I read only about a quarter of the book prior to visiting Iceland, and then consumed the rest once I got back. I'm glad I did, as the landscape descriI read only about a quarter of the book prior to visiting Iceland, and then consumed the rest once I got back. I'm glad I did, as the landscape descriptions (they aren't overbearing or run for seemingly endless paragraphs) are fairly apt when one is traveling along Highway 1 and looking out over a lot of those sheep farms, valleys, and the heath.
This is in many ways a parable. The stolid, fiercely independent Bjartur of Summerhouses is possibly meant to represent the troubled transition of the nation toward independence, including the long legacy of the sagas, the superstitions associated with norns, trolls, elves, and murderous spirits. Bjartur can be classed as a kind of proud (perhaps too proud) libertarian whose biggest dread is to ever be forced to "eat another man's bread." His view of the world is incredibly stoic, and there is no doubt he puts more stock in hard work than anything even remotely sentimental. He has no time for religion, politics, or the lives of others. For him it is the sheep and his croft that make up his entire world and define the hard-won freedom he has earned from long service to the local bailiff that he takes some joy in prodding with reminders that he, Bjartur, is a free man.
I won't spoil the ending, but he does lose wives and children and sheep. Still, throughout the three books that make up this novel, he just keeps plugging on. Or, as he says, "it is better to move forward with what one has left than to focus on what has been lost."
Readers of this book may also enjoy Laxness' shorter novel, Atom Station, which differs considerably in style and focus....more
These semi-connected vignettes are tied together by the occasionally well-meaning, but sometimes cruelly applied, ideals of planning the way to an abuThese semi-connected vignettes are tied together by the occasionally well-meaning, but sometimes cruelly applied, ideals of planning the way to an abundant future where there are no more wants that cannot be satisfied. As cyberneticists scheme to introduce vaguely Western concepts of price-value into an automated and computerized economy free of human committee errors, all against a backdrop of the Khruschev "thaw," we also are privy to the everyday managers and intermediaries and apparatchiks trying to secure their own piece of the "plenty" so frequently promised by the Soviet party elite. There are the usual touching and human moments that lend this rendering of life under the post-Stalin era a kind of added dimensionality. The dogma still reigns, but it is hollow and mouthed obligingly like an obedient mantra. As reality stealthily worms its way into the impossible socialist utopian ideal, the ideal itself comes undone, and each character is set upon to manage this disparity between the folklore myth and the gritty truth of reality in their own way - some will cope by lying to themselves and stubbornly believing, while others escape into different fantasies, and while still others are left in confusion and uncertainty: the two very things the Great Soviet Idea was supposed to have removed entirely. Against the tired refrain of the abundance to come, the lives of these characters experience the material, intellectual, and spiritual scarcity of the inevitable uncertainty that marbles the otherwise seemingly secure pilasters of life.
Masterfully done, thoroughly researched, and believable....more
An indisputable classic, yes, and I'm glad I read it. That being said, imagine a travelogue written by the perspective of a traveling merchant obsesseAn indisputable classic, yes, and I'm glad I read it. That being said, imagine a travelogue written by the perspective of a traveling merchant obsessed with trade and industry. Granted, a lot of it was dictated by Polo to a romance writer, but it can get somewhat tedious and repetitive. The descriptions are generally brief and unrevealing, unless he wants to engage in some hyperbole about the size of bridges or armies.
"The city of x is a ten day journey from y. The people are all idolaters and burn their dead. They are under the Great Khan. They have a language all their own. They have a brisk trade in a, b, and c."
Certainly don't expect lush descriptions unless it concerns material goods, the occasional miracle or myth, and how mighty the Great Khan is. As one of my colleagues might suggest, after reading this one might treat oneself to picking up Calvino's Invisible Cities....more
De Cauter's book, although ostensibly indexed on urban planning and architecture, is a sweeping ensemble of social and political critique buttressed bDe Cauter's book, although ostensibly indexed on urban planning and architecture, is a sweeping ensemble of social and political critique buttressed by readings of Virilio, Deleuze and Guattari, and Agamben. The main core of his argument is that society exists in capsularization that reinforces the wall of the inside and the outside (for example, the climate controlled environment or the ambling suburb versus the disordered outside of the global poor of the south etc.). At times, some of de Cauter's assertions are partial retreads of what Lukacs and Debord say, but the detail is what makes the difference as the "laws" or simple rules of capsularization are presented. At times polemic, and certainly edgy, it is worth a read. Those of a particular theoretical and political persuasion may find themselves nodding in agreement fairly often as what de Cauter advances is not a radical departure. In some ways, it is like reading Lewis Mumford with Paul Virilio's lexicon. The one drawback might be de Cauter's cleaving to binaries such as the Castells-ian ordered inside v. disordered/marginalized outside. De Cauter also might have prospered in leveraging Deleuze and Guattari's notion of the nomad with even more conceptual punch....more
Rather than going back to worship at the temple of Deleuze, DeLanda's polymathic interdisciplinary approach pushes well beyond the comfort zones of orRather than going back to worship at the temple of Deleuze, DeLanda's polymathic interdisciplinary approach pushes well beyond the comfort zones of orthodox Deleuzianism (although I recognize the oxymoron of "orthodox" and "Deleuze!). ...more
It is good for what it is. Harvey swings a mighty bat at neoliberal capitalism, but this book is more geared for a general audience than something morIt is good for what it is. Harvey swings a mighty bat at neoliberal capitalism, but this book is more geared for a general audience than something more academically refined like the works of Peck and Tickell....more