Sunday, September 16, 2007

Reader's Diary #291- George Jonas: The Happy Hungry Man (FINISHED)

Perhaps best known for Vengeance, his book about the 1972 Munich massacre and basis behind the movie Munich, George Jonas didn't start off writing such controversial and political books. He began as a poet.

The second of his forays into poetry was entitled The Happy Hungry Man. If I have interpreted the title and opening quote attributed to Dibil el Khuzai correctly, Jonas was of the opinion that a hungry man is potentially happier than one with food. The hungry man, it is argued, has a focus- a focus so strong that all his other worries are no more. That man has drive.

If that seems a little like a rich man telling a poor man that money can't buy happiness, it is. But oddly this compels me to Jonas's book even more. Ever been down or unhappy for no apparent reason? I hesitate to say it, but I get that way quite often. And then of course, when I take stock of everything I have (family, shelter, food, etc) I realize that I don't have much to complain about compared to some other unfortunate souls. Yet instead of cheering me up, I feel even worse. I feel guilty for feeling sad in the first place. The one thing I don't have is a reason for feeling blue, and that depresses me. I guess I can't have it all.

These are ugly, selfish thoughts of course, but Jonas seems to have found the humour it them, dark as they might be. In the opening poem, "Wakes up in a good mood one morning," he talks about all that life has to offer. You can sit down and eat, there is the air to breathe in and fly through, you can build houses, learn foreign languages.... which leads him to conclude, "Sometimes one is almost tempted to go on living."

Plenty people I'm sure would not be amused by this depressing tone, but I personally find the self-mockery behind the lines quite pleasant. So what if he doesn't offer up a solution to Western, middle class pseudo-depression? At least he drags it out into the open and lets us point and laugh at it. At ourselves.

I also love the format of the book. Alongside many of the poems are black and white photographs. Many are humorous, many are depressing, and they capture the feeling of the book wonderfully. Also, the titles (if I should call them that- they are in the margins rather than atop the poems) are quite intriguing in style. Together, they tell the literal story of what the poet is currently doing, while the poems themselves elaborate on his thoughts or offer a poetic interpretation. For instance, these three titles occur in sequence, 1 "Dials a number then changes his mind" 2. "Thinks of adapting a poem by Brecht" and 3. "Changes his mind and dials the number again." They create a small narrative (though without a plot) that gives the overall book a sense of character- one that I can relate to all too well.


Allison said...

I have to come back and get caught up on your posts...I would have taken in a suggestion for reading, as waiting around the airport takes its toll...except I have all these textbooks now, darn.

Hope things are well with you :)

John Mutford said...

Allison: Things are going pretty good with me. Planning a trip to Ottawa next week, so that should be fun.

I hear you- textbooks don't make good airport reading at all!

John Mutford said...

Inspired by the Happy Hungry Man, here's my No Blues Blues poem:

Can’t reconcile me views
Ain’t got skills to sing yo’ blues.
No troubles but me whine.

Said I can’t style me views.
Got no right to write yo’ blues
Got bubbles in me wine.