Very nice book. The extensive quotes from interviews and other sources are really interesting and work well in this context. This is not designed as aVery nice book. The extensive quotes from interviews and other sources are really interesting and work well in this context. This is not designed as a comprehensive account of The Velvets, but it is a very rich slice of the story. The photographs are really great, giving an additional personality and account to this fascinating group and the people around them.
The framing argument about everyone making everyone up-tight and that the success of the band and the E.P.I. came through these tensions and conflicts might seem a bit forced, but is also a very interesting and rather provocative assertion. Sterling Morrison's intro suggests the up-tightness might be played a bit heavy, at the detriment of the sheer fun of being in the Velvet Underground. This intro, however, generates its own tension between the book, its subject and readers - up-tightness continues. Also, there is quite a bit of evidence within the albums to support this claim, particularly in the first two. "Sister Ray" excels to a great degree because doing the song in one take meant each member fought for prominence in the song. Conflict has often bred remarkable artistic achievements, though it doesn't breed band longevity for obvious reasons.
This is a fine entry point to the history of The Velvet Underground. Its lacking in its discussion of the post-Cale work, which kind of does a disservice to everyone involved in those records. But it remains an informative, accessible and short introduction to an important band whose work remains fascinating, challenging and rewarding. ...more
Admittedly, I did not read the entire book, but only the parts that most directly connected to what I'm currently studying. But what I read was quiteAdmittedly, I did not read the entire book, but only the parts that most directly connected to what I'm currently studying. But what I read was quite good. This book is so big and the essays are prone to overlap, repeating information (the essay "Modernist Drama: Wedekind to Brecht" repeats several points about German Expressionism already made in the essay specifically about that), but it still is a useful book, especially if you read it more topically rather than straight through. While much work on Modernism has been done since this book was first published in the 70s, this anthology still seems a valuable contribution to Modernism and the different movements contained therein. I'll get to the rest of the book another time....more
Seeing how Peter Gay spent five books on the Victorian middle class already, to cover the same ground in a single book, clocking in at just under 300Seeing how Peter Gay spent five books on the Victorian middle class already, to cover the same ground in a single book, clocking in at just under 300 pages, seems like an editing project I don't wish on anyone. But sometimes you need a book of manageable length to introduce the period to readers lacking the gumption to down five volumes on the Victorian Age (I confess my interest in Victorian history doesn't run that deep). For this reason, I'm willing to cut Gay some slack on how quickly he moves through his subject and how, even while trying to dig into the particulars and the complexities, he has to gloss over some things.
That being said, Gay at times reveals a certain annoying admiration for the Victorian bourgeoisie that causes him to completely sidestep some rather important aspects of that time and culture. The biggest transgression might be the complete omission of the Victorian era's colonial exploits, which most certainly connected to middle-class society -- Gay goes to great pains to assert how important the middle-class was to all other aspects of Victorian life, so by that logic, they would have also been involved in colonial issues as well. This seems a convenient negation given that he calls the twentieth century a far more barbaric century than the nineteenth. Such comparisons often seem boring anyway and just a way of praising one era at the expense of another -- a lazy tactic.
The other point that I found rather suspect was some of his praise of marital sexual relationships. He wants us to debunk the perception of Victorians as stuffy prudes who hated sex, so he goes to great lengths to show just how sexually active they were and how open they were about (among other things) bodies, sex, and birth control. This seems fair and I really enjoyed portions of this discussion. But he refrains from really taking to task some of the blatantly sexist and misogynistic attitudes relating to sexual relationships. He needles it a bit, acknowledging women's oppression in rather "safe" (superficial) ways, but never really rips into the subject. Several of his references reveal that, yes, women clearly weren't frigid and most men knew that, but it still shows that women were hardly allowed to be as sexually experienced as men (certainly not before marriage) and that it was a man's job to awaken a woman's sexual feelings (translate: dude, break her in!). How's a man to do that? Oh, because he's allowed to be sexually active before marriage, unlike a woman. Woulda been nice if Gay had actually interrogated that. Also, his talk about wedding nights sounded so clearly one-sided to the male perspective that it was embarrassing. As did his evasion of aggression, be it physical or emotional, dealt out on women. Instead he'll talk at length about the death penalty (which was interesting) and just avoid violence against women all together (I thought he'd address it since he opens that chapter by pointing out Schnitzler's own repeated "conquests" with the ladies and the violence contained within that word -- but that's where the discussion of violence against women began and ended). For a book published in 2002, I expect a bit more from him on these issues.
But there are good parts to this book, obviously. The part on birth control is very interesting, as is the part on masturbation. With both of these subjects we see the religious and political powers as being the primary crusaders against such examples of indecency. With both these sections I couldn't help but think about the current debates happening in America over birth control and women's reproductive health and the ongoing fear and distorted understanding of masturbation -- in both cases the opposition is largely spearheaded by conservative powers, be they political or religious. What we consider to be a very oppressive conservative climate in the Victorian age, could be us looking more at the controlling powers than at the attitudes of the middle and lower class. Several of Gay's points on these issues were good ones.
Overall I liked this book as an entry point to this period. I didn't mind the book being, however loosely, framed around Arthur Schnitzler. But I'm a student of Germanic culture, so I would be fine with such an approach. I do think such an approach would have perhaps been more fruitful if Gay had in turn used the history he was unfolding to illuminate Schnitzler's own art a bit more -- show more strongly how his work was informed by Victorian bourgeois culture. But that wish is the art critic in me, not the historian, and this is primarily a history book. Gay's use of Freud throughout might be a problem in that we've moved quite a ways past Freud in the last hundred years. But since Freud was also working during this period, his theories a product of the times, it was interesting to see Freud applied to his own. I really liked portions of this book, didn't like spots where I thought Gay was evading responsibility, and then was kind of ho-hum about other sections. But overall it was good and worth a read if you're curious about this peculiar historical period. ...more
Solid critical examination. McCormick does a great job of showing Weimar in its complexity, contradiction and profundity. He's repetitive, but his oveSolid critical examination. McCormick does a great job of showing Weimar in its complexity, contradiction and profundity. He's repetitive, but his overview and critique of the critical literature is good and his contributions to the discussion are very thought-provoking. His analysis seems sound and detailed while eschewing any overbearing readings; the ambiguities and tensions within the examined works remain present and worth pursuing even further. ...more
Robert Flynn Johnson's collection of anonymous photographs makes the case that collecting anonymous photographs is as much an art (or at least a skillRobert Flynn Johnson's collection of anonymous photographs makes the case that collecting anonymous photographs is as much an art (or at least a skill) as many of the photographs themselves. While many of these photos really do show artistic and technical skill, their potency is enhanced, or at least expanded, by their inclusion in this collection. Alone, many of these are fine photos, but together they create something even more fascinating - the collected comments and observations of photographers unknown, showing people now (mostly) passed away.
It is an odd feeling to be looking at a moment (staged or spontaneous) in a person's life, when you know that the subject of the photo as well as the photographer are now gone. It reminds me of Ossian Brown's brilliant collection Haunted Air, though in the case of The Face in the Lens the focus is much broader. But the feeling of looking into the past and seeing the photographic ghosts of anonymous people is somewhat eerie, but also intriguing. Photos say a lot, but they leave a lot up to the viewer, as Alexander McCall Smith's somewhat quirky introduction demonstrates. We're seeing history, but it's a history full of gaps, where we insert our own ideas and feelings from our perspective today. Johnson, through compiling these photos as he has, has created his own individual version of history, which is not bad, but is just the nature of telling history.
Part of the joy of this collection is in how varied the photos are and the noticeable lack of artistic aspiration in so many of them. Often the goal was simply to capture a significant moment for documentary, genealogical purposes rather than to do something artistic. What's cool is that sometimes both happened, which Johnson attributes to the nature of photography as an art reliant on technology - the camera can sometimes really help you out, even when you're totally ignorant of how to properly use it. Likewise, the subject of the photo can sometimes be as 'artful' in their body language and manner than any performer or model, suggesting that people really do have a natural impulse and feeling for what is aesthetically pleasing and/or what is genuine and real - this is true even in some of those stiff, posed photos where people were having to stand waiting forever while the picture was taken. Real life often presents the best performances you've ever seen.
Johnson has compiled a fine collection of anonymous photos and makes me wonder what he has in his collection that didn't make the cut for this book. What pictures does he have that still remain unknown to people and what pictures are floating around out there yet to be uncovered? I start feeling a tad weird thinking about my own photos being collected like this. What stories would people create about my photos? What would that say about the subject and what would it say about me? And what about you?...more
I like that we follow the story through Annemarie's eyes, ever aware that we're a little person in a big, dangerous world. This perspective seem appliI like that we follow the story through Annemarie's eyes, ever aware that we're a little person in a big, dangerous world. This perspective seem applicable to both little and big people, since adults seem equally quick to see themselves as little, insignificant, powerless figures in the global theater. But Number the Stars says that young and old people can make a positive difference in the world, mainly through how they view and treat their neighbors. Instead of seeing helpless children and adults, we see adults and kids helping each other overcome obstacles and dangers. It's a good message, supported by the historical records of how many Danish citizens helped save their Jewish neighbors from the Nazis.
My primary concern with this book is that the Germans were overly demonized. This is a tricky subject since it's true that many Nazi soldiers did terrible things during WWII. But not all Germans were terrible people, not even all soldiers were. War makes people do awful things, but that's true of all sides of the conflict. Lowry makes a rather flimsy attempt at the beginning of the novel to humanize a Nazi soldier, but after that every Nazi is basically a devil. I understand this is a children's book and is strongly influenced by fairy tale narratives, but I still think more effort could have been made to avoid painting an entire people with such broad brush strokes. Unfortunately, too many holocaust stories (children and adult alike) fall into this trap.
Still, this book can be a really good story for kids just learning about the Holocaust. The primary message of the story is a good one and kids can gain a lot of reading this book and talking about it with their parents. Just don't let this be the only story you or your kids ever read about the Holocaust. ...more