You may have heard of B. Traven 1) because of his amazing and mysterious life story, of which no one knows much of anything, 2) his book The Treasures of the Sierra Madre which was made into a great movie by John Huston, or 3) that the author is the model for Benno von Archimboldi, the mysterious writer from Roberto Bolaño's 2666 (no one knows who B. Traven is, he has committed scholars dedicated to his work, he is most likely German, he contacts the world through his publisher, etc).
You might not have heard of B. Traven's "Jungle novels," six books which document the oppression of a people and their eventual uprising. Government is the first book of the series. And it is a fine book. B. Traven uses a simple and direct style, punctuated by violence and an ironic cynicism towards the ways of modern men. He is especially good at laying out individual self-interest and how individuals self-justify, and he is great at showing how a corrupt regime can spread corruption throughout every area it touches.
This novel is set in the jungle of Mexico (Chiapas, according to Wikipedia) and it follows Don Gabriel, a boring, weak man who has lost everything, but who slowly rises to power. First, he becomes a secretario to a small and fiercely independent "Indian" village. He ekes out a living immorally fining and taxing the locals, and eventually gets into slave trading. Of course, slave trading and slavery is illegal, so this system is based on penury and debt. Not honoring your debt, of course, is punishable by death.
It's a brutal story and it reminds me of the first season of The Wire in that it seems to be setting up the groundwork for an entire world, and it seems to be setting up awfulness to come. I think Traven is sketching characters that we will see again. Like The Wire, this is a piece of art about the complications of evil. It is about mundane decisions and bureaucracy and systems, and how all of those things can have pernicious effects on the lives of people. It is about power and exploitation that comes with power by necessity. Lastly, it is about how regular people ignore their responsibility and culpability in the systems and evils around them, and worse, partake in actions that make things worse.
Damn, I love Stefan Zweig. He's one of my new favorites, yet I've only read this and The Post Office Girl! I love the way he changes his style to fitDamn, I love Stefan Zweig. He's one of my new favorites, yet I've only read this and The Post Office Girl! I love the way he changes his style to fit the story; also, his ability to drum up odd twists, interesting characters, and compelling plots meshes with his proto-modernist style.
Anyway, I won't say too much about this book. It's really short, so you should just read it. It's about a trip where the narrator is on a boat with the current chess grandmaster who is an arrogant idiot-savant. The narrator appreciates chess and wants to meet the grandmaster. In his quest, he ends up meeting an aggressive American and a mysterious gentleman. I really can't say too much about the book without giving away the plot, but I can tell you that the portrayals of the garrulous American, the idiot-savant Grand Master, and the mysterious stranger are exquisite. The mysterious stranger's tale, in and of itself, is worth the book....more
I bought it on a whim in one of the few bookstores in Mexico City which had books in English. Since I had little time nor inclinatioI loved this book!
I bought it on a whim in one of the few bookstores in Mexico City which had books in English. Since I had little time nor inclination to read in Mexico, it took me a month to finally pick it up and read it. And wow.
We follow Christine, a girl in her mid-twenties who has never enjoyed the thrill of youth. She grew up in Austria during WWI, and watched her family's possessions and members disappear during the onslaught. After the war she watched what remained vanish in an imploding economy. Broke, near-destitute, and taking care of her dying mother, she has no idea how miserly her life is... UNTIL her aunt, who is rich and lives in America, invites her to come to a resort in Switzerland.
When she arrives she suddenly realizes how poor she is; how down-trodden she looks; and how destitute her life has been. She blossoms through Zweig's wonderful writing (which in this part of the book somewhat resembles Henry James' prose) and Christine becomes a beautiful vibrant woman, eagerly devouring her new world, excited at new possibilities that she had never dreamed of, and the object of everyone's attention (esp. the men).
Until something goes wrong. Something which exposes her naivete and reveals the vile superficiality of her new wealthy environ.
And then the book shifts gears. Suddenly the prose is desolate and dry; closer to Dashiell Hammett or the Hemingway who wrote "A Clean Well-Lighted Space." Everything is gray and hopeless and Christine is once again a post-office girl, herself like her office, drab, gray, hopeless. But now she is aware of her plight and is filled with rage and hate.
Until she meets a compatriot who shares her sensibility.
My friend thought the second half of the book felt forced, but I disagree. I've often felt like Christine, since I come from an incredibly modest background and have spent much time around the rich. To me, Christine feels real and true. I love the way that the novels constantly misdirects us (for example, leading us to believe that Christine will be saved by one of the (few) gallant men she has met - from the honest and earnest school teacher to the valiant and stalwart titled gentleman who takes her under his wing in Switzerland).
Anyway, this novel was never published, and perhaps never finished. Zweig supposedly contemplated a third part to this book which would have transformed this book from a Jamesian failed-Cinderella story into a Tarantino revenge/caper. I'm glad he didn't, since I like the mystery we are stuck with, but still... a writer as kick ass as Zweig could deliver an amazingly doomed Bonnie and Clyde ending to his dark Cinderella story....more
I'm obsessed with the turn of the century (from the 19th to the 20th, not the 20th to the 21st). For me those few years before WWI encapsulates the 20I'm obsessed with the turn of the century (from the 19th to the 20th, not the 20th to the 21st). For me those few years before WWI encapsulates the 20th century. The horror of the 20th century is captured in those years before WWI. We have several genocides (the Armenian Genocide by the Ottoman Empire, and the Herero and Namaqua Genocide by Germany) atrocious killings in the name of empire building (the U.S.'s incorporation of The Philippines and their subsequent struggle for liberation, England's Boer Wars, and the Eight-Nation Alliance taking over China and the Boxer Rebellion) and the sickening Capitalist machinations of King Leopold in Congo which resulted in millions dead.
At the same time, the era is filled with hope. The revolutionaries, radicals, and reformists fought for things we still believe in: universal rights for women, all workers, all races, and all sexual orientations; equal opportunities; safe work places; no child labor; equality; opportunity. They expected equality to come not just in their lifetime, but in the next several years. Of course, it didn't happen, and it took a hundred years just to reach a few of their lofty goals, and not even then (but women, minorities, lower class workers, and homosexuals have come a long way, even if they're nowhere near the equality the turn of the century folks expected).
Scientifically the two great revolutions of the 20th century were born in a few decades: general relativity explaining the very big and the very fast, and quantum physics explaining the very small. Technologically the telephone, the airplane, the radio, the motion picture, the assembly line, and countless other inventions were integrated into our daily lives, changing the world forever. Artistically, we are still living in the shadow of those few years, from Impressionism and Cubism to Nijinsky and Stanislavski's Rite of Spring to Dada and the Cabaret Voltaire to ragtime and early jazz.
The turn of the century was a wild time filled with What Was To Come.
So now to this book. Philipp Blom, the author, agrees with me. He thinks that those few years before WWI are unfairly forgotten and dismissed in favor of the extremely sexy and nihilistic Jazz Age. He explores the brittle intensity of the time by taking us through the 14 years that led to WWI. Each chapter focuses on one event that Blom feels is emblematic to the age. He focuses on the major topics of the day: "terrorism, globalization, immigration, consumerism, the collapse of moral values, and the rivalry of superpowers." It's exciting, exhilarating and depressing. Depressing that the dreams, nightmares, and the hopes of the time period are still our dreams, nightmares and hopes, and that most of the hopes are still unfulfilled, and most of the nightmares are still omnipresent....more
The Masses was a revolutionary magazine/newspaper. It was radical in every way, from its writing and art to its politics. Practically every importantThe Masses was a revolutionary magazine/newspaper. It was radical in every way, from its writing and art to its politics. Practically every important artist or writer who was living in the U.S. at the time wrote for The Masses, from writers like John Reed, Max Eastman, Sherwood Anderson, and artists like John Sloan, Picasso, Arthur Davies, George Bellows, and Stuart Davis.
I wish someone would republish a collected volume of The Masses because the publication is STILL one of the best ever printed. It looks oddly like The New Yorker with endless cartoons on the side with bylines, and it is a definite precursor to The Village Voice, but it's more interesting and more attractive than either of those magazines.
As the quote above says, "They aimed to "conciliate nobody, not even our readers."...more
I have a fixation with the years leading up to WWI. The idealism of the pre-war years reminds me of the late 1960s - the progressives honestly believeI have a fixation with the years leading up to WWI. The idealism of the pre-war years reminds me of the late 1960s - the progressives honestly believed that they were going to change the world - not in decades, but NOW! They believed in equality for all, but were engulfed by a larger desire for nationalism, racial hate, and grand leaders. The War ended all a certain type of idealism, and that type of decentralized, leaderless idealism went underground until the 60s.
This book has all of that AND it's written beautifully.
There are beautiful passages about the decadence of the ruling classes, and their obsession with an outdated masculinity. Best is the story of Franz Ferdinand. I knew he was an aggressive dick, but I didn't know why. This book makes him out to be a tragic Cassandra. He correctly foresaw that war with Serbia would start a World War, and would mean the death of the Ottoman Empire, the Russian Empire, and the Austrio-Hungarian Empire. He was a peace-nik and hated Austrian society because Austrian society hated his lower-born wife, and the Austrian court snubbed her at every opportunity. The lead up to his death at machinations of The Black Hand is a nail-biting action sequence. Even though we all know how it ends, the way we get to Ferdinand's assassination is exciting and incredible.
There's much more here. Nearly everything in this book is vital, and there's nearly no fat....more
This is an insanely well-researched book about "The Armory Show" which is one of the most important art exhibitions ever put on, and easily the most iThis is an insanely well-researched book about "The Armory Show" which is one of the most important art exhibitions ever put on, and easily the most influential art exhibition in the United States.
In 1913, the Armory Show introduced the majority of the U.S. to modern art, including the Post-Impressionists like Cezanne, Van Gogh, and Gauguin, the Fauvists, including Matisse, the cubists including Picasso, and countless other now-famous artists.
This book documents, in detail, the creation and effects of the show. It's complete, with a full list of every art work included in the show, a close inspection of the various inter-group struggles, and the reactions by American artists, the press, and the public.
If you're interested in The Armory Show, this book is for you. It's well-written, fascinating, and throws you into the time period, which is still pretty similar. ...more
The "Armory Show" was and is the most important and influential exhibition of art ever put on in the United States. For the vast majority of the U.S.,The "Armory Show" was and is the most important and influential exhibition of art ever put on in the United States. For the vast majority of the U.S., it was their introduction to modern art: from established experimental European artists like Paul Cezanne, Edvard Munch, Georges Seurat, Honore Daumier, and Vincent Van Gogh, to the American cutting edge like John Sloan, to the absolute avant-garde Europeans of the time, including Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Wassily Kandinsky, Marcel Duchamp, Odilon Redon, etc. The Armory Show was front page news, and confronted - and affronted - an often outraged America with Modern Art.
This book is a reprints the entire catalog of the 1913 exhibition, and gives a layout as to how the show was first displayed in New York City's Sixty-ninth Regiment Armory. It also is full of concurrent reactions from various newspapers and magazines, which includes Teddy Roosevelt's written opinion on the show, and many cartoons lampooning modern art. The book also tracks what became of the works in the fifty years following the show.
The book is filled with pictures, most black and white, but also including 16 color plates....more
I loved Moravagine and finally got the chance to read another Blaise Cendrars book.
Dan Yack is a damn good book with really thrilling and pyrotechnicI loved Moravagine and finally got the chance to read another Blaise Cendrars book.
Dan Yack is a damn good book with really thrilling and pyrotechnic writing, passages, and plot. Occasionally Cendrars goes a little over-the-top with his writing, but it's always readable and always great. The plot is wild; not as wild as Moravagine, but still a crazy adventure following Dan Yack, a ultra-rich lovable asshole with a black heart of gold, who goes from Russia to the arctic to the Chile, drunk and wild the entire time, leaving a wake of damage behind him.
Lately, I've been obsessed with 1913. It was an amazing year, and this strike in Paterson was an amazing strike. The Paterson Silk Strike was a rare mLately, I've been obsessed with 1913. It was an amazing year, and this strike in Paterson was an amazing strike. The Paterson Silk Strike was a rare moment in history when the invisible social barriers that keep people disparate were erased, and people worked collectively towards changing their local situation, and hopefully, the world. In the end, they were crushed, and the ramification of that was long and vast and deeply sad.
Anyway, the International Workers of the World (the I.W.W. also known as "The Wobblies") were mainly based in the west. They were a labor group who were committed to organizers all workers, black or white, man or woman, immigrant or native. They believed in a bottom-up organizational structure - that is, the workers controlled their destiny and there were no official leaders. The public speakers were public simply so that they could give speeches and help organize and could NOT be black-listed if the strike failed. The I.W.W. was originally very violent, but by 1913, had taken up an extreme non-violence stance to the chagrin of the extreme left (esp. the anarchists). In 1912, they led a successful, but brutal, strike in Lawrence, Massachusetts. In 1913, in Paterson, N.J., silk workers decided to strike. They called in the I.W.W. to act as their public voice and to help organize the strike. The workers and the I.W.W. managed to get all of the silk workers to strike together, both the skilled workers (who were not easily replaceable) and the non-skilled workers (who were utterly replaceable).
Despite a hell of a fight, the business owners had more money, and had wisely de-centralized their business operations and had many smaller factories centered in Pennsylvania, so they were able to hold out longer than the strikers. On top of that, there was a general glut of silk products on the market, so the business owners realized that after the strike, they would able to take over the marketplace from the middlemen. Eventually, the strikers starved, despite the money that came in.
And money did come in. Despite the negative press (The New York Times, in particular, was really bad at reporting false stories that came from the business owners and, worse, weren't true) the I.W.W. managed to get the message out, esp. by sending it's talking heads to NYC. The leaders managed to form bridges to the intellectuals, artists and radicals of Greenwich Village. For a brief moment, workers, radicals, intellectuals, artists, writers, poets, schoolteachers, and the whole wild crew all worked as one.
The strikers were amazingly progressive. No violence; equality for women; equality for immigrants; collective action; bottom-up organization. The Greenwich Village radicals held the same ideals, except for a complete lack of interaction with the working classes. The same people who interacted with the Paterson Silk Strike were the same people who organized The Armory Show, which largely introduced modern art (Picasso, Duchamp, Matisse, etc.) to the U.S.
The striker/Bohemian connection culminated with a massive play/pageant/parade. The mainstream news was spreading lies or ignoring what was happening, so the artists suggested turning the last few months of striking into a massive artistic spectacle (even The NYTimes agreed, even though they said it spouted dangerous radical ideology). It worked beautifully as a play, but the newspapers claimed that it was going to generate massive cash, which the organizers knew it wouldn't.
The strike failed despite the best efforts of all around, and then the blame started. Eventually, the in-fighting destroyed them, and they were completely finished with the advent of WWI, which resulted in a conservative backlash.
It's a great book if that sounds interesting to you. It's not beautifully written, but it's written well for an academic text. What it is, is a hell of a story....more
Taking a heavy cue from Against Nature, this book rambles along without much of a plot, loosely documenting the author's random encounters with PeterTaking a heavy cue from Against Nature, this book rambles along without much of a plot, loosely documenting the author's random encounters with Peter Whiffle, the ultimate free-spirit, a man forever changing and moving with the zeitgeist, and a man unable to make decisions. Peter Whiffle is a cypher, but his changes are amazingly inventive and capture the obsessions of the time. Even though Whiffle is a flighty dilettante, he's an interesting guy, and his "causes" are interesting as well.
We first meet Peter Whiffle in Paris and he is only interested in form. He has stacks of every type of non-literary writing, science books, catalogs, encyclopedias, etc. He wants to write a book that is pure form; merely a list of things neither connected nor unconnected. To do that, he is going to turn the written "junk" (like catalogs and dry academic writing) into a new form literature.
Later, the author, Carl van Vechten, meets Peter Whiffle in NYC. Whiffle is now a realist writer obsessed with class consciousness. He brazenly romanticizes the poor and unfortunate, and lives in a shithole in the worst part of NYC. His new novel stars a real life Jewish hunchback girl whose life is abject misery.
On and on it goes, with Whiffle pre-figuring a novel of the self, ala Woolf/Joyce/Proust, and later a horror/mystical novel ala Poe, Lovecraft's progenitors, or early Aleister Crowley.
All and all, it's worth a read. I loved it and was bored by it in equal measures. It works as fictional biography, yet it works as a memoir of Carl Van Vechten, and a close sketch of the fin de siecle time period and the concurrent obsessions of the "artistic class." ...more
This is the third volume of Mabel Dodge's autobiography, and covers her life, salons, and engagement with radical art and politics in New York City.
IThis is the third volume of Mabel Dodge's autobiography, and covers her life, salons, and engagement with radical art and politics in New York City.
If you're interested in the turn of the century New York City art or the radical scene, this book is for you. If not, the book is still pretty good; Dodge is a good writer, knows how to tell a story, and she knew everyone 'Important' in the city, artist, writer, radical, dancer, whatever. That said, she also fills the book with tons of clippings from newspapers, letters, poems, etc., which are interesting, but which drags down on Dodge's interesting life story.
Really, the casual reader can pick up her edited biography. This is for completests and those who are doing research. But if you're interested in the time period at all, or interested in the life of someone deep in an artistic and radical scene, pick up the edited book. ...more
If you're reading this, then you are interested in the artistic, cultural and political revolution that was happening in NYC at the turn of the centurIf you're reading this, then you are interested in the artistic, cultural and political revolution that was happening in NYC at the turn of the century, and this book does not disappoint.
In NYC in 1913 there were two important and far-effecting events. The first was the Armory Show, the art show that introduced modern art the U.S. It was the first general public appearance of Impressionism, Fauvsit, Cubist, Futurist, and other avant-garde works. It was the first time the majority in the U.S. had ever seen anything from Duchamp, Picasso, Cezanne, etc., and it changed art history.
The second event was the Paterson Silk Strike Pageant. Early in 1913 there was a massive strike at the silk mills in Paterson, NJ. The workers, largely immigrants, were fighting for 8 hour days, 5 day work weeks, and improved working conditions. Despite tens of thousands of strikers and thousands of arrests, the NYC press (such as the NYTimes) wasn't covering the struggle, so the leaders of the Strike got together with several intellectuals and organizers of the Armory Show, and recreated the dramatic moments of the strike as a parade and a pageant.
What is remarkable is that a small group of organizers were part of the creation of the Armory Show AND the Paterson Silk Strike Pageant. What is amazing is the level of radical HOPE that was endemic in Greenwich Village in NYC and amongst the strikers in Paterson.
I'm amazed that most of the radical ideas of the 60s (and radicalism itself) came out of these few decades, and few isolated pockets of culture in NYC, Paris, London, etc. Anarchism, Communism, Socialism, racial equality, women's rights, gay rights, free love, anti-patriarchy, etc., all had their origins in this time period, and at the time, their adherents were convinced that they would persevere. Likewise, culturally radical ideas were also billowing: not just the avant-garde art mentioned above, but also in both the avant-garde art music of Stravinsky, Satie, Debussy, Varese and others, and in ragtime, which was the first American music, and which was (like hip hop today) considered lewd, dangerous and full of sex. Likewise, science and technology was experiencing a Renaissance, both through Einstein, Bohr, and others in the theoretical realm, and through Tesla, Wright, Edison and others in the engineering realm.
It was a heady time, but it was also a time that ended with WWI. Most countries went to the right after the war; the few countries that didn't spiraled into decadence, much like the radical scene itself, which was no longer interest in popular engagement, but was now interested in isolation, hedonism, decadence, or nihilism. (Think of the move from the radical optimism and push for change of this period with the pessimistic isolation of the Jazz Age, T.S. Eliot, Dada, Duchamp, and Hemingway's early shorts.)
This book locates the cusp of these radical movements in 1913, and focuses on the Armory Show and the Paterson Strike Silk Pageant in order to look at the various forces in America and elsewhere.
Ultimately, the strike failed, as well as most of the ideals. The art was a massive success that had long lasting ramifications in art and culture, but which also became less and less engaged with the masses. Most of the ideals and ideas of the era went underground until the 60s, which seem to me to be a direct continuation. But that radical time also fell, and largely to the same forces....more
An giant oversize book of full page reproductions from Pulitzer's turn of the century newspapers. The reproduced pages are full color, and all from thAn giant oversize book of full page reproductions from Pulitzer's turn of the century newspapers. The reproduced pages are full color, and all from the Sunday supplement, so are rife with comics, models, to scale diagrams (including one of various gun diameters used on ships), and illustrated sensational and lurid stories. If any of this sounds interesting, go buy the book asap. You won't be disappointed....more