When Amalfitano subjects his pharmacist to a short mental screed about the drawbacks of writers' minor works in 2666, this is exactly the kind of thin...moreWhen Amalfitano subjects his pharmacist to a short mental screed about the drawbacks of writers' minor works in 2666, this is exactly the kind of thing he's talking about. A series of biographical sketches of fictional western-hemisphere writers with far-right sympathies, it'll take you no more than two or three hours to read. In its personalization of its characters' politics, it offers a bit of a clue to Bolano's modus operandi; it's just not as inventive as you'd like it to be, and not as inventive as its great premise lead me to believe it was going to be, anyway.
You can look at it as a bunch of habits of thought to avoid, or as an archaeological study of the aftershocks of World War II and the wars of ideology that followed. The Phalangists and fanatics herein are sometimes cliched - especially the two repressed homosexual poets who join the Nationalists in the Spanish Civil War - but more often surprising, like the Haitian plagiarist and the murderer who writes nihilistic verse across the sky. There are plenty of Fascist versifiers who you're supposed to sympathize with, like the woman who turns to pieties of the far Right in her efforts to liberate herself from a Communist husband who beats her. Juxtaposed against the more cynical exploitation of literature by some untalented hacks (like the soccer-fiend, poetry-writing gang members) and the out-there efforts of the P.K. Dick-like writers who use Nazism as more of an aesthetic than political dictum, you get the feeling Bolano is trying to tell us: yes, these people are all nutjobs, and a lot of them are truly ill-intentioned, but some of them had their reasons.
The very tippy-toe end - which has an actual plot, one I won't spoil - suggested to me that the smug, routine abhorrence of fascism should perhaps not preclude a touch of mercy.
You just don't need a book to do that, and doing so seems a little beneath Bolano in the first place.
I'd actively discourage people interested in Bolano's work from reading this first, but I'm still glad I've read it - the continuities between this and the world of 2666 (paging General Enterescu?) make it worthwhile as a coda, at least, and there are hints of the wry third-person voice Bolano got so good at later.(less)
I found this as I was going through my crates upon crates of books from in storage. I honestly don't know what possessed me to try so many times to li...moreI found this as I was going through my crates upon crates of books from in storage. I honestly don't know what possessed me to try so many times to like Donald Barthelme. In this novel, the boldface pronouncements on history and philosophy, which read like the titles interspersed throughout a few of Jean-Luc Godard's movies, are the most insightful part of the book - the rest is pretty uninteresting, except for those people, bless them, who think otherwise.(less)
I tried hard with this one, I really did. Among recent-ish Francophone feminist writers, I like the novelists better, like Monique Wittig and Helene C...moreI tried hard with this one, I really did. Among recent-ish Francophone feminist writers, I like the novelists better, like Monique Wittig and Helene Cixous.(less)
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 Civilizati...moreIn 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.(less)
Deleuze's section of this book is pretty good - he develops his theory that sadism and masochism are not two sides of the same coin, but separate path...moreDeleuze's section of this book is pretty good - he develops his theory that sadism and masochism are not two sides of the same coin, but separate pathologies - er, separate technologies of subversion.
Sacher-Masoch's prose is beyond all help, however; it's a shame that something so hot in theory is so boring in practice, but then Deleuze, reputed to be among the most vanilla of French theorists in his own personal life, must appreciate that.(less)
The best way to read this is by skipping Gayatri Spivak's useless and ponderous foreword. The rest is a pretty banal but I guess unique observation on...moreThe best way to read this is by skipping Gayatri Spivak's useless and ponderous foreword. The rest is a pretty banal but I guess unique observation on the supplementarity of writing to the spoken word wrapped up in a ton of hackwork. Compared to Limited Inc, this, and Writing and Difference, Derrida's later works are generally more easily comprehended, like Work of Mourning, Acts of Religion, etc. Like Foucault, Derrida enjoyed a late but breathtaking conversion to something like liberalism, and ultimately found justice to be the great irreducible (and... indeconstructible?) human need...(less)
This might be my favorite novel. I read it over the course of around three months, on my fourth attempt, when I was living in Tallinn, Estonia. Someth...moreThis might be my favorite novel. I read it over the course of around three months, on my fourth attempt, when I was living in Tallinn, Estonia. Something about residence in a very small European country heightens one's sense of the absurd. I would bring it to lunch at the bars where I dined and start crying into my club sandwich when the book was sad and laughing into my kebabs when it was funny (which is nearly always) and there are a lot of bartenders who probably thought I was crazy.
The first rule of Gravity's Rainbow is you do not talk about Gravity's Rainbow. Just read it and don't worry about all the things you don't get. You could spend the rest of your life in graduate school of various sorts and not be as smart as Thomas Ruggles Pynchon, so don't sweat it.
There are swaths of this book that I definitely don't get. Pointsman, the psychologist? Didn't get it. Tchitcherine? Didn't get him, as a character, didn't understand why he did what he did, almost ever. But hidden inside all the dross is literature of unparalleled terror and beauty: the chapter in the very middle of the book about Pokler and his daughter, which left me literally bawling in public, the only time I can think of I've ever done that. Oddly, the description of U-boat latrines. The dejected Slothrop wandering Germany in a pig suit. Pirate Prentice's romance. The overgrown adenoid that invades London. The dogs grown intelligent. The sad allusions to Webern's death. The notorious scat sequence that people get all worked up over. The Proverbs for Paranoids interspersed throughout ("You will not touch the Master, but you may tickle his creatures..."). Blicero's carnival of torture, better than anything Gonzalez could devise, and more honest, too.
Gravity's Rainbow is a quick guide to all the ways you could have lived your life but did not; all the injustices you have not had to face; all the ridiculous theories of the afterlife you can't bear to accept. It teaches you how to read itself. It's been copied relentlessly, by Trainspotting and Kurt Cobain and reading it means there's a certain voice that will inhabit your brain forever. It's like going on Samhain vacation from reality with nothing but a crate of bananas and a load of S&M. Caveat emptor.(less)