say "meh."

What did you think?
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post #2 of 31
SPOILERS

I enjoyed it, especially the zoo/animal stuff and the religious stuff. And the way he was able to portray the lifeboat situation, it almost seems like he had really experienced this.

But the main story on the lifeboat is destroyed for me by the revelation at the end. I simply can't buy the idea that this is a good thing, or that it's uplifting. This guy's family was eaten by a cannibal, and he then murdered the cannibal. That's a horrible horrible thing, and making up a cute story doesn't change its horribleness. It was a massive downer, and basically ruined the preceding story. If he had simply made it turn out that it was all a delusion due to something less traumatic I would have been happy.

But it's not just the "downer" aspect - I generally have no problem with sad stories. It's partially the idea that it's not sad if you make up a story, and it's also partially the whole overdone dissociation/repression theme that came through.
post #3 of 31
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally posted by BRussell
SPOILERS

I enjoyed it, especially the zoo/animal stuff and the religious stuff. And the way he was able to portray the lifeboat situation, it almost seems like he had really experienced this.

But the main story on the lifeboat is destroyed for me by the revelation at the end. I simply can't buy the idea that this is a good thing, or that it's uplifting. This guy's family was eaten by a cannibal, and he then murdered the cannibal. That's a horrible horrible thing, and making up a cute story doesn't change its horribleness. It was a massive downer, and basically ruined the preceding story. If he had simply made it turn out that it was all a delusion due to something less traumatic I would have been happy.

But it's not just the "downer" aspect - I generally have no problem with sad stories. It's partially the idea that it's not sad if you make up a story, and it's also partially the whole overdone dissociation/repression theme that came through.

You seem to have chosen what Pi calls "the dry, yeastless factuality" rather than "the better story," which is fine, I suppose, but I tend to think that this is the kind of binary trap that the novel has such fun withhow many times does Pi not understand rather arbitrary binary distinctions? Consider his experiments with religion. Why can he only be either/or? Why can't he be both/and?

Nor do I agree that the story is particularly "cute." Pi's experience on the boat, I think, is anything but. It's all horrible and vicious and nasty, either story. And as Pi keeps reminding the Japanese insurance guys, he lost his entire family.

I tend to see the dissociation/repression reading as reductive and dismissive of the religious play that's going on. If the whole Richard Parker thing is just him having some kind of psychotic break, what do we do with the sheer level of detail, of symbolism in the novel? What do you do with the religion? That the name of the ship, Tsimtsum, is also a Kabbalist term describing how God created the universe by first withdrawing into himself to make space for it? What do you do with the 226 days on the boat mirroring the 226 rules of monastic Buddhism?

And we're off!
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post #4 of 31
Quote:
Originally posted by midwinter
You seem to have chosen what Pi calls "the dry, yeastless factuality" rather than "the better story," which is fine, I suppose, but I tend to think that this is the kind of binary trap that the novel has such fun withhow many times does Pi not understand rather arbitrary binary distinctions? Consider his experiments with religion. Why can he only be either/or? Why can't he be both/and?

I don't really see it as a choice that I made. It's something that was revealed in the novel. But is it an arbitrary distinction? Between truth and fiction? I can see taking an eclectic approach to religion. Lots of people practice Universalism. But the distinction between a knowingly false story and a true one is a bit different.
Quote:
Nor do I agree that the story is particularly "cute." Pi's experience on the boat, I think, is anything but. It's all horrible and vicious and nasty, either story. And as Pi keeps reminding the Japanese insurance guys, he lost his entire family.

Yeah, you're right. I'm not sure why I said "cute." I guess the fact that it's all so implausible makes it not so bad, at least compared to watching your mom get eaten by a cannibal.

Quote:
I tend to see the dissociation/repression reading as reductive and dismissive of the religious play that's going on. If the whole Richard Parker thing is just him having some kind of psychotic break, what do we do with the sheer level of detail, of symbolism in the novel? What do you do with the religion? That the name of the ship, Tsimtsum, is also a Kabbalist term describing how God created the universe by first withdrawing into himself to make space for it? What do you do with the 226 days on the boat mirroring the 226 rules of monastic Buddhism?

Well the easy answer is that I didn't know any of those things. But isn't the idea that he has invented this story in order to deal with what happened, and possibly also as a by-product of his deprived physical condition?

And what's the deal with the island of squirrels and acid?
post #5 of 31
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally posted by BRussell
I don't really see it as a choice that I made. It's something that was revealed in the novel.

Ah, but see, it's not "revealed." Pi tells them the story. They don't like it. So he tells them another story, which makes them feel safe, but which they don't actually prefer.

Quote:
But is it an arbitrary distinction? Between truth and fiction?

Note how the novel is structured: We begin with an author's note, written, we assume, by Martel. But it's not. It can't be, because he describes meeting fictional characters. So off the bat, the novel is playing with matters of fiction and reality. At one point, the "author" in the note says something along the lines of "that's what fiction is isn't it? The selective transforming of reality." This, of course, raises all kinds of questions: what is fiction? what is fact? what is being transformed? what is the real? The "author's" continued insertions of himself into the story continue this. But it's even worse than that. This author is being told this story by an old Pi, who in turn is recounting something that "happened" when he was young. And so there are layers upon layers upon layers of "truth" and "fact" and "fiction" that we have to peel through. This is, of course, a rich tradition in the history of the English novel. I won't even mention that RP is a name closely associated with cannibalism and shipwrecks and castaways. Nor will I mention that Martel ripped off the idea for the novel from Max and the Cats.

You, like the Japanese men, are free to choose whatever story you "prefer." And, as Pi points out, there are reasons for that.

Quote:
Well the easy answer is that I didn't know any of those things. But isn't the idea that he has invented this story in order to deal with what happened, and possibly also as a by-product of his deprived physical condition?

And if I say that the fake story is the one with the cannibal?

Quote:
And what's the deal with the island of squirrels and acid?

Meerkats. Sounds like "meek." As in "inherit the earth." Even as they're being brutally slaughtered by RP. Martel says that he put it in there to force the reader to make a choice. But I don't necessarily buy that.
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post #6 of 31
It's meta-fiction which is a particular genre that is taken to be a post-modernist development.

This genre relies on the reader knowing that he is reading a fiction as opposed to a straight story where the attempt is to suspend the reader's disbelief. One technique that is often used is the 'unreliable narrator' (someone who lies obviously to signal the work is fiction) or else breaking out of the framework of the novel by addressing the reader directly etc.

Martell is playing with this concept in a startling new way - for a start he is referencing older works which are also meta-fiction but not seen as such. I suppose the most obvious parallel would be the Thousand and One Nights where there are many 'stories within stories' and which itself is a coded religious document. The 'unbelievable' aspects of Pi's tale are directly related to such motifs as those found in Sinbad for example - the giant Roc bird and the Genies the size of houses.

I suspect Martell's book is deeper than we even imagine and that he has attempted to create a new genre rather than redefine meta-fiction. Perhaps it involves linking the story to actual events in the real world - hence the blatant reworking of Max and the Cats - I'm not going to do it but it's nice to think that if you started researching the clues and names in the book you'd find some interesting things. Maybe even 'Pi' himself.

What is Faith? When your good deed pleases you and your evil deed grieves you, you are a believer. What is Sin? When a thing disturbs the peace of your heart, give it up - Prophet Muhammad
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What is Faith? When your good deed pleases you and your evil deed grieves you, you are a believer. What is Sin? When a thing disturbs the peace of your heart, give it up - Prophet Muhammad
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post #7 of 31
Quote:
Originally posted by midwinter
Ah, but see, it's not "revealed." Pi tells them the story. They don't like it. So he tells them another story, which makes them feel safe, but which they don't actually prefer.

Hmm. The way the story is written, it's seems pretty clear that the Richard Parker story isn't what really happened, and the cannibal story is. If he's making up a story to please them, why make up something where his mom is eaten by a cannibal? That's hardly a dry yeastless story - it seems pretty intense to me. If the tiger story was true, but he just wanted to make up a boring but believable story, why not just say he floated by himself on the raft for those months?

Quote:
Note how the novel is structured: We begin with an author's note, written, we assume, by Martel. But it's not. It can't be, because he describes meeting fictional characters. So off the bat, the novel is playing with matters of fiction and reality. At one point, the "author" in the note says something along the lines of "that's what fiction is isn't it? The selective transforming of reality." This, of course, raises all kinds of questions: what is fiction? what is fact? what is being transformed? what is the real?

Meh. It sounds like a pot-induced dorm room bullshit session: "Which is more real, truth or fiction." "Wow that is so true man."

Quote:
You, like the Japanese men, are free to choose whatever story you "prefer." And, as Pi points out, there are reasons for that.

And if I say that the fake story is the one with the cannibal?

Could the tiger story be true, and then he just made up the cannibal story to please the interviewers? I don't think that's plausible. Sure it's just a novel, and like science fiction and fantasy and other fiction, anything goes. But the way this is written, it hits you in the face with this. It's like those TV shows where the main character wakes up at the end and it's all been just a dream. I don't think that raises any deeper issues about what's true and what's a dream, it just makes you feel ripped off.

(Anyway, thanks in advance for indulging my freshman English ramblings. )
post #8 of 31
It effectively explains exactly why religious texts and traditions (inlcuding the Bible) are full of tales of supernatural events, instead of simply portraying the truth.
post #9 of 31
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally posted by BRussell
Meh. It sounds like a pot-induced dorm room bullshit session: "Which is more real, truth or fiction." "Wow that is so true man."

Welcome to the Postmodern novel. Seriously.

Quote:
Could the tiger story be true, and then he just made up the cannibal story to please the interviewers? I don't think that's plausible.

Well isn't that the problem? People focus too much on the plausible, which is just another way of saying "comfortable," and miss the more beautiful, meaningful and miraculous story?
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post #10 of 31
Thread Starter 
Well. I start teaching it again tomorrow. Anyone want to keep up? We're discussing the author's note.
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post #11 of 31
Absolutely. Are you going to post your lectures here? And when's the final date to drop with no effect on my GPA?
post #12 of 31
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally posted by BRussell
Absolutely. Are you going to post your lectures here? And when's the final date to drop with no effect on my GPA?

That was yesterday. I'm sorry. Each day you attend class from here on out results in a .5% reduction of your final grade.

And while I don't really lecture (it's a bit more like a free-wheeling discussion), I'll be glad to report in with some comments.

Today, for instance, we're going to be talking about the author's note, paying specific attention to the ways that it lays out the structure of the novel:

Martel creates an unnamed narrator who has published (like Martel) an earlier novel that got no real traction and who then sets out to go to India to write a book about Portugal in 1939 (presumably Portugal under Salazar?) which fails. Note the ways that this narrator, as he plans his trip to India, transforms not only 1939 Portugal into a fiction, but also India itself, concluding finally that "that's what fiction is about, isn't it, the selective transforming of reality? The twisting of it to bring out its essence?" (viii). This is, in many ways, the central problem of the book, isn't it? cf. p. 302.

As this narrator's fiction of a fiction fails, he then creates a fiction of the rest of the world, mailing the bits of the failed novel to a fictional address in Siberia with a fictional return address in Bolivia.

So we have a fictional author creating fictions within fictions and then fictions of the fictions within the fictions...and on and on.

But when he meets Mamaji (Mr. Adirubasamy), everything changes. It is from Mamaji that he first learns the story of Pi. Indeed, Mamaji tells him that it is a "story that will make you believe in God," which, when it is all said and done, the fictional author agrees with.

But note that choice of word: make. Why make? To make is an act of force, isn't it?

Anyway.

This is the point at which the structure of the novel really gets made clear:

Martel creates a fiction of an author (who bears a striking resemblance to Martel) who meets a fictional character names Francis Adirubasamy who tells him the potentially very fictional story of fictional character, Pi. Then a grown-up Pi tells the fictional author the story of what happens to him when he is 14. Then some fictional Japanese men send the fictional author some fictional documents which then confirm for him the story that the fictional characters have been telling him, and so he decides to invent another Pia fiction of the fictionto tell his own story.

Whew.

And then things get interesting. The narrator tells us that "It seemed natural that Mr. Patel's story should be told mostly in the first personin his voice and through his eyes. But any inaccuracies are or mistakes mine" (xi-xii). Now, setting aside for the moment all the hedging that happens here (e.g. "seemed" and "mostly"), what are we to do with this idea that the mistakes are the responsibility of the narrator? And why would he admit that?

Finally, as the narrator thanks all of the fictional people who made the story possible, he sneaks in this: "Also, I am indebted to Mr. Moacyr Scliar, for the spark of life" (xii).

Scliar wrote a book called Max and the Cats, about a young boy who's trapped on a lifeboat with a Puma (I believe).

Fictions within fictions within fictions within realities within fictions within realities, all ending with the claim that "if we do not support our artists [who are, of course, makers of fakery], then we sacrifice our imagination on the altar of crude reality and we end up believing in nothing and having worthless dreams" (xii).

Crude reality?
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post #13 of 31
HAHAHA EVERYONE LOVES PI

3.
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9588970695 3653494060 3402166544 3755890045 6328822505 4525564056 4482465151 8754711962 1844396582 5337543885 6909411303 1509526179 3780029741 2076651479 3942590298 9695946995 5657612186 5619673378 6236256125 2163208628 6922210327 4889218654 3648022967 8070576561 5144632046 9279068212 0738837781 4233562823 6089632080 6822246801 2248261177 1858963814 0918390367 3672220888 3215137556 0037279839 4004152970 0287830766 7094447456 0134556417 2543709069 7939612257 1429894671 5435784687 8861444581 2314593571 9849225284 7160504922 1242470141 2147805734 5510500801 9086996033 0276347870 8108175450 1193071412 2339086639 3833952942 5786905076 4310063835 1983438934 1596131854 3475464955 6978103829 3097164651 4384070070 7360411237 3599843452 2516105070 2705623526 6012764848 3084076118 3013052793 2054274628 6540360367 4532865105 7065874882 2569815793 6789766974 2205750596 8344086973 5020141020 6723585020 0724522563 2651341055 9240190274 2162484391 4035998953 5394590944 0704691209 1409387001 2645600162 3742880210 9276457931 0657922955 2498872758 4610126483 6999892256 9596881592 0560010165 5256375678
post #14 of 31
Actually Pi isn't a number, it is a concept, essentially that every circle's circumfrence has a linear relationship to its radius.

Let's leave it at that...
"In a republic, voters may vote for the leaders they want, but they get the leaders they deserve."
Reply
"In a republic, voters may vote for the leaders they want, but they get the leaders they deserve."
Reply
post #15 of 31
Thread Starter 
Just because I happened to re-read this part of my notes in the book: "'Pi' is that number which is both unknowablethat is, we cannot fully understand it and which allows us to apprehend the geometry of the universe. It it that unknowable thing that we must have faith inthat we simply acknowledge. It is a magical number, and requires faith that its meaning is there, beyond the confusion, even if we do notand may not everknow it in any empirically complete way."
Gangs are not seen as legitimate, because they don't have control over public schools.
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Gangs are not seen as legitimate, because they don't have control over public schools.
Reply
post #16 of 31
Quote:
Originally posted by midwinter
Just because I happened to re-read this part of my notes in the book: "'Pi' is that number which is both unknowablethat is, we cannot fully understand it and which allows us to apprehend the geometry of the universe. It it that unknowable thing that we must have faith inthat we simply acknowledge. It is a magical number, and requires faith that its meaning is there, beyond the confusion, even if we do notand may not everknow it in any empirically complete way."

Midwinter, you devil!

You mean we can know something truly without knowing it exhaustlvely? There may be hope for you yet.

Seriously, this book popped up in the latest issue of Books and Culture -- what is it, some sort of po-mod buttress? (seriously)

In our desire to impose form on the world we have lost the capacity to see the form that is there;
and in that lies not liberation but alienation, the cutting off from things as they really are. --...

Reply

In our desire to impose form on the world we have lost the capacity to see the form that is there;
and in that lies not liberation but alienation, the cutting off from things as they really are. --...

Reply
post #17 of 31
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally posted by dmz
Midwinter, you devil!

You mean we can know something truly without knowing it exhaustlvely? There may be hope for you yet.

Seriously, this book popped up in the latest issue of Books and Culture -- what is it, some sort of po-mod buttress? (seriously)

It won the Man Booker prize in 2001 and is a beautiful meditation on many things, primarily religion.
Gangs are not seen as legitimate, because they don't have control over public schools.
Reply
Gangs are not seen as legitimate, because they don't have control over public schools.
Reply
post #18 of 31
Hey midwinter, have you heard anything about this Pride and Prejudice that's coming out? I know it's not really out yet, but I've heard some, well, mixed reviews.
post #19 of 31
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally posted by BRussell
Hey midwinter, have you heard anything about this Pride and Prejudice that's coming out? I know it's not really out yet, but I've heard some, well, mixed reviews.

The Jane Austen class I'm teaching right now is all about it. The Jane Austen society of North America hated it. I've not seen it yet, though. The complaints range from the pedantic (the pigs are too close to the house) to the juvenile (the guy who plays Darcy isn't as hot as Colin Firth).

I'll probably go see it this weekend.
Gangs are not seen as legitimate, because they don't have control over public schools.
Reply
Gangs are not seen as legitimate, because they don't have control over public schools.
Reply
post #20 of 31
I did like the A&E version. I also liked the Emma with Paltrow.
post #21 of 31
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally posted by BRussell
I did like the A&E version. I also liked the Emma with Paltrow.

My students got onto me the other day for not having seen the Paltrow version. In fact, one of them called my reason for not watching it (I don't care for Paltrow) "retarded."

My response? "Is not!"
Gangs are not seen as legitimate, because they don't have control over public schools.
Reply
Gangs are not seen as legitimate, because they don't have control over public schools.
Reply
post #22 of 31
Anybody watch Pi?
'L'enfer, c'est les autres' - JPS
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'L'enfer, c'est les autres' - JPS
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post #23 of 31
Just finished the book right now.

fantastic.

Bill Bradley to comedian Bill Cosby: "Bill, you are a comic, tell us a joke!"
- "Senator, you are a politician, first tell us a lie!"
Reply
Bill Bradley to comedian Bill Cosby: "Bill, you are a comic, tell us a joke!"
- "Senator, you are a politician, first tell us a lie!"
Reply
post #24 of 31
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally posted by New
Just finished the book right now.

fantastic.


It is, isn't it? This is the first semester since it came out that I've not taught it and I really do miss it.
Gangs are not seen as legitimate, because they don't have control over public schools.
Reply
Gangs are not seen as legitimate, because they don't have control over public schools.
Reply
post #25 of 31
Quote:
Originally posted by midwinter
It is, isn't it? This is the first semester since it came out that I've not taught it and I really do miss it.

hmm, I just feel empty now that it's finished. What do I read next...?
Bill Bradley to comedian Bill Cosby: "Bill, you are a comic, tell us a joke!"
- "Senator, you are a politician, first tell us a lie!"
Reply
Bill Bradley to comedian Bill Cosby: "Bill, you are a comic, tell us a joke!"
- "Senator, you are a politician, first tell us a lie!"
Reply
post #26 of 31
Quote:
Originally posted by New
hmm, I just feel empty now that it's finished. What do I read next...?

Read Dead Babies.

-hardeeharhar, spreading joy through the ages
"In a republic, voters may vote for the leaders they want, but they get the leaders they deserve."
Reply
"In a republic, voters may vote for the leaders they want, but they get the leaders they deserve."
Reply
post #27 of 31
Quote:
Originally posted by New
hmm, I just feel empty now that it's finished. What do I read next...?

How about Donna Tartt's "The Little Friend" or anything by Paul Auster.
What is Faith? When your good deed pleases you and your evil deed grieves you, you are a believer. What is Sin? When a thing disturbs the peace of your heart, give it up - Prophet Muhammad
Reply
What is Faith? When your good deed pleases you and your evil deed grieves you, you are a believer. What is Sin? When a thing disturbs the peace of your heart, give it up - Prophet Muhammad
Reply
post #28 of 31
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally posted by New
hmm, I just feel empty now that it's finished. What do I read next...?

Graham Swift, Waterland.
Gangs are not seen as legitimate, because they don't have control over public schools.
Reply
Gangs are not seen as legitimate, because they don't have control over public schools.
Reply
post #29 of 31
Quote:
Originally posted by New
hmm, I just feel empty now that it's finished. What do I read next...?

Either Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln or Personal Knowledge (by Michael Polanyi).

In our desire to impose form on the world we have lost the capacity to see the form that is there;
and in that lies not liberation but alienation, the cutting off from things as they really are. --...

Reply

In our desire to impose form on the world we have lost the capacity to see the form that is there;
and in that lies not liberation but alienation, the cutting off from things as they really are. --...

Reply
post #30 of 31

Overdone!?!?! It was genius! The whole dissociation with reality was the only reason why I liked the movie. I was watching the movie going, "This is so stupid. What is this? I'm so bored. This could never ever happen in real life." And then the ending came, and I was blown away. It may be my favorite movie now. I'm really into psychology though. But, I really don't think it was overdone. It was the purpose of the story. A reason to make you think. Without it, the movie would be pointless.

post #31 of 31
Originally Posted by lollizuu View Post
Overdone!?!?! The whole dissociation with reality was the only reason why I liked the movie.

 

Thread's about the book, though. And is nearly 7 years old.

Originally posted by Marvin

Even if [the 5.5” iPhone] exists, it doesn’t deserve to.
Reply

Originally posted by Marvin

Even if [the 5.5” iPhone] exists, it doesn’t deserve to.
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