"We" is celebrated as the first dystopian sci fi novel, and there are many intimations of 1984 and Brave New World, both of which were directly inspir"We" is celebrated as the first dystopian sci fi novel, and there are many intimations of 1984 and Brave New World, both of which were directly inspired by Zamyatin. What makes this novel particularly worth reading however is its early Soviet exuberance, often crossing into avant-garde mystical bizarreness. Zamyatin digs deep into the psychological pressure experienced by the protagonist, a zealot of the rational technocratic state, as he is forced to confront his primitive human soul. Yes, this is well-trod sci fi ground, but, as Orwell acknowledged, Zamyatin brought a passionate empathy to the scenario that is lacking in Huxley and others....more
A first read of Ulysses feels like the laying down of a finicky oil-based primer coat on a grimy wall.
As the weeks of reading piled up (no, I did notA first read of Ulysses feels like the laying down of a finicky oil-based primer coat on a grimy wall.
As the weeks of reading piled up (no, I did not have the luxury of quitting my day job), the sense of great undertaking at scaling the quintessential modernist monolith became clouded by the ineluctable modality of disorientation. Was this actually a pleasurable experience, I asked myself, or was I merely fulfilling a pilgrim's duty at another modernist station of the cross? Readers of novels, unlike say readers of academic prose, are not accustomed to certain failure on the first read. And one read of Joyce is daunting enough-- the thought of a necessary re-read may be well nigh soul-crushing.
So what kept this doomed painter working at his miserable wall? A few features of Ulysses do something to keep the thread of hope alive despite the vast wasteland of prose devoid of accustomed novelistic satisfactions or assurances.
Perhaps the most encouraging is that Joyce offers a steady diet of line level pleasures. Those exasperatingly meandering streams and exchanges contain many a profound, or at least wonderfully wicked, stretch of description.
A separate, though no doubt related point is that Joyce is an Irish poet, and the musicality of his prose and the specific register of his imagery are haunted by the national tradition as much as they pre-echo Beckett and others. I switched at several points to listening to an audiobook version rather than reading a section. There are limits to the utility of rendering the novel an oral work-- the rhythm is wrong, as the readers, privileging clarity, do not fully inhabit the breathtaking rapid onslaught of Joycean logorrhea. Nevertheless, hearing the language, spoken well, in Irish dialect, kept me in mind of the core importance of language, and definitely sweetened the read.
Lastly, as many readers have felt, the startling shift in authorial voice for the 18th and final episode, reframed my entire reading experience, extending the radicality of the work far beyond wordplay. Molly Bloom, herself a firebrand of modernism, firmly establishes her husband as modernist Everyman, and the shape of that single day, Bloomsday, as an apt translation of Ulysses' 10-year journey....more
My immediate reaction was to find this book "tertium quid," neither a satisfying work of popular non-fiction introducing complex histories through gooMy immediate reaction was to find this book "tertium quid," neither a satisfying work of popular non-fiction introducing complex histories through good storytelling nor strictly an academic treatise presenting historiographical debates in critical context and with rigorous citation. SPQR combines these approaches, and the real question is whether on balance it succeeds or fails at both. A reader of SPQR would be advised to go in with at least some passing familiarity with Roman history. For each story that Beard tells in full, there are at least a half dozen passing mentions of events and figures that go unexplained. Although she proceeds more or less chronologically, the perspective and level of detail shifts enough to confuse an inattentive reader....more
The literary conceit of Crow as posthumous spirit guide pulls against the rawness of this beautiful little novel about a dad and two boys after the deThe literary conceit of Crow as posthumous spirit guide pulls against the rawness of this beautiful little novel about a dad and two boys after the death of the wife and mother. The peculiar vision gathers strength quickly though, the Crow as a figure both cliched and defiant. Crow plays Vergil through Grief, shepherding death's survivors through hazards of glibness and despair. Crow steps in after the flood of family and friends have bestowed care in its palpable forms. Taking nothing from the importance of community support after someone dies, the novel treats Grief as a separate experience that cannot be dispensed with or re-directed by the actions of others. A road that inevitably takes strange and awkward turns and does not conclude in anything so patently idiotic or bloody tone deaf as "coping" or "moving on." Once Grief arrives, it doesn't end so much as life incorporates it, and continues to grow around it....more
Benedict Anderson described the newspaper as the epitome of modern temporality. Each issue, regardless of where or in what language it may be publisheBenedict Anderson described the newspaper as the epitome of modern temporality. Each issue, regardless of where or in what language it may be published, declares itself an archive of all that is worthy of note, anywhere and everywhere, on that day. To this end, wrote Anderson, newspapers deploy a homogeneous vocabulary that presents each ruler (be he chairman, prime minister or ayatollah) and each nation as instances of generic types. The reader is invited to experience all events everywhere as cognizable and structurally familiar, easily categorized as "Politics" or "Business" or "Arts"
With prose that is often dry to the point of affectlessness, Édouard Levé's Newspaper sets out as a phenomenology of journalistic homogeneity. However, the novel satirically dismantles the universality of newspapers, revealing the inherent banality of journalistic description and its simplistic taxonomical structure.
One settles into the reading of the novel as if indulging in the signature modern pleasure of perusing a newspaper from cover to cover. On a Sunday morning perhaps. At a breakfast table or in a municipal park or on a train. The novel provides just enough descriptive specificity to invoke the familiar comforts of the world citizen consuming the daily paper.
However, Levé never names people or places. Even specific currency becomes "monetary units." Events, technologies, artworks, tragedies all flow past in this reductio ad absurdum. As one peruses Newspaper, the presumption of simple readerly pleasure gives way to sickening unease, an emptiness at the core of pleasure. Nothing is happening anywhere in particular or to anyone in particular. The modern world, that triumph of universalism, smothers all of humanity in a deterritorializing shroud of undifferentiated form.
What Anderson describes as a fundamentally modern (and nation-bound) consciousness has become, for Levé, the anxious underside of modernity-- existential nausea and the melting of all that is solid. That core nausea, so distinct from the playful bravura of postmodern fiction, gives the novel a late modernist mouth feel, and yet its finish (to extend the wine metaphor) is thoroughly deconstructive. Overall, the newspaper, as quintessential digest of the quotidian, is revealed as anti-repository, an instrument for stripping everyday existence of significance....more
Re-read this book after about a 20-year hiatus. Like with Rizal''s Noli, it's difficult to rate a novel of such profound political and historical signRe-read this book after about a 20-year hiatus. Like with Rizal''s Noli, it's difficult to rate a novel of such profound political and historical significance. But even read purely in terms of craft, this novel deserves my full endorsement. To be honest, it demands patience. The characterization is flat and there's not much dramatic tension early in the novel as the two protagonists prevail without much impediment from disappointingly weak opposing characters. But then the true antagonist appears from beyond the seas, and the novel's culmination is cold, stunning, and brilliantly well-earned....more
A disappointingly tepid effort on an attractive premise-- a Indian Rashomon told in turn by poachers, a filmmaker and an elephant.
Reviews have playedA disappointingly tepid effort on an attractive premise-- a Indian Rashomon told in turn by poachers, a filmmaker and an elephant.
Reviews have played up the novel almost entirely on the basis of the sections in the perspective of the elephant, Gravedigger. Unfortunately, these are only a few short scenes and told with distanced restraint, as if constantly defending against the feared charge of anthropomorphism, and instead filling the narrative with facts about elephants and rather generic sense impressions. Gravedigger is more a concept or an imagined archetype of the tragic lives of elephants than a specific elephant brought to life on the page.
James leaves it to her other two narratives (amongst poachers and filmmakers respectively) to create richer character portraits, plot development or drama-- but these elements are sadly lacking for the human characters as well. Relationships and roles seem generic and predictable, as if merely filling out sociological profiles rather than individual lives. The stakes and desires of nearly all the characters are vague and somewhat unstable, as a result of which James works too hard to make their confrontations seem intense or even important. One character prevails or surrenders to another not out of any clear necessity, but out of purely stylistic needs to keep the scenes short.
I was reminded, in my disappointment, of The Time Traveler's Wife, another novel that seemed to me to accomplish the dubious feat of rendering innocuous and forgettable a concept that should lend itself to a fantastic voyage. In the case of The Tusk, I wondered what Patricia Highsmith might have done with this material (in the same vein as her animal murder mysteries) if not Saramago, Pamuk or Rushdie. ...more
This, like many of Bernhard's works, proceeds as an intimate rant or soliloquy.
But whereas in later works, like The Loser, an ancient originary woundThis, like many of Bernhard's works, proceeds as an intimate rant or soliloquy.
But whereas in later works, like The Loser, an ancient originary wound is recalled from some distance, here the affront feels fresh. It is 1971. Bernhard had just turned 40. The echoes of 1968, and before that, modernism itself, had not altogether dissipated.
The reader feels as if he (no doubt, you are both middle-aged men) has encountered the narrator on a park bench along an ugly pavement that stretches for miles in New Internationalist vacuity. Given that it is 1971, foremost in your thoughts is the third man, your mutual dear friend, the madman who stared too deeply and had to be removed from this poor excuse for a world. Artaud. Sid Barrett.
So you tarry on that park bench as the narrator rehearses absurdist, existentialist doctrines, chasing its own tail, closing off the loose ends. Surely you've had some of these conversations already with your drinking buddies, Harold Pinter or Sam Beckett, perhaps on this same bench. And you sit silently and just let him go on with it, infecting and overtaking you. You share the moment like two stubborn cadavers on a latter day Raft of the Medusa. Until the voice gives out and you set out in separate directions along the dirty concrete....more