review of Spat Cannon's Press Here and it will all Make Sense by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - April 20, 2015
See link at end for full review.
I've knoreview of Spat Cannon's Press Here and it will all Make Sense by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - April 20, 2015
See link at end for full review.
I've known the author of this bk since at least 1999. He was young at the time, maybe still a teenager or newly into his 20s. He was an anarchist at a time when anarchist political activism was surging in Pittsburgh. He was a musician & a poet inspired by popular forms of cultural revolt. He was quick-witted and amiable.
In the ensuing yrs we've participated in political activities together, he's participated as a masked nudist in 2 events of mine, he was in HiTEC (Histrionic Thought Experiment Cooperative), the 22-piece chamber orchestra I founded, he's been the explicator for the sound-track of a movie of mine, he's been a regular participant in the mms (m(usic(ian's))m(eeting)s) at my house, he's on the MM 26 CD. I've always enjoyed Spat's company, he's a good raconteur.
Throughout it all, we only saw each other sporadically but I've always kept somewhat in touch w/ his life. He moved to Leeds a while back but we still see each other as much as ever b/c he's frequently back in the 'Burgh. It was on Sunday, April 5, 2015 at mm 53 that he gave me this review copy of his new novel. 15 days later, I'm finished reading it. 15 days doesn't seem like much but I've read 4 other bks in the meantime so it seemed like a loooooonnnnnggg time for me.
What was my problem? Having known Spat for so long, having always had a good relationship w/ him, this novel struck me as a breakthrough of sorts in his life, as a big creative step forward. Spat has always been good at surviving on the economic edge but has sometimes seemed to lack the focus, the discipline, to produce a solid substantial work. This novel cd be it! So went my reasoning. As such, I was excited & eager to read it.
"Life always stood in the way of his ambition of being a writer. Poems he could harvest from discarded scraps on flophouse floors, but narrative, depthhow could he write a novel with all this chaos in his eyes? Lack of focus and impetuous decisions had always condemned him to middle management." - p 149
The problem w/ reviewing a friend's bk is simple: if you give it a good review, everyone's happy, the author's happy, the friendship becomes even stronger, life is good. But, for me, life is never simple, to me, writing the obligatory good-review-of-a-friend's-bk does intellectual standards a disservice. An honest review is what the world needs, not more bullshit.
DON'T MISUNDERSTAND: I am not giving this bk a bad review, the review might be more critical if I didn't know Spat, if we weren't friends, but, basically, I'm not giving it a bad review, I'm giving it a complicated one, one that acknowledges that I'm reading this from a somewhat deeply invested perspective & that that investment dominates the reading.
For one thing, this 'novel' is thinly disguised autobiography. People who know Spat will know this from the get-go. While Spat waxes philosophical & introspective in his guise as "Max Sutton", the narrator, for me the writing of it as 'fiction' gives it a strange feel of avoidance at times. I think I wd've preferred it as straight-forward autobiography. Of course, writing it as 'fiction' makes the interpersonal aspects less embarrassing & revealing for all concerned. Hence, it's perfectly reasonable for it to be fictionalized. Spat can tell the truth w/o having his fellow travelers feel too betrayed.
I'll say it now: I ended up
liking this bk but it took me a while to get there & in the meantime I read 4 other bks as a way of avoiding the possibility that I might not like it at all. At 1st, reading a story w/ disguised friends & acquaintances was awkward: People who have fanciful names in 'real' life are then renamed in the bk to have fanciful names that just seemed all wrong, silly.
Press Here and it will all Make Sense is like a late addition to a tradition of novels written by punks & anarchists & political activists & fellow travelers of the 1980s on. It's a tradition that I pay some attn to b/c I feel like I've spent much of my life in the milieu & I've attached importance to the way the culture's taken shape. Perhaps the most direct contributions to my imagining of the lineage are:
We Should Have Killed the King - J. G. Eccarius, 1990;
End Time - notes on the apocalypse - G. A. Matiasz (1994);
Revenge Fantasies of the Politically Dispossessed - Jacob Wren (2010). The novels of Stewart Home might fit in there too.
"I'm not opposed to the fictionalization of activist experience - after all, there're bound to be novelists who come out of activist backgrounds & it'll probably continue to be of interest to me to read what they do w/ their personal experience. I do hope that such writers at least TRY to address possible political consequences of such writing & I appreciate Wren's doing so. I wish him luck & will certainly make an attempt to read more by him - even though my own personal preference is probably to create work that sets examples rooted in real life rather than thru fictional proxies."
This quasi-'admonishment' is largely inapplicable to
Press Here and it will all Make Sense insofar as Spat isn't really trying to politically propagandize as much as he's trying to just lay out his personal experience w/in a social context that includes political activism, punk music, illegal drug use, sexuality, & traveling - all intricately intertwined in the lives of many or most anarchists.
I haven't quite decided whether the yr that's covered in this bk was actually more like 5 or 6 yrs in Spat's actual life. Rather than just ask him, I prefer to speculate. The bk begins in a way that sets the tone of disillusionment & wandering:
"Max Sutton's dream had long been to tour the country playing music with his friends; now eight hours into his second trip out he had already grown weary. Pressing through vast stretches of American highways to play abbreviated sets to disinterested crowds in exchange for a floor to sleep on, some vegetarian food, and if lucky gas money to get to the next gig, somehow the D.I.Y. lifestyle had lost its appeal." - p 5
At the end of this brief tour, some of Max's friends are bound for Québec for a mass anti-globalization protest, presumably against the 3rd Summit of the Americas on April 2022, 2001. [Interested parties might look for a 30 minute movie about the protests called "In De-Fence of Democracy"] The narrative ends roughly a yr later when Spat returns from Brazil & gets immediately arrested. The circumstances of this arrest & his resultant trials & tribulations result in his becoming sober. I vaguely remember Spat's sobriety as being still somewhat new on March 31, 2007, when he acted as guest explicator for a presentation of my only super-8mm feature at Jefferson Presents... SO, for me, the one yr of the novel seems like 6 yrs of Spat's life. I'm probably wrong.
The details of the novel are familiar to many of us: "Over a colorful dinner of home grown vegetables and pastry and bread plucked from the dumpster of a local bakery, Peggy regaled the travellers with tales of her time as a migrant worker harvesting beets in Minnesota the previous autumn." (p 12) Beet & cranberry harvests being common ways of making a living for punk travelers.
I'm originally from BalTimOre & Pittsburgh's the only city I've lived in longer than there so references to the working-class sister cities (of sorts) also resonate as accurate to me: "When the two were together the energy was an unstoppable force, exhausting others who watched from the sidelines while the pair struggled just to keep up with each other. It was this connection that led the members of Electric Sheep to relocate to Pittsburgh when they grew frustrated with their home scene in Baltimore." (p 16)
Québec: ""C'mon," Nance took over the argument, "We're gonna shut down the summit, biggest action in years. They've been working on it for months, foam rubber armor, all out war, and Canadian cops are chumps, a real cakewalk compared to DC."" (pp 21-22) The latter probably being a reference to the April 16, 2000 International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank conference & the protests against it. Calling cops who're less violent than American ones "chumps" really rubs me the wrong way but I'm sure many people have this unintentionally ironic attitude. Why mock other countries for not being as militarized a police state as the US is? Personally, I'm glad that Canadian & Australian police, eg, aren't as gung-ho about assaulting protesters as US cops are.
Sutton's negative attitude toward protests is not one I share, having participated in 10s of them in multiple countries over the decades. I think when large groups of people protest it makes it obvious that people really do care. A lack of protest is a sign of complacency, a sign that gives the ruling elites (or the wd-be ruling elites) the signal that the population is too passive to resist whatever they feel like imposing.
For the revolution, he lied to himself, shaking his head at the futility of protest. Aside from a few inspirational photographs from the front lines, nothing was ever achieved at these mobilizations. Sure, mass arrests pointed out the hypocrisytime and money wasted tying up an over-clogged (in)justice system-but that part never made the news. After the smoke cleared, the activists were always the ones paying the price, the months spent traveling to court dates to compensate for one afternoon's illusion of freedom." - p 23
What the news reports is somewhat besides the point. One of the reasons
why the spin doctors are always hard at work twisting protests into actions by ignorant malcontents just out to break windows is b/c the powers that the spin doctors are lackies for are truly afraid of the truth reaching the masses. Therefore, the larger the mass that actually participates, the more the truth
does reach the masses
despite the not-always-successful lies of the propagandists.
It's also inaccurate to make it out as if everyone gets arrested at protests or that everyone ends up losing out financially as a result. The preemptive arrests at a park in DC at what was probably the same protest alluded to above were eventually ruled illegal by a court & many of those arrested rc'vd large financial compensations in a court ruling. It's important to protest & it's preferable to not get arrested for it. It's a drag to have to go thru the trials but the activists are NOT "always the ones paying the price". I'm an anarchist, so I'm not saying that the law 'works' or promoting law here - I'm just trying to preserve historical accuracy: sometimes the laws actually change or get clarified in favor of protesters: the Supreme Court decision, eg, that burning the American flag is
not a crime being a case in point (although this has since been contested). William Kunstler & David D. Cole were the lawyers for the defense in that one & I was there at the trial in DC in 1984.
Sutton's acct of traveling in a poor person's barely functional vehicle is something I can identify w/ much more: "By the time they were back on the highway handling was nearly impossible. Next, visible smoke rushed out from under the hood. Then, at once, everything stopped. Max was barely able to pull off into a stretch of green as he watched Chubs and Rick merrily speed off back to their homes. / He was alone, abandoned in a dead truck full of expensive musical equipment in the middle of the Long Island Expressway. (pp 26-27) Been there, done that, hope to never do it again.
Of course, a part of the problem of being young & inexperienced is that you're less likely to know how to work on cars & less likely to spend what little money you have on something as cheap & sensible as AAA. Max's adventures largely revolve around an attitude of easy acceptance of risk-taking that often backfires on him. At least Cannon's telling of the tale strikes me as accurate, strikes me as something written by someone who's actually been thru it: "It was just a truck and him and a nine-hour drive." (p 34) IE: a 9 hr drive from NYC to PGH. That might not seem like a hard thing to get the time right for but I've heard many a person claim it's a 7 hr drive. NOT.
There's plenty of getting high in the bk & Sutton's lackadaisical attitude toward doing so, the classic 'recreational' drug user's attitude, is 'asking for trouble':
""You familiar with MDA?"
""You mean ecstasy?"
""No, no. I mean yes, but no. When people say ecstasy they're thinking of the modern counterpart MDMA. I'm talking M-D-A, it came first. The government created ecstasy to replace it, you know; it's cheaper, dirtier, leaves a hole in the brain, it's got no soul. MDA, the mellow drug of America, the hug drug, the most beautiful synthetic ever to be derived, it disappeared. But I brought it backthat's what they want me for. They don't want it back, but I brought it back ["]" - p 43
"["]This stuff is special, beautiful, powerful... I mean, I feel like I really tapped into telepathy. I could feel what other people were thinking.["]" - p 80
I've taken both MDA & MDMA (Ecstacy). I've never run across the theory that the "government created ecstasy to replace" MDA & find it unlikely. When I 1st took Ecstasy in 1986 it was sold w/ instructions about how to protect yr health while using it. I've heard from friends about muscular side-effects from MDMA use that're long-lasting & very unpleasant. I never had a bad experience w/ it but then I used it before cutting it w/ other drugs became common. By the time dealers started cutting it w/ heroin & other highly addictive & harmful drugs for raves & rave culture, Ecstasy had been ruined & rendered entirely too dangerous to be worth it anymore.
I also never experienced MDA as a telepathy drug. I thought of it as a focus drug. I remember taking it in the midst of one or 2 large social events finding myself very calm & concentrated in otherwise chaotic circumstances. The uncritical feelings of enthusiasm for one's fellow humans that one feels on Ecstasy reminds me of what William S. Burroughs criticized Timothy Leary for promoting as "love in a slop bucket". Burroughs was a great writer but he was also a junkie - that's hardly a recommendation for trusting his opinion. Both of them had philosophies that 'drugs are the answer' - one that I whole-heartedly
don't share. Not everyone's ready for consciousness expansion at all times & consciousness suppression has never struck me as a good idea at any time.
Much of the writing at 1st seemed generic but Spat does pull out things like "even Stevie Wonder could've seen the clichés" wch might be a more common expression than I realize but still struck me as somewhat clever. It really wasn't until Max Sutton reaches Brazil that Cannon's descriptions were more vivid for me:
"It was nearly noon when they reluctantly hit the town. On the bus into Niteroi the scenery seemed nothing like the day before. Schools, children at play, the bus pausing for a horse that wouldn't leave the street, the whole thing seemed unreal. He wished for a better word.
"The stop in the center of Niteroi was more like he expected. Cracked stucco walls, primitive graffiti, storefronts that were garages or vice versa: the vehicles old and in disrepair, possibly abandoned or maybe just out running errands. In fact everything seemed dated and distant, as if he'd slid through a crack in time directly into Live Aid." - p 141
I've never been to South America, I've always thought it wd be better to learn Spanish or Portuguese 1st & I never have. As such, S America is 'inevitably' somewhat 'exotic' to me but, obviously, to the people who live there it's just home & North America wd be 'exotic'. As for the stucco walls being "cracked" & the vehicles being "old and in disrepair": well, there's plenty of that in the US too & sometimes '1st world' nations & the constant Keeping up with the iJoneses is a different type of handicapping, a handicapping where people who can't afford to keep up are left behind struggling to get things that don't have to be necessary but are made 'necessary' by a ruthless capitalism.
Traveler kids in North America, at least in this 2001ish era, got around by hopping trains & spanged (spare-changed) & dumpster dived to get food & booze. For people who travel the circuit of Renaissance fairs, selling home-made jewelry & entertaining in period-appropriate ways are common. For traveler kids in South America, the routine appears to be not that much different:
"Once the fire was roaring, two campers brought out small tin buckets; each was filled with the contents of a cheap bottle of Cachaça and several limes they'd picked up along the road. Ingrid explained that this was an inexpensive way of making Brazil's national cocktail. As the makeshift
caipirinhas were passed, merriment broke down the language barrier. It seemed that most of their new friends were jugglers who also made jewelry, which is how Latin youth funded their wandering quests." - p 161
Cannon's "impetuous decisions" become particularly foolish when he decides to drink a psychedelic tea from a Brazilian plant that he knows too little about:
"Unsure of what the flowers were, all he knew is that they were beautiful.
Trombeta," he was told the name. From side profile they looked merely like water lilies, or some sort of lilies-he'd never been good with botany-but each blossom was the length of his forearm and from head on appeared like a jagged six-sided star. At this point Luiz's eyes were nearly crazed with joy.
""These flowers are not long to be," Ingrid tried to express, "like whales, there are not many"
""Yes, that's the word, endangered, very rare. And we've found six. We'll take them and later make a great tea." - p 173
An endangered plant is made more endangered by taking its blossoms to get high off of. Bad idea. What if the plant protects itself by giving the user a death-trip experience that parallels what it, as a species, is going thru?
Sutton gets a warning: ""If you do drink the
trombeta, you may see a-um, the word, a tiny wood guard-a gnome, you may see a gnome across the water. He will beckon you to join him but the water is deep. Many have drowned in joining the gnome."" (p 175) People who haven't experienced what one might call 'nature spirits' will most certainly scoff at such a thing. Having personally witnessed what I tend to call 'intelligent lightning' AND a gargoyle I'm not so skeptical. If I recall correctly, Spat says he did see the gnome. But some plants, such as loco weed, are too powerfully plant-consciousness-inducing to not have long-lasting dehumanizing effects on people foolish enuf to take them.
review of Adolfo Bioy Casares & Silvina Ocampo's Where There's Love, There's Hate by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - January 7, 2015
2 friends of minreview of Adolfo Bioy Casares & Silvina Ocampo's Where There's Love, There's Hate by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - January 7, 2015
2 friends of mine gave me this bk at the "mm 49: Vivian Fine Marathon!" (check out the feature-length movie online: http://youtu.be/vjqJ9xekECs ) on December 21, 2014E.V. As everyone who knows me knows, giving me a bk is something that is always welcome.. but.. what bk to get me is quite a challenge: I have so many bks already. This was an excellent choice: I have an ongoing interest in Latin American fiction & I'd just written a review of a bk about Argentina (Manuel Vázquez Montalbán's The Buenos Aires Quintet - full review titled: "Don't Let Them Get Away - With It! - !": https://www.goodreads.com/story/show/... ) & had touched on Bioy Casares's collaborator, Jorge Luis Borges, in that review.
That sd, I knew next to nothing about Bioy Casares except that he & Borges coauthored Chronicles of Bustos Domecq wch I've read but remember not a whit. As such, I was grateful for the opportunity that reading this bk presented me to learn more about him & about Ocampo who I knew even less about.
I didn't get the impression this was a major work by either of them. "This quirky novella, originally published in 1946, is the only known work of fiction by Silvina Ocampo with her husband Adolfo Bioy Casares. Where There's Love, There's Hate (Los Que Aman, Odian, literally "Those Who Love, Hate") is a genre-bender, like so much of the better-known fiction of Bioy Casares: a tongue-in-cheek mystery somewhere between detective spoof and romantic satire." (p vii) I didn't really find it to be that much of a "genre-bender" since many mysteries share its same qualities.
"Adolfo Bioy Casares (1914-1999) was born into a wealthy family in Buenos Aires and wrote his first novella—for a cousin with whom he was in love—at the age of eleven. He published his first book, Prólogo (Prologue), just four years later." (p iii) Ok, so I immediately have a bad attitude about the guy: I don't read 'precocious', I read 'spoiled'. It's all well & good to start off from such a privileged position that you can have a bk published by the time you're 15 but don't expect me to respect you for it. It's all too easy to be witty & clever when yr life is completely easy & comfortable from A to Z.
"Bioy's most famous work is The invention of Morel (1940), which inspired the film Last Year at Marienbad." (p iii) Now I'm just truly confused: it's generally stated that Alain Robbe-Grillet wrote the story that the film is based on. I checked wikipedia & found this footnote:
"According to Thomas Beltzer, in Last Year at Marienbad: An Intertextual Meditation, the film script may have been based in part on The Invention of Morel, a science fiction novel published in 1940 by the Argentine writer Adolfo Bioy Casares. The Invention of Morel is about a fugitive, hiding out alone on a deserted island who one day awakens to discover that the island is miraculously filled with anachronistically dressed people who, according to the text, "dance, stroll up and down, and swim in the pool, as if this were a summer resort like Los Teques or Marienbad." He later learns that they are creations of an inventor, Morel, whose recording machine captured the exact likenesses of a group of friends, which are "played" over and over again. The Italian director Emidio Greco made a film L'Invenzione di Morel (1974) based on Bioy Casares' novel, and earlier there was a French TV movie, L'invention de Morel (1967). Although Alain Robbe-Grillet acknowledged familiarity with the novel of Bioy Casares, Alain Resnais had not read the book at the time of making the film. (Robert Benayoun, Alain Resnais: arpenteur de l'imaginaire. Paris: Ramsay, 2008. p. 98.)" - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Last_Yea...
That doesn't sound like a very convincing connection to me but since I had a friend who studied w/ Robbe-Grillet who hated his guts I'm probably a little inclined to believe something nasty about him. As for Ocampo?: she studied painting under "Giorgio de Chirico and Fernand Léger" (p iii) wch is astounding enuf & "With Borges and Bioy Casares she edited the groundbreaking 1940 Anthology of Fantastic Literature." (p iii) Yet another thing to add to the 'want-to-read' list.
In her Introduction, the translator states that: "Now of course I look at these names and sadly observe how most of them, like Bioy & Silvina, are gone inhabitants of an irretrievable past. / This irretrievable past is what urgently justifies our translation and publication now of this little book". (p ix) You want "irretrievable"?! What about all the people who were disappeared by the Argentinian government while the pampered poodles like the authors of this bk thrived?! Still, the giving of this bk to me & the motive behind its translation fit nicely w/ my similar sentiment for emphasizing the work of Vivian Fine.
The narrator is taking a vacation, seeking peace & quiet, so he can adapt Petronius's Satyricon. There's more than a little irony to that given that Petronius wrote the Satyricon after he'd been sentenced to death-by-suicide by the Caesar of the time. Petronius is sd to've written it while he slowly bled himself to death. The bk begins in a way that seems to play off this:
"THE LAST DROPS OF ARSENIC (ARSENICUM album) dissolve in my mouth, insipidly, comfortingly. To my left, on my deak, I have a copy, a beautiful Bodoni, of Gaius Petronius' Satyricon." - p 3
Since I only recall being familiar w/ arsenic as a poison & not as a medicine (in smaller doses), this struck a suicidal note: is the narrator poisoning himself slowly while he adapts Petronius's slow suicide?
"Now, Gaucho Films, Inc. had commissioned me to write an adaptation of Petronius' tumultuous book, set in present-day Argentina. A seclusion at the beach was de rigueur." - p 4
Is this very bk the bk the narrator's writing? "When will we at last renounce the detective novel, the fantasy novel and the entire prolific, varied and ambitious literary genre that is fed by unreality?" (p 5) In other words, the narrator's literary tastes are satirically presented as contrary to those of the actual authors.
The remoteness of the location is established:
"A short while later, I noted that the potholes had ceased. The chauffeur told me:
""We must move quickly. The tide comes up in a few hours."
"I looked around. We were advancing slowly over some thick planks, in the middle of a stretch of sand. The sea appeared in the distance, between the sand dunes to the right. I asked:
""Well, then, why are you going so slowly?"
""If a tire goes off the planks, the sand will bury us."
"I did not want to think about what would happen were we to encounter another automobile. I was too tired to worry. I didn't even notice the cool marine air. I managed to formulate the question:
""Are we nearly there?"
""No," he replied. "Twenty Five miles."" - pp 10-11
At the resort where the narrator stays & the murder happens there's a boat stranded on the beach:
"In order to change the subject I begged my cousins to tell me what they knew about the sailboat foundered in the sand that I had seen during my afternoon walk. Esteban replied:
""It's the Joseph K.["]" - p 24
I have to wonder: what percentage of readers get such literary references these days? "Joseph K", of course, was the main character in Kafka's The Trial. Are my younger friends more likely to understand the pop cultural references of Girl Talk's latest mash-up? Probably.. & that's 'valid' too - I'm just glad when cultural can be rich w/ intertextuality reinforcing its body. I 'get' certain references, making me identify w/ the work in wch they appear more; other people 'get' other references, making them identify w/ a different type of work. It's all good. When one doesn't get the reference there's the feeling of missing out on an inside joke:
""A book of non-fiction," he replied. "A guide to locomotives. I carry in my mind a map of the country (limited to railway lines, of course) in which I endeavor to include even the most insignificant of locations, with their respective distances and hours of departure..."
""You are interested in the fourth dimension, the space-time continuum," I declared.
""The literature of evasion, I'd call it," Manning observed, enigmatically." - p 52
I had a train-hopper friend named Scott who had a map of places where he could hop trains tattooed on his leg.
The murder victim (or suicide) died from poison (not arsenic) & the narrator goes to the trouble to secret his poison from the police inspector:
"With my right hand resting casually on the marble tabletop, I retrieved the vial of arsenic. I was prepared to suffer any indignity save the confiscation of these drops, the pillars of my health.
"When the police at last finished their inspection of my medicine kit, I dropped the arsenic in among the other vials." - p 57
Suspicious? Not enuf to make this reader think he might be the murderer. The narrator, perhaps a bit too pompous, gets a bit over-inflated by the authors:
"I looked at the Commissioner in silence. then, I announced dramatically:
""In a boy's room, in the basement of this hotel, hidden among some trunks, there is a dead bird. An albatross. I found it this afternoon, with its chest torn open, its entrails gone." I paused, then continued. "Just a few hours later, while Doctor Montes was examining the body of the dead girl, in the basement, a pair of solitary hands was embalming the albatross. What are we to make of these symmetrical events? The poison that kills the girl, in the bird, preserves the simulacrum of life."" - p 61
Why an albatross? Albatrosses are surprisingly large (to me, at least). Wikipedia states that "The word albatross is sometimes used metaphorically to mean a psychological burden that feels like a curse." The use of the albatross here as a metaphor Is hard to overlook: it's a literary blunt object.
All in all, this is the kind of bk I imagine reading at a nice warm beach w/ a cocktail in hand. Instead, I read it in my chilly house in winter time w/ snow either impending or already outside. ...more
Alright, this isn't exactly Latin American literature, as I've categorized it. AND I ALMOST hated this. Despite its having been praised by Mario VargaAlright, this isn't exactly Latin American literature, as I've categorized it. AND I ALMOST hated this. Despite its having been praised by Mario Vargas Llosa, one of my favorite writers. Really, this was yet-another bk I just wanted to get over w/ - like so many these days. Yes, yes, I loathe the conquistadors, I LOATHE the slavers, the seekers after gold, the G20 scum, the arms dealers. & this is the fictionalization of their story (minus the last 2), this is the quasi-epic. Maybe it's 'good' that Marcelo has told this story this way but, in the end, I just don't care (sortof). Toward the end Agüirre, of Werner Herzog fame, appears & that (sortof) perks it up.. but, whatever, in the end, I just hate this history, this fiction, this aspect of humanity. I look forward to when the arms dealers will be tarred & feathered out of every city they show their sorry greedy asses in, when every conquistador searching for gold is too widely recognized as an asshole that spoils everybody else's party to be able to attract an army. Good riddance. Dance....more
I'm a big fan of these Avon Bard Latin American literature bks. I've never read one that I didn't like. This one, b/c it's based on anthropological reI'm a big fan of these Avon Bard Latin American literature bks. I've never read one that I didn't like. This one, b/c it's based on anthropological research into extinct "shell-mound people" is quite different from any of the other bks I've read in the series. It's also distinguished as being possibly the only one of the Bard bks that I've found written by a woman.
At 1st, reading this was slow-going for me. Since the style of the writing was an attempt to be as accurately as possible based on research into a people long-since gone, this writing was appropriately stunted in its ideas. But Ribeiro does a good job of evoking this world & certainly managed to engage me in the lives of the characters. Her comparison between the 2 main tribes represented was particularly fascinating - similarly effective to me as was the movie "Quest for Fire". & there was plenty of dramatic action to suck in any reader of novels looking for thrills. ...more
Ahh.. What a pleasure it is to give this bk a good review! The 1st bk I read of Traven's was probably "The Death Ship" - wch details the slow decay ofAhh.. What a pleasure it is to give this bk a good review! The 1st bk I read of Traven's was probably "The Death Ship" - wch details the slow decay of a sailor's life as a result of facets of 'modern' life that the author & I abhor in common - like nationalistic borders & parasitic capitalism (is there any other kind?). I loved "The Death Ship" but it started out humorous & turned increasingly grim as the bk made its point clearer & clearer. Then I think I read 2 of the 6 "Jungle Novels" wch, according to a short description in the back of this bk, "describe the conditions of peonage and debt slavery under which the Indians suffered in Díaz's time." [ie: before the Mexican Revolution] These were extremely insightful political novels, as was "The Death Ship", & also GRIM - almost 'unbearable'. As such, even though I considered Traven to be a great political writer, I hesitated to read more - my mood is often too depressing as is.
SO, I read this anyway. & it was akin to "The Death Ship" in its sarcastic, philosophical, & subtle humour - BUT, the protaganist has a sortof 'easier' time of it & the Mexican Revolution is shown as being somewhat triumphant. It was a relief. I assume that it was historically accurate when it depicts greedy restaurant owners as being successfully forced into cooperation w/ unions BY THE POLICE! What a time that must've been!
Now, I've lumped this together w/ Tom Collins' great Australian cattle-driver novel "Such Is Life" by putting it on my "working-class-intellectuals" bookshelf. From me, that's an honor. Whether Traven's actual life trajectory deserves this or not I don't know. I've read sparse, & perhaps conflicting, bios about him. This bk's afterword claims:
"The mysterious B. Traven (1890-1969) was born in Chicago, spent his youth in Germany as an itinerant actor and revolutionary journalist, became a seaman on tramp steamers, settled in Mexico in the early 1920s, and began recording his experiences in novels and stories."
That rings 'true' - but then so do conflicting claims! Whatever the case, Traven writes like he's been there. Damn, he even makes reference to Baltimore row-homes! Making me wonder whether he'd ever been THERE. If he had, that perks my interest even more. To make Traven even more akin to Collins, there's even a cattle herding. It's all interesting, politically astute, sad, funny, & there's even some uplifting triumph for workers! &, unlike Collins, he wrote many bks! HOORAY FOR B. TRAVEN!
"The Cotton Pickers", by the by, was also called "DER WOBBLY", & was either Traven's 1st or 2nd novel. To make the plot even thicker, one supposedly unsubstantiated theory has it that Traven might've been Arthur Craven - the dadaist/boxer who's reputed to've disappeared off the coast of Mexico in a small boat. Wdn't THAT be a trip. ...more
Hhmm.. I hate it when a search for the ISBN number yields a result clearly not the same as the bk I'm reading. My copy of the bk has 247pp & the oHhmm.. I hate it when a search for the ISBN number yields a result clearly not the same as the bk I'm reading. My copy of the bk has 247pp & the one listed here has 322. That's a pretty significant difference. I'm not surprised that the cover's different or that the publication date's different but 75 extra pages?! Maybe the edition listed is larger print or whatever. Or it cd be a mistake - after all, it's listed by Amazon & I frequently find mistakes in their postings. Whatever. I won't change it.
ANYWAY, this took me a little over a day to read. It seems like it's been a long time since I whipped thru a novel that fast. I hesitated to read this, even though I consider Vargas-Llosa one of my favorite novelists. Why? I'm not even sure I 'know'. Maybe it's b/c there's almost always torture & murder involved - w/ this bk being no exception. I've read almost everything by him - including a Granta edition of interviews & the like from around the time when he was running for president of Peru. What?! Me liking a writer who was a somewhat serious presidential candidate?! Remember, this is Peru I'm talking about.. not the US. STILL, me liking the writing of a presidential candidate?!
Vargas-Llosa came to lecture or read or some-such at CMU sometime since I've lived in Pittsburgh. I didn't attend. I was told that a woman political activist harangued him. I reckon he's considered to have 'conservative' politics.. His political opinions, as expressed in the aforementioned Granta interviews, struck me as more cautious & bland than anything else - extremely naive, perhaps. &, yet, his bks are far from naive. I wonder if I wd've found the harangueing political activist an example of what I've come to think of as the "new Christinanity" - ie: the political activism that thrives on its own high-&-mighty holier-than-thou oversimplifications. Vargas-Llosa is far from oversimplifying. That's one of the main reasons why I love his work.
"Death in the Andes" is a novel about disappearances in a highly troubled area of Peru. The main investigator of these disappearances is "Corporal Lituma", a character that's appeared in at least one other Vargas-Llosa novel. The Corporal suspects the "Sendero" (Sendero Luminosa - the "Shining Path" Maoists of Peru) who're referred to as "terrucos" ('terrorists') & who're active in the area. This immediately both peaks my interest & complicates matters for me. Any group referred to as "terrorists" may very well be so by my standards but I always have to wonder whether whoever's calling them that may not represent something even worse. In other words, the state obviously relies on terrorism to maintain its power & relies on calling its enemies "terrorists" in order to defame them.
My impression, though, perhaps based on too little info, is that the Sendero were/are dogmatic militants w/ a hard party line. This impression is supported by "Death in the Andes" so it rings true for me. Here's a sample of the interaction between a Sendero & an ecological activist that they're about to execute:
"'Are you going to kill me?' she asked, hearing her voice break for the first time.
The one in the leather jacket looked into her eyes without blinking.
'This is war, and you are a lackey of our class enemy,' he explained, staring at her with blank eyes, delivering his monologue in an expressionless voice. 'You don't even realize that you are a tool of imperialism and the bourgeois state. Even worse, you permit yourself the luxury of a clear conscience, seeing yourself as Peru's Good Samaritan. Your case is typical.'
'Can you explain that to me?' she said. 'In all sincerity, I don't understand. What am I a typical case of?'
'The intellectual who betrays the people,' he said with the same serene, icy confidence. 'The intellectual who serves bourgeois power and the ruling class. What you do here has nothing to do with the environment. It has to do with your class and with power. You come here with bureaucrats, the newspapers provide publicity, and the government wins a battle. Who said that this was liberated territory? That a part of the New Democracy has been established in this zone? A lie. There's the proof. Look at the photographs. A bourgeois peace reigns in the Andes. You don't know this either, but a new nation is being born here. With a good deal of blood and suffering. We can show no mercy to such powerful enemies.'"
While Vargas-Llosa clearly considers the Sendero to be terrorists & while this writing can easily be classified as propaganda against them, just how unfair is it? I don't live in Peru, it's a hard call for me. The intellectual points presented above seem like a very clear analysis - nonetheless, it's being used to justify executions & any ideology used for that is repulsive to me. I'm not personally in any hurry to kill anyone. According to WikiPedia (another source of info that I usually respect but, nonetheless, see as having an unacknowledged suspect class agenda subtext), the Sendero have denounced "Human Rights" as it's usually understood by 'Western' 'liberal' culture in the following statement:
"We start by not ascribing to either Universal Declaration of Human Rights or the Costa Rica [Convention on Human Rights:], but we have used their legal devices to unmask and denounce the old Peruvian state. . . . For us, human rights are contradictory to the rights of the people, because we base rights in man as a social product, not man as an abstract with innate rights. "Human rights" do not exist except for the bourgeois man, a position that was at the forefront of feudalism, like liberty, equality, and fraternity were advanced for the bourgeoisie of the past. But today, since the appearance of the proletariat as an organized class in the Communist Party, with the experience of triumphant revolutions, with the construction of socialism, new democracy and the dictatorship of the proletariat, it has been proven that human rights serve the oppressor class and the exploiters who run the imperialist and landowner-bureaucratic states. Bourgeois states in general. . . . Our position is very clear. We reject and condemn human rights because they are bourgeois, reactionary, counterrevolutionary rights, and are today a weapon of revisionists and imperialists, principally Yankee imperialists.
– Communist Party of Peru, Sobre las Dos Colinas[31:]"
ANYWAY, I thought this was a great bk. Clashing cultures are presented in what seems to me to be a reasonably honest manner. The Civil Guard that the central character represents are hardly presented as the 'good guys' - most of them are shown as torturers, thugs, & thieves. But then what do I 'know'? I live in relative luxury in the primo Imperialist country of the world - surrounded by bks & videos & whatnot. I've got it good - even though I'm scum in this society. If I were a peasant in Peru I might hate Vargas-Llosa's guts - if I cd even have access to his bks & if I'd be able to read them - wch might be highly improbable. ...more
Loved it, enjoyed it, totally engrossed. It seems stupid (even to me) to have a bookshelf labelled "Latin American" but the reason I do so is b/c 11 yLoved it, enjoyed it, totally engrossed. It seems stupid (even to me) to have a bookshelf labelled "Latin American" but the reason I do so is b/c 11 yrs ago I organized a Latin American Festival at Chatham College that stimulated me to read a shitload of Latin American novels - so I tend to lump them all together: not w/ any sortof nationalizing intentions but more geographic/lingual/whatever. Anyway, it never ceases to amaze me how many great Latin American novelists there are. This is the 1st one I've read by Jorge Amado - whose "Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands" was very popular.
This ISN'T "magic realism" - let's get that out of the way: not every Latin American novel is magic realism - that's just become a pseudo-critical catchphrase. It IS fanciful, though. The basic story is of a man who poses as a retired sea-captain in order to 'enoble' himself & the trouble he gets into as a result. There's a more general philosophical thrust here & most or all of the characters are deluded in some way or another. ...more
There are so many amazing Latin American writers. There are so many amazing Latin American political satires. How have these people survived all the dThere are so many amazing Latin American writers. There are so many amazing Latin American political satires. How have these people survived all the dictatorships? All the US brutal interference in their countries? It's practically miraculous. Maybe that's one explanation for Magical Realism: you'd have to feel like miracles were happening if you were a critical intellectual surviving the Argentinian dictatorships of the 1970s. This particular author survived by being exiled to Mexico. The novel is about a poetry club whose members are all marked for death by a death squad. ...more
The title story is, of course, probably what made Cortázar famous b/c Antonioni made a film from it. Now, how many people even remember Antonioni whenThe title story is, of course, probably what made Cortázar famous b/c Antonioni made a film from it. Now, how many people even remember Antonioni when we have so many flashy superhero movies to choose from?...more
The name of this bk refers to its being structured so that the reader can read it either from the beginning thru to chapter 56 OR starting w/ chapterThe name of this bk refers to its being structured so that the reader can read it either from the beginning thru to chapter 56 OR starting w/ chapter 73 & jumping around, Hopscotch style, in a prescribed manner that doesn't follow 1-56 linearity. I might've read it both ways. I definitely read it the Hopscotch way. Cortázar was an Argentinian expatriate who lived in Paris. This is a novel about his fellow ex-pats & their friends & their lifestyle of artistic & musical pursuits, drinking mate, good conversation, etc.. I'll forever assoicate this w/ the deep pleasure of discussion & study amongst passionate friends. It's particularly associated w/ a small group of intellectuals/readers in Baltimore in the late 1970s. ...more
My favorite 'Latin American' writer. Probably a ridiculous category given how many people that includes, etc, but I use it anyway for simplicity's sakMy favorite 'Latin American' writer. Probably a ridiculous category given how many people that includes, etc, but I use it anyway for simplicity's sake. I've read everything I can find by him. & just when I thought I'd read it all, I found something I'd never seen before. ...more
Alas, I was knee-high to a grasshopper when I read this. In fact, I was in my mother's womb. How on Earth did I smuggle the bk in? Maybe I was insideAlas, I was knee-high to a grasshopper when I read this. In fact, I was in my mother's womb. How on Earth did I smuggle the bk in? Maybe I was inside somebody else's mother's womb. Whatever the case, I'm using the time elapsed as an excuse for not remembering much about this. Nonetheless, I remember being disappointed by it. It seems that it makes fun of "modernism" in the usual kindof so-called 'conservative' way. Not that "modernism" can't stand to be deflated but it's all a matter of what one is posing as supposedly better to it. I don't recall being impressed by this bk's alternatives. Maybe there weren't any. ...more
Ah, Borges! What literate person doesn't love him? What person who has read him doesn't appreciate the subtlety & recursiveness? Well, maybe the AAh, Borges! What literate person doesn't love him? What person who has read him doesn't appreciate the subtlety & recursiveness? Well, maybe the Argentinian dictators - but he seems to've survived that horrible period so, who knows? I don't. ...more
11 yrs ago, I read almost every Latin American writer (50 or so?) in my overflowing personal library. I liked almost all of it. I don't really remembe11 yrs ago, I read almost every Latin American writer (50 or so?) in my overflowing personal library. I liked almost all of it. I don't really remember this one at all, but my feelings about that era of my reading are so positive that I just MUST give this bk a 4 star rating. ...more
A grim fictional look at El Salvador. Good reading for those of us who want to understand further what people in the US, like members of CISPES, wereA grim fictional look at El Salvador. Good reading for those of us who want to understand further what people in the US, like members of CISPES, were protesting about in the 1980s & beyond. ...more