**spoiler alert** Time to make a fool of myself, *trying* to comment on the literature of James Joyce... sigh... all I can give are my own thoughts.
...more**spoiler alert** Time to make a fool of myself, *trying* to comment on the literature of James Joyce... sigh... all I can give are my own thoughts.
This is the first novel of his I've read. A couple of weeks after giving up, midway through Chapter 5 (due to otherwise-sourced impatience on my part), I returned and read the whole thing over. I'm REALLY glad I did. The languid, painstakingly observant quality of Joyce's language is easier to savour a second time around. And, when I got there at last, I liked the ending (which wasn't actually an ending, it was a beginning - but that's all the better).
The 5 star-rating, however, counts primarily for about the last half of chapter four. The rest of the book can get its stars somewhere else. After reading these pages, I was enraptured. This section is one of the most beautiful things I've ever read. All glory, laud and honour be to Joyce, forever and ever, amen.
Since this part appealed to me so much, I'll discuss why. I love the ways devised by Joyce to subtly show us what an artist Stephen is, well before he accepts it himself. He perceives life in a very dramatic way and internalizes his experiences to such an extent that, mentally/emotionally, it affects him more deeply than those around him. In the book's very opening, his father soothes him with the story of "baby tuckoo" – and Stephen realizes that he is baby tuckoo. "He sang that song. It was his song" (Joyce 1). The continuing story is, in many ways, Stephen's grappling with the question of whether he is the creator of his own story, or merely its subject. (Insight derived from the Wordsworth Classic introduction; I can't claim thinking of it, but find it intriguing all the same.)
So Stephen's life goes on, not remarkably; yet this central struggle between subjection and creation adds an anxiety that kept me turning the pages. It's a question that everyone who's ever tried to create has to ask themselves, the question of loyalty and freedom, and in what way a would-be creator has any right to lay claim to either.
To shorten a long, clumsy analysis, the peak of Stephen's belief in his own subject-ness appears near the close of Chapter 3. At this point, the kid is just about trembling out of his trousers with the realization not of how far he's strayed from God's path – he knew that already – but of how dearly he's doomed to pay for it. (Thanks, Joyce, for 14 small-print pages of the preacher's St. Francis' feast day sermon. Was ALL of it really necessary?) Classic religious-institution technique of fear to trap the vulnerable human soul. And it's worse for Stephen, with his wide melodramatic streak. (The unseasoned artist is a very gullible creature indeed.) Moreover, he can't bear to imagine "a tiny soul: his. It flickered once and went out, forgotten, lost. The end: black, cold, void waste" (Joyce 108). His shame is based on egotism, not reverence for God: "A wasting breath of humiliation blew bleakly over his soul ... to feel that those [unfallen:] souls were dearer to God than his" (Joyce 108). And his deeper fear is based on the snuffing-out of his human experience, in that realm of "black, cold, void waste." In my opinion, artists' motivations tend to include a search for immortality. In what sense? Yes, we want our creations to be remembered. But it's also that we are in love with the details of life. If Joyce's prose represents Stephen's consciousness, then Stephen revels in his every sensual experience, even at the times we wouldn't expect him to. He utterly fails to re-align his thoughts and become as single-minded as he feels God wishes him to be. The endless subtle wonders and mysteries of the world call too strongly for him to focus his eyes on heaven for long.
Which brings me to my favorite section, following his chat with the priest who wants him to join the High Ranks of the Mortified. There is something immensely appealing to me in the awakening Stephen feels, that of "some instinct... stronger than education or piety.... The chill and order of the life repelled him" (Joyce 123). In his choice not to turn away from the joy of sensual beauty, Stephen chooses to be a creator of sensual beauty as well. I doubt there is a more "holy" act conceivable: the choice for oneself to be truly awake, aware of the world in which we love and suffer. Oh, never mind, I can't say it better than Joyce does: "To live, to err, to fall, to triumph, to recreate life out of life!" (Joyce 132). The independence and courage and bittersweetness and love, and humility (for Stephen worships the sacred experience of life wholeheartedly, as he never worshipped God) ... and the socially-perceived wrongness, and the essential rightness of this decision grips me. It is complicated, and yet so simple. I want to relive it and re-think it again and again. (less)
I better stay on Goodreads for a darn long time, say till I'm eighty, if I plan to review this. It's one of my topmost and ultimate literary Goals: to...moreI better stay on Goodreads for a darn long time, say till I'm eighty, if I plan to review this. It's one of my topmost and ultimate literary Goals: to read, and "understand" (to some degree) Finnegan's Wake. I've been warned I'll need to know several languages and ancient mythologies, just for a start. Then most of the history (just European? no, likely more) leading up to the creation of this modernist masterpiece. I'll probably be obliged to go with a nice, cozy, heavily annotated edition that would make Joyce chortle scornfully in his grave. To you the living, please don't laugh at me. I am a lowly undergrad at the moment. But even we have our dreams. Please do tell me your respective experiences reading it....(less)
For a book of moderate length, I found Lolita took a fairly long time to get through. Not that I was trying to research every reference, or anything...moreFor a book of moderate length, I found Lolita took a fairly long time to get through. Not that I was trying to research every reference, or anything; I just had to savour the language. To a great extent, it's the ebb and flow of every line, within itself and in connection to every line around it (regardless of meaning) that drew me on through this book. It's poetry disguised as prose. It really is. Is it 'art for art's sake', then? I'd be quite tempted to say it is, for the most part. Yes, there is a minefield of moral questioning to be set off by the construction, far more than the content, of Lolita. But the fact is that Art guides us to step into that moral minefield. Art takes us as willing captives. Like I said, it's dense stuff, but you keep reading. This is why I think Nabokov offers glory to Art as one of its high priests. Art for Art's sake – for the sake of Art as something holy, splendid and terrible, fatal as society's blindness, and immortal as Humbert's crime. ("Crime." Forgive me. This novel does nothing to discourage skepticism, nor was it meant to.)
However, stepping backwards, the story itself is enough for most of us unenlightened readers. (Well, compared to Nabokov, that'd be just about everyone.) Never mind why Humbert is a sympathetic character, as he is for me, at least. He just is. As is Dolores Haze, as is her pitiable mother, as is the ostensibly villainous Quilty. They are all hateful and appealing in so many ways, and this unfailingly humanity with which Nabokov infuses them is enough to prove his mastery, let alone the rest of what he does here.
What effect did that overwhelming mastery have on me ? Confession time. I cried. A lot. I don't even know quite why. I could not begin to write an essay about it in my first-year university English class. (Thank Quilty we were given a choice.) All I could see was the enormity of what I had not grasped, of what I could NOT grasp and reflect through whatever sorry focus I took in my writing. It's one of those books that will stay, for now, on my mental altar, to be re-approached in the future when I have more capability to grasp Nabokov's subtle insight. I worship humbly from afar. Nevertheless, long after the final page, Lolita skips and teases round the edges of the mind. You see if it doesn't. (less)
What I may like best so far is to be reading a book that can be started and finished in the same day. I can hear Carroll's (well, rather, Dodgson's!)...moreWhat I may like best so far is to be reading a book that can be started and finished in the same day. I can hear Carroll's (well, rather, Dodgson's!) voice, almost feel the sun on my face as he tells the story in the rowboat to Alice and her sisters. It's delightful. I haven't gotten as far as starting any real consideration of or research into the literary significance of the story yet. But I hope to find something like that in the near future. I read "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland" yesterday, plan to do "Through the Looking-Glass" tomorrow ;) Please let me know if you've read and enjoyed anything analytic about these!
UPDATED: After finishing Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, I can't say I enjoyed it much less than the first one. These books are charming. I think Dodgson should have written poetry volumes in his spare time (wait... did he?!); he seems to have enjoyed a little too much for the balance of what fits well in a short novel. Like Alice, I just feel the poems were sprinkled in a bit too generously.
Someone's looking out for me up there. Last spring I happened upon Northrop Frye's Educated Imagination, and devoured it (and have since done so a fe...more Someone's looking out for me up there. Last spring I happened upon Northrop Frye's Educated Imagination, and devoured it (and have since done so a few more times). More recently, I bought Margaret Atwood's Negotiating with the Dead, only because I'd enjoyed some of her poetry and this was in a blow-out sale at Coles. Like Frye's Massey Lectures, it's one of those books that has changed the way I think about literature and writing. What's astonishing to me is how well one follows upon the other. There are insights made in Negotiating that I couldn't have understood without having read Frye and digested it over time. I don't care that some people dislike Margaret Atwood, just because she's Margaret Atwood. Her writing style is masterful and, more than that, it's engaging; it's fun to read.
For anyone unfamiliar with them, Frye's above-mentioned work looks at the overall purpose of literature, especially as relating to a human heritage of stories (hellooooo, Campbell's hero myth). Atwood's touches on some of the same material, but she goes on to discuss the identity of the writer, who?? the writer writes to/for, and the possible responsibilities (or lack thereof) literature has in/for society. I admire the answers that she comes to, and the pragmatic but interesting ways she gets to them. As an aspiring writer myself, I am developing my own sense of what literary theory I do and don't agree with, what I can believe in my 'writing heart' – that which feels true from my own experience. Atwood's is an approach I like very much. She writes unpretentiously, but her many examples from writing past and present (easily explaining them for those of us who are less-well read) show how she clearly knows what she's talking about.
I'm really not sure I'm going to finish this. So far it's gearing up to be 300-odd pages of, as someone else here has pointed out, unsubstantiated "sc...moreI'm really not sure I'm going to finish this. So far it's gearing up to be 300-odd pages of, as someone else here has pointed out, unsubstantiated "scientific" theories and anecdotal "evidence". I believe in the power of the mind, NO question whatsoever. But sometimes I think new-age types are overcomplicating the business. What business? The business of THINKING. To tell the truth, I've been into this power-of-the-mind theory for at least five or six years, seeing and hearing and reading it from quite a number of different angles. And when it comes right down to it, ya know, the Buddha summed it up waaay before the Secret made millions or the Abraham-Hicks Law of Attraction founded its series of videos and workshops.
It's been said before, folks: All that we are is the result of what we have thought. True, pure and simple as that. We should be able to go from there on our own.
Altogether, is a fantastic ride, though not – as the Editor's messages humorously warn us! – for the faint-of-heart. More to the point, it's not for t...moreAltogether, is a fantastic ride, though not – as the Editor's messages humorously warn us! – for the faint-of-heart. More to the point, it's not for those quick to dismiss a book that doesn't shine with its instant promise as an Oxford classic. The characters, for the most part, are predictable, and the plot is way over the top. I mean, it's a comic book. Or at least, it's masquerading as one. But the continual stream of literary references give readers a need to reconsider any hasty judgments. It's really a case of not judging a book by its cover – or a hero by his/her label.
Moore has a mission through his portrayal of an alternate-reality nineteenth-century London, and the key to that mission is the intertextuality of the world he creates. Can characters from Sherlock Holmes, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Dracula, James Bond... the list goes on... meet n' greet in the same story? Actually, Moore makes it work quite well. His success in puzzle-piecing them all together evidences how our heroes, no matter how well-known, esteemed or despised, can always be given new life, identified in a new light. Good or evil, each of these figures is only a vision, and such visions are fluid. With skill, they can be transplanted to the same place, reshaped although still recognizable. By doing so, Moore indicates an essential commonality between even the most seemingly disparate characters – and, moreover, the similarity of our reactions to them, no matter the context in which their authors originally placed them. Moore's creation of a hyperreal common ground over which they all swarm deserves some philosophical appreciation.
A few miscellaneous points... one thing I didn't like about this story is the whole flickering romance deal between Ms. Murray and Mr. Quatermain. Their moments of attraction are so sporadic as to make the final "OMG ALLAN HOLD ME!!!1!!" bit appear totally unconvincing. On the other hand, we find relief from such unwarranted soppiness in the mercilessly violent Nemo, and (best of all, in my humble opinion) Hawley Griffin, the invisible man, whose allegiance is highly questionable. He knows the only side he's really willing to fight for is his own. Perhaps, at the mercy of re-envisioners like Moore, this is the best that an intelligent character can do.
Dr. Moriarty is brilliantly-sketched villain. My favorite quote of this graphic novel? "When you begin shadowboxing, sometimes the shadows become real.... our charades take on a life of their own." These few words from the devious Moriarty struck me with their acute (if evil) insight. Is that what we're doing when we read: are we just shadow-boxing? In other words are we, the readers, as putty-like as the characters we admire or despise? Moore appears to be saying so, and he raids the history of Western literature and culture to have fun with his casting of the shadows. (less)
**spoiler alert** About halfway through, for me, this book became un-put-downable. I'll definitely be returning to it. My favorite quote: "There's no mo...more**spoiler alert** About halfway through, for me, this book became un-put-downable. I'll definitely be returning to it. My favorite quote: "There's no more painful love than the love you feel when you're in a railroad station and you exchange glance with someone whose train is headed in the other direction." - Mirza Shah Despite the lack of train stations in war-torn Kabul, this book is full of such glances. Its characters, struggling to stay together and to "keep it" together, draw readers in and don't let go, even after it ends. Yasmina Khadra knows what she's talking about - both as a former officer in the Algerian army, and a portrayer of some chilling intricacies in human nature.
The Swallows of Kabul is about madness. There is the mad discontentment of Atiq, the seemingly heartless jailer who's grown sick of watching his wife die. There is the mad regret of Mohsen, an educated man who finds himself succumbing to the contagion of brutality and is thus hated with mad immovability by his wife. There is madness in pain, there is madness in beauty. Even the minor characters are mad in one way or another; they appear to suffer too much or too little. There is no balance in Kabul; it reeks of Hobbes' state of nature. The backdrop for it all is the madness of the Taliban, which requires no further descriptors and yet is not the most striking element of this story.
The only character who remains truly 'pure-hearted' to the end is Atiq's wife, Musarrat, but while she is likeable, she is also verging on unreal. Her forgiveness, tranquility and self-sacrifice make her less believable than the others. I don't think this is necessarily an authorial flaw. What Khadra does through Musarrat is make us question Goodness, the ideal that she represents, in contrast to those surrounding her. The 'ideal' doesn't make sense (least of all, in what they're each experiencing); the madness does. So what is madness, and is sanity even viable? Madness, as I've indicated above, is many things; it's everywhere. Sanity is, quite possibly, undefinable. By the last page, it seems illusory.
The old and young, ignorant and educated, perpetrators and victims alike are seized by something that, Khadra implies – is not merely forced upon them by civil war but is lying in wait to devour us from within when we allow ourselves to feel the strongest proofs that we are human. Rage, sorrow, fear, even love: they can prove more deadly than landmines or snipers' bullets, and they take centre stage with a horrific grace. The characters and the setting and the lyric prose are merely conduits. This story speaks an unavoidable truth, and it is masterfully told. (less)
I picked this up (Chapters, major sale) years ago and might actually read it soon. It looks curious. I barely watch any tv and don't play video games,...moreI picked this up (Chapters, major sale) years ago and might actually read it soon. It looks curious. I barely watch any tv and don't play video games, but I'd like to consider Johnson's arguments in favour of them.(less)