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Book Notes: El pensionado de Neuwelke by José C. Vales

Author: José C. Vales

Title: El pensionado de Neuwelke

Year of publication: 2013

My rating: 2 out of 10

This is the book I thought was fantasy but it turned out not to be. This didn’t make the book a whole lot better, though. In this novel, a governess in a boarding school in Livonia (this is an area in the Baltic states) during the 1840s suffers from an affliction that makes some sort of a ghost-like substance come out of her every once in a while, freaking everybody out. So for 460 pages, the ghost-like substance comes out of the governess and everybody freaks. Then it comes out some more, and everybody freaks. And then the book mercifully ends. And that’s it. There is no explanation of the ghost-like substance and no real resolution to anything. The novel is some sort of a weird pseudo-Gothic thing that just goes on and on and on pointlessly.

After finishing this painfully long and wordy novel, I did some research to find out what the hell it was all supposed to mean and discovered that people who believe in all kind of paranormal crap do think there was a real governess in Livonia in 1840s who had this ghost-like substance come out of her. So El pensionado de Neuwelke was directed towards this weird audience. 

I knew things were bad in Spain but I had no idea they were so bad that 460-page novels on ghost-like substances were sorely needed. I have no idea if the book will be translated into English and I don’t care to find out because I didn’t like it. The book gets 2 stars instead of zero because there was an endearing character called Augusta Dehmel who suffered from insane jealousy and that character was finely done. Spanish authors have not lost their skill of writing about jealousy in a convincing way. Other than that, the novel was a major disappointment.

Superfluous People

A very interesting article on “superfluous people” and why no social unrest is possible:

My best guess at present is a combination

of drugs and computer games as a solution for most … it’s already happening. Under different titles, different headings, you see more and more people spending more and more time, or solving their inner problems with drugs and computer games

And that’s precisely why mass unemployment will not lead even to a shadow of a protest in post-industrial societies.

Of course, there’s still time to wake up and turn in a different direction. There’s still time.

American vs Russian Exceptionalism

A myth of exceptionalism lies at the basis of every nation-building process. As we know, a nation is an invented community, and everybody prefers to imagine their community as the best at something or maybe even at everything. If the purpose of nation-building is to create an emotional attachment strong enough to convince people to lay down their lives for the imagined community, then nothing is more reasonable than to imagine the nation as exceptional.

Everybody’s exceptionalism is different, however. The American version is what I call “a triumphant exceptionalism.” Its narrative is celebratory and goes as follows: 

We have the greatest freedoms, we are proud of our constitution, we are a land of opportunity, anybody who comes here can advance on his or her own merits, American Dream, Civil Rights movement, life, liberty and happiness for all, only here you can achieve everything you want if only you try.

It is completely beyond the point to which extent the myths of nation-building are grounded in reality. They don’t have to come from reality but they do end up shaping it.

Now, the Russian version of exceptionalism is what I call “aggrieved exceptionalism.” Its narrative is sulky and self-pitying:

We have the most spiritual of all cultures, the most beautiful of all languages, the richest of all literatures, the most glorious of all histories but nobody recognizes our achievements, everybody steals our inventions and appropriates our victories, we are surrounded by enemies, we keep saving the world but the world is ungrateful and persecutes us.

Imagine repeating “there are enemies everywhere and everybody hates me” to yourself for ten days in a row. How will that make you feel? Will that have an impact on your life? And what if you were to repeat it for 100 years? All day, every day, nothing but this. 

Yes, these narrative are manufactured, constructed but they, in turn, manufacture reality.