I read Greil Marcus because I love the way he writes and admit that his prose has been an influence in the way I take finger tips to keyboard. This isI read Greil Marcus because I love the way he writes and admit that his prose has been an influence in the way I take finger tips to keyboard. This is a problematic love of the man's love that has existed for five decades.Lately, though, it's been more prolix than persuasion, as his ongoing effort to make Bob Dylan the central factor of the 20th century hasn't struck a believable insightful note in decades. This collection, an extended reflection on the songs that appeared on Dylan's famous 'Basement Tapes" , strives to provide the secret history behind the songs . In matters of the cross pollination of cultures, racial justice, the mashing together of folk authenticity, rock and roll and symbolist poetry, Marcus essentially argues that all roads lead to Dylan and lead through him as well. As criticism , it is more an act of imagination than a weighing of elements; Well read and as well listened as he is across a great spectrum of literature and music types, what is lacking here are the dual duties of establishing how the songs and artists within the folk tradition influenced Dylan and how Dylan assimilated the music who's expressive brilliance he could never equal and yet was motivated by to create his own means, and create a new criteria by which to discuss the success or failure of the work. Dylan is less the artist to Marcus than a saint or something greater, and, even though there is pleasure to ride the waves, cadences and well crafted metaphors and similes of the writer's prose, The Old Weird America is a shaggy dog story at heart. Marcus began this habit of epic digression with Lipstick Traces, a tome not without its pleasures--his connection there of the efforts of Caberet Voltaire, the Dadaists, Punk Rock and the Situationist provocations of Guy DuBord was especially tightly argued-- but now it seems little else than a practiced spiel that's trotted out and exclaimed, regardless of the topic, not unlike an old timer's AA share that is memorized not just by him or her but by the entire meeting that has heard him or her deliver for decades. What I am saying is that Marcus is writing the same book with varying degrees of enthusiasm. Those familiar with how the author thinks on the page will note, also, the lack of real verve in the writing, skilled and flowing as it maybe. ...more
This is a key book for those struggling to comprehend the verbal murk that constituted post modernist theory , which is a shame, because Fredrick JameThis is a key book for those struggling to comprehend the verbal murk that constituted post modernist theory , which is a shame, because Fredrick Jameson cannot help but add his own murk to this occasionally useful overview of a directionless philosophical inclination. He certainly brings a lot of reading into his digressive discussions and reveals how much the idea of post modern strategy--Lyotard's notion that the Grand Narrative that unified all accounts of our history, purpose and collective sense of inevitable autonomy over the earth and those outside our culture has been shattered, eroded or made unpersuasive in a century that has known the horrors of 2 world wars and the overwhelming emergence of new technologies and the efforts of populations outside the margins of acceptable culture to claim their rights as humans , first and foremost--has usurped preceding and established ideas in areas of literature, architecture, movies, the arts, philosophy itself. Jameson is a Marxist literary critic and it seems he has another goal in addition to discussing the why and the why-not? of a fluid philosophy that seems to undermine any sense of "fixed" areas of knowledge that might otherwise give a culture a sense of itself, an identity, ethos and larger purpose that makes the past acceptable, the future brimming with a promise yet to be fulfilled, an entrenched optimism that makes the present tolerable or, at least, a condition where apathy is the preferred stance; he is intent of maintaining the authority of Marxist methods of discerning the economic superstructure of capitalism and, as well, holding on to the progressive notion that properly executed critiques and political actions based on them will further us along to Marx 's and Engle's prophecy that after the revolution, after the dictatorship of the proletariat has been established and operating for an unspecified amount of time, the State will eventually, naturally wither away , as men and women have, it's assumed, been restored to their natural state before the foul distortion of capital fouled every thing up; that is, we will have become , to paraphrase a famous promise, fishers and farmers in the morning, poets, musicians and artists in the afternoons, scholars and philosophers at night. That is to say, we will no longer have occupations, our labor, informing us who we are and destroying our potential of being much more. The post modern inclination undermines the metaphorical structure and linguistic devices philosophies use to make their systems persuasive; Derrida and Baudrillard were smart men with much influence over the Left who had their own discourses that argued that every argument contains the seeds of it's own counter assertion. Jameson doesn't seem to want any of that and proceeds to write as densely as the thinkers he seeks to critique, often times stalling before coming to a major point he seemed to be traveling toward in order to indulge himself with clarifications about terms being used, ideas and artifacts that have been used as examples of opaque references . There is much the notion of the word-drunk in this volume, the idea that Jameson is thinking out loud and that the writing is a species of verbal stream of conscious wherein there is the assumption, an act of faith actually, that the longer the associative chain ,the more inclusive the argument the analysis becomes and that in this process there will come the connecting conceit that unifies what might have been mere intellectual drift into a bravura performance. I can't shake the idea that Jameson is stalling here and is, honestly, out of his depth in his discussions that are not directly involved in parsing the creation and use of narrative forms as political tools in a problematic culture. There is value here, though, and I would suggest reading the opening essay, "Culture", where one gets the choicest ideas and insights has in this volume. For the rest, it is a reminder of just how bad a writer Fredric Jameson is....more
Lux fairly much defies description, combining the plain speak of dilligent journalism and the eloquence of an other wise taciturn poet who will use anLux fairly much defies description, combining the plain speak of dilligent journalism and the eloquence of an other wise taciturn poet who will use an word or a phrase that takes a contrary turn other than where you expect it to go. He is the Poet of Unintended Results, a story teller very much in the John Cheever mode where the omniscient narrator begins yarns of folks with ambitions, intentions, desires for all manner of things making their way through their routines, only to have them interrupted and , as a consequence, find themselves to the larger world ,with what were once nuances and pesky inconviences of fact now looming over them in a crazy state of I-Told-You-So.
RENDER, REND Boil it down: feet, skin, gristle, bones, vertebrae, heart muscle, boil it down, skim, and boil again, dreams, history, add them and boil again, boil and skim in closed cauldrons, boil your horse, his hooves, the runned-over dog you loved, the girl by the pencil sharpener who looked at you, looked away, boil that for hours, render it down, take more from the top as more settles to the bottom, the heavier, the denser, throw in ache and sperm, and a bead of sweat that slid from your armpit to your waist as you sat stiff-backed before a test, turn up the fire, boil and skim, boil some more, add a fever and the virus that blinded an eye, now’s the time to add guilt and fear, throw logs on the fire, coal, gasoline, throw two goldfish in the pot (their swim bladders used for “clearing”), boil and boil, render it down and distill, concentrate that for which there is no other use at all, boil it down, down, then stir it with rosewater, that which is now one dense, fatty, scented red essence which you smear on your lips and go forth to plant as many kisses upon the world as the world can bear! This is a poet who witnesses human experience and of life itself as process that goes on regardless of the fine personal and community philosophies we've written for ourselves to abide by. Life is a raw force that will continue to pulse, change, destroy and create anew regardless of how well can describe it. We can describe life's circumstances, we cannot control them. But there is heart in Lux's work, a sympathy, that sense of the struggle of humanity trying to create meaning in a world that defies logic and yet remains a species that continues to dress the world in a wonderful cosmology of expectations. There is wit, dark humor, tenderness, a wonderfully terse lyricism in Lux's finest writing. None are better ....more
Roth announced his retirement from being a novel writer a couple of years ago , and it's in the slight variations of his late career novel, 2001 's ThRoth announced his retirement from being a novel writer a couple of years ago , and it's in the slight variations of his late career novel, 2001 's The Dying Animal, that we can understand why he stopped: had played the last note he could stand on that instrument of style he possessed. Bearing in mind that Roth's genius has been for writing about angry men who are perpetually ill at ease, raging against their imperfections in a world they don't fit in. Roth's works are equals self-loathing, arrogance, misogyny , mother issues, sexual dysfunctional, bitter agnosticism, deeply felt emotional upheaval and revelation, cruel wit and puckish humor, an endless series of ironies that, through out a brilliantly realized career , had Roth as the outstanding straight, white , male Jewish male the rapidly shifting terms of existence seemingly used a punching bag. "The Dying Animal", coming late in is career, deals with a typical Roth protagonist , a male , late in his life, who finds that he no longer love and leave the ladies as he had always done; age, infirmity, impotene, the stuff of raging speeches given in rain storms while the vestments of position and power are stripped from you, reduce him to a supplicant. More irony follows, the poor man gets his just deserts, and anger and bitterness and the sense that nothing stops the torment except death; anyone familiar with Roth's works can more or less forecast how this tale with end, or rather, fade out. Nicely done,we can see, but it lacks the snap, the verbal snarl , the grating detail that highlights the increasingly sour moods and downcast fatalism of the author. It lacks, alas, the energy to get angry again. My suggestion would to pick up a book published only slightly earlier, "The Plot Against America"; irony, punch, a sense of playfulness, a story of innocence of youth become threatened by what-if elements that cloud the sense of the future of American democracy. That is the Philip Roth worth seeking out....more
Adam Gussow, a professor of English and Southern Studies at the University of Mississippi, is among the best younger scholars of blues culture one is Adam Gussow, a professor of English and Southern Studies at the University of Mississippi, is among the best younger scholars of blues culture one is likely to come across. He is no less, a superb, stylish, and gritty blues harmonica player who has, in his time, traveled and plied his trade as street musician and busker, most notably as part of the duo Satan and Adam, with guitarist/vocalist Sterling McGee. Gussow is the author of several fine books related to Southern and blues culture in America, and wrote a fine memoir of his relationship with McGee, “Mister Satan's Apprentice". This is mentioned just to establish that Gussow isn't a mere dilettante on the blues, mastering a few tricks and signature moves and then resting on laurels and a reputation made long ago; Gussow continues to gig, with McGee , as a solo performer, and in collaboration with a number of other musicians, often times in public, on the street, the hat out for loose change and scattered change, keeping himself honest with what he plays and maintaining a connection his vibe with the world of experience that is the energy the blues channels. He is a scholar who continues to seek the source, to find that invisible "it" behind the mere description and appearance of things as they present themselves.
His first novel, "Busker's Holiday", is, I imagine, a fictionalized accounting of his own quest, a young man at particular moment of his life when what he's been doing in terms of study, romance and location no longer fits the skin he wears and gets an itch to try something else, to what happens. Set in the 80s, the novel regards the plight of McKay, a doctoral candidate in literature whose life has hit a rough patch. Reeling from problems in his relationship with his girl friend, McKay jumps at the chance to go on a five week trip to Europe with his friend Paul. A blues fan, McKay gathers up his harmonicas and his amp, eager to perform before crowds on the Continent.
There is something akin to novelist Henry James here, the 19th and early 20th Century American novelist who had as a major theme the confrontation of the New World (America) and the Old World (Europe). But where James' novels--"The American", "Wings of a Dove"--were long, measured, slow paced and geared to consider the interior lives, the changes of psyche, occurring over long stretches of time, Gussow instead goes for the Beat-influenced insistence on sensation, speed, the influx of sound, smell, and blurred vision. There is the velocity and mania of Jack Kerouac here, that point where the novel opens up with its landings in Paris and beyond, but author Gussow has a better command of the technique. He keep the tone and pacing right; Kerouac and the Beats are an obvious and working influence on the style of this tale, but what we have here is something better and, I think, more honest to the experience. Kerouac is problematic for many of us, and for me the issue was his willingness, his chronic need to make his already made pace even more intense with infusions of hip-argot, haphazardly placed modifiers. To paraphrase Gore Vidal, Kerouac used adjectives, verbs, similes, metaphors “the way truck drivers uses ketchup at a diner.” Again, Gussow has a better command of the style, the instrument, which that he gets closer to the Charlie Parker concern of “making it all fit”, the Spontaneous Bop Prosody that Kerouac’s principle aim with his prolix excursions.
Adam Gussow's writing is vivid, alive, the mellifluous sentences flow when he goes at length and the shorter sentences have something of the Hemingway craft of resonating terseness. It is a recollection that resonates. McKay is delivered very well; an engaging, seeking, impatient, naive, curious man in search for knowledge and new means to express a growing feeling of a rich inner life. The writing is swift but disciplined, loose but always aware of where the rhythm truly is, is a match for the harmonica playing and instrumentation you’ve described. It is a wonderful and engaging accounting of being within the experience of performance, of when the chops fail and where they come together. ...more
There were great expectations for a Don DeLillo novel that confronted the epic tragedy of 9/11, but it seems reasonable that "Falling Man" is less ambThere were great expectations for a Don DeLillo novel that confronted the epic tragedy of 9/11, but it seems reasonable that "Falling Man" is less ambitious than many of us wanted it to be. It is beautifully written and definitely furnishes the mood of severe dislocation when a symbol of our abstracted sense of self, the Word Trade Center towers, were attacked and destroyed.
There is a poetically conveyed sense of distance between the characters and the unimaginable tragedy that unfolded. In keeping with DeLillo's themes of staring down institutions that influence behavior, policy, choices and assigns significance to products and habits that are meant to supplant our inner life, the novel his the ongoing concern with trying to understand people who vaguely adhered to images, propaganda, manufactured consensus and consumerism that at least told us, theoretically, what America and Americans stood for--a herd in many ethnic and cultural subsets acting "as if" their life had fixed certainty and purpose--who confront the terror not just of terrorism, mass murder and increased violations of their rights, but the terror of realizing that faith in The System and its statements of purpose are a fiction intended to keep our eyes off the prize and instead glued to the television tube and computer monitor.
The novel,though, reads at times like a paraody of DeLillo's best work. Despite the customary excellence of the writing, the author strains for effect sometimes, drifts into digressions that are page fillers. There is a sense of obligation one detects in the otherwise superb craft; given tht he is the genius who wrote "White Noise" and "Underground", two of the best novels every written that found the empty chamber that passes as the American heart, we have a great writer competing with a recent history that is so incredible and ground shaking that it so fars defies literary imagination to successfully diagnosis and turn into superb irony. It is worth a read for DeLillo completest, but this is not the book to begin with if you've been thinking of reading one or more of his books. I would suggest "White Noise " or "Great Jones Street" for that/...more
I read this a year ago, and as a Detroit native I have to say that LeDuff's Hemingway-inspired , virtually verbless prose style suits the ongoing hea I read this a year ago, and as a Detroit native I have to say that LeDuff's Hemingway-inspired , virtually verbless prose style suits the ongoing heartache that is the Motor City. It's a relief that the author refrains from being the amateur urban planner or statistic-infected wonk in order to project dismal futures or to propose expensive , long term solutions predicated on someone's willingness to raise taxes. That is another conversation and debate that would distract from LeDuff's strong points as a writer,which are an attention to detail, unspoken nuance, the voice of the people he talks to and the grinding despair of a seemingly doomed city.
This reads like a novel, more or less, a writer's journey through a city that once thrived and was respected and now, due to basic and fatal human flaws of greed, racism, and generations of indescribably awful economic and political decisions, has diminished in all respects. Will Detroit recover? LeDuff leaves that question alone; what he does is provide vivid portraits of some of its citizens who share an remarkable resilience to their collective hardship. The question "Detroit: An American Autopsy" is whether politicians, city, state and federal, can look this cit in the eye and muster the political will to do something about it. This a gruff, bracing read, powerfully presented. ...more
Ferlinghetti is in that tradition of the public poet, no less than Vachel Lindsay or the absurdly expansive Whitman; less a man to complain about howFerlinghetti is in that tradition of the public poet, no less than Vachel Lindsay or the absurdly expansive Whitman; less a man to complain about how the world doesn't fit comfortably around the skin he was born in, or muse long and serially on fragments of memory and half recalled cliches that never crystallize satisfyingly as a perception worth of the claim unique than he his something of a force of personality that refuses introspection and opts instead to verbalize, extol, berate, rant and rave in a lyric vein at once lyric , cranky, ecstatic, lustful and very much in love with the senses that bring him the full force of the beauty and ugliness that is life. There is little in the way of introspection, and that, I think, is the secret of his endearing popularity, and why his poems remain readable decades after the Beat craze has passed on into history . These are poems that like a good friend, a very good friend, who talks to you at the bar and pokes you in the shoulder, the man who would not let you get away with lying to yourself, the second opinion you constantly get , like it or not, that is a crude but freshly phrased thing we can call the truth , of a sort. It is , I think, a voice attached to an imagination that realizes that there are not enough years in any lifespan to not live fully , senses engaged with the raw stuff of existence. These poems are jazzy, a crafted idiom that rings with the swinging chain of associations that cut through reams of rhetoric and regulation and get to the pulsing heart of the matter; birth, sex, death, joy, sorrow, glee, calamity. It all hurts, it all brings sensations we don't want, but this is a man who rolls with the punches, knows when to duck, is in love with the facts that is still drawing a breath and walking still without a crutch or cane, that he has a voice to speak words of yet new seductions to come or already underway. ...more
Mailer and Ali, what more could a reader wanting to investigate the egos and aspirations of manly men want? Mailer worshipped the will of those who weMailer and Ali, what more could a reader wanting to investigate the egos and aspirations of manly men want? Mailer worshipped the will of those who were willing to endure pain and humiliation as they cultivated some strange aspect of their personality to an aesthetic reality; make no mistake , Mailer considered Ali to be an artist no less than his other heros, Hemingway, Picasso, Marylin. There is lots of poetically conveyed romanticism going on here, made palatable and even intellectually attractive by Mailer's fine prose; there is the strong suggestion that Mailer knew how absurd he was with respect to his assumptions and the way he wrote bout his adventures in the third person. Still, this brillant stylist brings it off, and does justice to the skill, grace , and yes, art of another brillant stylist, Muhammad Ali. ...more
I've been a long time reader of Eagleton for the plain reason that he has a wonderful prose style and that , as a Marxist in the mode of Raymond WilliI've been a long time reader of Eagleton for the plain reason that he has a wonderful prose style and that , as a Marxist in the mode of Raymond Williams, he remains skeptical of using art as a springboard for philosophical speculation and insists that we have to appreciate how authors use their imaginations and techniques to elicit the subtle effects on their readership. He does not dodge the political in art, but he does insist that readers remember that literature is about the human experience and that the role of the artist is to present us with provocative narratives that place the reader in a flow of experience outside their own references. Eagelton, though, does go slack in making an argument about why attentive reading and an eye and ear for how a narrative succeeds or fails on the terms it establishes for itself; he is, perhaps, too much of a crank more interested in bellowing at today's kids rather than re-establishing his own reasons for bothering with a career in literary discussion. He makes an attempt to tell us why it's important to have the skills to read with a subtler mind through extensive explorations of emotional conflicts and situational tension, but he is not entirely convincing. There was a point in the end pages of his book "Literary Theory" where Eagleton seemed to go into a both a lament an rant about how theorizing about literature, the general examination of books as "texts" and the demonstration of how they cannot mean anything adequate to lived experience, over the finer art of criticism, genuine appreciation, when he postulated that after years of slugging it out with competing academics one--meaning himself, I believe--had to struggle what it was that made one desire to teach and dicuss literature as a career. Perhaps the author has reached that point even as he tries to reignite the passion for the studies of stories as entities in themselves, not extensions of political assumptions. I do like Harold Bloom's assertion that literature's principle benefit to the is that it helps us think about ourselves. That works for me. ...more