It is interesting to think that around 1870, when Arthur Rimbaud's celebrity was international and at its peak, there was another young man writing si...moreIt is interesting to think that around 1870, when Arthur Rimbaud's celebrity was international and at its peak, there was another young man writing sick prose of a similar quality. He was Isidore Ducasse and he died in the gutter, never to gain the adoration Rimbaud enjoyed.
Perhaps there's a reason for this. Les Chants are uneven and sometimes of suspect quality: this is especially seen in the second section of Canto II, where, after giving a typically Ducassian, abandon-all-hope warning diatribe, Ducasse devotes a few pages to the horrors of... writer's block. These are the "poison-filled pages" I've been warned about? A horrific description of Lautreamont's stalled creative process? Later in Canto III a lay is devoted to the supreme evils of... mathematics. And it's about as interesting as a high school Algebra class. Hoo boy.
On the other hand, there are times when Ducasse makes good on his promise of debauchery and some truly disturbing prose is presented. Ducasse has the most success here with his Sade-like depictions of sexual perversion, rape and body horror. To witness the cool nonchalance with which Maldoror cuts a bloody grin from ear to ear on his own face, just to see himself smile, is a revelatory moment.
Ducasse also finds success on a technical level. His successful elimination of an established narrative perspective anticipates Joyce's by 50 years. A simple look at the title of the work reveals how twisted his web is: the book is in praise of Maldoror, a fictional demon, and is supposedly written by a man named Lautreamont, who is never mentioned in the work itself. The name-game web is further complicated upon learning that the real author's birth name is Isidore Ducasse- or "I.D.".
Les Chants also anticipate a very 20th century phenomena among novelists: the obsessive and morbid cataloging of arcane myths and old prophecies from various sources. The same subjects that fascinated Ducasse (Biblical accounts of demons, gothic poetry, existential ruminations on birth and death) would inspire H.P. Lovecraft, Dylan Thomas, Jorge Luis Borges, William S. Burroughs and Philip K. Dick a century later.
Les Chants de Maldoror, despite its warts, is a highly entertaining and nourishing work.(less)
Scott Fitzgerald called Three Lives "a new realism", but I think this is where the praise should rightfully have gone. The Counterfeiters is exceeding...moreScott Fitzgerald called Three Lives "a new realism", but I think this is where the praise should rightfully have gone. The Counterfeiters is exceedingly modern, with no real plot aside from its lazy, meandering course through the tremulous lives of a few Paris elite. And although this may seem to contradict what I've just written, it's never quite so far from fantasy, either; look at Bernard's 'wrestling match' with the angel, or Gide's characteristic fairy tale narration.
My favorite scene? The night of the Argonaut's dinner. Olivier is in Edouard's arms. Edouard: "You've had quite a night. It's time to go to sleep." Olivier: "I cannot go to sleep as long as I'm in your arms." Gide: "And so they stayed up all night." It's goofy, but it gives me chills.(less)
Pushkin famously said of Gogol that "behind his laughter you feel the unseen tears," and the same could easily be applied to Kafka. Reading The Metamo...morePushkin famously said of Gogol that "behind his laughter you feel the unseen tears," and the same could easily be applied to Kafka. Reading The Metamorphosis or The Trial, one imagines the author gesticulating wildly as he hysterically documents the entrapment and humiliation of a good man by an uncaring society. Although the words are slow and measured, the writer is outraged, in a deep sadness.
Kafka adopted this technique from, among others, the 19th century realist writers: Dickens, Dostoevsky, Hugo, all men with great sympathy for the unfortunate and the disenfranchised. Ironically, they were writing for (the most left-minded of) the group they derided. It is unlikely that Dostoevsky was widely read by serfs, for example. Kafka was never a rich man. At his most successful, he was a middle-class bank clerk of only moderate wealth, and still plagued by his famous anxiety. This brought him closer to the sympathetic group in question, so belabored by the drudgery of working-class life, but there was something that Kafka did not take into this equation. His realist heroes often had moralistic goals; Dickens pleaded for members of all economic classes to express empathy for one another; Hugo recognized the effect an orderly, self-respecting nation could have on the welfare of its people. Kafka sought no such goal. His fictions are all but endless dirges bemoaning the sorry state of man, dressed in different garments, but all expounding upon the same pathetic principal. They all tell the same story, a destructive story from which no positive or constructive end can be gleaned.
His fictions are powerful tools of empathy. I cannot be the only one who's read The Metamorphosis, glued to the pages in subverted fascination, a thousand powerful questions racing through my mind. Unfortunately, this strength is also a great weakness. Kafka's fictions cannot be relied on as a whole, comprehensive illustration of the human condition. He was blind to beauty and simple pleasure for pleasure's sake, just as the complacent Protestants of John Updike's world are blind to the mournful fury of Kafka's world. They're a powerful tonic, but a liquor to be taken with a grain of salt.(less)
I think one of Camus' failures is that he strove to be a philosopher when really he was more of a journalist with novelistic aspirations. My favorite...moreI think one of Camus' failures is that he strove to be a philosopher when really he was more of a journalist with novelistic aspirations. My favorite pieces of his are nonfiction- his essays on Algeria, capital punishment, and his literary criticism. But sometime into the 50s he got it into his head that he was a philosopher, and what he came up with was, well... this.
This is the most vague, assumptious philosophical text in the canon that I have read. Camus pleases himself to suppose that if there is no god then there is no point in living, and thus suicide is the most reasonable option. But how could he even imply this, as he does, without assuming that all of his readers are theist? Perhaps it's the difference between my generation and his, but I have never believed in god and it has never bothered me in the slightest, certainly not to the point where I was so struck with "the absurd", as Camus would say, that I was compelled to take my life.
So, Camus continues to console the reader through their nonexistant crisis by assuring them that happiness can be found even in a world without god. Um... thanks? I didn't really need help with not killing myself. The entire essay is written in a presumptious, self-assured way which likes to infer that all of humanity suffers by pains really only felt by a minority. Maybe this was a text specifically intended for theists and agnostics, but there's enough navel-gazing and stupid preening herewithin to confound both them and many others.
What I enjoyed most about this volume was Camus's analysis of Franz Kafka, because it elucidated not only my understanding of Kafka, but also my understanding of Camus. Kafka was successful insomuch that his fictions, although vague and inclined to navel-gazing themselves, had enough substance and raised enough questions to appeal to everyone, not just a select few. I get the feeling that this is what Camus wanted to be; like Kafka, a novelist of pithy and timeless allegorical tales. Instead, perhaps due to a lack of imagination, his attempts are just star-gazing, vaguely pregnant ruminations on issues he assumes that the reader has, a clumsy mishmosh of Nietzsche and Rousseau.(less)
It was the beginning of my junior year in boarding school, and during the previous summer I had seen many of my friends leave the school. I, already p...moreIt was the beginning of my junior year in boarding school, and during the previous summer I had seen many of my friends leave the school. I, already prone to depression, took the change horribly, and seeing dozens of eager and attractive new students join the small school in their place did nothing to alleviate my sadness. Out of everyone I knew, it was Frank O'Hara who provided me the most comforting companionship during that autumn and winter.
Through his poetry and prose works which showed a wit, intelligence, determination and, most importantly, a genuine love for all people, I was able to bask in my selfish and silly depression without having it come to any serious end. Many post-romantic writers have written on the honest portrayal of emotions, the genuine expression of sentiment without the loss of tasteful literary craft. Of all the cottony old men who dispense this dogma, O'Hara is to my taste the only one to carry through with his promise. His verse is like some vast diary, rich with deeply felt emotions welled from a lifetime of rumination.
The poems are, of course, intensely personal. From his poems about his many hometowns, to his early sexual experiences, to his artist friends and favorite writers, it's in this volume especially that O'Hara seems to spill his heart out, and the effect is humbling. By his poems from 1952 (the French Zen period, as John Ashbery called it) I felt a connectedness and empathy with Frank that I had never felt (nor expected to ever feel) with an author before.
And I Must Scream, Lonelyache? Two of my all-time favorites. Pretty Maggie Moneyeyes, World of Myth? Total trash. Sturgeon was right in calling Ellison...moreAnd I Must Scream, Lonelyache? Two of my all-time favorites. Pretty Maggie Moneyeyes, World of Myth? Total trash. Sturgeon was right in calling Ellison inconsistent.
I think this collection permanently turned me off of suicide as a plotpoint in fiction. One would think Ellison's characters were lemmings.(less)