1) I found this interview with DB on youtube and I was dumbfounded – here was I thinking you said his name like this:
Donald Barthelme Will overwhelm You1) I found this interview with DB on youtube and I was dumbfounded – here was I thinking you said his name like this:
Donald Barthelme Will overwhelm You
But no. It’s pronounced Barthulmee. Ew, can’t find anything to rhyme with that.
2) I bought this from amazon & paid a very modest fee and blow me down, they sent me a first edition hardback – proving that DB is really not very sought after!
3) The photo on the back is the best one I’ve seen where you can clearly see the inverted-V incision on DB’s top lip which is where he had a cancerous growth removed. It’s described in one of the stories herein - naked autobiography. This was the reason he didn’t grow a moustache to complete his bearded fizzog, because he couldn’t, because of what the operation did. So that’s why he looked like Doc from the Snow White dwarves. In facial terms that is, he was actually quite tall.
4) This collection gets half a star for two nice music references, one being "Wah Wah" by George Harrison (from All Things Must Pass) and the other being "Let’s Burn Down the Cornfield" by Randy Newman from 12 Songs.
5) This is not a good collection – if Donald Barthelme was Talking Heads then Sadness would be True Stories, the duff one in between Little Creatures and Naked, because City Life, the one before, is great and Amateurs, the one after is really really great but this one is kind of sort of okayish but sometimes quite irritating and a little bit superior in that intellectual name-dropping way that people who aren’t Barthelme fans think he is all the time. And some of it gets too close to being Monty Python sketches for comfort. That may sound ridiculous but I can prove it. However, the first story in here is actually the most shocking DB story I ever read because it’s completely autobiographical, painfully self-revealing and only goes off the rails in the last 2 pages. However, its title is “Critique de la Vie Quotidienne” so there’s your la-di-da effect-wrecking for you. Shoulda called it “My Fucking Life”. ...more
Some of this book is so unintentionally funny. The sub-title is “A Journalist Investigates the Toughest Objections to Christianity”. To do this our Mr Some of this book is so unintentionally funny. The sub-title is “A Journalist Investigates the Toughest Objections to Christianity”. To do this our Mr Strobel puts these Toughest Objections to several top guys and presents us with these interviews where they wrestle mightily. So here he is talking with Norman L Geisler who is “one of the most well-known and effective defenders of Christianity in the world”. The Tough Objection at this point is “God isn’t worthy of worship if he kills innocent children” which is a tough one, you must admit. He puts it to Norman that the Old Testament is stuffed full of acts of arbitrary cruelty by God, such as God commanding the Israelites to commit genocide – Norman is able to bat these away – foo, foo, the Amelekites, they were terrible, you should be glad they were got rid of. You should have seen them. But Lee then pulls out the incident of Elisha and the children :
And he went up from thence unto Bethel: and as he was going up by the way, there came forth little children out of the city, and mocked him, and said unto him, Go up, thou bald head; go up, thou bald head. And he turned back, and looked on them, and cursed them in the name of the LORD. And there came forth two she bears out of the wood, and tare forty and two children of them.
(tare means tore)
”Now, Dr Geisler, you insisted that God is not capricious but that sounds like an outrageous response to a minor and silly offence. Mauling 42 innocent little children just because they poked fun of some bald guy is awfully severe.”
Geisler was well acquainted with the issue. Geisler replied “These were not small innocent children.”
Having anticipated his response I pulled out a photocopy of the passage and thrust it in his direction. “Yes they were,” I retorted. “Look right there,” I said, pointing to the words. “It says ‘little children’”.
“Unfortunately the King James version has a misleading translation there,” he said. “Scholars have established that the original Hebrew is best translated ‘young man’. The New International Version renders the word ‘youths’. As best we can tell, this was a violent mob of dangerous teenagers, comparable to a modern street gang. The life of the prophet was in danger by the sheer number of them – if 42 were mauled, who knows how many were threatening him in total?... And their remarks about Elisha being bald were most likely a reference to the fact that lepers in those days shaved their heads. So they were assailing Elisha – a man of dignity and authority as a prophet of God – as a detestable and despicable outcast….. If a menacing mob of teenagers got away with this and God didn’t come to the defence of his prophet, just think of the negative effect that would have on society. In fact, as once commentator said…’The disastrous fall of Samaria would have been avoided had the people repented after the bear attack’.”
I’m happy to report that Lee Strobel’s doubts about God for making violent she-bears maim 42 little children were entirely resolved. I imagine him leaning back in the armchair with a big “Whew!” after all this.
What hilarious poppycock. How can educated people get themselves into these grossly undignified verbal gyrations? You can see them twisting and turning like the slippery eel to get God off the hook. Ooo-er, miracles contradict science. Heck, a Loving God would surely never torture people in Hell for all Eternity. Ya might think. Oh crumbs, Church History is Littered with Oppression and Violence (and child abuse, he might have added). Lemme think, lemme think
All these mighty posers are grappled with and after three or four rounds (three falls or one submission to declare the winner) are defeated by the brains here on display.
Well, none of this is needed of course. It’s all entirely useless energy. It is surely obvious that religion a) provides for a permanent need in most people (Marxists thought it would wither & die but that ain’t happening any time soon) and b) is conducted in forms inherited from pre-scientific and pre-secular societies. You can clearly see the awkward evolution of the concept of God in the Bible, from the crudities of the contest between Elijah and the priests of Baal to the Platonic sophistries of St Paul. Given that, there are no problems with any of these tough objections really. Okay, there is with one, which I dealt with in my review of chapter 1. But the others? Ffft.
“Since Miracles contradict science, they cannot be true” – correct. Next!
“Evolution Explains Life, so God isn’t Needed” – hold on there, what’s that again? Does evolution explain how there is something rather than nothing? Or why we have these particular physical laws and not others? I think we need more scientists than Charles Darwin to explain Life. & even when we have the whole Cernfuls of them, their explanations make as much sense as Genesis to most of us. So I don’t think it’s all as neat and tidy as this Tough Objection implies. However, miracles do not exist except in the minds some people. Next.
“God Isn’t Worthy of Worship if he kills Tiny Little Innocent Wee Children” – well, yes, that seems to be true. But he might have his reasons (see above).
“It’s Offensive to Claim Jesus is the Only Way to God.” Well, yes it is. Although it’s also not credible to assert that the maker of all the universes has a deep and abiding interest in what You – yes, YOU – do with your private parts. So, if you stop making these weird assertions you won’t have to cudgel your brain thinking of ways to defend them.
“A Loving God would Never Torture People in Hell.” Quite so – they thought that Hell at least brought some order to a chaotic universe in the Middle Ages, but that was then and this is now. Only heavy metal fans really believe in Hell anymore. The rest of us have to decide if there is an afterlife what happens to Jeffrey Dahmer or Sid Vicious. I don’t want to be spending an eternity with those characters, don’t know about you. So yeah, a hell-less afterlife is quite a problem, but maybe there isn’t an afterlife at all. Or maybe it’s just like a giant parking lot which stretches infinitely – oh stop. To summarise, Hell – no!
“Church History is Littered with Oppression and Violence.” That’s a tough objection? But it’s a man-made institution, so of course it is! Come on, get real, kids, that’s not an objection at all.
“I Still Have Doubts, so I Can’t be a Christian.” Hmm, I would rephrase that – “I Still Have Doubts so there’s Hope Yet.” No, that’s mean. But may the Lord protect and save me from those who have no doubts!
I think it’s time for me to stop trying to find an interpretation of Christianity which makes sense. Its mysteries shake down into two “tough” problems for me – theodicy, which is the fancy word for the efforts to solve problem of evil (see review of the first chapter of this book), and the Crucifixion – what was the nature of this central act, what do Christians think actually happened, or to put it another way, why did Jesus have to die in order to save the human race from sin and what does any of that mean? I think every Christian really struggles with both those questions in every century since AD 33 – certainly all those whose books I’ve been reading over the last couple of years do. As well they might. They’re insoluble. It doesn’t make sense. That doesn’t mean Christianity is not true – just means that in the profoundest way it’s non-sense, beyond language. I’m too literal-minded. Got no ear for it. Funny really, because I love the KJV, and my iPod is stuffed with Christian music. So let’s end with a favourite old hymn.
Farther along we'll know all about it, Farther along we'll understand why; Cheer up, my brother, come sing in the sunshine We'll understand it all by and by.
I think this book needed writing, the subject of originality and copyright and who stole from who is crucial in the history of popular music, and ClinI think this book needed writing, the subject of originality and copyright and who stole from who is crucial in the history of popular music, and Clinton Heylin surely has the spare time and obsessive inclinations to chase down all the leads. But it’s not a pleasant read. It’s a grubby dispiriting story, and it’s not a good sign if you find your particular heroes in the index.
Everyone knows the George Harrison ripped off The Chiffons’ He’s So Fine in My Sweet Lord. I like both records, myself. But 90% of this book is about much less clear-cut plagiarisms. When the recording biz got going in the 1920s there was a vast weltering mulch of traditional song in existence. Who wrote songs was not something most musicians were particular about. They copped from here, borrowed from there, remembered this, adapted that. They swapped stuff with each other. It was fun! Then came records and after that not so much fun. Because with records came copyrights and with copyrights came lawyers and with lawyers came the gaping open mouth of hell itself.
Let Alvin Pleasant Carter of The Carter Family be our poster boy.
A more God-fearing individdle you couldn’t meet in a month of Sundays. When the Carter Family were a hit they needed more songs for the recording sessions. The boss Ralph Peer explained that the money came from the songs twice, once when the people bought them and once when they were played on the electric radio. So everything by the Carter Family was copyrighted as by A P Carter. And they recorded dozens of songs. What a great songwriter AP was, hey. Only he wasn’t; what he did was, he tramped the hills of West Virginia finding old people with good memories (not so easy) and making notes of all the old songs they remembered. Then he pored through many songbooks from the previous 50 years and picked out the ones he liked. After a bit of tweaking they became original carter Family songs just like that, and Maybelle and Sara got going on them.
Since then everyone has followed suit. Which is not to say that songwriters can’t be original – of course they can. Take Paul Simon – he gets caned for two plagiarisms – Scarborough Fair was taken 100% from English folkie Martin Carthy, guitar arrangement and all, and copyrighted to P Simon; and Bridge over Troubled Water was adapted from Mary Don’t you Weep by the Swan Silvertones. Oh and American Tune was a hymn with secular words added. But everything else he wrote – no problem.
Likewise, Dylan – in the beginning he was all unoriginal tunes (Blowing in the Wind = No More Auction Block, etc) but then he learned to write melody and became 100% original (Mr Tambourine Man, Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands, Tangled up in Blue, etc). Then later he lost the knack so for the last 10 years has been (brilliantly) pillaging the R&B of the 1950s, so that there are no more original songs on Dylan albums any more.
Does any of this matter in the age of sampling and mashups and whatall? No. If it’s a good record it can do what it likes. Take Dub be Good to Me by Beats International, which on some days is my favourite single ever. This track started out as an instrumental which stole the bassline from The Clash's Guns of Brixton then added the harmonica theme from the movie Once Upon a Time in the West, written by Ennio Morricone. On the top of that Norman Cook added the melody from The SOS Band's single Just Be Good to Me as re-recorded by Lindy Layton. So out of these bits of jigsaw came a fab new creation. A Frankensong, you might ay.
Most of this book is the story of trad folk & blues guys getting stolen from and claiming vainly to have written what was already 50 years old by the time they recorded it in 1931. It’s all a bit tiresome and unseemly. I’m quite a pop music geek myself, but this book out-geeked me by a very considerable distance.
Not as much fun as I thought it would be. 2.5 stars.
I went to Italy once. Siena. The cathedral. Huh. 14th century popes with a licorish allsort fetish and way too much money. Okay, it was, you know, impI went to Italy once. Siena. The cathedral. Huh. 14th century popes with a licorish allsort fetish and way too much money. Okay, it was, you know, impressive. You could tell those popes wanted to be Alexander McQueen and they were all 6 centuries too early.
What, I hear you cry, does this have to do with Augie March, the mid 20th century Chicago likely lad? Only that I tiptoed out of the book and the cathedral with the same sour feeling. Sour and sore. I was beat. It was all too much. It was overpowering. I was done in, ears ringing. There was no volume control on either. They both need to be diluted. Well, for my weak taste, anyhow. All a bit much. Shouty. In your face. Neither were ever introduced to the idea of subtlety. Here’s a thing. I found an ebook of Augie March on youtube. They do that. I’da thought they’da got sued but no. I gave it a whirl then I gave it up. But at least I knew what the problem was.
Augie March is of course quite brilliant, but it was a kind of brilliance which felt like force-feeding the pore old reader. Bellow eyes up his readers like French farmers eye up the geese they’re going to get the foix gras out of. Okay, here we go, cram cram cram. The vocabulary is up in the higher nineties. Every last possible detail about everything in Augie’s life goes right down there on the page. It was like being trapped on an endless train journey with a classic bore who doesn’t know what details to leave out of a story and also doesn’t know what the point of his story is. But the bore is clearly some kind of borderline genius. On and on. And of course he assumes that everything about his life is interesting to everyone. Your classic bore behaviour. And it’s delivered in this first person monotone, the register never changes. Then this, then that. What was in the underwear drawer. What was on the toast.
Now, we have had these infinite-detail impressive big novels-of-life-itself before. From my swag bag of novels I would pull out Main Street by Sinclair Lewis and What I Lived For by Joyce Carol Oates and A House for Mr Biswas by VS Naipaul, not to mention Richard Price’s gargantuan inch-by-inch explorations of a handful of urban days and nights in his three huge police procedurals – I mean, Ulysses itself is one of these every-tiny-thing is-going-in masterblasters. I mention ones that I love. So you see I was very disappointed to find that although it’s quite clear this book is a masterpiece it just wasn’t …
for instance, young Augie goes to work as a general dogsbody for a disabled geezer called Einhorn, who is yeah a curious enough character & he & his dubious family take over Augie’s waking hours so the whole book then becomes about them and it just gets real dull real quick and stays dull too. This Einhorn is kind of interesting but not so we want to know the arse-end of every aspect of the five universes of Einhornity, which is what we get.
And yet – there are unspeakably great paragraphs here and there. Great great sentences that belong up on some wall.
But I’m making a mental note to try this one again in my next life.
Five star book, one star reader, therefore no rating ...more
It’s not been a normal year. This was the year the tail not only wagged the dog but viciously flayed the skin off the dog’s back. I should explain thaIt’s not been a normal year. This was the year the tail not only wagged the dog but viciously flayed the skin off the dog’s back. I should explain that, but it would take so long.
I think Britain is now a one-party state. Previously we had the slightly left Labour Party and the fairly right Conservative Party, and they would win elections (only) when they got themselves an impressive leader. For the Tories it was Maggie, and for Labour it was Tony Blair. Both of these characters were loved and loathed and both won three elections. Both were either chucked out (Maggie, because she had clearly gone mad) or resigned because three was enough (Tony Blair).
The Tories just scraped a win at the election in May with a majority in the House of Commons of 15. The problem is that Labour looks like it will now never win another election. Why, faugh, go to, go to, pooh pooh, you may say, 15 is a wafer thin majority. Labour could surge back. Well, not if the Scottish nationalists have anything to do with it. (This is the flaying tail.)
The Nats hate Labour only slightly less than they hate the Tories. And they hate the Tories a lot. The standing joke is that there are more giant pandas in Scotland than there are Conservative MPs. So Labour used to be the monolithic party in Scotland – at the 2010 election the Scots Nats won 6 out of 59 Scottish seats to Labour’s 52 - but at the 2015 election they won 56 out of 59 seats. That’s right, Labour was nearly wiped out. It was an earthquake.
The reason for this remarkable change was the referendum on independence which is a whole long story. But basically, even though the Nats lost the referendum (only 45% of Scots voted to be independent) Scotland is now foaming at the mouth with nationalism and sees Labour as just another English party.
So without the 50-plus Scottish seats, I can’t see Labour ever forming another government. They don’t win majorities just in England, which is a pretty Conservative country really. But even if they did, they seem to have lost whatever plot they had. They don’t know what they’re for anymore. Their current leadership candidates (now poor old Ed Miliband, the man who could not eat a bacon sandwich and who looked too much like Wallace has thrown himself out of the window) are a complete shower. They utter platitudinous bleatings. They vaguely gesture. They wouldn’t inspire you to climb out of a poisoned well full of rats with long teeth.
THREE MILD POLITICAL ANECDOTES
1) Charles Kennedy, one-time leader of the Liberal Democrats, a minor party, is visiting a hospital with a camera crew. Chats to a patient and asks if he intends to vote in the upcoming election. “Oh yes, I’m voting Liberal democrat,” says the guy. Charlie beams. He should have said thank you and left. But then he asked – “And what are you in here for?” “Brain surgery.”
2) Nick Clegg, they guy who took over from Charlie, and who became deputy Prime Minister in the 2010 coalition, is being interviewed by Nick Robinson. It’s his eighth interview of the morning.
He tells me that they have all begun in roughly the same way : “You’re hopeless, no one likes you, you’re going to lose – have you anything to say to that Deputy Prime Minister?”
3) Hapless Ed Miliband did have a sense of humour. Nick interviewed him once and he parodied himself cruelly. Pretending to shout through a megaphone he said
What do we want? Responsible capitalism! When do we want it? In the medium term!
It’s a diary, May 2014 to May 2015. It’s amazing how much stuff happens in a year, and all the politicians have to have a smooth attitude to everything that happens. (Why do you think so many cats get stuck in trees, minister? I can now announce that resources have been found and an Arboreal Pet Incident task force has been formed. I expect it to be able to make its first report next month at which time I will be able to answer your questions fully.) So reading it is a hectic pell-mell rush through the surface of one fairly crazy year in British politics, plus the fact that in January Nick Robinson was diagnosed with cancer. (He’s recovering.) Leaving aside one’s sympathy for this familiar face on TV, Nick does expose the stupidity and shallowness of much of what passes for BBC political journalism, which in turn mirrors the crassness and venality which passes for British political life, leaving this reader wincing, nodding, groaning, retching, smiling, snorting and furiously fulminating all the way to the sticky inevitable tatterdemalion end.
Two guys Jeunet and Carot made Delicatessen in 1991 which is an all time favourite of mine, then followed it up with The City of Lost Children four yeTwo guys Jeunet and Carot made Delicatessen in 1991 which is an all time favourite of mine, then followed it up with The City of Lost Children four years later. Hard to believe, this second film is much weirder and much better, one of my top ten movies. (Not many other people liked it but I don’t care. Maybe they just made it for me. I think it gave people the creeps. It gave me the creeps but I like that kind of creeps.) So Jeunet and Caro had by now typed themselves as steampunk surrealists. Then Caro left to do something else and Jeunet’s next movie was the bad Alien film Alien : Resurrection. Yeah, he sold out to Hollywood, and it didn’t work out. But hey, with a big paycheck he could do what he wanted to do now, which was Amelie. And now you could see that Caro was the Lennon and Jeunet the McCartney.
As you no doubt know, Amelie is cutesy, fey, whimsical, a romantic comedy with no possible relation to real life, all goldenhued and cloying, which rhymes with annoying, and I expect has made more than a few people thwow up into their handbags. “A big fat dollop of saccharine fairy floss” says tombur1 on IMDB. “By the end of the movie you just want to reach into the screen and choke her” says AmomyBP. I see what they mean. The corn is as high as an elephant’s eye. Jeunet deliberately removed all the graffiti and litter from his exteriors by digital means. The more I think about this movie the sillier it is, but when I watch it that’s a different thing. So am I really saying that Ram is nearly as good as Abbey Road ? If there is a guilty movie pleasure this is it. (Leaving aside Italian nunsploitation movies, of course. We don’t want to talk about those. )
(Amelie unwittingly phones a sex shop to speak to one of their assistants but they mistake the nature of the call.)
It’s true my movie taste is all over the place. What? You dare to admit to hating The Green Mile AND The Shawshank Redemption AND Vertigo ?? Yes, that’s me. So are you one of those guys who only like Battleship Potemkin and Last year at Marienbad? No, I hate those too. What kind of monster are you??
(This is Amelie criticising old movies for not being realistic - she's got some nerve)
All right, so what we got – cute shy loner girl meets cute shy loner boy in a manner that redefined the words convoluted and contrived. At the end – oh, spoiler! – they chug off into the Montmartrian sunset, literally, on a white Lambretta. Laughing.
I can’t deny that – but I would say that a large amount of the movie is taken up with Amelie trying to fix other people’s problems (thus avoiding fixing her own). She does this by stealth and in so doing reveals herself to have psychopathic tendencies – she has no qualms in breaking into neighbours’ apartments and stealing stuff; once she conceives of an idea of improve someone’s life all normal rules of behaviour go out the window. Underneath the fairydust is a borderline-deranged passive aggressive type. The fairydust is mixed with ground glass.
YANN TIERSEN’S SOUNDTRACK
In keeping with the retro visual style is the lush accordion waltz soundtrack by this composer who was a new name to me. The soundtrack album is great. Any fans of Gus Viseur or Tony Murena will lap this stuff up.
There have been three more films – A Very Long Engagement which bored me to death, Micmacs which is brilliant and The Young and Prodigious T S Spivet which is everything Amelie-haters say about Amelie – avoid, avoid.
Alas, we have the usual film studies lecturerspeak here. It’s crammed with banal clunkers such as :
The nostalgic appropriation of Paris in Amelie has enchanted, concerned or angered the viewers, and become one of the most critically discussed elements of the film. However, by recycling and stimulating the collective memories fed by many past pictorial and cinematic sources, and by bringing his own personal imagery of the city, Jeunet has successfully created an enticing postmodern cityscape, which contributed to the success of the film, and is part and parcel of his aesthetic signature.
I mean, who needs sentences like that in their life. Not you, not me.
Two star book, five star movie.
(I feel like that occasionally but then I lie down until the feeling passes.)
Earlier this year a company called Protein World launched this advert in the London Underground
and over 50,000 women signed a petition calling for itEarlier this year a company called Protein World launched this advert in the London Underground
and over 50,000 women signed a petition calling for it to be banned for body shaming (and it was banned). The posters were defaced with many rude words. Other protestors offered alternative versions of beauty
Well, seeing as to how this is the Planet Earth and not the Planet Disney, you won’t be surprised to learn that sales of Protein World’s “Weight Loss Collection” products took off like a rocket after all the bad publicity. But that’s by the bye.
So, you don’t have to look far to find examples of the female body as a political and psychological battleground. This book is all about that. It’s Fat is a Feminist Issue crossed with Fight Club. (Our author says this is pretty much a riff on Fight Club in her acknowledgements.) It’s the story of Plum, a 300 pound woman who has spent her life wishing she was “normal”-sized. She’s gone through all the diets, nothing has worked, and finally she decides to go for the stomach-stapling surgery. But before that happens she gets involved with a bunch of feminists, and then while we’re following the detailed account of Plum’s consciousness-raising, a brand new terrorist group hits the headlines – it’s called Jennifer and this part of the novel is a fantasy of feminist revenge, whereby porn barons and rapists are abducted, murdered and dumped in the desert. Oh, and their female aiders and abetters are killed too. It’s all more than a little cartoony, but that was fine by me. I love a bit of revenge.
Along the way, we have accounts of Plum shoplifting from stores called V--- S--- … yes, like that. She says many rude things about V—S--. Well, I guess Sarai Walker was advised that if she actually said Victoria’s Secret she may get a writ.
I didn’t have a problem with this being an explicitly political and not very realistic wish-fulfilment fantasy. The problem with this novel was that it just didn’t go far enough. To explain why will involve spoilers.
(view spoiler)[ The lovely kind feminists enable Plum to accept her own body and to reject the stomach stapling. (This is all conducted as if Plum has never heard of any feminist writers ever, by the way. No mention of Susie Orbach or Naomi Wolf – gosh darn it, this book is specifically about The Beauty Myth so it’s like writing about a worker’s strike in the 1930s and never mentioning communism.)
So the fat woman accepts that fat she is and fat she’ll be and she’s (finally) okay with that. But there’s a but. Why did she want to become thin in the first place? To avoid the endless rounds of daily humiliations, and to well, you know, if it’s not too much to ask, meet someone and experience love. Yeah, love. Why not? Plum finally sees that the problem is not her’s but the hateful world’s, i.e. the hateful men who mock her and hate her just for being fat. She realises that the hateful men hate many women – probably most - for one reason or another. The only ones they don’t hate are 18 year old sex zombies.
So - just because Plum is now okay with her body doesn't of course mean that the rest of the world will behave any differently. the taunts and rudeness will still be there. The lack of relationships will still be there.
So really, the idea of happy heterosexual love has to be ditched along with the stomach stapling. Sarai Walker in this novel appears to be suggesting that expecting happy hetero love from modern American men seems to be a like a mental version of foot binding. But she needs to come out and say it. We seem to be left with the resolutely 300 pound Plum striding about Manhattan in a perpetual fury at the way all the “normal-sized” women behave. Is Dietland saying that “normal” heterosexual relationships are just a psychological snakepit best to be avoided by any sane woman? If so, is the alternative living in some cosy commune with your sisters, which is the alternative presented here? If that is what Dietland is telling us, it’s inadequate.
In the end I needed more feminist terrorism, and particularly more investigation of the effects such a terrorist group would have on society – for instance, they issue a “Penis Blacklist” featuring the names of 50 misogynists – any woman having sex with any of these men will be killed, they say. Well, I want to know what happened then! What a luridly interesting idea! But it’s just kind of tossed off, if that’s not an inappropriate phrase.
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Is it really cool for a grown man to be poking and prodding around in another man’s sex life, I ask you? And another man to be reading about it? Huh?Is it really cool for a grown man to be poking and prodding around in another man’s sex life, I ask you? And another man to be reading about it? Huh? Is biography just gossip with footnotes? This has been the year of literary biographies for me, and I do feel a bit of a sleazehound reading about Mailer stabbing his wife & getting off the charge, and Barthelme’s 2nd wife defenestrating herself, and so on. Doesn’t stop me reading though. Well, I have a shelf of books called "Verysleazyfun" so, you know, I have few moral standards where it comes to reading about stuff. I just wanna know.
So, now I am able to make some serious comparisons between these three major figures, Barthelme, Bellow and Mailer.
MAILER : 6 + a perpetually orbiting Kuiper’s Belt of girlfriends BELLOW : 6 + “girlfriends stashed everywhere” BARTHELME : 4
MONEY AND SUCCESS
MAILER : Got a handful of bestsellers (Naked & Dead, Executioner’s Song) ; earned millions, spent millions. Always had 3 mansions and 42 dependents. A rock star amongst novelists. Typical quote: He had already received $1.4 million, and the contract called for an additional $2.5 million for the final two novels of the trilogy
BELLOW : ducked and dived like Barthelme (“at 45, Bellow was still living the way he’d lived when half his age : itinerant, unattached, provisional in his living arrangements, without a real job.”) until a freak giant hit in 1964-5, Herzog (why? Why?) which was No 3 in both years; after that, rich rich rich.
BARTHELME : Never made any money from writing, even from his one mild hit (Snow White); took a teaching job
Royalty statement s show that Snow White, the one book that had remained steadily in print, earned Don anywhere from 30 to 300 dollars a year. For all his other books combined, he was liable to make, in any given year, less than a thousand dollars.
MENTIONS IN EACH OTHERS’ BIOGRAPHIES
In the Bellow bio : Barthelme once, a walk-on part; Mailer seven times but all name-checks
In the Barthelme bio : Bellow 13 times including a 4 page section – this is the same event as the single mention of Barthelme in Bellow’s bio but o how different here – it’s a big deal to sit at the feet of the great Bellow for young Don and he kind of resents the damning-with-faint-praise he got – result was a lifelong resentment of SB ; Mailer six times, all namechecks except the big PEN conference where DB AND Norman AND Bellow were all there speechifying and deciding the future of American literature
In the Mailer bio : Barthelme, one mention, as organiser of the conference; but Bellow is a fairly big thing in the Mailer biography, and strangely enough, not the other way round. He gets 13 mentions – the second is a devastating putdown of SB’s limitations – Norman thought he was “too easily pleased by his ability to elegantly repeat the pieties and paradoxes of high culture figures such as Freud, Proust and Henry James” – ouch, but later fulsomely praises Henderson the Rain King, ah but then concludes Bellow “is too timid to become a great writer” – again ouch; Bellow responds huffily which is not mentioned in the SB bio. But Mailer comes back again:
I admire the novel Herzog very much. But it is not a novel of ideas. There is nothing intellectually new in it. Bellow is mindless. There is depth of feeling in his novel. His humanity gets to you. But his mind is that of a college professor who has read all the great books and absorbed none of them. He is… a hostess of the intellectual canapé table.
None of that is mentioned in the Bellow bio!
Later on Norman sends a telegram (those were the days) of congrats when SB wins the Nobel Prize.
WHO DID I LIKE BEST?
1. Donald Barthelme – way out in front. Cool, modest, funny 2. Norman Mailer – he was awful but so loud and energetic it was hard NOT to like him even though I tried. 3. Saul Bellow – nah, not my kind of guy at all. Way too self-satisfied.
OKAY, THEN BELLOW?
Bellow declined to enter the family business of wheeling and dealing & always thought of himself as a Great Writer, always, even before he’d written anything. So his family naturally looked on him as a terrible failure. His first novel sold around 1600 copies and his second around 2300. Augie March was a revelation, to SB as much as to its readers. The floodgates had opened for him : “The book just came to me. All I had to do was be there with buckets to catch it.” But that one didn't make him rich.
This book passes very harsh judgements about Bellow’s private life, his dealings with wives, girlfriends and his sons. He was rubbish! (“It was customary for men to pursue younger women and praise their physical endowments at the expense of their intellects. If Bellow was extreme in this regard, he was still well within the normal range of male chauvinism for his day.”) Also, he wasn’t any good in bed. This is stated about five or six times! But the women still came flocking round.
He doesn’t come across as such a nice man.
After the first drink he was anti-black (said the critic Leslie Fiedler), after the second anti-Jew; after the third anti-women; after the fourth anti-the human race.
And he couldn't write women characters (well, this is a very common complaint going back to Dickens - which male novelist does write great female characters except for James Joyce?)
There is a sameness to the wives and girlfriends who populate his books, harassing his women-baffled heroes. From the bitter Iva of Dangling Man to the brutal emasculating Madeleine of Herzog, the wives in Bellow all come off as harpies, while the mistresses - the buxom, lingerie-sporting Ravenna in Herzog, the hot number Renata in Humboldt's Gift - exhibit an intimidating sexual rapacity.
Well, God help us if literature is a beautiful baby competition. I guess none of this matters. ...more
A review of Chapter one only. It was pretty mind-blowing.
Chapter 1 deals with the problem of Evil which is always the Big One, and here we find a very A review of Chapter one only. It was pretty mind-blowing.
Chapter 1 deals with the problem of Evil which is always the Big One, and here we find a very remarkable interview with Peter Kreeft, Christian philosopher. Maybe for the first time I am beginning to really get an idea of the worldview of the thinking Christian. It’s so alien. See what you think.
As you will know the problem was stated by Epicurus 300 years before Christ :
God may be all powerful and he may be Good but he cannot be both, because of the presence of evil. So, God could choose to prevent the birth of Hitler, because he could, but he didn’t do that, so he’s omnipotent but not good. Or, he wanted to prevent the birth of Hitler, but he couldn’t, because he’s not omnipotent.
Let me say that neither the author Lee Strobel nor Prof Kreeft spends any time contemplating that maybe God isn’t good or loving. For them, the idea is unthinkable.
Kreeft’s two ideas here are that suffering on Earth is short-term, and people who moan about it are just not seeing the big picture. But let the man himself explain:
If God’s wisdom vastly exceeds ours… it is at least possible that a loving God could deliberately tolerate horrible things like starvation because he foresees that in the long run more people will be better and happier than if he miraculously intervened. That’s at least intellectually possible….
It’s at least possible that God is wise enough to foresee that we need some pain for reasons which we may not understand but which he foresees as being necessary to some eventual good. Therefore he’s not being evil by allowing pain to exist.
The universe is a soul-making machine, and part of that process is learning, maturing, and growing through difficult and challenging and painful experiences. The point of our lives in this world isn’t comfort, but training and preparation for eternity….suffering is compatible with God’s love if it is medicinal, remedial, and necessary; that is, if we are very sick and desperately need a cure. And that’s our situation.
Strobel puts the question : “But good people suffer just as much – or sometimes more- than the bad.”
Kreeft floors him with a haymaker:
Well, the answer is that there are no good people.
And follows up by saying we should thank God for all the suffering we get to go through on Earth. :
In Heaven we will say to God “Thank you so much for this little pain I didn’t understand at the time, and that little pain; these I now see were the most precious things in my life.
So – thank you God that Ted Bundy kidnapped, raped and killed my daughter then went back and violated her corpse. Thank you God that my mother has Alzheimers for ten years. Thank you God I and my whole family were killed in that earthquake although we didn’t get much chance to learn much and grow and mature from that experience. Thank you God for female genital mutilation, that has helped millions of girls to learn and grow spiritually. Thank you God for Aids. Thank you…. Well, I think you get the picture. But this concept of Christianity (& I assume the other two monotheist faiths) clearly does imply this kind of (what I would describe as) inhuman version of reality. Kreeft pulls no punches: Compared with knowing God eternally, compared to the intimacy with God that Scripture calls a spiritual marriage, nothing else counts. If the way through that is torture, well, torture is nothing compared with that.
So, there we have it. In many theology books I have read this question is simply pussyfooted around with. Nobody gets in your face like this guy Kreeft. My hat’s off to him. You can clearly see the connection between his Christianity and the current jihadi version of Islam. Isis would 100% agree with Kreeft, except for the bit about Jesus which I have omitted from the above excerpts. Now, just to be clear, I do of course think this point of view is deranged but it’s coldly rigorous. It really does make its own sense. This life on Earth is nothing. Heaven is everything. Anything that gets us to Heaven is good. Suffering gets us to Heaven. Suffering is good. Evil is good.
Now I was innocently thinking that the concept of product placement would not really apply to books -PRODUCT PLACEMENT QUESTION - IS THIS NOW A THING?
Now I was innocently thinking that the concept of product placement would not really apply to books - I mean I can't see Givenchy calling up Sarah Waters' agent with a great deal although I can see a nice comedy sketch you could write - but anyway, I found a genuine product placement thing right here in this very book page 194. It's the summer holidays and Georgia my daughter has finished her exams and can now read novels again - so she was reading this one and pointed it out to me :
So, on the second anniversary of her death, we spent the morning visiting all of her favourite places, Dad even bought me a book that was recommended by one of the staff at Kidsbooks, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie.
And at the end of this volume, lo and behold, an advert for .... The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie.
And both books are published by Andersen Press.
I mean, it's trivial, but still. I never saw that before. ...more