Volume II of Frank's 2500-page literary biography. Dostoevsky was a journalist-novelist for whom aesthetics was inextricably linked with the socio-pol...moreVolume II of Frank's 2500-page literary biography. Dostoevsky was a journalist-novelist for whom aesthetics was inextricably linked with the socio-political and philosophical problems of his time. (less)
The lines between aestheticism and morality are often blurred, and, for some, do not exist at all. Such a one is Alex, who in his own parlance conside...moreThe lines between aestheticism and morality are often blurred, and, for some, do not exist at all. Such a one is Alex, who in his own parlance considers a “horrorshow” evening (an anglicized version of хорошо, pronounced “khoroshow” and meaning “good” or “well” in Russian) one replete with violence and rape. Indeed, what to Alex is “horrorshow” (good, to him) is frightening to the rest of us. This demonstrates not only the boldness of Burgess’s subject matter, but also his clever use of language. Another example is in the word “groovy”, as in “the red red groovy”. This is morphed from the Russian word кровь, (pronounced “kroyv”, meaning blood), which would again be sickening or gross to most of us, but to Alex is kind of neat.
Burgess’s novel becomes further complicated when, through events in the novel, he essentially asks, “what is to be done with such a person?” Do we just lock them up so that they can cause no further harm? Or do we try to reform them? An effort for the latter is attempted, although it quickly becomes clear that, though morally improved, Alex’s humanity has suffered (demonstrated in his ability to appreciate the art and pleasures he once did), and even prompts him to want to kill himself. Hence the title of the novel, “A Clockwork Orange.” Can we take something that’s natural and primitive and make it run like clockwork, i.e., the way we want it to? To what extent do we do this already? Isn’t art often an effort to push the envelope of what is considered “right” and “wrong”? Why are we so entertained by sex and violence and other breakdowns of social norms? For all of Alex’s despicableness, one cannot deny that there is an aesthetic strain in him, particularly identified in his cool, creative use of language, even though it distorts any shred of morality he may have.
A truly provocative novel, and a horrowshow read indeed, especially when one knows a bit of the old Russkiy. (less)
It's hard to judge a book you read in high school compared with your adult reading of it, especially having read it several times now for the sole pur...moreIt's hard to judge a book you read in high school compared with your adult reading of it, especially having read it several times now for the sole purpose of teaching it. As a high school student, this book greatly impacted me, and I was left wondering for weeks afterwards whether or not they made the right decision about Lennie. As an adult, especially with a lit-major background, the book pales in comparison to so many other great works, and even seems a bit adolescent itself. Don't get me wrong: the description is deliciously raw, the characters, for the most part, well-etched, and the problem posed at the end of the novel is certainly worthy of consideration; the whole "guys like us" bit, though, is rather mawkish, and the way the characters talk in general, tossing adages about for lack of better speech ("a guy gotta have somebody"), while realistic, gets annoying before too long. Admittedly, this could just be due to having read the book 7-8 times now, and not a single one of those by choice. All this to say that, as a high school student, I'd probably have given it 4 or 5 stars, as an adult 2, so I'll now settle on three. (less)
With strong traces of Proust in its exploration of personal memory, as well as of Dostoevsky in its creation of psychological turmoil over identity, a...moreWith strong traces of Proust in its exploration of personal memory, as well as of Dostoevsky in its creation of psychological turmoil over identity, and finally of Dinesen in its treatment of mystery and the art of story-telling, this is truly a complicated novel. That said, it is more of a psychological novel than anything else, as most of the 400-some-odd pages deal with the noise of the protagonist’s (Galip’s) thoughts as he tries to read signs and discover who he is. I found this to be more unfortunate than interesting, as the initial intrigue of the book (the disappearnce of his wife, Ruya, and her half-brother, Celal) held promise for suspense that only gets diminished as one listens to Galip go on and on about what this or that might mean and what it tells him about himself. This was interesting to begin with, but got annoyingly old before too long. (Perhaps part of the point?)
That said, the central theme of this novel, the thing that is so redundant it's impossible to miss, is quite interesting: the search for one's true identity. In searching for his wife Ruya (meaning "dream" in Turkish), Galip gets caught up in memories of her, and takes an obsessive interest in Celal, so much that he starts becoming him. The chapters alternate between "plot" and Celal's (and, eventually, Galip's) journal articles, which thematically pertain to the events of the "plot" chapters. These journalistic chapters are fascinating (about Turkey's past and present, as well as on the nature of story-telling, among other things), and they rescue the book from excessive tedium. I could read Celal for hours a day but must tolerate Galip. Perhaps this is because Celal has a better sense of who he is than Galip?
The story can perhaps be extrapolated out to make commentary on Turkey's modern position, which is a frequent topic in Pamuk's novels (at least in two of the three I've read). That is, it can be interpreted to be about Turkey's search for its own identity; it loses itself in inner turmoil over chasing an elusive dream from its past (Ruya), and it turns to a polished, refined West (Celal, who'd spent most of his life in Germany) to listen to its criticism, as well as to emulate it. The book offers a thesis about whether or not Turkey should do this at the end, which I'll withhold for those who wish to read it. This is just a possible interpretation, of course. It also works simply on the level of the individual: one's quest for one's own identity. Overall, some very fascinating themes and ideas, but rather stunted in the middle, and it was hard to overcome that. The end feels rather whimsically wrapped up.
I came to this book looking for that vivacious, digressively probing and insightful, colorful Melvillian narrative style, never mind the subject matte...moreI came to this book looking for that vivacious, digressively probing and insightful, colorful Melvillian narrative style, never mind the subject matter. Had I simply been curious about the details of life aboard an American man-of-war in the mid-nineteenth century, I would certainly have enjoyed this book more. I’ve noticed a number of writing modes in this great American author, and the one I enjoy least (although it has its moments) is certainly the encyclopedic mode. Mere, bare-bones description. This turns a lot of people off to Moby-Dick, and they should certainly avoid this book. In Moby-Dick, that encyclopedic style is so colored with allusions, metaphors, and other figurative language that it makes it much more interesting; that figurative style certainly colors this book somewhat, but was lacking in many parts.
Nevertheless, Meliville is thorough in his description of life aboard a man-of-war: chapter topics include: “breakfast, dinner, and supper”; “a flogging”; “a man-of-war library”; “smuggling in a man-of-war”; “prayers at the guns”; and, certainly one of the more interesting chapters, “the massacre of the beards”. Despite being a bit dry, the novel was influential enough in its ruminations on the unjust practice of flogging that it brought about a ban on the practice shortly after its publication. And Melville, just as in Moby-Dick, which was published the same year, twists his subject matter into a kind of universal theme: just as almost all world knowledge is made to apply to the whale in Moby-Dick, so, it would seem, life aboard a man-of-war can be a metaphor for life itself (although a bit more direct): “As a man-of-war that sails through the sea, so this earth that sails through the air. We mortals are all on board a fast-sailing, never-sinking world-frigate, of which God was the shipwright; and she is but one craft in a Milky-Way fleet, of which God is the Lord High Admiral. The port we sail from is forever astern. And though far out of sight of land, for ages and ages we continue to sail with sealed orders, and our last destination remains a secret to ourselves and our officers; yet our final haven was predestinated ere we slipped from the stocks at Creation.”
And the novel ends with an exhortation:
“Oh, shipmates and world-mates, all round! we the people suffer many abuses. Our gun-deck is full of complaints. In vain from Lieutenants do we appeal to the Captain; in vain—while on board our world-frigate—to the indefinite Navy Commisioners, so far out of sight aloft. Yet the worst of our evils we blindly inflict upon ourselves; our officers cannot remove them, even if they would. From the last ills no being can save another; therein each man must be his own savior. For the rest, whatever befall us, let us never train our murderous guns inboard; let us not mutiny with bloody pikes in our hands. Our Lord High Admiral will yet interpose; and though long ages should elapse, and leave our wrongs undressed, yet, shipmates and world-mates! let us never forget, that ‘Whoever afflict us, whatever surround, Life is a voyage that’s homeward bound!’