This is superb. A historical novel about the astonishing failure of the French at Sedan on Prussia's 1870 invasion. I've read it two or three times, aThis is superb. A historical novel about the astonishing failure of the French at Sedan on Prussia's 1870 invasion. I've read it two or three times, and will read it again. What greater praise can there be than that? ...more
The first chapter, "Momix," is brilliant. I suppose it raised my hopes impossibly high, for in the end I could not finish the novel. I stopped aroundThe first chapter, "Momix," is brilliant. I suppose it raised my hopes impossibly high, for in the end I could not finish the novel. I stopped around p. 130 of chapter two, "Bruno." I have never seen a novel collapse more spectacularly--almost from one page to the next--as I have here. "Bruno" is so poetic and fanciful as to be unreadable. It stopped me cold when I tried to read it several years ago, and it stopped me cold on this second reading, too. What does the sea have to do with the Holocaust? The metaphor is lost on me, and so to sleep.......more
A slog. With a mere 25 pages to go, I lost patience and couldn't finish it. There's a redundancy of detail that, I know, Robbe-Grillet thinks is his cA slog. With a mere 25 pages to go, I lost patience and couldn't finish it. There's a redundancy of detail that, I know, Robbe-Grillet thinks is his clever structural trick, but here, in translation, unlike in the exquisite Jealousy, is simply tedious. Read Jealousy instead....more
. . .As soon as a man, through lack of character, takes refuge in doctrine, as soon as crime reasons about itself, it multiplies like reason itself an
. . .As soon as a man, through lack of character, takes refuge in doctrine, as soon as crime reasons about itself, it multiplies like reason itself and assumes all the aspects of the syllogism. . . . The purpose of this essay is once again to face the reality of the present, which is logical crime, and examine meticulously the arguments by which it is justified.(p. 3)
This can be very interesting if, like me, you abhor historical Sovietism and all that it has wrought. I found that Sarah Bakewell's excellent new book At the Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails provided just the background I needed to start this. Published in French in 1951, what I especially like so far is Camus's refusal to embrace the concept of the worker's collective. He writes only about the individual and his or her need for rebellion. A very brave book. For example:
Man's solidarity is founded upon rebellion, and rebellion, in its turn, can only find its justification in this solidarity. We have, then, the right to say that any rebellion which claims the right to deny or destroy this solidarity loses simultaneously its right to be called a rebellion and becomes in reality an acquiescence in murder. (p. 22)
How they must have hated him. The section on the lunatic Marquis de Sade is breathtaking. My disgust always prevented me from reading him for subtext. But Camus shows us how...
Two centuries ahead of his time and on a reduced scale, Sade extolled totalitarian societies in the name of unbridled freedom. . . . The history and the tragedy of our times really begin with him. . . . Our times have limited themselves to blending, in a curious manner, his dream of a universal republic and his technique of degradation. Finally, what he hated most, legal murder, has availed itself of the discoveries that he wanted to put to the service of instinctive murder. Crime, which he wanted to be the exotic and delicious fruit of unbridled vice, is no more today than the dismal habit of a police-controlled morality. Such are the surprises of literature. (p. 46)
Lucretius is touched upon, Valentinus and some of the other Gnostics, Milton's Paradise Lost, Dandyism, the Romantics, Ivan Karamazov's moral position on crime—particularly patricide—in Dostoyevsky's The Brothers Karamazov, and Nietzsche, of whom Camus said, "he recognized nihilism for what it was and examined it like a clinical fact." (p. 66)
"When the ends are great," Nietzsche wrote to his own detriment, "humanity employs other standards and no longer judges crimes as such even if it resorts to the most frightful means." He died in 1900, at the beginning of the century in which that pretension was to become fatal.(p. 77)
Rimbaud is "...the poet of rebellion—the greatest of all." His decision to stop writing being perhaps the ultimate act of rebellion. "He illustrates the struggle between the will to be and the desire for annihilation, between the yes and the no, which we have discovered again and again at every stage of rebellion." (p.91)...more
A Dreambook for Our Time is a vividly told, character-driven narrative about the lives of a group of Polish adults in the late 1950s, about the time oA Dreambook for Our Time is a vividly told, character-driven narrative about the lives of a group of Polish adults in the late 1950s, about the time of Sputnik. The action takes place in a Polish village somewhere on the Sola River. A huge presence in the novel is that of the nearby forest. It was in the forest that many people hid from the Nazis during the war. It was also in the forest that Polish partisans operated during wartime; that Hitler was said to have hidden the "gold of the Jews"; and that one Huniady, a partisan turned bandit, was said to have his hideaway.
In the present day action of the story, the local residents are bracing themselves for the eventual inundation of the valley by a new dam now under construction. We first come across our narrator as he lies recovering from a suicide attempt in the parlor of his landlady, Miss Malvina. The main characters of the novel are pretty much all introduced in this scene. There is the Partisan, a local warlord who has lost power now that national and local government have been reestablished; Count Pac, who sadly expends far too much energy repudiating his aristocratic background and higher learning now that a Communist government is in power; Miss Malvina, a religious nut, but one who likes her drop, and who has an overweening sense of the social proprieties; her brother Ildefons Korsak, an old soldier half out of his mind after serving in numerous wars and who may be suffering from syphilis-related dementia; Joseph Car, the local evangelist preacher; Regina, a shopkeeper at the state-owned store who rejects the lusty Partisan's incessant offers of love; Justine, Rev. Car's wife, who carries on an affair with our narrator; and others more peripheral.
The story is for the most part about the daily grind of the main characters, who do not by any means strive to live the "examined" life. They drink ungodly amounts of vodka on the slightest pretext and in their cups act out in the most absurd ways. But who can blame them? The war has traumatized them all, some severely. For the Partisan the central issues are his loss of face (power) and Regina's refusal of his advances. For the narrator, it is his failure during the war as a NCO of the Polish Home Army. There are a number of flashbacks to wartime situations in which his backstory is elucidated. Dreams intrude on daily life, but they are never indistinguishable from reality. One of my concerns on starting the novel was that it would lack coherence, that I would be at sea amid a bunch of ambiguous images à la symbolist poetry. It is a "dreambook" after all. But that was not the case. Highly recommended for the discerning reader. (Not a beach read.)...more