This isn't the kind of book I usually read, but I picked it up a few months ago [in, like, 2007:] because I was bored and it was in my classroom when...moreThis isn't the kind of book I usually read, but I picked it up a few months ago [in, like, 2007:] because I was bored and it was in my classroom when I was still teaching.
I love Krakauer's imperturbability. He writes about the main character's hubris in a way that doesn't fall into either easy lyricism or chintzy minimalism the way so much literature like this tends to. It's hard to do nature writing without gravitating to one pole or the other: Jack London or Hemingway. Krakauer pulls it off. Haven't seen the movie but I'm looking forward to it.(less)
I'm about 100 pages in and so far the story of Lucien Chardon/Rubempre is just ridiculously gripping. Balzac has x-ray vision and an amazing wit. I th...moreI'm about 100 pages in and so far the story of Lucien Chardon/Rubempre is just ridiculously gripping. Balzac has x-ray vision and an amazing wit. I think this is going to be one of my favorites, though there's a lot left to read.(less)
**spoiler alert** In many ways a play to be studied rather than produced or merely read, The Coast of Utopia distills a century or so of scholarship a...more**spoiler alert** In many ways a play to be studied rather than produced or merely read, The Coast of Utopia distills a century or so of scholarship about the foment that preceded the Russian revolution from the 1830s on, mostly using Alexander Herzen (a skeptical Socialist) as a lens. Like Invention of Love, Stoppard uses a few nonrealist tricks here, such as the Ginger Cat (an ominous stand-in for the impersonal, world-devouring forces of History. met by several characters at a costume party), a structure that reveals the characters' interests and concerns without regard to how events ordered themselves in time, and an imaginary dinner involving Marx, Kossuth, Louis Blanc, Mazzini, Herzen, and several other instruments of 19th century nationalism and/or Socialism. Completely gone are the information games Stoppard played in, say, The Real Thing or Hapgood, in which essential facts are left out and introduced at leisure. The Coast of Utopia is more of an ars politica, summing up in various characters a couple of different approaches to political action.
I was fortunate enough to see the first part of the trilogy here in NYC when it went up in 2006/2007 at Lincoln Center. By far the most indelible performance was Billy Crudup's as Vissarion Belinsky. He was sweaty, seedy, and committed, and channeled the real Belinsky's fervent enthusiasms and social ineptitude, combining them with a heartbreaking disappointment and hopefulness, along with the prescient clarity with which VB foresaw Russia's place in world literature. Ethan Hawke wasn't as good as Bakunin. His voice was hoarse from shouting most of his lines, but he might just have been sick or something.
The first play, Voyage, follows literary critic Belinsky and the anarchist propagandist Michael Bakunin with forays into the lives of Nicholas Stankevich (an early popularizer of Hegel) and Alexander Herzen (a Socialist publisher and, later, memoirist) as they discuss the possibility of reform in the hopelessly behind Tsarist state. For this group of people, both in the play and in history, the freedom to discuss and propose reforms was the altar upon which they sacrificed their lives and sometimes those of their families. Bakunin was forever filching money from his parents and friends to fund the agitprop that he carried out in France and Germany. His actual opinions changed almost weekly, but the remarkable quality about him (both in this play and according to primary sources) is the boundless enthusiasm and commitment that he brought to everything he did, even if it contradicted his stated goals of only a few weeks prior. Most of the play takes place on the Bakunin estate during a visit of Belinsky's which left the two angry at each other, Bakunin because he was jealous of his sisters' affection for the awkward Belinsky, and Belinsky because of the unforgivable way that Bakunin treated him while he was visiting. The play ends with Bakunin's family watching the sun set on their estate as his father announces that it is about to be confiscated by the Tsar for Michael's participation in the short-lived Second French Republic of 1848.
The second play, Shipwreck, is slightly more linear; it follows Herzen and his circle of friends (which included the German poet Herwegh and his wife, Emma; the Marxes; Bakunin, as always; and his own growing family.) They participate in the uprisings that led to the Second Republic, each in his or her own way. (George Herwegh, hilariously, has a servant pack him and his wife some sandwiches and pies for the picket. Reminds me of a couple Sarah Lawrence students I used to know...) What collapses the salon-like atmosphere of the Herzen household is Herwegh's seduction of Natalie Herzen using radical openheartedness as a pretext. This development alongside the failure of the Second Republic show Herzen (if no one else) how easily people give their own personal sovreignty to the vanguard in exchange for attention. He forgives his wife, but soon thereafter, there's an exchange that reminds one strongly of Hannah's speech about the afterlife in Arcadia:
HERZEN Natalie died, three months ago . . . We lost Kolya. He was drowned at sea, my mother with him, and a young man who was teaching Kolya to speak. None of them was ever found. It finished my Natalie.
BAKUNIN My poor friend.
HERZEN Oh, Michael, you should have heard Kolya talk! He had such a funny, charming way . . . and he understood everything you said, you'd swear he was listening! The thing I can't bear . . . (he almost breaks down) . . . I just wish it hadn't happened at night. He couldn't hear in the dark. He couldn't see your lips.
BAKUNIN Little Kolya, his life cut so short! Who is this Moloch . . . ?
HERZEN No, not at all! Kolya's life was what it was. Because children grow up, we think a child's purpose is to grow up. But a child's purpose is to be a child. Nature doesn't disdain what lives only for a day. It pours the whole of itself into each moment. We don't value the lily less for not being flint and built to last. Life's bounty is in its flow, later is too late. Where is the song when it's been sung? The dance when it's been danced? It's only we humans who want to own the future, too. We persuade outselves that the universe is modestly employed in unfolding out destination. We note the haphazard chaos of history by the day, by the hour, but we think there is something wrong with this picture. Where is the unity, the meaning, of nature's highest creation? Surely those millions of little streams of accident and willfulness have their correction in the vast underground river which, without a doubt, is carrying us to the place where we're expected! But there is no such place, that's why it's called utopia. The death of a child has no more meaning than the deah of armies, of nations. Was the child happy while he lived? that is a proper question. If we can't arrange our own happiness, it's a conceit beyond vulgarity to arrange the happiness of those who come after us...
The final play, Salvage, concerns itself with the reordering of the Herzen household following the death of Natalie and Kolya, but juxtaposes against this tragedy Herzen's work on his seminal newspaper, The Bell, and the eventual emancipation of the serfs, due in no small part to his agitation from London. His children grow up. It's the weakest of the three plays, in my opinion because a lot of the spark of life here is between and amongst Bakunin, Belinsky, and Herzen, their sniping at each other, their arguments, and their ideological shifts. Once Belinsky is dead and Bakunin imprisoned, the play deflates a little as Herzen reconciles himself to the realities of political change and the practical matters of having to ally himself with people he doesn't entirely sympathize with (Marx, for one, who he finds insufferable here - who knows what the historical Herzen thought.)
Explaining why I love this trilogy despite its warts is a little difficult. I feel like America's situation, in politics and culture, is analogous in some ways to Russia's in the 1850s, paralyzed as we are by oligarchy, stubborn bureaucracies, a sometimes authoritarian government, and divisive internal conflicts over what our indigenous values really are. What I love most about 19th century Russian thinkers, and what I think differentiates them from English and French writers of the same period, as well as (probably) us, is that lacking what they understood as a Russian sense of identity was kind of an advantage - they had a more plastic idea of what they COULD be than maybe anyone else. Belinsky notes in TCOU that no one respects a writer like a Russian, because Russians needed their writers to tell them what they were. Russian litterateurs wrote as if there was something at stake, because Tsarist oppression and censorship meant that telling the truth was far more dangerous than lying.(less)
Another year, another prospectus. No one reads this whole thing, but you really could. All you non-baseball geeks out there will never understand the...moreAnother year, another prospectus. No one reads this whole thing, but you really could. All you non-baseball geeks out there will never understand the simple joy of a joke at the expense of the Texas Rangers' owners or Nomar Garciaparra, or really any of the thousand great wisecracks in here. It's really a shame, because this book contains a blurb for every current player in the game, including guys who're just going to tool around the minors for a couple seasons before fading away. And BP has something witty to say about every single one. It's obvious that this is a labor of love for everyone who writes it.
I must commend the authors for including the PECOTA ratings projections at the end of the book for easier cheat sheet construction this year. Well done.(less)
In nearly every review of Ron Rosenbaum's books I've ever read, people refer to him as a journalist, as if that fact is terribly relevant to his books...moreIn nearly every review of Ron Rosenbaum's books I've ever read, people refer to him as a journalist, as if that fact is terribly relevant to his books. Explaining Hitler has a few interviews with people who shape current perceptions of the Third Reich, but overall it's a great work of historiography and synthesis, certainly not journalism. Except in the sense that poetry is news that stays news, I don't see how this can really be journalism, either. Curious.