As an admirer and proponent of the Stoic philosophy that originated well before him, Aurelius outdoes his masters. Meditations reads (almost eerily) lAs an admirer and proponent of the Stoic philosophy that originated well before him, Aurelius outdoes his masters. Meditations reads (almost eerily) like if Buddha had written a guidebook to maintaining moral and emotional equilibrium while running a large empire. Marco Aurelio himself is still admired among Romans to this day, 1800 years later, as a generous and wise leader; no wonder....more
Easily one of my top five or ten of all time; as rich and ambiguous in its symbolism as anything Melville or James ever wrote.
It's anti-Romantic, preEasily one of my top five or ten of all time; as rich and ambiguous in its symbolism as anything Melville or James ever wrote.
It's anti-Romantic, presenting Paracelsus and mysticism as destructive forces, but it's also skeptical of the Enlightenment values of Shelly's mother, Mary Wollstonecraft; it's not overfond of what society does to people but terrified that anyone should live without human company; it's both heartbreaking and heartless.
When I finally got around to reading it, what surprised me the most was how much more impressive the actual prose is than the Boris Karloff-ish expectations I brought to it. Shelly doesn't tell the story straight, but uses a clever framing device that makes the end that much more poignant. What a great book....more
From the waning Gomulka regime forward, Kapuscinski fashioned a journalistic career out of exceedingly subtle swipes at the pretenses and tragicomic sFrom the waning Gomulka regime forward, Kapuscinski fashioned a journalistic career out of exceedingly subtle swipes at the pretenses and tragicomic self-deception of Soviet-style Communism. The Emperor is aimed at Haile Selassie, who Kapuscinski paints as a vapid, self-important ignoramus.
How much of this is actually Selassie and how much is carefully picked in order to make fun of Stalin or Khrushchev or even Gomulka is up for debate, but that's exactly what makes this book a masterpiece: I can't think of a more bitter catalog of the pathologies that accompany political power, and by the end it doesn't matter all that much who's in the limo, surrounded by Quislings and sycophants.
One of the mysteries of this book is whether dictators like Selassie come into being due to good timing, canny manipulation, or people's gullible belief that they can change their own nature. Kapuscinski refuses to take sides on the question of which comes first, the Hitler or the Reich; he's more of a muralist than a satirist, which is part of what makes The Emperor so satisfying. I can't recommend this book highly enough....more
Either this hadn't been translated yet when I was in college or it was really hard to find, but I was stuck reading it in French. There's nothing likeEither this hadn't been translated yet when I was in college or it was really hard to find, but I was stuck reading it in French. There's nothing like trying to parse euphemisms for the clitoris in a foreign language.
It's a fantasy-esque story (sort of) of what all-female community might look like, like a more obtuse, abstract version of Joanna Russ's book The Female Man, which I suspect it inspired. It's interrupted every so often with lists of mythological heroines' names. Sometimes a little self-indulgent, but that may also be the point. Really fierce....more
In many ways a response to the French government's penal codes of the 60s and 70s but also a continuation of Foucault's work in Madness and CivilizatiIn many ways a response to the French government's penal codes of the 60s and 70s but also a continuation of Foucault's work in Madness and Civilization, the influence of D&P can be seen everywhere from Spielberg's Minority Report to Enemy of the State to Ted Conover's Newjack and most if not all critiques of surveillant governments. It's also a horrifying read, starting out as it does with an account of the ritualistic execution of a regicide, which Foucault compares favorably to the prisons of the Enlightenment. The general thrust is that under the guise of humanism, Europeans decided on punishing the soul rather than the body. This they accomplished first by quite theatrically monitoring prisoners and delinquents, and eventually by having prisoners monitor themselves, saving the government all the work.
I personally don't think Discipline and Punish is the strongest of Foucault's works, though. Partly, I think he misunderstands the nature of physical violence. His strategy here and in M&C is to lay out a pretty sinister historical transition in the way states used their power, passing over counterexamples that might disprove his point (Australia, anyone?), and then allow the reader to assume that the trend he has identified continues... to this... very... moment! You're supposed to wonder, is the videocamera in my bank (*gasp*) part of the Panopticon? Have I been deprived of my free will and become a tool of the State? Harold Bloom rightly complains of Foucault that he tended to forget that the historical ironies he uncovered were just metaphors, and aren't as all-encompassing as his many followers in academe suppose. Mikey's History of Sexuality books are much more closely reasoned, or at least Introduction is and what I've read of Uses of Pleasure.
The problem is that you can carp all day about D&P but you will continue to see it everywhere, long after you've set it down. That makes it an amazing book....more
I can't imagine anyone reading this book and not being moved and stunned by the rewriting of history that has accompanied the reign of the queerbasherI can't imagine anyone reading this book and not being moved and stunned by the rewriting of history that has accompanied the reign of the queerbashers. This book makes the case that buggery was a pretty well-known and accepted part of life for a very long time, that biblical injunctions against it condemn buttsex with the same vigor that they condemn eating lobster and as such were routinely ignored until lately, and that anyone who says otherwise has bought into a big old lie.
I've heard that people have nitpicked at some of Boswell's footnoting procedures. These people are scabies that feast on fleas on the ass of a smelly camel, as is the ex-girlfriend of mine who ran off with my copy. Boswell is angry, ambitious, fair-minded, and an engaging anecdotal historian, too - Eve Sedgwick and Judith Butler and most of their queer theorist pals could stand a Boswell writing seminar or ten......more
Kross is one of the better writers you've never read. An Estonian who I believe is still alive albeit ancient, he wrote his only two long works that hKross is one of the better writers you've never read. An Estonian who I believe is still alive albeit ancient, he wrote his only two long works that have been translated into English (this and Professor Marten's Departure) under Soviet rule, managing to disguise a vicious and oftentimes funny critique of their authoritarian ways by writing about Estonians under the Tsar.
The Czar's Madman is about Timo von Bock, an actual Estonian nobleman, who has the gall to criticize the Tsar's authoritarian style of rule, and is imprisoned for his trouble. Timo himself is a great character, full of joie de vivre and rebelliousness, but also well-educated and serious in his principled opposition to tyranny. The story is written from the perspective of a teacher who falls in with Timo's people, and is innately suspicious of anything that upsets the status quo too much. Kross calls into question the link between political objectives and affairs of the heart as though he knew exactly what Gloria Steinem was writing at the same time; the parallel tales of the narrator's and von Bock's failed love affairs may be the most rewarding aspect of the book.
When I was teaching in Estonia, my students always complained about having to read Jaan Kross when they were in high school, much the way we Americans always have to read Dickens. I envy them their complaints!...more