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Aug 01, 1997
Octave Mirbeau's Le Calvaire
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - October 3, 2015
I 1st remember encountering the work of Mirbeau in translation review of
Octave Mirbeau's Le Calvaire
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - October 3, 2015
I 1st remember encountering the work of Mirbeau in translation in a collection entitled Bizarre edited by Barry Humphries wch I read in October, 1975. In the brief introduction to the excerpt from Mirbeau's "The Torture Garden" in that bk it's stated that "During the earlier part of Oscar Wilde's imprisonment, Mirbeau defended him in the French Press." (Bizarre, p 71) Anyone who supported Wilde at the time of his imprisonment for homosexuality earns my respect. I highly recommend Fredrik Rzewski's musical setting of Wilde's "De Profundis". I later learned that Mirbeau was an anarchist. Ever since, I've been wanting to read something by him. I at least saw Buñuel's movie version of Mirbeau's Diary of a Chambermaid.
Now, 40 yrs after I 1st encountered Mirbeau's work, I finally read a novel by him: Calvary, a reference to the hill in Jerusalem where the mythical Jesus is sd to've been crucified. The title seems to be a metaphor for the trials & tribulations of the main character, Jean Mintié. According to the bk's back cover: "Le Calvaire is a thinly veiled autobiographical novel". If that's so, Mirbeau only partially won my sympathy.
One of the 1st things that caught my attn about this bk is that the translator, Christine Donougher, also translated Jan Potocki's Tales from the Saragossa Manuscript wch was made into a film in 1965 by Wojciech Has (w/ music by Krzysztof Penderecki) wch I was fortunate enuf to witness at a recent 3 Rivers Film Festival. The 2nd thing that caught my attn is that the publisher also publishes at least 2 bks by Rachilde, whose work I still haven't read, who was a close friend of one of my favorite writers, Alfred Jarry. The 3rd thing was an uncredited preface that puts Mirbeau's work in a cultural context:
"Like his colleagues, contemporaries and friends Guy de Maupassant, Émile Zola, Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, Paul Gauguin and Auguste Rodin, Mirbeau's novel is imbued with the ideals of Baudelaire, the pessimism of Schopenhauer and the pragmatism of Darwin.
"Published in 1886 in serial form, Le Calvaire bears the mark of Mirbeau's recent seduction by the anarchist tracts of Peter Kropotkin (Paroles d'un révolté) and Leo Tolstoy (Ma religion).
"What makes Le Calvaire stand out first of all is its vigorous stance against war." [..] "[']I wanted to learn the human rationale for religions that stupefy, governments that oppress, societies that kill.'
"Mirbeau is clearly drawing on his own experiences as an officer during the Franco-Prussian war and when the novel was first serialized the passages on the war were edited out: they were deemed too unpatriotic." - p 9
Anyone who's censored is likely to be someone whose work I want to read. These days, the insidious & ignorant school board idiots making such decisions in Tucson, Arizona have banned bks by bell hooks, Isabelle Allende, Thoreau, Howard Zinn, James Baldwin, Shakespeare & others. If those names mean nothing to you I suggest that you shd broaden yr education.
"Speaking of his own education by Jesuits in Vannes, he" [Mirbeau] "referred to them as éducastrateurs and pilloried their 'sacerdotal pomposity'". (p 10) If a May 18, 2012 article in The Guardian by Patricia Williams is to believed (& if this isn't outdated by now), 2 such modern day edu-castraters wd be Michael Hicks (Tucson school board member) & Naomi Schaefer Riley (Chronicle of Higher Education blogger).
According to the preface's chronology: "1885 Conversion to anarchism. Stopped wiring for monarchist newspaper Le Gaulois and started writing for radical paper La France". (p 12) That kindof funny given that Le Gaulois just means "The Gauls" or "Gallic" wch refers to: "Gaul (Latin: Gallia) was a region of Western Europe during the Iron Age that was inhabited by Celtic tribes, encompassing present day France, Luxembourg, Belgium, most of Switzerland, parts of Northern Italy, as well as the parts of the Netherlands and Germany on the west bank of the Rhine." ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gaul ) making the monarchist paper more internationalist, in a sense, than the more obviously nationalist "France".
The novel starts off immediately w/ some cynical irony: "In due celebration of this entry into the world my godfather, who was a uncle of mine, handed out sweets aplenty and threw lots of small coins to the local urchins gathered on the church steps. Fighting over them with his companions, one child fell so badly on the edge of a step that he fractured his skull and died the next day. As for my uncle, he went down with typhoid on his return home and passed away a few weeks later. My nurse, old Marie, often recounted these events to me with pride and admiration." (p 13)
Jean's father represents a similarly ironic benevolent/maleficent influence: "He was a very kind man, extremely courteous and mild, with a mania for killing. He could not lay eyes on a bird, cat, insect or any living thing whatsoever, without being at once being seized with the strange desire to destroy it." (p 15)
I'm reminded of a story from my own life: my mom & stepdad, usually a very nice man, saw a feral cat going thru their backyard. They went to great lengths to befriend the cat, who was understandably wary of humans, by building a shelter for it & feeding it. Then, when they finally had its trust, they caught it & had it killed. They explained to me that this was merciful of them b/c 'the cat was better off dead than wild'. That explains alot about my own personal upbringing.
Mirbeau gives us a taste of Paris in the 19th century: "One day I saw a man killing another: he was admired and his name was at once on everyone's lips. The next day I saw a woman lifting her skirts in an obscene gesture: the crowd followed her in procession." (p 38)
"And the insistent cry of newsvendors is to be heard constantly, as they pass to and fro, throwing out in the midst of their racy patter a famous woman's name, news of a scandal, while some grimy, sly street-urchins slip between the tables like cats, offering obscene photographs, which they half reveal to whip up dormant desires, to rekindle slaked curiousity. And little girls whose precocious vice had already blighted their thin, childish faces, come up to you with flowers, smiling an ambiguous smile, making eyes with the knowingness and ghastly lewdness of old whores." - p 138
Some might find the above despairingly corrupt, others might find it titillatingly decadent. I find it a prime example of arrested development: examples of how children facing the hardships of adults develop some characteristics too soon at the expense of other characteristics quite probably never to be developed. Gossip, of course, in such a society, runs rampant, regardless of whether it serves any beneficial purpose:
"One day, having completely run out of money, and being cut off by his family, he had the ingenious idea of pretending to repent, made a great show of leaving an old mistress, and went back home. A young girl, a former childhood companion, adored him. She was rich. He married her. But on the night of his wedding he ran off with the dowry and returned to his old mistress." - p 141
Some of the strongest passages of Le Calvaire for me, despite their somewhat peripheral relationship to the main plot, were the Franco-Prussian War ones: "I shook his hand, and he said that at the first engagement he sincerely hoped to be taken prisoner by the Prussians . . . Then the train moved off and disappeared into the darkness, taking all those gaunt faces and already defeated bodies to who knows what pointless and bloody carnage?" (p 44)
Jean eventually has his anti-war epiphany: "I realised that the world was governed by the rule of strife; an inexorable, homicidal law that was not content with arming nations against one another, but caused strife between children born of the same race, the same family, the same womb. I found none of the sublime abstractions of honour, justice, charity and patriotism that so larded the classical texts on which we are raised, that serve to beguile and hypnotise us — the better to delude the good and the young, the better to subdue and slaughter them. So what was this patriotism in whose name so many acts of madness and so many heinous crimes were committed, that had torn us, replete with love, from motherly nature, to cast us, filled with hatred, starving and naked, into this hostile world? What was this patriotism. embodied for us by that stupid, marauding general who persecuted old men and old trees, and by that surgeon who kicked the sick and bullied poor old mothers grieving for their sons?" (p 61)
Nonetheless, Jean isn't exactly consistent: "I thought of a playwright, however celebrated, as one who had gone astray; he was to the poet what the unfrocked is to the priest, the deserter to the soldier." (p 98) That's definitely an odd thing to say for someone who's anti-war from an author who supported Oscar Wilde.
Jean is an author, making the afore-mentioned "thinly veiled autobiographical" nature of Le Calvaire even more obvious:
"'You're not by any chance suggesting that you've read his book?'
"'I beg your pardon, Monsieur Lirat . . . I have read it . . . It's very good.'
"'Yes; like my studio and my painting, you mean?'
"'Oh no, not at all!'" - p 73
This is from when Jean 1st meets the woman, Juliette, central to his downfall. What's strange about this, in the light of later developments, is the thought that the woman wd ever take time out from shopping, preening, manipulating, & fucking to actually read a bk. Jean's friend & mentor, Lirat, is an impoverished philosopher/painter who purports to detest women:
"[']The mother! Ah, yes, the mother! The mother-goddess, is she not? It's she who creates this race of sick and exhausted creatures that we are, who smothers the main in the child, and casts us, without tooth or nail, brutish and tamed, on to the mistress' divan and the wife's bed . . .
"Livat paused for a moment; he was choking. Then bringing his hands together in the air and locking his clenched fingers round an imaginary neck, frantically, appallingly, he shouted, 'That's what we should do to every single one of them, every single one . . . do you understand? Eh? Tell me! Every single one of them!'" - p 77
Jean becomes obsessed w/ Juliette, he perceives her in an idealized way: "Even her manner of walking, greeting, smiling, and sitting spoke of a good upbringing, a quiet and happy life, free of any nasty impatience, unsullied by remorse. Her hat, coat, dress — all of her attire was of a quiet subtle elegance calculated to make one man happy, to bring joy to a house firmly locked and barred against those in pursuit of unchaste quarry . . . And those eyes, so filled with sanctioned tenderness, shining with such candour and ingenuousness, seemingly ignorant of deceit — those eyes, lovelier than moon-reflecting lakes!" (p 93)
But why wd he think that it's all "calculated to make one man happy" instead of calculated to make many men do her bidding? & where did he think the money came from to pay for attire "of a quiet subtle elegance"? It doesn't take long before he's addicted:
"At one point I thought I had seen her in the back of a brougham travelling in the opposite direction to that of my cab.
"'Turn round, turn round,' I shouted to the cabman, 'and follow that broughham.'
"It did not occur to me that this was very inconsiderate behaviour towards a woman I happened to have been introduced to the day before, and whose name I desperately wanted to clear.
"Half hanging out of the door over the lowered window, I did not lose sight of the vehicle. And I said to myself, 'She may have recognized me . . . she may stop, climb out, make an appearance.' Yes, I said this to myself without crediting myself with the slightest thought of making a libertines conquest." - p 96
Alas, for better or for worse, Jean's infatuation finds cognitive dissonance w/ direct experience: "Instead of this poetic vision, I found a ghastly dog that barked at my legs, and a woman just like any other, with no brain, no ideas, solely engaged in pleasure" (p 106) It wd've been interesting if Jean cd've ever pried commentary on his bk out of Juliette. It appears that he having 'read' it was merely part of her bait, an allure based on her solid intuition of Jean's desperate need, his egoism.
Nonetheless, Jean is addicted &, despite his moral image of himself, he gets Juliette to give her current paramour the dainty boot so Jean can more easily fill the smoking gap: "I did not hesitate to insist on Malterre's departure, and to assume responsibility for Juliette. Malterre wrote despairing letters, begged and thereatened; finally he left. Later, Jesselin, with his native good taste and wit, told us that a very broken-hearted Malterre was travelling in Italy. / "'I accompanied him to Marseilles,' he told us. 'He wanted to kill himself, he was always in tears" (p 114) It's easy to be so uncaring about someone else's suffering as long as the shoe's on the other foot. Jean's feet were soon to be harshly pinched.
It's hard for me to relate to "thinly veiled autobiograph"y, even by an anarchist author, when the protagonist has servants & doesn't have to work for a living: "Our news staff consisted of a cook — a filthy, grasping and bad-tempered old woman whose talents did not extend beyond tapioca, veal stew and salad; a chambermaid — Celestine, a brazen and vicious girl who had respect only for people who spent a lot of money; and finally a housekeeper, Mère Sochard, who was continually taking snuff and got terribly drunk, in order, she said, to forget her sorrows — a husband who beat her and took advantage of her, and a daughter who had gone to the bad." (p 126) It's easy to be on a high horse about other people's low morals when the horse is pd for by someone else & all one has to do is ride it to one's content while everyone else has to try to not get trampled underneath.
Once Jean is supporting Juliette in high style he 'has her' but only on her own terms & only as long as she needs to tolerate him before finding an even richer benefactor. In the meantime, he tries to oppress her into conforming to his ridiculous 'ideal':
"'What about Gabrielle Bernier? Is she also a member of the Geographic Society?'
"Juliette never lost her temper. Only, when she was angry, her eyes suddenly became harder, the crease in her forehead became more pronounced, her voice lost some of its sweet resonance. She simply replied, 'Gabrielle is my friend.'
"'That's exactly what I have against her!'
"There was a moment's silence. Juliette sat in an armchair, twisting the laces of her dressing gown, thinking. An ironic smile played about her lips.
"'So, I'm not to see anyone? That's what you want, isn't it? Well, that's going to be fun! We never go out as it is! We live like real hermits!'" - pp 129-130
The price Jean pays for the pleasures of Juliette are steep: "Without knowing precisely how my finances stood, I felt close to ruin. I had paid out large sums of money, my debts were accumulating, and far from decreasing, Juliette's demands became ever more numerous and more extravagant. Gold ran through her fingers like water from a fountain, in a continuous stream." (p 142) I've always sd that one advantage of being poor is that no-one wants you for yr money (wch might just translate into no-one wants you period).
"My father had left a few uncollected debts at St-Michel. Generous and kind-hearted, he liked to oblige small farmers in difficulty. I mercilessly set the bailiffs on these poor devils, forcing them to sell their hovels, their bit of land, their means of eking out a wretched existence, doing without everything." - pp 145-146
Jean continues to hopelessly lust for Juliette even after his idealized perception of her character has become severely disillusioned:
"I'm going to kill her! She's lying in her room in the dark. I'm in the dressing room, pacing round and round, breathing heavily; my head's very hot and my fists are clenched, impatient for justice . . . I'm going to kill her! Every so often I stop at her door and listen. She's crying. And soon I'll go in . . . I'll go in and haul her out of bed, I'll drag her by the hair, I'll bloody her belly, I'll smash her skull against the marble corners of the fireplace . . . I want the room to be red with her blood. I want her body to be just a bundle of bruised flesh that I shall throw on the rubbish heap, which the dustcart will collect tomorrow . . . Go on, cry! In a moment you'll be screaming, my precious!" - p 156
A more sensible but less likely reaction considering the high emotionality of the situation wd've been to've taken everything he bought for her, to resell it, & to leave her to the next person she chooses to parasitize. While I have considerable sympathy for Jean's despair, I wish there were a novel written from Juliette's perspective to counterbalance Mirbeau's male narrator. Jean's self-criticism & self-pity is such that he considers himself "a person good for nothing, of no use to anyone, whose life is more of a torture to him than the condemned man's iron collar, the convict's chains" (p 174) & to wch I reply NOT!. I'm sure any condemned man w/ an iron collar or chains wd trade his dilemma for Jean's anyday!!
At one point, Jean tries to get away. His new landlady tells him about her own woes:
"[']Dead, what! All three of them, my husband and my two fine lads, dead, our Mintié . . . The keeper of Penmarc'h lighthouse had found them washed up on the rocks.'
"I was not listening. I was thinking of Juliette; where is she? What is she doing? Those eternal questions!
"Mère Le Gannec went on: 'I know nothing of your affairs, our Mintié, and I don't know what's making you unhappy! But you haven't lost your husband and your two sons all at once![']" - p 179
Exactly. &, obviously, Mirbeau understands this. Nonetheless, sex is a powerful addiction: "Not only is the image of Juliette prostituting herself no longer a torture to me, on the contrary it excites me. It is an image I seek out and hold on to, and try to fix indelibly in my mind: paired with objects, animals, and monstrous mythological beasts; driven, by me, to criminal debauchery, having been lashed into a frenzy by iron-hard rods." (p 193)
Le Calvaire's naive idealistic vulnerability was sometimes an irritation but the honesty of the protagonist's self-revelation is ultimately worthy of my respect. ...more
Notes are private!
Sep 23, 2015
Oct 04, 2015
Wyndham Lewis's The Childermass
(Book One of The Human Age)
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - September 12-18, 2015
Hold onto yr spats! My rev review of
Wyndham Lewis's The Childermass
(Book One of The Human Age)
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - September 12-18, 2015
Hold onto yr spats! My review is "too long". This version's just cut off so if you want to read the full review (highly recommended by yrs truly) go here to "The Book of the Dagnabbited-all-to-Heck":
In order to do this bk 'justice' I'd probably have to write a longer review than I'm planning to. I've probably had some vague knowledge of Lewis for decades, I've probably known of him mainly as a Vorticist painter. Vorticism appeals to me somewhat as a somewhat avant garde school of painting akin to Cubism & Italian Futurism that started very briefly after the latter 2 mvmts did. I knew that Lewis was a writer but probably thought of him 1st & foremost as a painter. Having now read The Childermass I have to give him more credit as an excellent & unique writer indeed.
The Human Age was published by Jupiter Books from London. They're a subset of John Calder. I'd known of Calder as the publishers of the editions that I have of Raymond Roussel's Impressions of Africa & Locus Solus & that's about as good as it gets. The back of The Childermass also mentions publishing work by Samuel Beckett, Eugene Ionesco, Alain Robbe-Grillet, & Jorge Luis Borges, amongst others - very interesting authors, all.
I'd probably read that Lewis was vaguely 'right wing' - akin to, perhaps, Céline - whose bks Journey to the End of Night & Rigadoon I've read & liked somewhat but the ellipsis technique wore on me quickly. Céline, notorious as a nazi sympathizer, comes across surprisingly as somewhat humanitarian & caring, albeit cynical, in the bks, as I remember these many decades later. Lewis has a similar reputation as a Fascist sympathizer & he & Ezra Pound were collaborators: "In 1914 Wyndham Lewis and the American poet and critic Ezra Pound together promoted Vorticism, an avant-garde movement celebrating the machine age" ( http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/l... ).
Italian Futurism also celebrated the machine age AND war - & its founder, Filippo Marinetti, was supported by Fascist leader Mussolini. Pound supported the Fascists in WWII while he was living in Italy & was incarcerated in St Elizabeth's Hospital in Washington DC b/c he was let off as insane rather than executed as a traitor. I recall reading that while in the reputedly luxurious confines of the hospital he was visited by George Lincoln Rockwell, leader of the American Nazi Party. Unfortunately, I can't substantiate this so it might be a purely apocryphal story or even outright slander.
Given that I'm not in any hurry to read bks by Fascist or Nazi sympathizers I wasn't in a rush to read something by Lewis. What convinced me to read both him & Céline is that they're both experimental novelists & that's a primary interest of mine.
Perhaps my 1st question is: was Lewis really a Fascist or Fascist sympathizer? A Lewis enthusiast that I correspond w/ named "Miss Noma" claims that that's slander. In Lewis's 1941 novel The Vulgar Streak (13 yrs after The Childermass), wch I haven't read but wch I've glimpsed thru, there's this passage:
"["]you are quite unable to fathom the intensity of the religion of class, which in England restricts the personal development of any man or woman born outside the genteel pale. It denies espansion to him or to her as much as the shoes formerly worn by Chinese ladies denied normal development to the feet. It stops you from breathing freely—indeed from existing in freedom at all. If you are born one of the poor, you must go about disguised. It is the only way."" - p 175 of the 1985 Black Sparrow Press edition
I don't know how that fits in the overall novel but that doesn't strike me as very 'right wing' at all. Furthermore, in Paul Edwards's "Afterword" to the same bk, it's written that ""its politics are overtly liberal". (p 241) Edwards goes on to elucidate:
"If Lewis's self was a battleground of contradictory forces, his way of writing fiction (of "making strange") involved stressing aspects of his self that were not likely to receive ready social assent. But during the thirties his "Enemy" persona, at first the battleground of a multiplicity of cultural, artistic and intellectual oppositions, became increasingly defined in narrowly political discourse, until he could be described by Auden as "that lonely old volcano of the right."" - p 244
I particularly like the "making strange" description of the writing & will return to that now & then. Edwards appears to explore this complexity of Lewis's character convincingly in his Afterword:
"Lewis thought that his contributions to political debate in the thirties were "neutral," but the time belatedly arrived when he recognized that "to be neutral is to be anti-British" (The Hitler Cult, 1939), when he at last aligned himself with his only real audience, the intellectuals. There had been some signs already: in 1938 he had sent a picture to be auctioned for Republican Spain, and by mid-1939 he was regretting the fall of Barcelona to the Falangists as "the end of a chapter."" - p 244
"In his book on Lewis's politics, The Filibuster, D. G. Bridson tells us that the Munich crisis of September 1938 was one more such symbolic moment for Lewis: hearing Hitler hurling abuse at President Benes over the radio "came as sickening revelation" to him." - p 245
"["]in The Vulgar Streak it links Vincent with the collapse of that civilization as well as with those "diabolical machines of empty will, Hitler and Mussolini." - p 245
In support of a perception of Lewis's as by-no-means simple, I quote at length from Alan Munton's "Wyndham Lewis: From Proudhon to Hitler (and back): the Strange Political Journey of Wyndham Lewis":
"If the brief revisionist survey which follows appears to some readers to be a challenge too far to the prevailing orthodoxy, let me hint at the possibilities by quoting from the autobiography Blasting and Bombardiering, published in 1937 at about the time Lewis’s politics changed: “I am the most broadminded ‘leftwinger’ in England” (305).
"Lewis was in some meaningful sense on the Left until about 1930. During the mid-1920s he deals with ideas that open more naturally towards socialism and anarchism than they do towards the right and to fascism; some of these are discussed below. He also held a “culturalist” view by which revolutionary art and thought precedes revolutionary politics:
"'Before there can be political change there must have been some other more fundamental change [….] So all popular revolutions, of whatever nature, have always, before they occurred, virtually existed in the consciousness and behaviour of a minority, and often, visibly, in phalansteries and colonies [....] The merely political revolutionary is thus […] an interpreter only of a creative mind.'
"That was written in the conclusion to “The Diabolical Principle,” published in Lewis’s own journal The Enemy at the beginning of 1929 (Vol. 3, 74-5).The rightward turn occurred not long afterwards, during a visit to Germany in November 1930, two months after elections which had given the Nazi party over six million votes. Reflections on Hitler appeared as magazine articles in Time and Tide in January and February 1931, and as a book in March. This was the first book on Hitler published anywhere, and the dustjacket was adorned with Lewis’s own design, which featured several swastikas. That book was translated into German and published in Berlin in 1932. It was pulped in or just after 1933, for reasons that are unclear, though it seems likely that what displeased British readers was not enough to please Goebbels. Lewis remained politically on the right until 1937. During that time he attacked Communism and communists, was sympathetic to the Nationalist rebels in Spain, and allowed his pacifism and fear of another European war to permit a tolerance of Hitler that it is kind to call “radical appeasement.” Lewis’s polemics at this time were often directed against other intellectuals, particularly those on the Left, and gave rise to his phrase “Left wings,” as in the “bad” polemic of 1936 already mentioned, Left Wings over Europe. In early 1937 he published an article in the British Union Quarterly, the relaunched journal of Mosley’s fascists, entitled “‘Left Wings’ and the C3 Mind.” (The term “C3” derives from the armed forces’ lowest category of physical fitness.) In August of 1937 Lewis and his wife visited Berlin; they left quickly, Mrs Lewis later said, “because we found it very uncomfortable, or Wyndham did at least” (O’Keeffe, Some sort of genius, 371). Visible German militarism, and a visit to the ghetto in Warsaw, initiated the change in Lewis’s politics; in 1938 Kristallnacht (November 9-10) confirmed it." - https://erea.revues.org/220
The choice of Proudhon as a symbol of anarchy & more 'liberal' politics is yet-another problematic thing here insofar as many consider Proudhon to've been a virulent anti-Semite whose views cd've certainly been inspiring to Nazis:
"Pierre Joseph Proudhon 1847
"On the Jews
"Source: Carnets de P.J. Proudhon. Paris, M. Rivière, 1960;
"Translated: for marxists.org by Mitchell Abidor.
"Translator’s note: Though some twentieth century writers have maintained that Proudhon was not an anti-Semite, we find in his notebooks proof of the contrary. In this selection from his notebooks Proudhon’s anti-Semitism goes far beyond that of Marx at approximately the same time, calling not for the end of what Jews represent, i.e., capitalism, but of the Jews as a people. Proudhon’s privately expressed thoughts were elaborated on in the same year as this entry by his follower Alphonse Toussenel in his “Les Juifs, Rois de l’Epoque,” The Jews, Kings of the Era. After reading the passage translated here it can come as no surprise that the founder of the royalist group Action Française, the Jew-hater Charles Maurras, drew inspiration from Proudhon.
"'December 26, 1847: Jews. Write an article against this race that poisons everything by sticking its nose into everything without ever mixing with any other people. Demand its expulsion from France with the exception of those individuals married to French women. Abolish synagogues and not admit them to any employment. Finally, pursue the abolition of this religion. It’s not without cause that the Christians called them deicide. The Jew is the enemy of humankind. They must be sent back to Asia or be exterminated. By steel or by fire or by expulsion the Jew must disappear.'" - https://www.marxists.org/reference/su...
Is Lewis anti-semitic? I'd say probably not but there are passages in The Childermass wch come uncomfortably close wch are probably insertions of expressions common for his time: "you are a disbelieving Jew !'" (p 101)
Pound, whose scholarliness has earned respect from such anti-Fascists as Beat poet Ed Sanders, clearly had a love for Italian culture that was probably greater than his love of American culture. When Fascism started in Italy as a nationalist mvmt it was by no means clear that it wd become as destructive as it did. It seems probable to me that Pound thought he was supporting Italian culture as much as anything. Then again, I've read very little Pound & can't discuss it intelligently.
Lewis's The Human Age is "obviously intended to parallel Dante's Divine Comedy" according to the blurb on The Childermass's back cover. " The Divine Comedy (Italian: Divina Commedia [diˈviːna komˈmɛːdja]) is an epic poem by Dante Alighieri, begun c. 1308 and completed 1320, a year before his death in 1321. It is widely considered the preeminent work of Italian literature and is seen as one of the greatest works of world literature. The poem's imaginative vision of the afterlife is representative of the medieval world-view as it had developed in the Western Church by the 14th century. It helped establish the Tuscan language, in which it is written, as the standardized Italian language. It is divided into three parts: Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso." ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Divine_... ) Considering The Divine Comedy 's profound importance in the history of writing it's possible that Lewis, like Pound, was a supporter of Italian culture & that that influenced his political views in the 1930s. That's speculation on my part, I still 'know' next to nothing about Lewis.
WHEW! The irony of my getting into these politics to the extent that I have here is that I find them mostly, if not entirely, irrelevant to The Childermass (1928)! Instead, I find the bk highly remarkable as a formallly imaginative work. In its meandering, frustrating 'nowhereness' it impresses me as a precursor to the writings of Maurice Blanchot, eg in Aminadab (1942), Samuel Beckett, eg in Waiting for Godot (1948-1949), Flann O'Brien, eg in The Third Policeman, Haruki Murakami, eg in Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World (1985), & Kazuo Ishiguro, eg in The Unconsoled (1995).
The Childermass is like an anxiety dream in wch nothing can be depended on & a fear of one's environment transforming in a hostile way is ever-present, if not always actualized. The only author whose threatening ambiguity I can think of as a precursor to Lewis is Franz Kafka, whose novels The Trial & The Castle were published posthumously in 1925 & 1926 respectively.
The Childermass isn't broken into chapters, making it immediately more difficult as a reading experience since there're no convenient stopping points for the reader. I wondered whether Lewis, like his fellow painter Salvador Dali, might not've written this novel in an intense stream-of-consciousness session over a short period of time - Dali having written his only novel, Hidden Faces, in a 2 wk period. Imagine writing a novel as a painter, focusing more on images than on sense, more on sensuality than on coherency. The Childermass isn't broken into chapters but it does have basically 2 parts: the 1st of wandering by Pullman & Satters, recently arrived in 'the afterlife'; followed by The Bailiff's interaction w/ the appellants implied to be seeking entrance into 'heaven'.
But is it 'heaven'? & wch of the parts of The Divine Comedy is The Childermass hypothetically parallel to? If The Human Age follows the progress of The Divine Comedy then this 1st bk wd be 'hell' & there are references to the heat.. but while the conditions are annoying, they're more like HECK than 'hell', more like a 'hell'-lite. Instead, this seems more like 'purgatory', more like the waiting ground where The Bailiff might be St Peter waiting at the Pearly Gates - wch may just turn out to be a gaping mouth ready to chomp its pearly teeth down on entrants. As of The Childermass the reader doesn't 'know' & I'm not so sure that the reader ever will - even after reading the following 2 bks: Monstre Gai & Malign Fiesta.
At 1st, I was mainly impressed by the language. As w/ Joseph McElroy's Women and Men, I found The Childermass to be astonishingly free of stock phrases. I love my own writing but even I just used "stock phrases", as I used "virulent anti-Semite" earlier - both of those being stock phrases - but if I'd written 'stock car racing heart market' wd you've understood me? I'm sooooooooo misunderstood.
"In burning appropriate soliloquy the first neuter show-baby hen-pecks his dolly Pulley to himself and comes out of his nursery, with a cave-man scowl for the rejuvenating mask at his side. The less stable ghost to which he has been attached, it seems, does not look at him now at all." - p 48
"Could it hear if it would? Can wood, a little head-wool, a neat waxen ear innocent of cerumen but also drumless, an eye of jade, can linen and shoe-leather respond? The bourgeois lay-figure says No with its dapper jutting sleek undisturbed profile." - p 61
"They both rest on their oars for an interval, Satters stumbling along short-winded, his breath sawing a little in his throat." - p 98
I don't know if mixed metaphors are still a no-no according to writing academics but I find them quite stimulating. Above, the 1st metaphor is a rowing one: exertion is paused while the exerters rest on the rowing apparatus, presumably wooden, instead of further exerting themselves w/ them. The 2nd metaphor has an over-exerted character manifesting his exertion w/ a rasping sound associated w/ cutting wood - wch cd be thought of as the wood of the oars.
The circumstances of this afterlife are mystifying rather than mystical:
"Satterthwaite is in knee-cords, football stogies, tasselled golf stocking, a Fair Ilse jumper, a frogged mess jacket, a Mons Star pinned upon the left breast, and a Rugby cap, the tinsel rusted, of out-size, canted forward.
"'Where the devil did you get that outlandish kit from?'
"'I know — !' He looks down without seeing. 'I'm damned if I know !'" - p 12
Our characters arrive in the afterlife w/ clothing not of their own choosing [stock phrase used by reviewer]. Images of the afterlife are always sortof WHA? to me anyway so why not have them have clothes? The typical Christinane image that I think of is people wearing white togas standing on clouds & playing harps. Where did that image come from? Certainly not from the much more imaginative Hieronymus Bosch! If I were to believe in an afterlife in that sense of I-will-continue-pretty-much-as-I-am-now, wch I don't, I certainly wdn't imagine myself in a white toga standing on clouds OR in a hodge-podge of sports & military clothing. One might hope that in 'heaven' (a ridiculous bit of wishful thinking) one cd at least go around starkers, eh?! In my 'heaven' there might be the Moslem virgin maidens (more ridiculous wishful thinking held out to the deprived as a reward they'll certainly never get in this lifetime) but what good is that if they stay virgins?! I need to fuck, lardy. In 'heaven' there's no testicular or breast cancer, right? ...more
Notes are private!
Sep 07, 2015
Sep 18, 2015
Jan 01, 2009
GX Jupitter-Larsen's Sometimes Never
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - August 28, 2015
Yadda, yadda. My full review is here: https://www.goodr review of
GX Jupitter-Larsen's Sometimes Never
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - August 28, 2015
Yadda, yadda. My full review is here: https://www.goodreads.com/story/show/... - You might as well go straight to it instead of reading this truncated thing.
According to studiers & theorists of plate-tectonics, vulcanism & colliding shifting plates causes land to rise & erosion causes it to get worn down again. Jupitter-Larsen seems to be largely allied w/ erosion but there's more than a touch of explosion & collision in there too.
I've been paying attn to GX's output since at least 1985 when he played some things of mine on the radio in Vancouver that few, or no, other people wd've played at the time (or even now). You can hear that radio program as track 3 here: https://archive.org/details/Radio1985 .
GX has a prolific output cohered by a thoughtful philosophy. He makes records, writes bks, makes movies, gives performances. He's one of the more imaginative people out there for making medium specific products. One of the earliest things I got in trade from him was a 7" recording of fire imprinted on flame-patterned vinyl.
Given his predilection for the forces of upheaval & erosion, in general: destruction, many of his audio recordings tend a bit too much toward white noise to provide me the variety that I prefer. I'd rather listen to, eg, Peter Maxwell Davies's "Eight Songs for a Mad King". That sd, GX is so thorough in his exploration of such things as counting sand that I 'can't help but appreciate' the polymorphous single-mindedness of it. In fact, GX has a movie called "Counting the Sand" on his Cinema Noise - Selected Videos 1983 - 2006 DVD (WorldCat lists it as being in the collection of at least one library: http://www.worldcat.org/title/cinema-... ). "They could talk freely as they were all alone. Everyone else was out counting sand." (p 37)
Then we come to Sometimes Never. Sometimes Never impresses me as an apotheosis of the many creations of Jupitter-Larsen so far. I'd previously read his Raw Zed & the Condor novel ( http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/21... ). Despite the many repetitions this isn't just more white noise: it's 'noise' + science fiction + S&M + nonsense + philosophy + neologisms + sound poetry. The novel begins:
"Most thought the radio static was empty.
"They were quite wrong...
"...Nh ygshjk ygkjhwlhohwyfwkbNoihkj kjgfiluegfiwgfjhsbNlkyfuglkjh thNer wr g oiu ttrwge cjh ilu t 6Nytfgu" - p 1
Paragraphs of these difficult-to-pronounce nonsense strings continue until page 22. The 1st paragraph, the one quoted above has the "N"s capitalized. The 2nd has the "O"s, the 3rd has the "T"s, the 4th has the "A"s, the 5th has the "N"s, the 6th may not have any capitalizations although one might think that what appear to be lower-case "l"s (L) are upper-case "I"s (i), the 7th has "M", the 8th has "A", the 9th has "G", the 10th has "E", the 11th has "O", the 12th has "F", the 13th has "T", the 14th & 15th have "H", the 16th & 17th have "E", the 18th has "T", the 19th has "O", the 20th has "T", the 21st is like the 6th if one reads what may be a lower-case "L" as an upper-case "i", the 22nd has "M", the 23rd has "O", the 24th has "R", the 25th has "P", the 26th has "H", the 27th has "O", the 28th has "U", & the 29th has "S".
Now, given that the 2 instances of double-paragraphs w/ the same capitalized letters have the 2nd paragraph indented instead of separated by a space, those can be taken as really one paragraph. If we interpret what may be lower-case "L"s as capital "i"s then we can read the above embedded txt as follows:
NOTANIMAGEOFTHETOTIMORPHOUS or, w/ spaces inserted, NOT AN IMAGE OF THE TOTIMORPHOUS - w/ "totimorphous" being one of GX's neologisms:
"The Totimorphous is a house built out of logic. To know what kind of logic to use
in building a house of this type, one first has to know the structure and site." - www.jupitter-larsen.com/totimorphous....
At 1st, I figured I was likely to be the only person who wd read this 22pp section thoroughly, mentally struggling thru these letter strings. Then, after 10pp of doing so, I decided that I was wasting my time & skipped to p 22. I did look for patterns, such as the one explained above, to seek hidden meaning but, mostly, I just found cut'n'paste repetitions. I did note, eg, that on p2 the number "98" occurs in this string: "soh-viojhc98hsfohnviuhflsu" & on p 3 in this repetition string: "soh-viojhc98hsfohnviuhflsu". By having the unusual presence of numbers, the reader's attn is called to the repetition of the elements of the string. This repeats again on pp 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, & 9 - sometimes w/ the hyphen, sometimes w/o. I'm not sure whether I bothered to look for it after that. Such apparent nonsense strings cd be taken as encryption like the infamous number station broadcasts:
"Another characteristic of numbers station broadcasts is the messages feel like gibberish, or nonsensical words, letters, or songs strung together. In reality, they likely mean a great deal to the right listener. Numbers stations appeared shortly after World War II, and while they were most plentiful during the Cold War, many still broadcast today. If you ask the FCC about them, they'll say they have no information on them because the frequencies are unlicensed. Ask any specific government agency and they'll usually deny they exist, or at least deny broadcasting on them. Who operates them and who are they for? Most likely they're used by spies, sending and listening for coded messages." - http://lifehacker.com/5961035/how-to-...
Perhaps I underestimate GX, perhaps there is something encrypted happening here, but I decided that it's more likely a simulation thereof & moved on to p 22 where the section is ended by "...then the noise stopped!" But difficult-to-pronounce 'neononsenseisms' continue to occur throughout:
"Calm... Again, collapsing eweuwiøpewkumew swooned both the deiüdüwikew and the hifidiode." - p 22
I liked the language, GX isn't just emulating some person's idea of 'correctness', he's using language in his own way:
"He wondered briefly, how such plentiful yet tentative interest straggled in as these vaguely surprising discharges piled up between the half a dozen usual functions that would rise in plunked persuade while these tremendous perspicacious recipients were scuffing the transmissions under whooping xylowaves that yanked this zone." - pp 22-23
The plot thickens: "He had left hidden notes regarding the lost cosmonauts all over town." (p 23) (check out the "Zero Plus Zero" movie on the aforementioned Cinema Noise DVD) & an outsider artist is mentioned in connection w/ measurement: "Henry Darger used his archetypal Vivian Girls as his device for measuring the distance between contentment and despair." (p 23) Much later, another outsider artist is referred to for in much the same connection:
"A small dark man by the name of Adolf Wölfli could be seen nearby, observing; studying everything that was going on. Everyone had seen him lurking about these parts for some time now, but no one really knew what he was up to. Some said he was just a geologist on assignment, making a new map or some such thing. Others said he was some kind of census taker. Could he have also been a spy? He was always seen counting. Counting what? It was later discovered whatever he was counting, he was doing so by his own number system in order to calculate some kind of astronomical concept or two." - p 144
I went to Lausanne, Switzerland, in 1978, esp to see Adolf Wölfli's work at the L'Art Brut Museum. Wölfli was a laborer who was convicted of molesting a 3 yr old girl & put in a mental institution for the final decades of his life where he created an extremely large autobiography of himself as a Saint in wch txt, drawings, & large numbers appeared. The numbers, as I recall, were often heights of mountains that his fictional alter-ego climbed & then fell from.
"Immortality by its very nature disallowed self-awareness. One needs consciousness in order to keep from being killed, but if one was truly immortal, one was also then indestructible. Consciousness just didn't serve any purpose for the eternal." - p 25
GX always has an interesting spin to put on things. The science fiction kicks in w/ the appearance of the toxic waste creatures: "Nourished by emissions from the methane and carbon monoxide gases in the moon's extensively thick atmosphere, the toxic waste had evolved over the years into a race of intelligent beings." (p 26) GX really got on a roll w/ this one:
"What happened on Yuhec Siz was not at all uncommon. Over time, as pollution climbed up the food chain, the Sanitation Department became increasingly important to all systems of administration. Ultimately becoming its own regime. These days, in most of the civilized galaxy, the Sanitation Department remains the highest office of the land. With the Sanitation Commissioner the closest thing to a head of state." - p 26
"Human women with a fetish for authoritative uniforms would sway at the very sight of the Sanitation Engineer in his black leather. The smell of garbage became a powerful aphrodisiac." - p 27
"It has long been suggested that if a three-dimensional object casts a two-dimensional shadow, then a four-dimensional object would cast a three-dimensional shadow. The logic of this, however, only works if all 2D objects were shadows to begin with. Ever wonder if it were the other way 'round? What if direction was an optical illusion? What if all 3D objects were just shadows projected from a 2D realm? Then, instead of higher dimensions ejecting downwards, it would be the lower or flatter dimensions bursting outwards. The 4D plane would be a shadow of the 3D world. Light wouldn't be hurled out by the sun; light would be falling into the sun." - p 28
I have obvious objections to the speculation above: what GX refers to as 2D objects are no less than 4D b/c if they weren't they'd be imperceptible to us. One can't see a so-called 2D picture if it doesn't have depth & doesn't exist in time. That sort of objection out of the way, I love such speculation b/c it's not afraid to reverse typical mindsets, to think outside the box, & GX obviously revels in such processes.
There was much in this little bk to attract the attn of my thoughts: "Something they called "Interspatial Meteorology"": The term "interspatiality" is reputed to've been coined by architect Jill Watson about which she is credited as having said "The identity of a space is constructed from a reading of the other spaces represented within it.". My 1st collaboration w/ Michael Pestel was called "Interspatiality" & my movie of that is here: https://youtu.be/K5nsRUM90Bg .
Starting on p 24 there's a count-up interspersed throughout the bk in italics. The 1st one reads: "One second after midnight." If these are to place elements of the narrative in a chronology then things wd be moving very fast b/c 122 pp later only another 235 seconds wd've elapsed: "Two hundred and thirty-six seconds after midnight." (p 146)
"On his way to Yuhec Siz, Bartholomew met a fellow passenger, a genetic engineer. From the fresh little crater at the crown of his head, Bartholomew could tell that this genetic engineer had just been trepanned. As alien to each other as they were, the civilizations of the galaxy still had one thing in common. And that was trepanning. Everyone everywhere, for one reason or another, drilled into the cranium to expose the brain's membrane." - p 30
Jupitter-Larsen loves to invert society-as-we-now-'know'-it. Trepanning, obviously, is a practice rare in our day & age - perhaps most famously & publicly revived by artist Amanda Feilding in London in the 1970s: http://www.todayifoundout.com/index.p... .
"Bartholomew just stood there, in the three-piece suit he always travelled in. He had a matching wrestling mask. He never took it off. He couldn't, it had become his face." - p 31
Such an outfit being one that GX & friends use in performance. Jupitter-Larsen is apparently into S&M w/ himself as the sadist & women as the masochists. I found a philosophical; statement potentially leading up to this interesting:
"No grizzlie shrugs here. Ao sir weee! If life can be compared to an amusement park, a major difference between males and females is that men want to ride the roller coaster while women want to be the roller coaster. Men want to have fun, while women want to be fun. Men want to have a life. Women want to be life." - p 32
& the next thing ya know:
"Craig gulped as she came closer. The girl bent over him with a seductive smile. She made a little purring sound like a cat. Just like a cat!
"Her moans were grinding against his utricle. Her bow-shaped lips approached his, when suddenly, he slapped her across the face. The sound of one hand clapping. Abruptly cutting another spin across a good number of dippings and swirlings, he almost instantly vanished after swiftly beating her within a moment of her snatch. The girl, at first shocked, looked at him wide-eyed and then nodded agreeably. She got down on all fours, sruck out her tongue and licked the boots on his feet clear.
"He would soon be attaching mouse-traps to each of her tits. Then he would attach mouse-traps to her pussy. He bound her flat on a table, and held burning candles over her body. The red hot wax dripped over her snared misshapen breast. He moved the candles over her face, slowly forming a gag over her mouth by allowing layers of wax to glaze her lips. She was biting down on her lips hard, trying to keep the wax out of her mouth. She was having the time of her life." - p 36
That's not for everybody but, HEY!, what is? As long as it's consensual. Personally, I'd rather just fuck a woman who's as naked & free to move as I am & come inside her.
"Inside one nearby little space-wreck, this guy was jerking off in his girlfriend's face. With every impact of semen on her face, he'd make an explosion-like sound effect with his drool-filled mouth. Bubbles lathered in the ruin. She just sat there, daydreaming of electro magnetism. All the while he was pondering the wide open sky. Accidents. It's what gave life meaning." - p 30
Having that paragraph on page 30 wasn't enuf so GX repeats it verbatim on pages 39 & 49. You see? I was paying attn.
"The genetic engineer and he couldn't speak each other's language, but during a conversation the two would understand the meanings of each other's politeness and sincerity." - p 30
& what sex was the genetic engineer? If any?
"The genetic engineer told him: "Free will is the predictability of one's personality. Hey! If I didn't want kids when I was one, why would I want them now as an adult?" - p 39
& then we're back to philosophy again:
"From out of change there is potential. If I designate a selected specialty as a 'that', and he terms it as a 'this'; it is really neither 'that not this', but rather 'this as well as that'. Which is which? neither and both; both and neither? It is, in fact, always both 'this and that' regardless what anyone may, or may not, call it. All answers are equally correct. However an answer will not always be workable. What makes an answer workable, or not, is the context it is enacted within." - p 44
By p 48 the 'noise' is back in aperiodic doses:
"Shattering air rotated between his body and the inner walls of the cabin. he could feel the pieces tear. Zoeflyogejofdufodbookods disfiwywjidibifikihouyjihed every wresarsycijohygiyn edridyudbooger and dehigeudugfuifnoobist on Zydiughonbohokhiujdogfosofia. Qurewtoofoodoofooboods were dydyhydidhudlly fakgohaaohjable!!!" - pp 48-49
Sometimes, the hard-to-pronounce strings transform a bit into more undefined neologisms/nonsense: "Post-neo-noticentinibaicheritransposeflectivammongarletciergraphy instead of classical tans-notocientinibaicheritransposeflectivammongarletciergraphy is gigglamorous to the supreme-maximum. Totalitarridopaste only ever boils if the tension is equal to the root of the perforation." (p 60) Instead of encryption being potentially implied, definitions are hinted at by having parts like this: "Post-neo-notice" & "transpose" & "Total" inside the strings.
This is a work of the imagination & GX is unrestrained. He even use alliteration when it fits his fancy: "An accident is always an announcement for avuncular aversion antiquating an azimuth anointing avatars; although any adaptation adamantly adjusting an allowance for alternatives will on no account apply." (p 62)
The parts about dinosaurs were some of my favorites:
"Whatever happened, the Dinosaur's complete language was a single syllable being spoken with the 120,000 inflections that only a Dinosaur's ear could distinguish." - p 52
"And what did The Dinosaurs talk about in their broadcasts? Not counting sand. Nor the weather. No, theirs was a sound poetry about perplexities that trudge angles for hedges." - p 53
Near the end, 3 different characters who may be the same person, it really doesn't seem to matter much, travel thru the desert on a motorcycle or a copper plate. This, as w/ many things in Sometimes Never, is inter-related to another work of Jupitter-Larsen's, a movie entitled "Facts on the Polywave", again available on the Cinema Noise DVD.
As I've already written, much of what happens here also happens in some variation or another in other of GX's works. As I wrote in my review of Raw Zed & the Condor: "At one point it's Raw Zed who's rocked to sleep by an earthquake, at the 2/3rds point it's Eduardc. I mentally pronounce this latter name as "Eduard C" but I initially read it as "Eduardo" w/ the right curve of the "o" cut off. I reckon that this was d liberate on Jupitter-Larsen's part. & there are many oddities of spelling, etc, in this bk." Spelling oddities, esp using homophones, abound here. One can suspect GX of not being able to spell or one can give him credit for doing it d liberately. I choose the latter. There's also an exchangeability of characters & a character named "Eduardc".
GX uses puns, people who don't get the joke might think he's made a spelling error:
"There's no mystery because everything moves as a polywave. All hypothesizes fit.
"At all, nothingness doesn't. Nothingness does not move at all.
"All tunnels lead to the same point because they all point to different spots. All tunnels lead too.
"Yet another abandoned subway, blacken with dripping grime.
"Because everything moves as a polywave, all hypothesizes fit. There's no mystery." - p 72
A humorless person might not realize that "all hypothesizes fit" is a pun off of "one size fits all", a common expression in relation to clothing so designed. An Ignorati will pompously 'correct' GX & condescendingly explain that the spelling is "hypotheses". This kind of shit happens to me all the time. ...more
Notes are private!
Aug 28, 2015
Aug 29, 2015
Mar 19, 2015
Mar 20, 2015
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 kno 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 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.
At the end of my review of Wren's Revenge Fantasies ( https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/8... ) I wrote:
"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
"" 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.
for the entire review go here: https://www.goodreads.com/story/show/... ...more
Notes are private!
Apr 20, 2015
Apr 21, 2015
May 14, 2013
Adolfo Bioy Casares & Silvina Ocampo's Where There's Love, There's Hate
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - January 7, 2015
2 friends of min 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 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
Notes are private!
Jan 03, 2015
Jan 07, 2015
Mar 27, 2012
Manuel Vázquez Montalbán's The Buenos Aires Quintet
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - November 25-28, 2014
I think this is one of my best bk r review of
Manuel Vázquez Montalbán's The Buenos Aires Quintet
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - November 25-28, 2014
I think this is one of my best bk reviews. To some, it might seem excessively rambling, to me, it's scholarly. It's also "too long" for here by a long shot so interested readers must read it here: https://www.goodreads.com/story/show/...
I acquired this bk b/c the back cover's description of it begins w/ this paragraph:
"The Argentine army's "Dirty War" disappeared 30,000 people, and the last thing Pepe Carvalho wants is to investigate one of the vanished, even if that missing person is his cousin, But blood proves thicker than a fine Mondoza Cabernet Sauvignon, even for a jaded gourmand like Pepe, and so at his family's request he leaves Barcelona for Buenos Aires."
I subscribed to a magazine called "CounterSpy" in 1980 & to another magazine called "CovertAction Information Bulletin" from 1980 to 1982. Both magazines published exposés of CIA connections to oppressive regimes the world over. I remember seeing an/the editor of CounterSpy on a TV talk show defending himself for the magazine's disclosure of CIAgents info. Wikipedia states that "the 1975 murder of Richard S. Welch, the CIA Station Chief in Greece, by Revolutionary Organization 17 November was blamed by some on disclosures in magazines such as CounterSpy." ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CounterS... ) CounterSpy's position was that the info they disclosed was already public knowledge & that, of course, such disclosures served positive political purposes by providing resistance to CIA covert operations.
However, it was CovertAction that really impressed me. Around 1981, I was reading its investigations into the military junta's death & torture squads in Argentina. Datings vary substantially, but for simplicity's sake, the main era of state-sponsored terrorism took place from 1976 to 1983 w/ estimates of victims varying. For the purposes of this review, 30,000 leftists were disappeared by the military during this time. CovertAction Information Bulletin (later called CovertAction Quarterly from 1992 'til its unfortunate demise in 2005) gave extremely detailed info about the tortures & murders committed by the military during this time. I found the explicitness of the terror almost unbearable to even read about.
According to Wikipedia, in 1985 "The government of Raúl Alfonsín began to develop cases against offenders. It organised a tribunal to conduct prosecution of offenders, and in 1985 the Trial of the Juntas was held. The top military officers of all the juntas were among the nearly 300 people prosecuted, and the top men were all convicted and sentenced for their crimes. This is the only Latin American example of the government conducting such trials. Threatening another coup, the military opposed subjecting more of its personnel to such trials and forced through passage of Ley de Punto Final in 1986, which "put a line" under previous actions and ended prosecutions for crimes under the dictatorship. Fearing military uprisings against them, Argentina’s first two presidents inflicted punishment only to top Dirty War ex-commanders, and even then, very conservatively. Despite President Raúl Alfonsín’s 1983 establishment of CONADEP, a commission to investigate the atrocities of the Dirty War, in 1986 the Ley de Punto Final (Full Stop Law) provided amnesty to Dirty War acts, stating that torturers were doing their “jobs"." ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dirty_War )
One of the torturers outed in CovertAction was nicknamed the "Blond Angel". Even the usually more mainstream People magazine, in their June 17, 1982, issue stated that: "After recapturing South Georgia Island, in the first step toward regaining the Falklands, British naval officers invited the defeated Argentine commander to dine aboard their warship. The prisoner, a charming, cultivated officer who spoke perfect English, identified himself as Captain Alfredo Astiz, 32. Sharing their wardroom aboard the warship while it steamed north to Ascension Island to drop off the captives, Astiz seemed to share the genteel values of his hosts. But when stories and photographs appeared in European newspapers of the stubble-bearded captain signing surrender documents, he was recognized as a man with an evil past. According to onetime political prisoners who have fled Argentina, the well-mannered captain was once the leader of an Argentine security squad which specialized in kidnapping, torture and murder. Says exiled Argentine dissident Jacobo Timerman bitterly: "Astiz was one of the worst."" ( http://www.people.com/people/archive/... )
Despite this capture, it wasn't until 1998, 16 yrs later that he was ousted from the military:
"He was discharged from the military in 1998 after defending his actions in a press interview.
"He was a member of GT 3.3.2 (Task Force 3.3.2) based in the Naval Mechanics School (ESMA) in Buenos Aires during the Dirty War of 1976-1983. The school was adapted as a secret detention and torture center for political prisoners. As many as 5,000 political prisoners were interrogated, tortured and murdered in the ESMA during those years. GT3.3.2 was involved in some of the 8,961 deaths and other crimes documented by a national commission after the restoration of democratic government in Argentina in 1983." ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alfredo_... )
The "Captain" of The Buenos Aires Quintet conducted his tortures at a Naval School: "[']We used to live in anonymous military installations that could not be identified from outside.[']" [..] "[']I never asked him about anything that I sensed was happening in the Navy Engineering School and all those other places. He told me that within twenty-four hours we had to move to an address that we could not give out even to our closest family.[']" (p 349)
I've heard from a skinhead ARA (Anti-Racist Action) friend of mine who's lived in Argentina that Astiz was recognized in an Argentina disco, probably in the early 2000s, & severely beaten. But is that enuf?! He's still alive .
"Astiz was arrested by Argentine police in July 2001. The Pardon Laws did not cover baby theft. Italy was seeking extradition of Astiz for the kidnapping and torture of three Italian nationals in 1976 and 1977, and for the theft of a baby daughter born to one of them: Angela Maria Aieta in 1976, and the kidnapping of Giovanni Pegoraro and his pregnant daughter Susana Pegoraro in 1977. It is believed that Susana gave birth in prison before her death, and Astiz arranged for her baby to be given for illegal adoption to an Argentine military family. Argentine newspapers reported at the time of Astiz's arrest that the alleged daughter was living in the port city of Mar del Plata. Astiz was not extradited." - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alfredo_...
"In 2005, Astiz was detained on charges of kidnapping and torture, centered on the 12 victims of December 1977." - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alfredo_...
As of December 20, 2008:
"Argentinean legal authorities cancelled the controversial release of Alfredo Astiz, known as the "Blond Angel of Death," only hours after the government appealed against the court decision to free him.
"AFP - Argentine legal authorities suspended a decision to release Alfredo Astiz, known as the "Blond Angel of Death" for a series of murders during the 1976-1983 military dictatorship, a day after a court ordered him freed, the official news agency Telam reported Friday.
"The announcement came barely two hours after the government said it would appeal the controversial decision to release Astiz -- accused of involvement in the disappearance of two French nuns, a Swedish adolescent and scores of political dissidents during the dictatorship's fight against leftist insurgents.
"Astiz and other former military officers are scheduled for a hearing, but a court on Thursday ordered him released, along with another accused jailer and torturer, Jorge Acosta alias "The Tiger," on the grounds they had been detained for two years without being formally charged." - http://www.france24.com/en/20081219-r...
Finally, "Astiz and 17 other defendants associated with the operations at ESMA were "charged with various cases of kidnapping, torture, and murder relating to 86 victims." Following a 22-month trial, on October 27, 2011, Alfredo Astiz was convicted by an Argentinian court and sentenced to life imprisonment for crimes against humanity committed during the Dirty War." - ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alfredo_... )
For me, Astiz & the too-many-others-like-him represent the ultimate nightmare of what legal society can actually endorse. While someone like Charlie Manson is in jail for life for murders he didn't even commit, people such as Lieutenant Calley (infamous mass murderer at Mai Lai) & the Blond Angel can commit crimes far, far more heinous entirely with government blessing & live relatively unmolested lives afterwards even though their crimes are public! Keep in mind that Reinhard Heydrich was the head of Interpol (the International Police) at the same time that he was responsible for the so-called "Final Solution" that resulted in the genocide of millions of people. But Charlie Manson's a 'dirty hippie' - not one of those clean-cut men in uniform.
Hence, I was very curious, indeed, to see how Montalbán wd treat such a delicate & horrifying subject as the Argentinian "Dirty War" w/in the genre of a detective novel. It wd seem that Montalbán has some relevant qualifications according to the brief bio opposite the title p: "Born in Barcelona in 1939, MANUEL VASQUEZ MONTALBAN (1939-2003) was a member of Partit Socialista Unificat de Catalunya (PSUC), and was jailed by the Franco government for four years for supporting a miners' strike." Hence, if Montalbán had been in Argentina at the time of the Dirty War he might very well've been kidnapped, tortured, & murdered for being a Socialist.
Most, if not all, detective novels contrast the private investigator with the police, usually to the police's detriment. Cops are presented as stupid, narrow-minded & inflexible while PIs are more daring, more tolerant, more imaginative, & have more of a sense of humor. Whether this distinction has ever existed in real life I tend to doubt. It seems to me that detectives are overly romanticized. Montalbán approaches this in an interesting way:
"[']You're the only one who can find him. You know how to: you're a cop, aren't you?'
"'A private detective.'
"'Isn't it the same thing?'
"'The cops guarantee order. All I do is uncover disorder.'" - p 2
But what type of order is guaranteed?
"Above all, Barcelona after the Olympics, open to the sea, scored with expressways, the Barrio Chino being pulled down with indecent haste, the aeroplanes of political correctness circling the city, spraying it to kill off its bacteria, its historic viruses, its social struggles, its lumpen, a city without armpits, a city turned into a theater in which to stage the farce of modernity." - p 6
As I wrote in my RATicle entitled "Geoff Roach & Dennis Roddy - Dilemma for democracy!" (Street Ratbag #6, September, 2002):
"A few months before the Olympics were to take place in Australia, Melbourne columnist Geoff Roach wrote:
""Let's say you are in charge of security for the Sydney Olympics, perish the thought. What would you want done with that cretinous pest Peter Hore?
""Lots of things, we're sure, including at the very least placing the idiot in some sort of detention facility for the period immediately before, during and after the Games. Anywhere, in fact, where he would be totally unable to inflict his obnoxious presence on proceedings. Such a prospect is, of course. unthinkable in our civilized society, though in scores of other countries, many of whom preach the loudest about human rights while practicing something entirely contrary, it would be done as a matter of course."
"Hhmmm... That's food for thought, isn't it? It's suggested that Hore, a person known for grabbing media attention by intruding into large public events, be put into preventative detention or worse. Well, there're alotof large public events. How often might it be 'necessary' to do this to him? And would he have any say in the matter?
"Roach qualifies this by writing that such a step is "unthinkable in our (ie: Australian) civilized society" but, nonetheless, he's put the proposal out there hasn't he? As for the "scores of other countries" where such a practice wouldn't be "unthinkable", would Spain during the Fascist Franco dictatorship have been one of them?
"That brings us to an interesting connection. Juan Antonio Samaranch, President of the International Olympic Committee, the highest ruling body of the Olympics, for 21 years from 1980 to 2001, was ALSO the government secretary, under Franco, in charge of sports. The Olympics have always been popular with oppressive regimes.
"It's not exactly coincidental that Leni Riefenstahl's 1934 magnum opus "Triumph of the Will", a major propaganda film for the nazis, was followed by her 1936 'hit' "Olympia" (about the Olympics, of course).
"It's also not coincidental that the brilliant author Georges Perec, both of whose parents were killed when he was a child by the nazis, places his novel "W or the Memory of Childhood" partially in a mythical island off Tierra del Fuego governed by the thrall of the Olympic 'ideal,' where losers are tortured and winners held in temporary idolatry," as the book-jacket blurb describes it.
"The 1st people the nazis killed en masse were the so-called 'insane'. Having met Peter Hore & videotaped him, I think he could be pigeonholed as 'schizophrenic'. I quite liked him. The nazis would've certainly had no problem killing him or putting him into preventative detention to protect the Olympian 'ideal' from his 'degeneracy'. No thanks. Personally, I'd rather say "bye-byes" to the Olympics instead." - pp 158-159
It's the same old story at every Olympics or other international gathering of the rich & powerful: get rid of anything the tourists might see that might tarnish an image of 'perfection' that not everyone believes in or wishes to support or be forced to participate in. The "Barrio Chino" of Barcelona might've been a slum but cdn't the 'city fathers' have spent the money used to tear it down to improve the quality-of-life there instead & lived up to a standard of social 'perfection' more humane than anything the Olympics are likely to ever represent?! I think Olympic athletes are potentially admirable - but I think they're most admirable when they raise their fists in solidarity w/ black American struggles against racism & oppression. If Peter Hore is a thorn in the side of false images of community-contentedness then so be it. Thank you Peter.
This bk was published in the original Spanish in 1997. It appears to've been written as if the action is taking place in that time period - a yr before The Blond Angel of Death was dismissed from the military (but otherwise still unscathed) for publicly defending his role as a kidnapper, torturer & murderer.
"'It all happened twenty years ago. We were already one year into the military government and what had at first seemed like just another routine coup had clearly turned into a "dirty war". We heard news of all the atrocities being committed. Torture. Disappearances. I wasn't really involved, but my wife, my sister-in-law, Raúl and Roberto decided to draw up a detailed report on mental and physical resistance to pain and brutality. They had been working on it for years. They knew everything about pain in rats so they drew up a comprehensive list of situations. They looked at every possible variable that could help resist interrogation.[']" - p 67
The Blond Angel was, no doubt, upholding an 'ideal of perfection' - just like the Olympics do - it just happened to be an ideal that justified the cruelest of crimes against people whose idea of 'perfection' was much different than what he believed in. ...more
Notes are private!
Nov 24, 2014
Nov 28, 2014
Feb 07, 2012
William Gaddis's The Recognitions
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE
Dear fellow reviewer, if you reviewed this in 20,000 charcters or less, I'm review of
William Gaddis's The Recognitions
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE
Dear fellow reviewer, if you reviewed this in 20,000 charcters or less, I'm not sure I trust you. I didn't, so read my full review here: https://www.goodreads.com/story/show/...
I'd at least skimmed 1 or more review(s) of Gaddis on GoodReads. I'd read that he'd been lambasted by the original critics. Did I read that someone even wrote an entire bk in Gaddis's defense?!
I was expecting this to be brilliant. I was expecting it to be difficult. I was expecting it to be experimental. What I WASN'T EXPECTING is what it was: viz: a total success at what most people (I reckon) expect novels to be: viz: an engaging tale, richly described, w/ interesting characters who're exceptionally well-developed: w/ great dialog, wonderful description, & a thoroughly exciting plot that takes the reader to multiple locations in the 'western' world. So what exactly was the fucking problem w/ the original critics?! Really?!!
William H. Gass has this to say in his introduction:
"Many think that it is reviewing which needs to be reformed, but I believe the culprit is the species, which surrounds itself with lies, and calls the lies culture, the way squirrels build their nests of dead twigs and fallen leaves, then hide inside. In any case, as the German philosopher Lichtenberg observed, when reader's brow and book collide, it isn't always the book that is lacking brains." - p viii
Ok, it's long. But the average attn span in the mid 1950s when it was originally published hadn't been eroded by television yet. Ok, many of the characters are flamboyantly perverse. In that respect, this cd even be sd to be contemporaneous w/ OR, pause for effect, slightly ahead of William S. Burroughs. Gaddis's acerbic humor rivals just about anybody. & he sure as fuck is erudite.
& then there's always what I call "Stereotype Projecting", possibly my biggest nemesis in life. People have limited experience, they encounter something outside that experience, unable to cope & unwilling to take the 'risk' of bothering to try to perceive the encounter freshly, they pigeon-hole it in a panic - in a defensive (& harmful) reflex, they put it in the category of 'the enemy' & leave it there. Just to be safe, just in case. Ergo: new information not assimilated, new information slotted into utterly irrelevant projected stereotype instead. Gass has this to say:
"Interpretation replaces the original with the lamest sort of substitute. It tames, disarms. "Okay, I get it," we say, dusting our hands, "and that takes care of that." "At last I understand Kafka" is a foolish and conceited remark." - p xi
If Gaddis has a central target (& he probably doesn't) it might be ignorance. Gaddis, quite reasonably from my POV, knows alot & sees no good reason why others shdn't too. Some of his characters do, some don't. In the end, they all seem to crack. Perhaps Gaddis has a different central target: the absolute unworkability of it all, of humanity's path(s). & THEN THERE ARE THE WORDS (bless 'em!):
"though some fainaiguing had been necessary at Italian customs" - p 25
"fainaiguing"? According to Wiktionary, it's the "Present participle of fainaigue" wch is an "Unknown Britishism, of uncertain origin" - "Maybe from fain, homonym of feign (“to pretend”) and ague (“acute illness”) or cognate French aigüe (as in maladie aiguë, “acute illness”) – literally “to act sick”", "To evade work or shirk responsibility" - "Derived terms": "fainaiguer", "finagle". If I were to use the word in conversation, I can all too easily imagine the person far-more-illiterate-than-I immediately 'correcting' me w/ "finagle".
Gaddis definitely takes the long view, this is epic - but it's not one of those epics where we just slog thru the family tree, it's epic as if we're living it, not being subjected to a fleshed-out genealogy. We start w/ Reverend Gwyon as the main character & he's as fascinating a one as I've ever read-tell-of:
"Reverend Gwyon took all this in a dim view. As his son lay dying of a disease about which the doctors obviously knew nothing, injecting him with another plague simply because they had it on familiar terms could only be an achievement of a highly calculated level of insanity. Wyatt's arms swelled at each point of injection. The doctors nodded, in conclave, indicating that science had foreseen, even planned, this distraction. From among them came Doctor Fell with a scalpel in his hand and a gleam in his eye seldom permitted at large in civilized society" - p 42
Ah, medicine.. Medicine as "another plague" [..] "on familiar terms". The dr I choose to go to on my rare visits agrees w/ me that "less is more", to quote her. I've only taken antibiotics on a very few occasions - hence my immune system is robust. Then again, I destroy myself w/ bad food & excess alcohol use. & I probably won't live as long as people who take medicines from here to eternity. Oh, well, I'm as unworkable as Gaddis's characters. Gwyon solves his son's health problem in a most unusual way.
Gaddis does have some of his characters be as erudite as their author - probably to serve as a vehicle for himself. Is there self-parody at work? Gwyon's sermons are a tad controversial, he seems to make his congregation a bit uneasy. "It did not seem quite necessary, for instance, to note that Moses had been accused of witchcraft in the Koran; that the hundred thousand converts to Christianity in the first two or three centuries in Rome were "slaves and disreputable people," that in a town on the Nile there were ten thousand "shaggy monks" and twice that number of "god-dedicated virgins"; that Charlemagne mass-baptized Saxons by driving them through a river being blessed upstream by his bishops, while Saint Olaf made his subjects choose between baptism and death. No soberly tolerated feast day came round, but that Reverend Gwyon managed to herald its grim observation by allusion to some pagan ceremony which sounded uncomfortably like having a good time. Still the gray faces kept peace, precarious though it might be. They had never been treated this way from the pulpit. True, many stirred with indignant discomfort after listening to the familiar story of virgin birth on December twenty-fifth, mutilation and resurrection, to find they had been attending, not Christ, but Bacchus, Osiris, Krishna, Buddha, Adonis, Marduk, Balder, Attis, Amphion, or Quetzalcoatl," (p 56) Interested readers are directed to Brian Flemming's 2005 documentary "The God Who Wasn't There".
Gaddis often lets the readers know things only if they already know something else. "Anyone could have seen it was transition she was reading, if any had looked. None did." The place? Paris. The yr? Probably sometime between 1927 & 1932, maybe as late as 1938, maybe even later if the issue being read wasn't hot off the presses. "She was drinking a bilious-colored liquid": Pernod, perhaps? Her interests? Contemporary avant-garde culture, James Joyce's "Work in Progress" (later to be known as Finnegans Wake). Even tho she's only presented as speaking Français, the reader knows that she speaks English if the reader already knows that transition was an English-language journal. For me, that's one of the greatnesses of Gaddis's writing - instead of spelling everything out, every step of the way, he puts the reader in the position of coming in mid-stream w/ whatever swimming agilities they have & lets them experience the whirlpool more for what it is:
"Otto stood, examining his fingernails. Then he looked at his watch, and music burst upon him. —What is it? he asked, approaching the door of the studio.
"—This? Something of Handel's, an oratorio Judas Maccabaeus.
"—Oh. It's . . . it's splendid isn't it, Otto went on, unable to show his appreciation by listening. —Lo the conqueror comes, sang the bass.
"—It always seems too bad when they have to translate these things. I mean, it must sound much more impressive in the original.
"—I mean . . . in German, he said" - p 136
Now, the original is in English but Otto's bluffing, he's trying to say something learn-ed [sic]. If Gaddis had had Wyatt (who Otto's talking w/) correct Otto & if such a correction were to be made by all of the characters every time such a mistake is made then all of the characters wd become homogenized. Instead, Gaddis just has Wyatt disgusted. Many people's lives & livelihoods revolve around Wyatt while he still remains, in many respects, socially dysfunctional. Esther, Wyatt's wife, & Otto are en route to a party & Esther hands Otto a scrap of paper w/ the party's address on it:
"—No. The other side. God knows what that is, something of his.
"—The equation of x [to the power of n] plus y [to the power of n] has no nontrivial solution in integers for n greater than 2." - p 136
At 1st, I thought this was a different way of expressing Fermat's Last Theorem ("In number theory, Fermat's Last Theorem (sometimes called Fermat's conjecture, especially in older texts) states that no three positive integers a, b, and c can satisfy the equation an + bn = cn for any integer value of n greater than two." - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fermat... ) wch took 358 yrs for mathematicians to prove. "God knows what that is, something of his" becomes emblematic of Wyatt's isolation from those around him. But I don't really know - & this "not knowing" is what surrounds Wyatt as he becomes more & more introverted & detached from other people.
Then again, maybe I DO know what I'm talking about after all b/c on p 361:
"Now damn it talk to me, let's get all this straight. What's on your mind?
"—The equation of x to the power of n plus y to the power of n has no nontrivial solution in integers for n greater than two.
"—That is Fermat's last theorem."
Notice that "136" & "361" are anagrams of each other. Coincidence?
Wyatt leaves Esther, drifts away, basically, & Otto becomes her lover. Gaddis's depiction of the difference between the 2 is subtle:
"Later, he called from the bathroom, —This handkerchief drying on the mirror, can I take it off and fold it up? It's dry . . . Esther? did you hear me? This handkerchief . . . ?
"—Yes yes, she cried out, suddenly, then caught her voice and controlled it. —Yes, take it down. She picked up Otto's jacket from the couch and went toward the bathroom where she heard the sound of the electric razor.
"—It's all right if I use this isn't it?
"—Why yes. Yes, of course. I'm glad you're using it.
"—There's a straight razor here, he said turning to her where she stood in the doorway with his jacket, the machine whirring in his hand, —but I don't think I could manage it." - p 148
Cf that to this interaction between Esther & Wyatt on p 90:
"—Wyatt, something awful's happened. Where are you? Then she almost screamed, seeing him standing in the door of the studio with blood all over one side of his face and his neck. —What happened?
"—What is it? he asked. —What awful thing?
"—What's happened to you? she cried running up to him.
"—What? He stood there with a straight razor opened in his hand.
"—What are you doing?
"—Shaving . . .
"—Did you do that . . . shaving? What are you doing in there, shaving.
"—Oh, he said running his fingertips over his chin, and looking at the blood on them. —It's a mess, I'm sorry Esther. The mirror, I was using this mirror in here, you have the one in the bathroom covered . . .
"—Covered! she burst out impatiently, twisting the letter in her hand.
"—It has a cloth over it, I thought for some reason you might . . .
"—It's a handkerchief drying, why didn't you just pull it off."
The reader has to remember 2 somewhat minor incidents 58pp apart in order to appreciate this. Indeed, Gaddis tries the memory of even the most ardent reader. A character's name isn't necessarily given in a scene & the reader must remember the character being referred to by name in previous scenes from way-back-when to have a fuller idea of what's going on:
"She hardly spoke, except when he spoke to her and even then, only if he addressed a question, which she would answer very slowly, deliberate and brief. Though once she had burst out with, —Then do Pilgrims need a pass-port too? Or I shall wear a cockleshell, and he will know me and he will know me well . . . Which disarmed Stanley: what could she know of Santiago de Compostela? or when with the same light about to break in her eyes, waiting only his confirmation, she had asked whether it were true, Did the mice eat Saint Gertrude's heart? —For she is a patron saint of them . . ." - p 766
In this case, the lack of solidity of the character, the link to a prior scene at a mental hospital, Stanley's following fate, all add together to make the reader question whether the character 'even exists'.
&, well, let's hope that scenes like the following will be obvious to them by the time you get to them or you might just be hopelessly lost:
"—We even got held up by a highwayman, her husband confirmed.
"—It was on a train.
"—You still call it a highwayman anyway, her husband said patiently, smiling his cheery smile. —And he even talked English.
"—It was broken English. And what do you think he told us? That we're as much to blame, because we're there, that the victim abets the violence just by being there, he said, and he even made a quotation to prove it.
"—From Dante he told us. He took all our money, at gun-point.
"—Every peseeta we had on us.
"—But he didn't take the cameras, the fat man said. —I guess he didn't know how much they were worth.
"—He said he ought to do us a favor and throw them out the window, can you imagine? My . . . don't they keep it cold here, she shivered.
"Her husband got out his billfold and found a scrap of paper. —Here's a souvenir of it. He made me write it down so I'd remember to get this book and read it. Transcendent Speculations on Apparent Design in the Fate of the Individual, that's a mouthful isn't it. I wrote this down at gun-point." - p 881
Or how about this?: "—He says they even get food packages from America, like there was this Protestant minister who came here on a visit about thirty years ago and he always sends them these packages of food." - 884 IE: Wyatt's dad Reverend Gwyon.
It's so much fun to write these reviews & to rearrange the order of the author's meticulously worked-out sequence into my own:
"—Why do they get excited about the ruins in Rome here, Berlin is just as good now.
"—You can always see an ancient city better when it's been bombed." - pp 909-910
"They were going to drive up in some nameless person's new Renault, and they were somewhere in the Fremola valley, when it didn't go right, so they opened the hood to look at the engine, and there was nothing in there but an old tire, they must just have dropped the engine right out. So they just left it there, it was the only thing they could do. In the Saint Gotthard Pass, it was the only thing they could do." - pp 941-942
Uh, did they think to check if the engine was in the back?
While Gaddis certainly gets his digs in at the Ugly 'Merican, he spares no-one, including the French: "Over this grandstand disposal of promise the waiters stared with a distance of glazed indulgence which all collected under it admired, as they admired the rudeness, which they called self-respect; the contempt, which they called innate dignity; the avarice, which they called self-reliance; the tasteless ill-made clothes on the men, lauded as indifference, and the far-spaced posturings of haute couture across the Seine, called inimitable or shik according to one's stay." (p 64) "But on most hands the French were still being taken at their own evaluation. They were still regarded as the most sensitive connoisseurs of alcohol. Barbaric Americans, the barbaric English, drank to get drunk; but the French, with cultivated tastes and civilized sensibilities, drank down six billion bottles of wine this year merely to reward their refined palates: so refined, that a vast government subsidy, and a lobby capable of overthrowing cabinets, guaranteed one drink-shop for every ninety inhabitants; so cultivated, that ten per cent of the family budget went on it, the taste initiated before a child could walk, and death at nineteen months of D.T.s (cockeyed on Pernod) incidental; so civilized, that one of every twenty-five dead Frenchmen had made the last leap through alcoholism." (p 943)
Corruption & derangement; encyclopedic knowledge & talent - these factors combine to take Gaddis's characters on a roller coaster ride w/ no safety measures, w/o, even, a roller coaster:
"And the shadow he cast behind him as he turned away fell back seven centuries, to embrace the dissolute youth of Raymond Lully, and infatuation with the beautiful Ambrosia de Castello, which she discouraged; and if she seemed to succumb at last, offering to bare her breasts in return for a poem he had written to their glory, it was to show him, as he approached in that rapture of which only flesh is capable, a bosom eaten away by cancer; he turned away to his conversion, to his death years later stoned in North Africa, and in his celebration as a scholar, a poet, a missionary, a mystic, and one of the foremost figures in the history of alchemy." - p 77 ...more
Notes are private!
May 25, 2014
May 29, 2014
John Polidori's The Vampyre and Other Tales of the Macabre
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - January 15, 2014
When am I ever going to start wr review of
John Polidori's The Vampyre and Other Tales of the Macabre
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - January 15, 2014
When am I ever going to start writing those superficial capsule reviews again?! This one's "too long", see the full thing here: https://www.goodreads.com/story/show/...
The 1st time I remember running across mention of Polidori & his story "The Vampyre" was probably in Ken Russell's 1986 film Gothic. I had a brief phase of reading Gothic lit 40 yrs or so ago when I learned about it thru reading that the Surrealists liked it. As I recall, Polidori is depicted somewhat unsympathetically as an hysterical weak character who attempts suicide. He did, eventually, actually commit suicide.
Gothic luridly depicts the summer of 1816 when the poets Lord Byron & Percy Bysshe Shelley + Byron's physician Polodori + Jane 'Claire' Clairmont & her writer step-sister Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin (better known after marriage to Shelley as Mary Shelley) "amused themselves rather strenuously by reading some German ghost stories and [..] then challeng[ing] each other to compose similar tales of supernatural terror." [..] "Polidori began his only novel, Ernestus Berchtold; or, The Modern Oedipus (1819), and Mary Godwin [..] embarked upon the composition of Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus". (p ix of the Introduction to The Vampyre and Other Tales of the Macabre)
"Gothic tales and fragments began appearing in the magazines shortly after the publication of Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto in 1764, and were common after 1790, when the craze for the Gothic in Britain reached its height." - p xv
This collection interests me for several reasons, not restricted to the reading of the Polidori story rounding out my knowledge of Gothic lit somewhat. For one thing, 3 of the tales presented were originally presented as having been written by "Anonymous" & still credited to such in this volume. For another thing: "These fictional possibilities of claustrophobia were exploited to the full in William Mudford's Blackwood's tale 'The Iron Shroud' (1830), in which a prisoner discovers his metallic cell is gradually shrinking and will thus certainly crush him to death. It was upon the basis of these works that Edgar Allan Poe soon developed the hysterical intensity of his most memorable stories, notably 'The Pit and the Pendulum' (1843), which is indebted directly to Mudford's tale." (pp xvi-xvii)
"The Iron Shroud" is not one of the stories herein collected but Charles Lever's "Post-Mortem Recollections of a Medical Lecturer" (1836) cd also be sd to've been a predecessor to Poe's "The Premature Burial" (1844). & in the introductory footnote to Edward Bulwer's "Mono and Daimonos"  it's stated that: "In an 1835 letter to the editor of the Southern Literary Messenger, Poe listed 'Monos and Daimonos' as one of those tales that was 'invariably' popular with readers because it displayed 'the ludicrous heightened into the grotesque: the fearful coloured into the horrible: the witty exaggerated into the burlesque: the singular wrought out into the strange and mystical'. A year later Poe cited 'Monos and Daimonos' to support his claim that, in Bulwer's writings, 'all is richly and glowingly intellectual—all is energetic, or astute, or brilliant, or profound'. Poe's 'Silence—A Fable' (1838) is heavily indebted to 'Monos and Daimonos', to the point where, as Mabbot points out, some sentences are taken 'almost verbatim'." (p 262)
I don't think that I share Poe's appreciation of the story. Here're a few samples:
"My father died when I was eighteen; I was transferred to my uncle's protection, and I repaired to London. I arrived there, gaunt and stern, a giant in limbs and strength, and to the tastes of those about me, a savage in bearing and in mood. They would have laughed, but I awed them; they would have altered me, but I changed them; I threw a damp over their enjoyment and a cloud over their meetings. Though I said little, though I sat with them, estranged and silent, and passive, they seemed to wither beneath my presence." - p 54
""I commenced my pilgrimage—I pierced the burning sands—I traversed the vast deserts—I came into the enormous woods of Africa, where human step never trod". - p 54
"Seasons glided on, and my youth ripened into manhood, and manhood grew grey with the first frost of age; and then a vague and restless spirit fell upon me, and I said in my foolish heart, 'I will look upon that countenances of my race once more!' I retraced my steps—I recrossed the wastes—I re-entered the cities—I took again the garb of man; for I had been hitherto naked in the wilderness, and hair had grown over me as a garment." - p 55
Given that I 'grew up on Poe' & have always thought of him as a pioneer (wch he certainly was - but more, perhaps, for things like "X-ing a Paragrab" (published post-mortem in 1850) & "The Gold-Bug" (1843). This latter was renowned for its central cryptoanalytic element. I remember reading in a bk that Poe's code-writing was so substantial that it was still used during the American Civil War 20 yrs after the publication of "The Gold-Bug". However, while there's plenty on Poe in David Kahn's substantial The Code-Breakers I deduce from it that Poe's Civil War encoding influence is not accurate b/c I didn't see it mentioned at all (I just skimmed - cd've missed it). The likelihood for the accuracy is small anyway since the story was so popular that it seems unlikely that the code in it wd've been useful for any truly secret purpose.), I was interested to see such strong precursors to his more macabre works in this bk.
Polidori's story in & of itself is 'worth the price of admission' for the scholarly tidbits surrounding it for anyone interested in this period of English lit. "Better still, this prose tale, entitled The Vampyre, seemed to follow the pattern of Byron's best-known poetical productions—Childe Harold's Pilgrimage (1812-18) and Manfred (1817)—by incorporating a strong element of confessional self-portraiture, but this time treating the familiar figure of the accursed outlaw in even more lurid terms as a bloodsucking demon or 'vampyre' with the tell-tale name of Lord Ruthven—clearly an echo of another recent fictional portrayal of Byron as Clarence de Ruthven, Lord Glenarvon in the novel Glenarvon (1816) by Lady Caroline Lamb, Byron's cast-off mistress." (p vii)
Byron as the vampyre strikes me basically as Byron as the 'sexual predator' or Byron as the guy who gets laid b/c of his forceful & talented (& rich) persona while the envious envy. Byron must've been quite the celebrity in his day b/c he features in other stories collected here as well: EG: in Anonymous's "The Curse" Byron is slightly misquoted: "'For never having dream'd of falsehood, we / Had not one word to say of constancy.'" (p 114) from "Don Juan"; & in the "Preliminaries for The Vampyre": "It is said, indeed, that upon paying his [Byron's] first visit at Coppet, following the servant who had announced his name, he was surprised to meet a lady carried out fainting; but before he had been seated many minutes, the same lady, who had been so affected at the sound of his name, returned and conversed with him a considerable time—such is female curiosity and affection!" (p 238) Not to mention, presumably, lust.
"The story had made an indelible impression on the imagination of Europe, and Polidori had succeeded, however inadvertently, in founding the entire modern tradition of vampire fiction. Not only was his tale the first sustained fictional treatment of vampirism in English, it also completely recast the mythology upon which it drew." - p x
"French botanist Joseph Pitton de Tournefort, whose Relation d'un Voyage du Levant (1702) was the eighteenth century's first account of vampirism" & "Dom Augustin Calmet was one of the most famous biblical scholars of his day, as well as the leading eighteenth century authority on vampires". - p 278
"As the basis of imaginative literature rather than of sick jokes, however, the folklore of vampires as represented in Calmet's accounts had some serious deficiencies: it was obscure, confused, and above all comically disgusting. According to the villagers of Serbia and Hungary, their vampires were bloated, shaggy, foul-smelling corpses who preyed on their immediate neighbors and relatives, or on nearby cattle (so that vampirism could be acquired by eating contaminated meat). Popular remedies against vampires involved digging them up and smearing oneself with their blood, or pulling out their teeth and sucking their gums,as well as the more conclusive precautions of staking, decapitation, and incineration. Still more unappealing was the fact that the legions of the undead were composed entirely of peasants. Some readers of Calmet's anthology pointed out that there seemed, oddly, never to have been an urban vampire, nor an educated bourgeois vampire, let alone one of noble birth. The historical and mythological importance of Polidori's The Vampyre lies in its drastic correction of the folklore's shortcomings, and especially in his elevation of the nosferatu (undead) to the dignity of high social rank." - p xii
In other words, Lord Ruthven is herein credited as the 1st aristocratic vampire - his folklore predecessors having been, so the Introduction here claims, all hairier peasants. This interests me insofar as there's the implication of class predation - the rich prolonging their lives at the expense of everyone they can sink their fangs into, blood of the virgin n'at. &, of course, there's the 'sexiness' of submissively succumbing to such treatment: what an 'honor' to be sucked dry by the ruling class! Furthermore, as an aside, there's a tiny remote dead-end street in my neighborhood named Ruthven wch'll now be forever associated w/ aristocratic vampirism in my mind.
In Polidori's tale he describes his surrogate self thusly: "About at the same time, there came to London a young gentleman of the name of Aubrey; he was an orphan left with an only sister in the possession of great wealth, by parents who died while he was yet in childhood. Left also to himself by guardians, who thought it their duty merely to take care of his fortune, while they relinquished the more important charge of his mind to the care of mercenary subalterns, he cultivated more his imagination than his judgment. He had, hence, that high romantic feeling of honour and candour, which daily ruins so many milliners' apprentices." (p 4)
Aubrey is tricked into making an oath to not disclose the death of Ruthven who he later learns hasn't actually died (or has been 'reborn'). The stupidity of 'honoring' this oath is an indication of the aforementioned lack of judgment when he learns that his sister is about to marry the vampyre: "He began to speak with all his wonted warmth, and to congratulate her upon her marriage with a person so distinguished for rank and every accomplishment; when he suddenly perceived a locket upon her breast; opening it, what his surprise at beholding the features of the monster who had so long influenced his life. He seized the portrait in a paroxysm of rage, and trampled it under foot. Upon her asking him why he thus destroyed the semblance of her future husband, he looked as if he did not understand her—then seizing her hands, and gazing on her with a frantic expression of countenance, he bade her swear that she would never wed this monster, for he—But he could not advance—it seemed as if that voice again bade him to remember his oath". (p 21) & here we have the formal trick common to so many horror stories: the reader (or viewer in the case of movies) is maddeningly frustrated by the lack of communication that's a matter of life & death.
"The guardians hastened to protect Miss Aubrey; but when they arrived, it was too late. Lord Ruthven had disappeared, and Aubrey's sister had glutted the thirst of a VAMPYRE!" (p 23) Ok, that's a spoiler - but the reader can see this one comin' from a mile away. W/ this in mind, I note that the value of this collection for me wasn't so much the 'thrillingness' of the stories as it was the look into the lurid recontextualization of the history of the time & the language used for this purpose: from Horace Smith's "Sir Guy Eveling's Dream":
"'Now that we be upon this subject of dreams and apparitions, I may forbear to mention that full strange and terrible one of Sir Guy Eveling, and the consequences tragical issuing therefrom, which I do the more willingly pen, forasmuch as the dismal tale was hushed and smothered up at the time by the great families with which he was consanguined, people of worshipful regard and jeopardous power, whereby folks only whispered of the story in corners, and peradventure bruited about many things which were but fond imaginings.[']" - p 25
"[']he was of a haute and orgulus stomach that would not agnize the wisdom of beadsmen, nor even brook the tender counsellings of friends and kinsmen, whereby he waxed wild, and readily fell to mischief and riot, giving up his mornings to dicers, racqueters, and scatterlings, and casting away the night with ribalds, wasselers, and swinge-bucklers[']". - p 25
"[']This was that self tempest which there be many now living may remember, sith it followed hard upon the Proclamation of our late King Edward[']" - p 28
A footnote on p 259 informs the reader that "our late King Edward: presumably Edward VI, who acceded to the throne in 1547 and died six years later at the age of 15." That wd put the story told as having occurred 276 yrs before its publishing. I have no informed opinion about the accuracy of the language used but I assume it to be somewhat affected. Nonetheless, I love it: Take that, you orgulus swinge-bucklers!!
Some of the stories are based on news of the time demonstrating that the popular taste for True Crime stories is hardly an invention of the 20th century. Take, eg, William Carleton's "Confessions of a Reformed Ribbonman": The name derives from the green ribbon worn as a badge by members. Events leading up to the atrocities described in Carleton's tale began on 10 April 1816, when Michale Tiernan, Patrick Stanley, and Philip Conlon broke into a huntsman's lodge occupied by Edward Lynch. The three men demanded guns and assaulted Lynch and members of his family before being driven off. At the trial Lynch and his son-in-law Thomas Rooney identified the invaders and, in the face of strong public sympathy, all three men were convicted and hanged, most probably on 21 August. In the early hours of 30 October, the Ribbonmen meted out their revenge. Led by Paddy Devaun, a weaver and parish clerk at Stonetown Chapel, they massacred Lynch and seven others, including his daughter and grandchild. In the aftermath, Devaun and seventeen other Ribbonmen were executed." (p 260)
Again, the language & the history are the best part for me. This story has Irish brogue in it: "'Well,' said I, 'I'll just trust to God, and the consequinces, for the could, Paddy, ma bouchal; but a blessed dhrop ov it wo'nt be crossin' my lips, avick; so no more gosther about it—dhrink it yerself, if you like; maybe you want it as much as I do—wherein I've the patthern of a good big-coat upon me, so thick, yer sowl, that if it was rainin' bullocks, a dhrop would'nt get unher the nap ov it.'" (p 37)
The organizer of the massacre tries to get everyone drunk so that they'll commit the atrocity they've sworn to even tho they don't know what it is: "'Well,' said he, smiling, 'I only wanted to thry yees an' by the oath yees tuck, there's not a Captain in the county has as good a right to be proud of his min as I have—well yees won't rue it, may be when the right time comes; and for that same rason every one of yees must have a glass from the jar; thim that won't dhrink it in the chapel can dhrink it widout[']" (p 40)
Now the author is writing from a 1st-person perspective as if he were actually there at the events leading up to the killings & at the murders themselves. Whether that's true or not I don't know but he depicts some of the men as having the guts to resist the peer pressure: "The proceedings, however, had by this time taken too alarming a shape, for even the captain to compel them to a blindfold oath; the first man he called flatly refused to swear, until he should hear the nature of the service that was required. This was echoed by the remainder, who taking courage from the firmness of this person, declared generally, that until they first knew the business they were to execute, none of them should take the oath." (p 42) Really? I wish I cd believe that such people exist but in my own experience most people are just cowards & can be manipulated into performing just about any heinous deed as long as they're not taking responsibility for it.
Paddy Devaun eventually coerces all to follow him where they find that the plan is to set a house full of people on fire & not let anyone escape: "'Its no use now, you know, if one's to hang, all will hang; so our safest way, you persave, is to lave none of them to tell the story: ye may go now if you wish; but it won't save a hair of your heads. You cowardly set! I know if I had told yees the sport, that none of ye except my own boys would come[']" (p 47) I've been the guy to say NO many a time but, thank goodness, never in such a horrific situation. Megalomaniacs need robopaths to enact their genocide - fewer of each wd make the world a safer place for the rest of us.
the full review is here: https://www.goodreads.com/story/show/... ...more
Notes are private!
Jan 11, 2014
Jan 18, 2014
Aug 10, 2008
Aug 10, 2008
Magdalena Zurawski's The Bruise
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - November 17, 2013
Yadda, yadda. This review is too long, yadda, yadda. See t review of
Magdalena Zurawski's The Bruise
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - November 17, 2013
Yadda, yadda. This review is too long, yadda, yadda. See the whole thing here:
I was in Boston, at the beginning of January, 2013, w/ my girlfriend of the time, for what was probably the 128th annual MLA (Modern Language Association) convention. The g-friend had been desperately seeking high paying professorial poetry-related employment for over 2 yrs - almost the entirety of the time we'd been involved w/ each other. To say that this was wearing on our nerves is an understatement. The MLA convention is one of the main places where prospective university employers interview applicants & the g-friend was there for 2 or more such interviews.
We were staying in a hotel. I wanted to go to the hotel bar but g-friend was afraid one of her prospective employers wd see her there w/ me & that her chances for being hired wd be ruined in advance by her obvious association w/ an actual creative person instead of the 'more respectable' university facsimile thereof so she stayed in our rm while I went to the bar alone. Sitting at the bar, I attempted to get the bartender to serve me a beer. Apparently, I was too 'disreputable' looking for him b/c he completely ignored me despite the fact that he was standing directly in front of me, that I was displaying cash, & that there were only something like 2 other people at the bar.
Then Magdalena Zurawski sat down 3 stools away from me & soon thereafter initiated a friendly conversation. She, apparently, looked much straighter than I do so once she started talking to me the bartender began treating me like a customer & filled my order. Does anyone wonder why I support Jack Abbott's murder of the waiter who denied him use of the restaurant's Men's Rm?
It soon came out that Magdalena had written a novel & that it was published by FC2 (Fiction Collective 2) - something that interested me. We talked about the Fiction Collective & I mentioned Raymond Federman to her b/c I've always strongly associated him w/ the original FC. I was surprised she'd never heard of him. I told her that if she'd send me a copy of her novel I'd review it. I was happy that we'd talked b/c the reason why I wanted to go to the bar in the 1st place was to seek out other writers for conversation & Magdalena very pleasantly fit the bill. I liked her.
Several mnths passed & I hadn't rc'vd the bk so I was beginning to think she'd forgotten about me. THEN The Bruise finally arrived w/ an interesting post-card w/ images of "Pluripotent Stem Cells" & "Mouse neurons generated by direct reprogramming of astrocytes" & w/ a note on it that read: "As promised at the MLA. Better Late than Never? - MZ" & I liked her all over again.
I procrastinated on reading her bk for mnths b/c I have so many things to read. I started reading it, put it aside, read it fitfully. I found the beginning somewhat off-putting b/c it's a 1st person narration of a college girl, a world too cloistered & privileged for me. Then, in October, I got an email from a girl purporting to be a student at a local university who'd decided to take a yr off from school b/c she's uncertain whether she wants to continue along the artist's path she'd pursued so far. She claimed that she contacted me b/c 2 professor friends of mine had recommended that she do so to discuss her uncertainty. She proposed that we meet at a coffee shop or a bar & I agreed to either. She chose the bar.
At the bar, she proceeded to tell me a somewhat labyrinthian story about being a assistant to an artist that I'd never heard of & about how she's created a narrative inspired by this experience in wch she created an alternate persona of sorts for herself. The relationship allegedly turned violent & it was ambiguous as to whether she provoked &/or desired &/or enjoyed the violence. The whole time, she was sheathed in a long coat. It wasn't completely clear whether she was a girl, a drag queen, or a trannie - although the claim was that she had a vagina. She identified herself as "queer" but admitted to being in love w/ the male artist she'd had the violent relationship w/. In the midst of all this story-telling I was reminded of The Bruise & mentioned it to her.
Later that evening, I recorded the last hr of our 5 hr conversation. During this, she told me that "there's no persona" - contradicting the previous 4 hrs of story. I found her fascinating but had to wonder what I was getting myself into. She told a story that implied a fear of her being perceived as a schizophrenic. I asked her if she is a schizophrenic or a narcissist & she sd NO to both.
We stayed in somewhat minimal contact after that during wch time we both became annoyed w/ each other. I proposed various collaborations - w/ the 1st & foremost one being that we cooperatively write a review of The Bruise & edit our reviews together. She agreed & immediately bought a copy of the bk. Our friendship in potentia deteriorated & I eventually decided that I didn't want to 'hang' w/ her anymore but that I still wanted to collaboratively write the review. Her half of it has never materialized my way.
As w/ so many of my reviews, this tangent may seem excessively irrelevant but it's possible that any reader of The Bruise will recognize a pattern here. While I was reading The Bruise I felt like I was somewhat interacting w/ a parallel plot in 'real life'. But before I explain that to those of you who haven't read The Bruise, I found the following interesting:
"The paper on which this book is printed meets the minimum requirements of American National Standard for Information Sciences—Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials, ANSI Z39.48-1984". - p 4
"And much gratitude for daily inspiration to Immanuel Kant, Bruce Springsteen, and Eileen Myles." (p 5) & on p 9 there's a quote from Lyn Heijinian's "Elegy" poem & one from Bruce Springsteen's "State Trooper" song. I've never read any of the works of the philosopher Kant (altho I've run across mention of him many times), what little I've heard by Springsteen has always been too musically 'normal' for me, & I've criticized what little I've read by Myles (perhaps unfairly). The quote from Hejinian is somewhat predictable for a student since probably very few people read Hejinian w/o having her taught to them 1st in a university context - but the quote from Springsteen seems more 'normal' for a working class teen. Regardless of whether I'm stretching things here or not, the Heijinian quote cd very well've been an inspiration for the majority of the novel. Here're the 1st 3 of the 6 lines given:
Many frantic cruelties occur to the flesh of the imagination
And the imagination does have flesh to destroy
And the flesh has imagination to sever
The 1st 2 pp, while not marked specifically as a "Prologue" or such-like, seem to follow a prologue-ish convention insofar as they're written entirely in italics. I'm reminded, very vaguely, of the 1st 3 pp of Cormac McCarthy's Suttree not b/c the writing style's similar but b/c the italicization sets this beginning text apart as 'setting the mood'. My initial impression is that this 'mood setting' is intended to be tedious, perhaps the tedium of a trapped person, the tedium of obsessive-compulsive behavior. Zurawski begins thusly:
"If I had actually spent any part of that first night asleep, it is difficult for me to know now, though no more difficult than it was for me to know then. I had believed, I think, for a long time, and perhaps I still do, that I had not slept at all that first night of my final year. I had not dozed, or at least believed that I had not dozed, even a tiny bit, but only lay there in my bed, looking out into the darkness inside the four walls." - p 11
I know this feeling well, this insomniac feeling, laying in bed, awake too much of the time, if not all the time, & so tired it's hard to be sure whether one has slept or not b/c, if one has slept, it seems entirely too similar to being awake, to being exhausted, etc.. Whether it's exactly Zurawski's intention to simply set a feel for insomnia or not, it does seem to be to set the mood of a yr spent in borderline alienated, but still mostly functional, delirium.
While I cdn't really identify w/ the 1st-person perspective of the college girl narrator, the 'persona' that's both the stand-in for the author & someone not quite the author (in much the same way that the uncertain sleep of the insomniac is not quite being awake either), I cd identify w/ other aspects: "The closet was deep enough that I could take one step into it and turn right. And it was wide enough for me to still walk three paces to the right" (p 13) reminded me of my own relationship to the smaller closet in the small bedrm that I grew up in but that nonetheless became a whole world unto itself by virtue of my detailed organization of it. Zurawski's descriptions border on OCD (or, perhaps, I 'shd' just say: OC - there's no 'need' to call it a 'disorder' necessarily) but there's a writerly carefulness to this that functions as an organizing principle beyond the OC of the subject:
"The bucket was white so I was careful to purchase only white cakes of soap white washrags a white toothbrush white tubes of toothpaste and shampoo that came in white bottles. Occasionally though my scalp would begin to itch and its skin would flake and for this reason I was forced to purchase a tar shampoo that had an amber color and came in a clear plastic bottle. In order not to disturb the arrangement of white that I kept neatly on top of the dresser which was oak I kept the tar shampoo in my sock drawer the top drawer of my dresser which was a fine decision since most of my socks were dark colored browns or blacks or grays." - p 14
"I ate European style as my mother had taught: with the knife in my right hand and my fork in my left hand. The two worked simultaneously and I never put one implement down without putting down the other. The fork was in my left hand with its bubbled back towards the ceiling. I pushed its teeth into the edge of the ham steak and cut it with my knife so that a piece of meat extended forward from the teeth of the fork. This I used as a ledge onto which I would next push a bit of the mashed potatoes with my knife and on top of the potatoes which now rose in a mound off the back of my fork I would then push a number of peas that would stay on the back of the fork due to the stickiness of the potatoes and the gravy." - pp 25-26
My mom had a rule that if we didn't use a butter knife to put the butter onto the edge of our plates & then use our other knife to move that butter onto the target foodstuff we'd be fined a nickel. I revolted. Regimental OC as enforced by the mother.
This is a literary novel, but b/c the writer is writing as a college student I don't 'know' if the literary references are ones that the author wd've searched out on her own or if they're just the ones force-fed to her. At any rate, Zurawski writes: "I had become very interested in the first stanza of the first poem of Rilke's Duino Elegies the entirety of which I was supposed to read for my German literature course but since my German was fairly poor I could only plod my way through the text by rendering a tedious translation for myself which required much dictionary work." (p 15) The opening line then becomes: "Who if I cried out would hear me among the order of angels? (p 16) The character, or "M—", as she becomes 'known', muses: "I thought about the sound for quite a while and concluded that it could not be a name. It could never be a word of any sort but only a sound. An unplanned unknown sound." (p 16) "And I took my finger and made circles on my stomach dipping just under my navel and staying just inside the ribs. I made these circles slowly. That was the loudest call I could bear to make. / "And when I began to feel the angel pressing on top of me—when I knew she had come I kept calling not with my fingers but only through my breath moving in and out of my mouth beneath her ear." (p 16)
M—'s Rilke-inspired cry, her making of circles on her skin, summons an angel w/ whom she begins to have sex - but this is not idyllic, it quickly becomes oppressive, bestial, like being raped by a pig: "She had grown so heavy that it was impossible to pull away from her. I could feel her hairy swine breasts pricking my skin and her body pushing the breath out of me. Her wings flapped rapidly up and down thrusting her hips hard against mine. I felt the springs of the mattress pressing painfully into me from underneath." (p 17) M— goes to the communal bathrm of the dormitory where she lives & finds the angel in the mirror:
"It's difficult to say how I brought her here or how she had fallen into the mirror because when I turned around to look in the stall she wasn't standing behind me but was just there in front of me in the mirror. She was trapped in the glass though in my bed she had been able to fall on me in sleep. Poems make it easy to dream of angels but the girl she had no wings so she couldn't have been the angel. I thought that I knew that I didn't know her so I thought it best not to move. And even though she was someone very much like me still she was strange and I was scared and I couldn't have been looking at myself and been so scared. And then I moved closer to the mirror because I wanted to make sure she wasn't me. And she followed me to the mirror so I thought for a second I was right. She was me and I didn't have to be scared and I moved my eyes to the right and then to the left and she did the same but then I thought I saw her lip curl about to smile but I was too nervous to smile so I knew she wasn't me." - pp 19-20
M— attacks the angel by swinging at the mirror & falls against the glass & cuts herself & gets the bruise of the title. Now, it's easy enuf to psychoanalyze this & say that M is an insomniac stressed out by her last yr of school & that she injures herself in the midst of delusional behavior. Such an interpretation is all well & good but it doesn't do justice to the care w/ wch Zurawski tries to describe this state. M— sees a friend & "asked her if she thought the bruise was bad and she said No M—. It doesn't look too bad. It will probably go away in a few days. But it didn't." (p 21)
The use of "M—" as the main character's referent & the use of other initials followed by an em dash 'inevitably' reminds me of Kafka's "Joseph K." in The Trial & "K." in The Castle but it seems to me that I've run across the use of an initial followed by an em dash as a semi-anonymizing abbreviation in other, earlier, probably 19th century, novels as well. Be that as it may, my 1st impression of Zurawski's writing is that it's derivative of that of Maurice Blanchot, a writer that I've read a few bks by w/o every growing to appreciate him. Then, 2ndly, I was reminded of Kafka. SO, again, negative 'college girl' associations: derivative rather than original, taught rather than inspired.. &, Lo & Behold!, my initial impressions were confirmed on p 28 by this: ""But I had read that semester in a book by Maurice Blanchot who had written about Franz Kafka that that was the problem with writing. No matter how hard Jozef K tried to be Franz Kafka in the book it was still Jozef K standing at a window with his papers waiting for a clerk and not Franz Kafka sitting at a desk with a pen in his hand."
Wch isn't to say that Zurawski isn't a good writer & that this isn't a good bk. But getting there will take a while. Zurawski gives the reader every opportunity to psychoanalyze her stand-in as having a mental breakdown. As she's finger-fucking an acquaintance, she starts having disturbing & distracting fantasies:
"So every time in my thoughts I thought I was putting my finger in G—'s wound I thought instead that she was Jesus and I was doubting Thomas and that by putting my fingers in her wound I was saving myself and this thought would make me push my fingers deeper inside of her and it would make her groan louder but each time she groaned louder I got scared that I was hurting her and then I began thinking again that I wasn't doubting Thomas and she wasn't Jesus and I was just sticking my finger in the cut in her thigh and I was just hurting her." - p 36
But by p 39, w/ the chapter entitled "The Bridge", the tone changes somewhat. Perhaps Zurawski wrote this at a different time then she'd written the preceding, perhaps the change is a writerly strategy. Whatever the case, the narrator seems more 'sane'. Her description of a cruising spot is poignantly straight-forward: "I would see in many of these cars a man sitting alone at the wheel and I would wonder why so many men were sitting in cars alone along the river but then Nate said possibly if I waited long enough i would see one of the men maybe get out of his car and walk over to another car and get into the car with another man." (p 40) "And the man told the boy that if his wife was only willing to do to him what the boy was willing to do to him along the river he wouldn't have to come and park down by the river." (p 41)
By p 45, I had the impression that Zurawski had moved away from Blanchot & Kafka: "And then we moved onto L— who had written a story about a woman lying in a bathtub dreaming about having a baby. And in the dream the baby was born with a wooden leg and I thought this was a great story because I liked thinking about a baby born with a wooden leg". But, now, as I write this review, that seems precariously close to Kafka's "The Metamorphosis".
What made this ultimately a strong work for me is the intensity w/ wch Zurawski apparently tries to accurately observe the 'unreality' of the way her imagination permeates her 'reality':
"And so for this reason I believe that in some strange way my own ghost was trying to save me by forcing me to ingest these books that it hoped could show me how to live finally through example. The problem my ghost did not foresee was that even though each passage I memorized showed me how something that had a body could also have a spirit inside it in order for the words to teach me this lesson I had to let them fill up the empty space where my own spirit should have lived so that the books and parts of books that lived inside me both taught me what it would be like to live with my spirit inside me and left no room for my spirit itself." - p 53
Is this revealing? Or just fantasy? Sometimes it seems that Zurawski's anguish is all too substantial. Starting w/ "The Bridge" the bk has meandered a bit but it returns to the bruise on p 55: "even though she looked at me while I spoke I knew it wasn't the words I spoke that made her look at me but rather the bruise because the bruise was the only part of me that I knew was real and a person like L— could only bear to look at what was real." Throughout this review, I'm resisting the urge to say: 'Ok, this is paranoid schizophrenia, the bruise is a metaphor for her wounds from alienation", etc, etc.. even tho such an explanation is almost 'screamingly obvious'. I reckon I'm giving Zurawski credit for being both 'screamingly obvious' & more subtle at one & the same time.
To see the entire review go here:
Notes are private!
Nov 05, 2013
Nov 19, 2013
Jan 03, 1984
William Dean Howells's A Modern Instance
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - September 25, 2013
WARNING: This review has spoilers but is hopefully review of
William Dean Howells's A Modern Instance
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - September 25, 2013
WARNING: This review has spoilers but is hopefully written in such a way that even if you read it thru it won't actually spoil yr enjoyment of reading the novel b/c the review doesn't give you the plot as much as it does my meta-take on the plot.
Ah.. yes, yet-another "too long" review of mine. For the full thing go here: http://www.goodreads.com/story/show/3...
It seems almost inevitable to me that reading a bk entitled A Modern Instance over 130 yrs after it was originally published is going to yield a bit of 'how modern does it seem now?' type thinking - much as a Science Fiction novel written predicting what was then the future & now the past will undergo scrutiny as to its accuracy. In this case, Howells is a very good observer of human nature & I found myself emotionally engaged in his characters in a way I wdn't have if they didn't still ring true.
As seems to be usually the case when I read a 19th century novel these days I find myself wondering why I bother when I have so many other bks to read & review that're more immediately relevant to my current life & interests. Nonetheless, I generally find the descriptions to be written w/ detail that appeals. Furthermore, what ultimately endeared me to this bk, & wch was something completely unexpected to me, was that I ended up w/ a personal take on the people in it that brought to my introspective attn some of my takes on people in general.
In particular, I found myself at odds w/ the author of the Introduction, noted Howells scholar Edwin H. Cady. Ordinarily, I read such framing material in full expectation of being illuminated by the scholarship. I accept as a given the superior knowledge of the commentator. I read Cady's Intro &, not having read the novel yet, just read it w/o having any understanding of what he was referring to. THEN I read the novel & gradually began to find Cady's introduction to it.. repulsive.. almost like a malicious gossip's unfair maligning. It was as if Cady, himself, was a particular type of person in real life who was envious of the type of person represented by the main character Bartley Hubbard & who was taking out his own frustrations on the character.
"Bartley was not a villain. There wasn't enough of him to furnish forth villainy. He was just a run-of-the-mill scoundrel with nothing much in him but a large, tender ego and a great deal of shallow cleverness. He had not an unselfish bone in his body, nor one that wasn't lazy. Is he not a modern man? Is he not the modern man, the "new man," a foregone failure?" - p xvi
The reader is certainly being set up for a completely negative perception of Bartley, in much the same way an 'expert witness' at a trial acts like a spin doctor to ruin the reputation of whoever he's being pd top dollar to defame. &, yet, consider this tidbit from a few pp later:
"But scarcely half of A Modern Instance had been serialized before Mark Twain, lost in admiration at the portrayal of the drunken scoundrel Bartley, claimed emphatically that Howells had taken Bartley from Sam Clemens. Promptly denying it, Howells said he had used himself for Bartley." - p xviii
Interesting, eh? Clemens/Twain liked the character enuf to identify w/ him & so did Howells. Given that they both may've had a sense of humor & probably more than a little bit of self-deprecating humor, they might've still felt that Bartley Hubbard wasn't w/o his redeeming qualities. So is he really "the drunken scoundrel" Cady makes him out to be? I think not. From my POV, Hubbard actually has MORE qualities than most of the other characters in the novel - most of whom are envious & contemptuous of him w/o any trace of introspection about themselves & their own privileges & weaknesses.
The novel's action precedes, happens during, & follows the contested presidential election of 1876 in wch the people voted for Samuel J. Tilden but the Electoral College voted for Rutherford B. Hayes. Hence Hayes became president against the voting public's wishes. From Howells's perspective of the 'modernity' of these times, youth was having a pretty unrestrained time of it:
"It was midnight, as the sharp strokes of a wooden clock declared from the kitchen; and they were alone together and all the other inmates of the house were asleep. This situation, hardly conceivable to another civilization, is so common in ours, where youth commands its fate, and trusts solely to itself, that it may be said to be characteristic of the New England civilization wherever it keeps its simplicity. It was not stolen or clandestine; it would have shocked no one in the village if the whole village had known it; all that a girl's parents ordinarily exacted was that they should not be waked up." - p 7
Hubbard, "the drunken scoundrel", as Cady wd have the reader think, is a handsome & witty man who gets the girls. Does Cady envy him & his counterparts in real life? After reading the whole bk, I tend to think so. In fact, much of the hatred in the novel directed against Hubbard seems to be based on such envy by people who never acknowledge it to themselves or anyone else. Whether Howells intended this to be read that way or not, I can't say. Here's Bartley flirting w/ Marcia, the girl who eventually becomes his wife, by trying to get her to write a letter accepting his invite to go on a ride thru the snow w/ him:
""Now the address. Dear"—
""No, no!" she protested.
""Yes, yes! dear Mr. Hubbard. There, that will do! Now the signature: Yours"—
""I wont write that. I wont, indeed!"
""Oh, yes you will. You only think you wont. Yours gratefully, Marcia Gaylord. That's right. The Gaylord is not very legible, on account of a slight tremor in the writer's arm, resulting from a constrained posture, perhaps. Thanks, Miss Gaylord, I will be here promptly at the hour indicated"—
"The noises renewed themselves overhead; some one seemed to be moving about. Hubbard laid his hand on that of the girl still resting on the table, and grasped it in burlesque alarm; she could scarcely stifle her mirth." - p 13
Marcia can "scarcely stifle her mirth" b/c Bartley's flirtation is doing exactly what he wants it to do: it's making her have fun, making her attracted to him. Is this "shallow cleverness" or "lazy", as Cady describes him? I think not. It's both hard work & ACTUALLY CLEVER. Cady strikes me as a type of man who ENVIES Hubbard b/c he's good at what less successful men only wish they were. The above passages are from the beginning of the novel. Cady says that "When A Modern Instance opens, Bartley is, though mildly, already demonic." (p xvii)
"Bartley is the first fully drawn worshipper of William James's "bitch-goddess Success" in American fiction. He is the new "success" type (who would so confuse later writers like Norris and Dreiser and London). Cozy, he is quick to spot a hole and dive through it to advantage. Easy-going , cynical, he lives by an unrationalized code of social Darwinism. When he can, he will 'take' anybody for anything and in any way; he will exploit and devour; never a lover or a giver, he lives psychically and professionally by grasping and extorting." - p xvii
Cady even quotes character Ben Halleck in his condemnation of Hubbard: "As early as college he had achieved, as his generous, self-sacrificing friend Halleck perceived, "no more moral nature than a baseball."" (p xvii) But there are some very, very significant things lacking in Cady's characterization here. Ben Halleck's 'generosity' is w/ inherited wealth - he didn't work for it, it's from his father's leather business. Never is Ben's wealth questioned as potential ill-gotten gains. In fact, EVERYONE'S money, except for Hubbard's, is accepted as somehow deserved - even tho the 'charitable' Clara Kingsbury is depicted as more or less completely out of touch w/ the harsh realities that she's ostensibly dedicated to 'righting'.
In fact, Ben's hatred for Bartley is rooted in one simple thing far more than any other: Bartley gets the girl(s) - in this case, Bartley specifically gets the beautiful Marcia who Ben's been pining for in secret. But Ben has a somewhat crippled leg b/c as a child he injured it after being tripped by another child. I kept wondering if this wd be neatly tied together by having the malicious tripper turn out to be Bartley. I'm thankful to Howells that he didn't go that route. Ben never acknowledges to himself that he's sexually frustrated & inhibited by his leg. Instead, Bartley, who's not nearly as horrible a husband as the others frequently choose to believe, is under constant scrutiny for any action that can be blamed against him. Bartley is assertive, he has to be to survive. Unlike Ben, he isn't wallowing in inherited wealth that enables him to wander aimlessly in a self-deluding miasma of impotent self-righteousness. Interestingly, Ben asks the lawyer Atherton, sometimes presented as one of the more ethical characters, this question about Marcia's reaction to Ben's taking Bartley home one night after Bartley had gotten uncharacteristically drunk (followed by Atherton's reply):
""Shouldn't you expect her to make you pay somehow for your privity to her disgrace, to revenge her misery upon you? Isn't there a theory that women forgive injuries, but never ignominies?"
""That's what the novelists teach, and we bachelors get most of our doctrine about women from them."" - p 283
Ben knows nothing about women, despite having 3 sisters, &, of course, there's plenty of novelistic self-reflexive humor in Atherton's reply. Ultimately, it's the moral posturing here that I can't relate to. B/c Bartley gets drunk ONCE Marcia is 'disgraced'. NOT. Was that really the way it was in that social milieu in the mid to late 19th century? I reckon yes b/c Howells seems to be an excellent realistic observer. But from my 21st century perspective that seems particularly stupid. Skipping back in the narrative a few paragraphs we have this:
""Atherton," he said, "if you found a blackguard of your acquaintance drunk on your doorstep early one morning, and had taken him home to his wife, how would you have expected her to treat you the next time you saw her?"" - pp 282-283
Ben refers to Bartley as a "blackguard", pompously passing judgment. &, yet, in one of the few instances that I see to Ben's credit, he saves Bartley from being arrested, in order to spare Marcia the misery:
""Do you know this man, Mr. Halleck?" asked the policeman.
""Yes—yes, I know him," said Ben, in a low voice. "Let's get him away quietly, please. He's all right. It's the first time I ever saw him so. Will you help me with him up to Johnson's stable? I'll get a carriage there and take him home." - p 272
Even Ben admits that "It's the first time I ever saw him so" drunk &, yet, b/c of this ONE incident & b/c he develops a habit of drinking light beer later on he's called by Cady a "drunken scoundrel".
From the Introduction, I got the impression that Bartley was a reporter. He was, but he was, more importantly, an editor. Howells was a magazine editor who transitioned away from that into full-time novelist thru this bk. Undoubtedly, Howells was critical of the ethics of mainstream publishing, undoubtedly Hubbard is used as a critical foil. But I see Hubbard as not so much a scoundrel as simply an energetic man who doesn't ethically scrutinize the givens of the social milieu he finds himself in. But neither does anyone else. All the characters are just un-self-critical players in the game they find themselves born into.
While Howells is still setting the atmosphere of the small town that the novel begins in, he writes that: "Religion had largely ceased to be a fact of spiritual experience and the visible church flourished on condition of providing for the social needs of the community." (p 24) Now given that I find religion to be one of the most malevolent forces in society b/c it encourages total obedience to a non-existent external authority that unscrupulous humans then present themselves as representatives of, I don't think that churches that provide "for the social needs of the community" are a bad idea at all. If they cd get rid of the 'god' shit & just serve an actual positive purpose for the community then they'd be much, much better from my POV.
But what surprised me here was the modernity of such a description. Throughout my adult life, as a performer I've often used church spaces for events. In BalTimOre, where I'm originally from, there were at least 4 inner-city churches that were open to political & cultural events that had no connection otherwise to the church & its dogma. EG: here's footage of a Franz Kamin performance called "A.S.R.B.#1 (Aleatoric Reactory Systemic Bulletin #1)" in a church: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3tzwxf... & of another Franz Kamin peerformance of a piece called "Unknowing Games at the Hut"":
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C32z98... at another church.
Cady says that Hubbard "will 'take' anybody for anything and in any way; he will exploit and devour; [& is] never a lover or a giver" but it seems to me that there are numerous instances in Howells's depiction of him that contradict this. Take this internal monolog of Hubbard's: "A distaste for their somewhat veteran ways in flirtation grew upon him as he thought of her; he philosophized against them to her advantage; he could not blame her if she did not know how to hide her feelings for him. Yet he knew that Marcia would rather have died than let him suppose that she cared for him, if she had known that she was doing it. The fun of it was that she should not know; this charmed him, it touched him even; he did not think of it exultantly, as the night before, but sweetly, fondly, and with a final curiosity to see her again, and enjoy the fact in her presence." (p 31) He thinks of Marcia "to her advantage", he's "charmed" & "touched", he thinks of matters related to her "sweetly" & "fondly" - these are hardly the characterizations of a completely hard-hearted man.
Cady prejudices the reader in advance by referring to Bartley as "the drunken scoundrel". However, this isn't born out by the narrative. Take, eg, this: "Ricker offered him his choice of beer or claret, and Bartley temperately preferred water to either; he could see that this raised him in Ricker's esteem." (p 171) Indeed, while Hubbard eventually develops a drinking habit, he's initially plagued by an actual drunkard whose excesses far exceed anything Hubbard ever reaches:
""Old Morrison was here, just before you came in, and said he wanted to see you. I think he was drunk," said Bird, anxiously. "He said he was coming back again."
"Where Morrison got his liquor from was a question that agitated Equity from time to time, and baffled the officer of the law empowered to see that no strong drink came into the town. Under conditions which made it impossible even in the logging camps, and rendered the sale of spirits too precarious for the apothecary, who might be supposed to deal in them medicinally, Morrison never failed of his spree when the mysterious mechanism of his appetite enforced it. Probably it was some form of bedevilled cider that supplied the material of his debauch; but even cider was not easily to be had." - pp 63-64
The ensuing encounter w/ the drunk Morrison is one of the key events leading to Hubbard's eventual downfall. In this encounter, Hubbard is sober. The misunderstanding deliberately fostered by Morrison's drunkenness leads to Hubbard's jealous assistant assaulting Bartley:
"Here his rage culminated, and with a blind cry of "Ay!" he struck the paper, which he had kept in his hand into Bartley's face.
"The demons, whatever they were, of anger, remorse, pride, shame, were at work in Bartley's heart too, and he returned the blow as instantly as if Bird's touch had set the mechanism of his arm in motion. In contempt of the other's weakness he struck with the flat of his hand, but the blow was enough. Bird fell headlong, and the concussion of his head upon the floor did the rest. He lay senseless." - p 69
Bartley, engaged to be married to Squire Gaylord's daughter, Marcia, is faced w/ the decision of how to break the news of his having hit Bird & of Bird's subsequent concussion: "If on the other hand, he went first to Squire Gaylord the old lawyer might insist that the engagement was already at an end by Bartley's violent act, and might well refuse to let a man in his position even see his daughter." (p 75) &, yes, Bartley is ill-perceived & treated. It appears that no-one seems to blame Bird much for the assault that resulted in his being struck back. "The more Bartley dwelt upon his hard case, during the week that followed, the more it appeared to him that he was punished out of all proportion to his offense." (p 83) Howells may've been ironically mocking Bartley's indignation here but I tend to agree w/ Hubbard's assessment & to take it even further. Hubbard was actually SORRY he'd struck Bird - & not for purely selfish reasons. I say Bird deserved it.
As for Cady's contention that Hubbard's "never a lover or a giver"? I say, once again, the narrative contradicts this. Marcia is understandably angry about a social affair she & Bartley have just gone to. She's sensitive to things that Bartley's willfully oblivious to. When they return home she rushes off to bed in a huff. Consider Bartley's reaction:
"Bartley stood a moment in the fury that tempted him to pursue her with a taunt, and then leave her to work herself out of the transport of senseless jealousy she had wrought herself into. But he set his teeth, and, full of inward cursing, he followed her upstairs with a slow, dogged step. He took her in his arms without a word, and held her fast, while his anger changed to pity, and then to laughing. When it came to that, she put up her arms, which she had kept rigidly at her side, and laid them round his neck, and began softly to cry on his breast." - p 228
Bartley chooses to de-escalate the situation rather than to give in to his anger. That strikes me as a loving & giving solution. ...more
Notes are private!
Sep 22, 2013
Sep 27, 2013
Ivan Turgenev's Home of the Gentry
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - July 29, 2013
I think I started reading this, Turgenev's 2nd novel, aroun review of
Ivan Turgenev's Home of the Gentry
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - July 29, 2013
I think I started reading this, Turgenev's 2nd novel, around the same time I was reading an SF bk. It seemed like about time to return to Turgenev b/c I'd previously only read Fathers and Sons, his 4th novel, in March of 1976, 37 yrs before. I read Fathers and Sons largely b/c its characters were based on actual revolutionaries, such as Bakunin, that were contemporary w/ Turgenev & that Turgenev had had some contact w/. It seemed to me in 1976, & still seems to me now, in 2013, that writing such a novel in 1861 was remarkable. SO, time to finally revisit him.
As I started reading Home of the Gentry, I was deeply impressed by the quality of the writing & I found myself wondering: 'Why am I bothering to read the functional but linguistically uninspired writing of this SF novel when I cd be reading great literature like this instead?' - much as I had when I was a teenager & discovering such writers for the 1st time. Take, eg, this acerbic description from p 43 (as translated by Richard Freeborn):
"he was a simple country squire, fairly devil-may-care, loud-mouthed and slow-witted, rude but not malicious, fond of entertaining and following the hounds. He was over thirty when he inherited from his father two thousand souls in perfect condition, but he soon dispersed them, sold part of the estate and over-indulged his house-serfs. Like cockroaches, various nonentities, both friends and strangers, crawled from all sides into his spacious, warm and dowdy manor house; the whole lot of them ate their fill of whatever came their way, drank themselves tipsy and pilfered what they could, praising and glorifying their gracious host as they did so; and the host, when he was in low spirits, also glorified his guests with such titles as spongers and scoundrels, but grew bored without them."
All of Turgenev's character descriptions are incisive & seemingly fairly accurate pegging of 'types' that he had observed in his social circles. In Isaiah Berlin's "'Fathers and Children' Romanes Lecture 1970" as reproduced at the beginning of the Penguin edition of Fathers and Sons that I have, Berlin states that "some of the young Russian revolutionaries freely conceded the accuracy and justice of his portraits of them." (P 9)
Turgenev's novel has a current of awareness of the vicissitudes of class: "Her master, Dmitry Pestov, Marya Dmitievna's father, a quiet and modest man, saw her once during the threshing, talked to her and fell passionately in love with her. She was soon widowed; Pestov, although a married man, took her into his house and dressed her like a house-serf. Agafya at once acclimatized herself to her new position, just as if she had never lived otherwise. She grew paler and fuller; her arms beneath her muslin sleeves grew 'white as wheaten flour', like those of a merchant's wife; the samovar was never off the table; she would wear nothing but silk and velvet and slept on feather beds. This life of bliss lasted about five years, until Dmitry Pestov died; his widow, a kindly woman, in deference to the dead man's memory, had no wish to deal dishonourably with her rival, more especially since Agafya had never been disrespectful to her; however she married her off to a cowherd and banished her from sight." - p 144
In the light of Turgenev's hypothetical sensitivity to revolutionary issues, I do find the quote from p 43 of Home of the Gentry above to be a little peculiar. It seems that Turgenev accepts the notion that people who inherit power & wealth somehow 'deserve' it while those who parasitize off it don't deserve it & are "sponges". Aren't they both just living off the wealth accrued by others? At least the 'sponge' has to ingratiate himself &/or be entertaining while the host need not to've done anything other than be born fortunate.
&, yet, the later harsh treatment of these "sponges" isn't exactly condoned either: "Certain changes were certainly made in the house: the spongers and parasites underwent immediate expulsion; among those who suffered were two old women, one blind, the other afflicted by paralysis". (p 55)
Then again, not everything is written to express the author's perspective:
"'Yes, indeed, indeed. They say, you know, that she's keeping company with artists and with pianists, and with lions, as they call them over there, and wild beats of every sort. She has completely lost all shame . . .'" - p 22
Being a musician myself, & observing the lack of respect that musicians often get (I was told by a government official once that "musician" is not a profession), it was interesting for me to get a 19th century peek:
"Christopher Theodore Gottlieb Lemm was born in 1786 into a family of penurious musicians in the town of Chemnitz in the Kingdom of Saxony. His father played the French horn, his mother played the harp; by his fifth year he was himself practicing three different instruments. At eight he was orphaned and at ten he began earning his daily bread by his playing. For a long time he led a vagrant life, playing everywhere — at inns, at fairs, at peasant weddings and at balls. Finally he found a place in an orchestra and, moving ever higher and higher, eventually became conductor. He was a rather poor performer, but he had a fundamental understanding of music. In his twentieth-eighth year he emigrated to Russia. He had been booked by a grandiose member of the gentry who could not endure music but maintained an orchestra for show. Lemm spent seven years as his director of music and left without a penny to show for it: the gentleman in question went bankrupt, wanted to give him an I.O.U. but later refused to give him even that — in short, did not pay him a farthing." - pp 30-31
In translator Freeborn's introduction to Home of the Gentry he says that "Turgenev became the chronicler of this type of 'superfluous man' intellectual." (p 9) I find this a particularly engaging notion partially b/c I spent much of my young adulthood feeling as if I were treated as a useless "'superfluous man' intellectual" but thinking that this perception of the 'uselessness' of intellectualism was a symptom of the lack of appreciation of intelligence more than it was an accurate criticism.
Freeborn goes on to compare Home of the Gentry to the 2 novels to follow it by saying that "Turgenev's generation of the intelligentsia (the so-called 'men of the forties') was first seriously challenged by the new, radical, nihilistic generation of the 1860s, whom Turgenev was to depict obliquely in On the Eve (1860) and directly in the figure of Bazarov in Fathers and Children (1862)." [aka Fathers and Sons] "Home of the Gentry is thus the last of Turgenev's major works to be concerned exclusively with his own generation." (p 10)
There were moments when reading this seemed entirely too irrelevant to my own 'contemporary' life. But for people wanting an educational taste of attitudes past, it's still entertaining: "On the other hand, after his own fashion, he did take trouble over his son's education: Vladimir Nikolaich could speak French beautifully, English well and German badly. Which is as it should be: decent people are ashamed of speaking German well, but the art of dropping a German word into one's conversation at certain, usually humorous, moments - c'est même très chic, as our St. Petersburg Parisians express it." (p 25) This, over 200 yrs after the founding of Die Fruchtbringende Gesellschaft in 1617 by German scholars and nobility to promote German as a scholarly and literary language on par w/ Italian & French!
Turgenev excels in social description of a not necessarily flattering sort:
"The promised land of high society spread out before him. Panshin soon learned the secret of such a life; he learned how to imbue himself with real respect for its rules, how to talk nonsense with quasi-facetious importance and giving the impression of considering everything important to be nonsense, how to dance to perfection and dress in the English style." - p 26
"Ivan Petrovich returned to Russia an Anglomaniac. With his hair cut short, the starched frill on his shirt front, the long pea-green frock-coat with its multitude of collars, a sour expression on his face, something both brusque and negligent in his manner, the pronunciation of words through his teeth, a sudden wooden laugh, lack of smiles, exclusively political and politico-economic talk, a passion for underdone roast-beef and port wine — everything about him literally reeked of Great Britain". - pp 54-55
Just as Fathers and Sons can be alternately translated as Fathers and Children, etc, so can Home of the Gentry be alternately translated as Nest of the Gentry: "His 'nest of the gentry' appeared dirty, impoverished and unkempt to him". - p 44 & how do these gentry keep their nests feathered?:
"Six months later he declared himself to Varvara Pavlovna and offered her his hand. His offer was accepted; the general had long ago, almost on the eve of Lavretsky's first visit, inquired of Mikhalevich the number of Lavretsky's serfs; and Varvara Pavlovna, moreover, who throughout the young man's courtship and even at the very moment he had declared himself to her maintained her customary serenity and lucidity of soul — even Varvara Pavlovna knew full well that her fiancé was rich". - p 67
Of the 3 countries other than Russia that get the most mention, France gets the most respect & admiration: "A week had not gone by before she was making her way across the street wearing a shawl, opening an umbrella or pulling on gloves no less expertly than the most pure-blooded native of Paris." - p 70
But, it's perhaps the theme of the main character's age that most resonated w/ me. I was 35 when I was 1st accused of being a "dirty old man" by a girl that I'd been having sex w/ who was 20. She didn't seem to mind during the sex. In Home of the Gentry, the main character is already looked upon as over-the-hill by the time he's 37. "At the very height of this deafening fun a muddy tarantass drove up to the gates and a man of about forty-five, in a travelling cloak, stepped out of it and stopped in astonishment." (p 198) "'Don't feel you have to entertain me; we old people have an entertainment of our own, which you don't know about yet and which can't be replaced by any other: our memories.'" (p 201) "He had become tranquil and — what point is there in hiding the truth? — old, not in face and body alone, but in his soul as well; to keep the heart young into old age, as some claim they can, is difficult and almost comic". (p 202) "but for you there are things to be done, there is work to do, and the blessing of us old men will go with you. But for me, after this day, after such sensations as these, it remains only to make you a final bow — and, if with sadness, but without envy, without any dark feelings, to say, in sight of the end, in sight of ever-waiting God: "Welcome, lonely old age! Burn out, useless life!"'" (p 203)
That might seem excessively maudlin & melodramatic but I think of research I once did about the average life span of males in France in the late 19th century: as I recall, it was 45. Just imagine a hundred yrs from now when lifespans might be once again doubled as they have been in the last 100 yrs: 160 will be old but 45? A mere babe. ...more
Notes are private!
Jul 23, 2013
Jul 30, 2013
Sax Rohmer's Tales of Secret Egypt
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - June 17, 2013
My old friend Blaster Al Ackerman, the great writer, cartoo review of
Sax Rohmer's Tales of Secret Egypt
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - June 17, 2013
My old friend Blaster Al Ackerman, the great writer, cartoonist, mail artist, & trickster philosopher, died on March 17th, 2013. That got me to scanning most of what I have by him in my archive in preparation for a possible bk revolving around our correspondence from 1980 to 1986. THAT led to my making an animated slide-show movie called "This Will Explain" intended for premier at the upcoming memorial event in BalTimOre at Normal's called the "Blasterthon". Somewhere in there I wrote something called "The Truth Can Now Be Told" re Blaster that was published online thanks to Rupert Wondolowski at the Shattered Wig blog spot ( http://shatteredwig.blogspot.com/2013... ) & on HTMLGIANT blog spot ( http://htmlgiant.com/author-spotlight... ). As part of this, Rupert posted a scan of a large postcard illustration from my archive of "Sax Rohmer's Widow" + the verso's collage message. This got me to thinking about Rohmer. Shortly thereafter, I found this 1920 edition on sale at Copacetic Comics so, w/ Blaster in mind, I got it.
On the title page, it says: "Author of "The Insidious Dr. Fu-Manchu," "The Return of Fu-Manchu," "The Hand of Fu-Manchu," "The Yellow Claw," Etc.". This didn't bode well for me insofar as it reeks of 'Yellow Peril' popaganda [pun intended]. As I very vaguely recall the character of Fu-Manchu from old movies, he's the archetypal diabolical criminal character - similar, perhaps, to Dr. Mabuse - an unusually tall Chinese man. Wd Tales of Secret Egypt be like Mickey Spillane w/ Egyptians instead of Communists as the villains? Thankfully, no - at least not exactly.
The bk's divided into 2 parts: "Tales of Abu Tabah" & "Other Tales". The 'protagonist' of "Tales of Abu Tabah" is Kernaby Pasha - the latter word being an honorific in Egypt at the time equivalent to the British "Lord" - presumably applied here to the Kernaby character not b/c he occupies any political position but b/c he's a wealthy Englishmen living in Egypt. Kernaby Pasha represents the firm of "Messrs. Moses, Murphy & Co., of Birmingham" & is a thoroughly greedy scoundrel. As such, he's an anti-hero - Abu Tabah, on the other hand, is gradually built up to be a person who's not only much more clever but also a person w/ much greater integrity. SO, even tho these are more stories of the "Orient", as w/ the Fu-Manchu stories, there seems to be no 'Yellow Peril' here. Given that Rohmer (aka Arthur Henry Sarsfield Ward) was born in Birmingham, Kernaby's depiction as a thieving businessman seems more indicative of a 'British Peril'.
Literary precedents for Rohmer might be Edgar Allen Poe, Theophile Gautier, & Bram Stoker. On the wikipedia bio Arthur Conan Doyle & M. P. Shiel are listed.
The 1st tale begins thusly: "The duhr, or noonday call to prayer, had just sounded from the minarets of the mosques of kalaun and Es-Nasir, and I was idly noting the negligible effect of the adan upon the occupants of the neighboring shops" - this boded well for me b/c I detest religion & see it as a primary cause of the imbecility & brutality that plagues this planet - as such, I'm glad to read of people ignoring the imposition of Pavlovian dogmatic behavior.
In at least 2 places in this bk, Rohmer has characters claiming that Cairo is "as safe as in London and safer than in Paris" (p 5). I know little of Rohmer's life. Born in England, died in the US. No mention of his ever having been to Egypt. Perhaps he went there, perhaps he didn't, perhaps his depiction of Cairo is based entirely on reading bks about it or some such.
Given that the US (where I live) seems to be mostly in conflict w/ Arab cultures these days (9/11, invasion of Afghanistan, invasion of Iraq, etc) & given my extremely limited knowledge of these cultures, even Rohmer's fictionally skewed take on them is welcome - if only as a look at what a popular British writer of a century ago chose to focus on. There're such things as "the sacred burko of the Seyyideh Nefiseh" (p 13) The contemporary transliteration being "burka or burqa" meaning a veil or full body cloak worn by some Muslim women. Rohmer's depiction of the veil is consistently as an alluring feminine accoutrement, my perception of it is more as a suffocatingly repressive tool of the patriarchy.
Kernaby tries to exploit the confused whereabouts of this veil by plotting for his company to "dispose of three duplicates through various channels to wealthy collectors whose enthusiasms were greater than their morality." (p 16)
Rohmer has fun w/ Muslim insults but, alas, it seems that anti-Semitism is taken for granted as an Arab characteristic: ""He is a Jew, and a son of Jews, who eats without washing ! a devourer of pork, and an unclean insect," she cried." Ever on the alert for references to anarchy (usually casually misused by many writers in the same way that Rohmer appears to've casually misused depictions of Chinese people), I was a bit perplexed to read this: "there was nothing about the well-dressed after-dinner throng filling Shepheard's that night to have aroused misgiving in the mind of a cinema anarchist." (p 31)
Rohmer does seem to've 'done his homework' somewhat before writing this material. In 2 places he even uses hieroglyphs. E. A. Wallis Budge, the keeper of Egyptian & Assyrian Antiquities in The British Museum, wd've published his various version of the Egyptian Book of the Dead by the time Rohmer wrote this so I reckon Budge's work might've been a handy source for Rohmer. However, in an admittedly superficial thumbing-thru of my 1960 edition of that, I see no hieroglyph that looks like a seated Anubis in profile holding an Ankh. In Rohmer's tale, this hieroglyph is part of a warning to Kernaby Pasha from Abu Tabah. Perhaps a conventional interpretation of the hieroglyph wd be that Anubis, the jackal-headed god associated with mummification and the afterlife, is holding the key to life - perhaps the key to immortality. It's hard for me to tell here, being no expert on such things, whether Rohmer is actually displaying 'occult' knowledge or just bullshitting.
Rohmer did, obviously have access to some vocabulary that must've been somewhat esoteric in his time (& is STILL esoteric to me): "I recognized that I was about to be treated to an exhibition of darb el-mendel, Abu Tabah being evidently a sahhar, or adept in the art of er-roohanee." (p 52) This strikes me as potentially authentic - but how wd I 'know'?!
Rohmer also references the Iranian poet Hafez: "It was like some gorgeous illustration to a poem by Hafiz, only lacking the figure at the window." (p 98) But the author he may reference the most often isn't Persian or Arabic but British: "In his story Beyond the Pale, Rudyard Kipling has trounced the man who inquires too deeply into native life" (p 114); "It was in those days, then, that I learned as your Rudyard Kipling has also learned that "East is East"; it was in those days that I came face to face with that "mystery of Egypt" about which so much is written, and always will be written, but concerning which so few people, so very few people, know anything whatever." (p 170) "Every Anglo-Indian that I met seemed a figure from the pages of Kipling". (p 195)
Then again, maybe it's "Ibn Sina of Bokhara": ""the perfume was presented in a gold vase, together with the manner of its preparation, by the great wizard and physician Ibn Sina of Bokhara" (Avicenna)." (p 119) "He was said to possess the secrets of Geber and of Avicenna—the great Ibn Sina of Bokhara ; to possess the Philosophers' Stone and the Elixir Vitae." (p 228)
Just as Rohmer seems to have a scholarly bent when spelling 'Avicenna', so, too, does he say in a footnote that "Bedouins" is the "incorrect but familiar spelling". (p 170)
There's apparently some uncertainty of whether Rohmer had any connection to occult societies of his time. There is, tho, as is apparent in his writings, a certainty that he had an ongoing interest in such things:
"You may have heard of the Bedouin song, the 'Mizmune':
""Ya men melek ana deri waat sa jebb
Id el' ish hoos' a beb hatsa azat ta leb."
"You may have heard how when it is sung in a certain fashion, flowers drop from their stalks?" (p 190)
I'm wary of the word "oriental" & Rohmer seems to use it in a way that conflates Asian & Arabic cultures together into an 'exoticism' (in relation to the 'western' world, of course) that I find highly suspect: "I approached the native station master, with whom I was acquainted, and put to him a number of questions respecting his important functions—in which I was not even mildly interested. But to the Oriental mind a direct inquiry is an affront, almost an insult; and to have inquired bluntly the name of the deceased and the manner of his death would have been the best way to have learned nothing whatever about the matter." (p 40) Given that "orient" apparently means "east' & that the world is divided by some into "east" & "west", what I mainly find strange about this is the subjective relativity of it - ie: these terms are only relative to each other: the "West" is east of the "East" & the "East" is west of the "West" if that relativity is perceived from a different direction. After all, the globe is round - it's not like we're talking about the left & right of a bounded square or some such.
Kernaby, being always on the lookout to make as much money as possible to someone else's detriment, still has an ethical code that's somewhat amusing & possibly in keeping w/ a 'stuffy' Englishman: "I disapprove of your morals, Malaglou. My own code may be peculiar, but it does not embrace hashish dealing". (p 82) After a description of a costume party, Kernaby states "Doubtless it was all very amusing, but, personally, I stand by my commonplace dress-suit, having, perhaps, rather a ridiculous sense of dignity." (p 97) Later, he justifies some industrial espionage (""We would ask you," ran the communication, "to renew your inquiries into the particular composition of the perfume 'Breath of Allah'" - p 115) as "socialistic": "Yet I am at a loss to see where my perfidy lay ; for my outlook is sufficiently socialistic to cause me to regard with displeasure the conserving by an individual of something which, without loss to himself, might reasonably be shared by the community." (p 131)
In a later, non Abu Tabah tale, the subject of slavery in 20th century Cairo comes up:
""He has many slaves. His agent in Mecca procures for him the pick of the market."
""But there is no such thing as slavery in Egypt!"
""Do the slaves know that, effendim? he asked simply. "Those who have tongues are never seen outside the walls—unless they are guarded by those who have no tongue." - pp 246-247
Indeed. In how many places in this world does slavery still exist? & do the slaves themselves even get a chance to know that it's illegal?!
"That the queen under whom Egyptian art came to the apogee of perfection should thus have been treated by her successors ; that no perfect figure of the wise, famous, and beautiful Hatasu should have been spared to posterity ; that he very cartouche should have been ruthlessly removed from every inscription upon which it appeared" (p 267) is explained on Wikisource thusly: "All that we know is that she disappears from history in about her fortieth year, and that her brother and successor, the third Thothmes, actuated by a strong and settled animosity, caused her name to be erased, as far as possible, from all her monuments." - http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Ancient...
The mere fact that reading the above-quoted passage in "In the Valley of the Sorceress" prompted me to do even this tiny bit of research makes Tales of Secret Egypt good reading for me. Alas, in my copy of the bk, pp 268-269, 272-273, 276-277, & 280-281 are blank - making the mystery even more mysterious (altho filling in the blanks wasn't very hard).
"I once read a work by Pierre de l'Ancre, dealing with the Black Sabbaths of the Middle Ages" (p 275) "Pierre de Rosteguy de Lancre or Pierre de l'Ancre, Lord of De Lancre (1553–1631), was the French judge of Bordeaux who conducted a massive witch-hunt in Labourd in 1609. In 1582 he was named judge in Bordeaux, and in 1608 King Henry IV of France commanded him to put an end to the practice of witchcraft in Labourd, in the French part of the Basque Country, where over four months he sentenced to death several dozen persons." ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pierre_... ) More research I wdn't've done w/o Rohmer's arousing my curiosity.
I even found the final tale, "Pomegranate Flower", worthy of Boccaccio's The Decameron or of the Tales from the Thousand and One Nights. Whether this latter is really a compliment or not might depend on whether one ignores that these tales run on for hundreds of pages w/ dreary fundamentalist war propaganda.
I'd like to read a bk like this written by an Arab writer about New York City or some such. It wd help me get a clearer perspective on the ways in wch Rohmer (& others) romanticize & distort cultures that he's not a part of in order to make entertaining & exoticizing fiction.
By the by, I don't know whether this is available as a hard-copy bk anymore but it IS available online here: http://archive.org/stream/talesofsecr... ...more
Notes are private!
Jun 16, 2013
Jun 17, 2013
Jan 01, 1914
Jules Verne's Into the Niger Bend
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - April 16, 2013
This the 1st bk of the 2 bk The Astonishing Adventure of th review of
Jules Verne's Into the Niger Bend
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - April 16, 2013
This the 1st bk of the 2 bk The Astonishing Adventure of the Barsac Mission & the 7th Verne bk I've read in my recent Verne spree. Fortunately, I also have the 2nd & final bk, The City in the Sahara, wch I'll be reading & reviewing next. On the back of this 2nd bk it's proclaimed that this "may well have been Jules Verne's crowning work of science-fiction." That is probably born out by the 2nd bk but, so far, this 1st bk is mostly an adventure novel w/o any SF (except for by mysterious implication).
In I. O. Evans' intro to the 2nd bk he says: "Book 1 of Jules Verne's posthumous story, L'Étonnante Aventure de la Mission Barsac, published in this series under the title Into the Niger Bend, described the vicissitudes of the Barsac Mission, sent out at the beginning of the Nineteenth Century to ascertain whether the Negroes of French West Africa were qualified to become voters and citizens." (p 5) I'm a bit confused by this b/c French Guinea, where this African journey more or less begins, wasn't established until 1891 (according to Wikipedia). As such, I think Evans probably meant to write 'at the beginning of the Twentieth Century' instead of the "Nineteenth".
In the intro to bk 1, Evans writes: "Its opening sequence recalls Conan Doyle: as Kenneth Allott points out in his biography of Verne, "It is the very accent of Watson about to relate another of the cases of Sherlock Holmes." The rest of the chapter almost outdoes Edgar Wallace. Chapter III might have been written by one of the romantic novelists of the nineteenth century. The rest of Book I, with its adventures in the African bush and the forebodings of its witch-doctor, is reminiscent of Rider Haggard. Only in Book II does Jules Verne, master of science fiction, come into his own." (p 5) I agree. But it's a testimonial to Verne's adaptability that this 1st bk is as successful as it is just as an adventure story w/, as I've noted in my other recent Verne reviews, the usual assortment of racism problems. But, as I've also noted, I DO think that Verne's racism is more an internal struggle between the typical attitudes of a person of his class & culture of the day & Verne's own presentiments of what we might call a more 'enlightened' attitude.
[It's springtime, it's raining nicely outside (I love rain), I'm drinking red wine, I just witnessed some of the movie called Elephant Walk, & I'm listening to a recording of George Perle's "Three Movements for Orchestra". Life is good. I am alone. Life is bad.]
As much as I'm glad that this series of Verne bks called the "Fitzroy" edition exists, as much as I'm thankful to Ace for publishing it, as much as I'm grateful to I. O. Evans for his translations & informative notes, I find myself, again & again, disliking his editorial decisions: "I have" [..] "taken the liberty, found necessary by most of Verne's other translators, of abbreviating or omitting a few passages of minor interest." (p 7) Uh.. I'd like to decide that for myself! Of "minor interest" to Evans, of MAJOR interest to me!
The novel revolves around several plots - one of wch is that French politicians were in conflict over whether black citizens of 'French West Africa' shd have the right to vote. Interesting. Verne makes the proponent of blacks voting, Barsac, a central character - implying, I think, his sympathies w/ this position. "It had begun on the subject of a law proposed by the former [Barsac], to create five deputies' seats in Senegal, Gambia, Upper Guinea, and the French Soudan situated west of the Niger, and to extend the vote, granted their eligibility, to the coloured peoples without distinction of race." (p 27) I'd like to see the implied 'people-w/o-color' - even 'albinos' have color. Verne is subtle. I suspect him of writing in a 'realistic' racist manner typical of his time partially so he can sneak in a subtext of anti-racism.
"The one [Barsac again], citing the authority of many civil and military travellers familiar with the region, declared that the Negroes had risen to a high degree of civilization, he added that it availed little to have suppressed slavery unless the subject peoples were given the same rights as their masters, and in a series of perorations which the Chambre applauded vociferously, he pronounced the mighty words "liberté, egalité, et fraternité." (p 28) Of course Barsac has a political opponent. They both go to Africa to study the situation w/ the intent of accumulating 'evidence' for their respective positions - in the hope of influencing the voting in their respective favors.
Barsac's opponent seems to be proven 'correct' again & again in this 1st novel as the European travelers encounter frightening behavior from the black natives over & over again. Of course, Verne is setting up the reader in a way that may not've been so obvious to early 20th century readers but that're perhaps all-too-obvious to myself as a reader of the early 21st century. As usual, Verne's a curious mix of a 19th century novelist w/ a 20th century one's imagination. He's even cynical about politicians (wch is a 'time-honored' tradition but one not necessarily completely obvious to many people, I reckon, of the time): "M. le Governeur Valdonee then gave the usual signal for "spontaneous" applause, while Barsac stepped backwards and Bandrières [his rival] came to the front." (p 31) ""Never forget this truth, M. Florence: anyone in politics can make a mistake. That doesn't matter. But if he admits his error, he's lost."" (p 151)
Reasons for imperialism are most obvious when the conquering country is small & highly populated & when its natural resources are approaching depletion: "The region involved" [..] "exceeded 1,000,000 square miles" [..] "about three times the size of France". (p 32)
There's even a nice part where Verne throws in slang:
""Who are they?" asked Barsac.
""A type and his lady," was all the fellow said.
""I shouldn't think so, to judge by the look of them," the orderly replied. "The man's tall, with not much lawn on his pebble."
""He's bald! Tow-coloured whiskers and eyes like the knob of a staircase." - p 34
Nice. I wish there was more like that. But there isn't. The "eyes like the knob of a staircase" presumably means he has a thyroid problem. What there is instead of slang is a multi-lingual-ism that strikes me as quite impressive. One of the worst things that the worst forms of imperialism does is banish the languages of the areas conquered. The British, eg. forced the Irish to speak English. Under Franco, in mid 20th century Spain, Catalan was illegal. This is IMPORTANT. Verne actually explores multiple languages more beautifully in this than in any other bk of his I've read:
"Jane did not look amused. "That's why it would be better to ask them in Bambara."
""In Bambara? Am I supposed to know Bambara?"
""Well, you can learn it."
""At my age?"
""Well, I've learned it, and I'm your aunt."
""You? Can you speak Bambara?"
""Certainly. Just listen to this: "Dfi lokho a bé na'."
""Whatever's that gibberish?"
""That means 'I'm thirsty.' And 'I dou, nono i mita.'"
""I swear . . . nono . . . mita."
""That means, 'Come in, I'll give you some milk.'" - p 53
How many other French novels at the time had Bambara parts in them?! I offer my sincere & deep respect to Verne for this. Bambara is a language spoken in Mali. I actually have the pleasure of knowing a guy from Mali. He has a computer repair business in Pittsburgh. I asked him about the effects of French colonialism & whether there was resentment about it. He told me something to the effect that the French had left behind a pretty nice infrastructure.
Of course, no Verne hero is w/o 'their' servants (unless in distress): "The convoy, correctly so called, comes behind them. It consists of fifty donkeys led by twenty-five muleteers, of whom ten really belong to Mlle. Mornas and M. de St. Bérain. On the flanks are Captain Marcenay's cavalrymen. As for your humble servant, he makes it his humble task to canter along the column from one end to the other. / Tchoumouki and Tongané, Mlle Mornas' two servants, form the rearguard." - p 62
I have no idea how common cannibalism was in the late 19th & early 20th century in Africa. Verne seems to think it was quite common (both here & in The Village In The Treetops - see my review here: http://www.goodreads.com/story/show/3... ):
""Me make it fine stew with sadé (lamb)," he tells us, "tender as a baby."
"Tender as a baby! That comparison makes our flesh creep. Has Moriliré ever tasted human flesh, we wonder? We ask him. He tells us, in rather hypocritical terms, that he's never eaten it himself, but he's heard its exquisite savour praised highly. H'm!" - p 67
Common or not, cannibalism makes for an exciting story, eh? But, actually, there's no cannibalism, except in allusion, in this. & Moriliré turns out to be a bad guy.
I'm pleased w/ the ongoing use of Bambara: ""Allah ma toula kendé," they say, touching their foreheads with their right hands. "Karo koutayé." ("God has been good to us; we can see the new moon.")" (p 69) Not that I wd know whether it's accurate or even authentic - I reckon I trust Verne.
While there isn't any cannibalism, there IS slavery. I've always found it odd that people act like the Americans & the British were the only big bad slavers in the world & as if the Africans were just these poor victims. It seems to be much more realistic that the Africans have their own long history of slavery wch persists to the recent past if not to this day (see Mauritania, eg).
"Moriliré tells her that a young Negress, the servant of a farmer of the same colour who's away just now, is offering her hospitality in a hut. This is quite clean and - unlikely as it seems - is furnished with a bedstead of European type.
""You give money," the guide adds. "This good!"
"Mlle Mornas accepts the proffered hospitality and we escort her ceremonially to her new lodging. There the promised servant is waiting for us. She is standing near one of the trees. She is a girl of middling height, aged about fifteen, and not at all ugly. As she had no clothing except a simple leaf which plainly came neither from the Louvre nor from the Bon Marché but perhaps from the Magasin du Printemps as St. Bérain cheerfully suggests, she looks like a fine statue in black marble." - p 71
"The little black servant is stretched on the ground near the threshold of the hut. her back is marked, zebra-fashion, with red weals, and the poor child is sobbing to break one's heart.
"Before her, and protecting her with her body, Mlle Mornas - really superb when she loses her temper - is holding at bay a huge Negro who, a few steps away, is making horrible grimaces and who is still grasping a blood-dappled stick. We ask for an explanation.
""Just think of it," Mlle Mornas tells us, "I had hardly gone to bed. Malik - the little Negress is called Malik - was fanning me and I was just dropping off. Then here comes this big brute, her master, coming home unexpectedly. As soon as he sees me he flies into a rage, drags the poor child out, and starts beating her unmercifully to teach her to bring white people into his hut!"" - p 72
Ha ha! I'm sure a Frenchman, returning from work & finding 'his' servant fanning a black person in his bed wdn't flip out? (NOT)
"While the discussion proceeds, Mlle Mornas has lifted Malik to her feet and is dressing her wounds with Karité butter. [Uh oh, she's using butter! Is Mornas going to eat Malik?!] The bargain made, she leads her to our camp, dresses her in a white blouse, and puts a few coins in her hand.
""Now," she says, "you're not a slave any longer. I set you free."
"But Malik bursts into sobs. She says she is alone and she doesn't want to leave "so good a white lady." She will be her chambermaid and will serve her faithfully until she dies. She weeps, she implores.
""Keep her, little girl," St. Bérain puts in. "You'll certainly find her usefull. She'll render the thousand little services which a woman always needs [..]"" - p 73
Seems like more than a bit of a self-serving fable to me, but I reckon it's possible. The narrator is usually a French reporter named Amédée Florence. He writes: "The 2nd December we strike camp at five in the morning, and our column, now larger by a unit - or rather should I say by half a unit, for one white is worth two blacks? - gets on the march." (p 74) So what's Verne doing here? After the heroic rescue of the slave he has the now-willing-servant 'devalued' to being a half-human in contrast to a white. Is Verne just being realistic in his depiction of racist 'values'? Or does he share them? It's ambiguous. But by the next page in Florence's article, he has the reporter write: "They have absurd names, these villages: Fongoumbi, Manfourou, Kafou, Ouossou, etc. I give it up. Can't they call themselves Neuilly or Levallois like everybody else?" (p 75) THAT seems like a flagrant parody of French chauvinism.
Verne has Florence & Barsac be sympathetic characters &, given that Barsac's agitating for equal voting rights for the black Africans, Barsac is even potentially an anti-racist hero. HOWEVER, these sympathetic characters are hardly flawless - so maybe, again, it's Verne's realism w/ a little parody thrown in. More from Florence:
"these blacks, about ten in number, are traders and witchdoctors who have no hostile intentions and simply want to sell us their produce and to entertain us.
""Lock up the silver!" M. Barsac suggests humorously, "and show them into the dining room!"
"So the blacks are shown in, each more ugly and more sordid than the others. Among them are craftsmen, masters of thirty-six trades, makers of pottery, trinkets, baskets, objects in wood or iron; and vendors of weapons, fabrics and especially Kola nuts, of which we lay in an ample store."
"These troubadours from Negro-land are two in number. The first holds a guitar. What a guitar! . . . Imagine a calabash crossed lengthwise by three shoots of bamboo each provided with a catgut string." - p 77
Now what's the 'reporter' really describing here? Is it a kora? It might be. Is this a parody of the French reporter's ignorance? if so, wd early 20th century French readers have understood this?
The travelers are talked into visiting a fortune-teller (Kéniélala) by the treacherous Moriliré:
"He begins by piling up in front of him a heap of very fine sand, which he spreads out fan-wise by one movement of a little broom. Then he asks us for a dozen Kola nuts, half red and half white, which he moves rapidly over the sand while babbling incomprehensible words; then, setting them out on the sand in several figures, circles, squares, diamonds, rectangles, triangles, and so forth, he males strange gestures above them as though he were blessing them. At last he collects them carefully and holds out his dirty hands in which we place the consultation fee." - p 100
I find this interesting. I wonder how accurate of a description this is & I wonder about the ideas behind the ceremony.
Florence's racism proceeds apace. He uses words like "darkies" (p 120) & "ugly little piccaninny" (p 134), or, at least the British translator does (I don't know what Verne's original words wd've been), & somewhat casually mentions a proposed plan to make the porters march under threat of death. (pp 120-121) But, then, he questions this: "As for the natives, how can we possibly compel them? What's to be done if they lie down, if they resist us only with the force of inertia? Shooting them would be a very poor means of making sure of their services!" (p 121) The Eurocentrism goes largely unquestioned: "Isn't it clear that the further East we go, which means the further from the sea, the less contact the natives have had with Europeans, and so their veneer of civilization (?) will wear thinner and thinner." (p 121) This being the reporter's logic against voting rights for the black Africans. But, then, why does Florence interpolate the question-mark after "civilization"?
Racism aside, there's really much, MUCH more to this (pair of) novel(s). Termites & their dwellings fascinate me. W/ this in mind, I was interested in this:
"11th February. Early this morning, we came into the midst of cultivated fields, showing that a village is near. These fields would be fairly well kept up were not so much of them devastated by termites, which are terribly destructive.
[Not as terribly so as humans daddio!]
"These insects build mushroom-shaped termitaries, sometimes the height of a man [ie: their 'high-rises'], and at the beginning of winter they leave them like winged ants. then they infest the villages. But the people never lose a chance of amusing themselves. The appearance of these winged ants is the signal for feasts and nameless orgies. Fires are lighted, and on these the ants singe their wings. The women and children collect them and fry them in Cé butter. Then it's not enough to eat. the people must drink. So, when evening comes, the whole village is drunk." - pp 132-133
As w/ other novels I've read by Verne, there're parts where the solution to certain mysteries is painfully obvious to the reader but completely opaque to the characters. It's hard to say whether Verne was using this as a device to make the reader feel smarter & tensely engaged w/ waiting for the characters to figure out the obvious OR whether Verne's readership at the time of writing wdn't've found these things as obvious as I do a century later.
As the 1st of these 2 novels reaches its end, the characters are taking stock of the difficulties that have befallen them. Barsac concludes that their hidden enemies haven't really done anything that bad. The Dr. points out that they bayonetted their black guide & left him for dead.
""There's Tongané," Dr. Chatonnay pointed out gently.
""Tongané is a Negro," Barsac replied, "and for many people the life of a Negro doesn't count."
So does it count for Barsac the voting crusader or not?! ...more
Notes are private!
Apr 16, 2013
Apr 17, 2013
Mass Market Paperback
Jules Verne's Carpathian Castle
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - March 18, 2013
This is the 3rd Verne bk I've read in a row now. It actually review of
Jules Verne's Carpathian Castle
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - March 18, 2013
This is the 3rd Verne bk I've read in a row now. It actually increased my admiration for him b/c it's so different from anything else that I've read. This is his "Gothic" novel & it does fit the bill. 40 yrs or so ago I went thru a phase of exploring Gothic novels - esp when I learned that the Surrealists liked them. I'd already read Bram Stoker's Dracula when I was around 12. Of course I read Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. &, then, in no particular order, there was Ann Radcliffe's The Mysteries of Udolpho, Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto, William Beckford's Vathek, M. G. "Monk" Lewis' The Monk, & even Thomas Love Peacock's Nightmare Abbey, wch might be a parody of Gothic novels as well as of romanticism, & probably Jane Austen's Northanger Abbey, another Gothic novel parody. Mainly lacking here is Polidori's The Vampyre. I cd care less about the 20th century stuff.
It's interesting to note that Verne's Carpathian Castle takes place in Transylvania & was published in 1892 - 5 yrs before Stoker's Dracula was published. From the introduction:
"In her biography of Verne, his niece Marguerite Allote de la Füye explains that during this period in which Carpathian Castle was written, Verne was plunged into so long-enduring a mood of sadness that his family were alarmed. She infers that he had some secret sorrow, and adds that "whatever tragedy was enacted behind that silence, he allowed no whisper of it to survive him." The implication is that it was some unhappy love affair, which in all probability was of a purely Platonic nature, for in such matters Verne, a devout Roman Catholic, was as austere as his own heroes." - p 5
The argument that his devout Roman Catholicism ruled out extra-marital sex strikes me as somewhat thin. If he was indeed so depressed, perhaps it had something to do w/ this: "On 9 March 1886, as Verne was coming home, his twenty-five-year-old nephew, Gaston, shot at him twice with a pistol. The first bullet missed, but the second one entered Verne's left leg, giving him a permanent limp that could not be overcome. This incident was hushed up in the media, but Gaston spent the rest of his life in a mental asylum. After the death of both his mother and Hetzel, Jules Verne began publishing darker works." ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jules_Verne )
Even tho Carpathian Castle is full of superstition & obsession w/ a dead woman, it's really completely different from the other Gothic novels. I wdn't call the mood 'dark' in the way that The Monk & Dracula are. It's really this difference from the other Gothic novels that makes it such a remarkable bk. Verne was a man of the scientific age, debunking superstition. Still, he was also an entertaining novelist & the bk's written very successfully as a mystery so one can't really be completely sure where he's going w/ it.
As much as I respect & enjoy Verne's writing, I've previously criticized him for always having classism somewhat everpresent w/ his rich heros & their loyal servants (read lackeys) - & this one's not much of an exception. & I've criticized him for his racism against Chinese in The Begum's Fortune (see my review here: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/17... ). SO, w/ every novel I pretty much expect at least a little of more-of-the-same & in this one there's a tad of anti-Semiticism. BUT, Verne's trying, I really think he was, to give everybody a fair shake - regardless of how ingrained in his society such prejudices were. Hence we get this:
"Who was its proprietor? A Jew of the name of Jonas, a good fellow of about sixty, having a pleasant if somewhat Semitic appearance, with his black eyes, hook nose, long lip, smooth hair, and the traditional beard. Obsequious and obliging, he willingly lent small sums to one or the other without being too particular as to security nor too usurious as regards interest, although he expected to be paid on the dates agreed by the borrower. Would to heaven that all Jews in Transylvania were as accommodating as the innkeeper of Werst!
"Unfortunately, this excellent Jonas was an exception. His fellows in religion, his brethren by profession - for they are all innkeepers, selling drinks and groceries - carry on the trade of money-lenders with a bitterness that is disquieting for the future of the Roumanian peasant. The land is passing, bit by bit, from the native to the foreigner. In default of being repaid their advances, the Jews are becoming the owners of the finest farms, which have been mortgaged to their advantage: and if the Promised Land is not in Palestine, it may one day make its appearance on the maps of Transylvania geography." - pp 40-41
Oh, well. I really wish he hadn't written that crap. Regardless, the novel does have 'eerie' touches that make it, at least seemingly, a Gothic novel in the typical sense:
"Suddenly a voice was clearly heard amid the general silence, and these words were slowly pronounced -
""Nicolas Deck, do not go to the castle tomorrow! Do not go there or you will meet with misfortune."
"Who was it said this? Whence came the voice which no one recognized, and which seemed to come from an invisible mouth? It could only be the voice of a phantom, a supernatural voice, a voice from the next world." - p 52
I don't want to spoil this by giving too much away. For readers who love intertextual reference, he refers to both James Fenimore Cooper (September 15, 1789 – September 14, 1851) & Victor Hugo (26 February 1802 – 22 May 1885) - both of whom were alive in Verne's lifetime (8 February 1828 – 24 March 1905). While Carpathian Castle doesn't really have the atmospheric creepiness that many readers probably want from Gothic fiction, it's very Jules Verne & that was definitely enuf for me. ...more
Notes are private!
Mar 17, 2013
Mar 18, 2013
Jan 01, 2010
Peter Lamborn Wilson's ABECEDARIUM
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - February 22, 2013
This is brilliant. I always hesitate to give any bk a 5 review of
Peter Lamborn Wilson's ABECEDARIUM
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - February 22, 2013
This is brilliant. I always hesitate to give any bk a 5 star rating & I don't really like the rating system anyway but, nonetheless, 5 stars it is. This is scholarly, imaginative, stimulating, rebellious, funny, entertaining. It also reminds me that its publisher, Xexoxial Editions, is another one of my favorite publishers up there w/ Station Hill Press, Something Else Press, Encyclopedia Destructica, Atlas Press, Dalkey Archive, Grove Press, etc..
I'm most reminded of William S. Burroughs' The Book of Breeething ( http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18... ), another bk I gave 5 stars to. In the early days of my GoodReads reviews, my reviews were short, just capsules, if even that much. In the one about the Burroughs bk I wrote: "It all ties together: visionary, magikal (&, yes, my spelling is deliberate). It's as if Burroughs achieved a highly disciplined penetrating vision & locked it in place."
In the section on the letter "M" he even references Burroughs:
"Wm Burroughs once demanded of the State that it return all the colors it stole to animate its symbolic imaginaire: give back the green from the dollar bill to trees & grass, etc. The alphabet has also "stolen" symbols in order to perpetuate itself as the framework of a certain social relation. M has stolen the moisture out of the baby's mouth. It should give back its waves to the sea & its breasts to the Goddess." (p 42)
By comparing Wilson to Burroughs I don't mean to belittle him as derivative - far from it. ABECEDARIUM is as rich in difference as it is in similarity. Wilson shares w/ Burroughs an anti-authoritarianism & a visionary speculative scholarliness uncowed by fear of looking foolish, secure in the audacity of his personality.
Peter gave me this bk when I visited him in December, 2010. It was a marvelous, albeit brief, visit. He ushered me straight into the entryway bedroom of his home & immediately spread out large ceremonial collages & explained their relations to recent rituals he'd been conducting. Rituals of sacrificing jewelry to rivers & such-like. It was SO Peter! So unique, so original.. &, yet, so tied into so many occult currents. & ABECEDARIUM is fertile w/ the same spirit:
is for barn or byre or building or house -- perhaps cattle share it with humans like in old Ireland. Maybe the ox isn't so much coming forth as going in -- down into Egypt. Sounds have been enclosed in rigid sounds -- A is A, B is B. Beneath them the archaeographologue uncovers walls of old houses broken pottery bones. What did they bury with the dead & why? Surely the dead have provided these ruins with an immense gravity or suffocating heaviness -- almost suction. These mummies are dehydrated & they long for the blood of living words or even inarticulate sounds.
"Without letters there could be no machines; what letters do for sound the machine does for force. A machine is the sign of its own operation. Nothing ever melts into something else." (p 14)
"Each of the letters kills the thing it has replaced." (p 17)
"Cabalistic or hermeto-critical praxis precludes any pure negative approach to alphabetic symbolism -- even tho this ABC stresses spectral rather than formal aspects of alphabetism. No idyllic return to pre-literacy. There's nothing particularly "oral" about radio & TV since they could never have been invented without the machine of letters in the first place." (p 19)
The current coursing thru this is questioning, questioning not only the language being used to write the bk but also the concept of 'progress' that such language represents to some. &, yet, while almost everything is questioned, there's a deliberate ambiguity, a reveling in 'poetic' tangents:
"Palm of the Hand. Two fingers poked in the eye of three stooges. Take give bless, the Three Graces or anti-stooges. Spectre & Form.
"K the letter of Earth, X for Air, Z for Fire, Q for Water. Unspell these letters if you can. Disney characters have three fingers perhaps a hint of their demonic origin.
"Lines on the palm of the hand as a possible source of letters: reading the palm, crossing it with silver. Dreams are the thing but not the thing: images words memories but not the thing. A doubling has occurred -- a doppelgänger in the invisible world of words -- and eventually this displacement goes so far that writing must be invented to contain restrain fixate & even kill the dream images like so many maggots. Contraction of awareness as defense against too much sensation. Gods no longer speak to us, the selfish bastards." (p 34)
In drawings announcing each letter's section, the letter is shown & a history of its development from a hieroglyph to its current form is hypothesized. In almost every case, the hieroglyph is turned on its side. Wilson speculates that this is to hide the original magik.
"What does it mean to say that the Prophet was unlettered? literally illiterate? So that Gabriel using yet another variant of the old Ehypto-Sinaitic abecedarium had to fill him up with letters like an empty sack? there in the cave of the daemon of dreams? Or -- as certain sufis allege -- because he'd gotten rid of the letters in some way, transcended or absorbed them, erased them or washed them out in a howl of light? The Hurufiyya the original Lettrists created calligrammes of Mohammed & Ali in which their faces & bodies are made of letters. I have a behind-glass painting from Cirebon in Java in which the body of the shadow-puppet clown Semar (albino hunchback hermaphrodite dwarf) is composed of the Arabic letters ALLAH -- green and gold." (p 37)
All in all, GREAT! & where shd I file it in my library? Under poetry? Under literary studies? (I don't think I have such a section) Under occult? Perhaps all great works don't easily fit into any pre-existing categories. ...more
Notes are private!
Feb 22, 2013
Feb 22, 2013
**spoiler alert** review of
Jack Kerouac & William S. Burroughs'
And the Hippos were Boiled in their Tanks
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - Februar **spoiler alert** review of
Jack Kerouac & William S. Burroughs'
And the Hippos were Boiled in their Tanks
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - February 11, 2013
I was in Boston recently & I was astounded to find this. A collaboration between Burroughs & Kerouac?! Written in 1945, 5 yrs before Kerouac's 1st published novel came out & 8 yrs before Burroughs' 1953 Junkie?! What a wonderful find for a Burroughs enthusiast such as myself!
&, at 1st, I found it excellent. The story's based on an actual situation that involved a murder. This murder was committed by one friend of Burroughs' & Kerouac's against another. In James Grauerholz's Afterword, Grauerholz quotes Burroughs' biographer, Ted Morgan, as quoting Burroughs talking about the bk's originally not finding a publisher thusly:
""It had no commercial possibilities. It wasn't sensational enough to make it [...] from that point of view, nor was it well-written or interesting enough to make it [from] a purely literary point of view. It sort of fell in-between. [It was] very much in the Existentialist genre"" (p 195)
But it's precisely this "Existentialist" aspect of it, its non-"sensational"ism that appeals to me. Both Burroughs & Kerouac write about the events leading up to the murder & some of the events immediately after in a straight-forward, seemingly honest style. I appreciate that. The closest thing I can compare it to might be a novel by Patricia Highsmith. Unlike in 'real' life, it's not the lifestyles of those involved that're on trial here. In fact, NOTHING's on trial - not even the murderer.
& that's all well & good. I've always admired Burroughs' clarity of thinking, his ability to look at hard subjects in an unsentimental way, a way not mired in societal bullshit. But, in my review of Junkie ( http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/29... ), I've also noted this:
"Burroughs' romanticization of heroin use was all well & good for him - he came from a wealthy family & lived off a trust fund. He didn't have to resort to the most desperate tactics to support his habit. There was always the check from Mummy & Daddy to take care of it for him. &, later, the publishers."
&, once again, I find myself critical of both Burroughs' class privilege &, to a lesser extent, his 'rationalism'. The murderer confessed his crime to Burroughs 1st & Burroughs advised him to turn himself in - essentially saying that he'd be able to get off easy by claiming, somewhat accurately, that the victim was stalking him. Then the murderer spent time w/ Kerouac before following Burroughs' advice.
The police then arrested both Burroughs & Kerouac as material witnesses:
"Kerouac was arrested at the apartment where he lived with his girlfriend [..]; unable to pay his bail, he was held as a material witness." (p 190)
"As soon as Burroughs got word that he, too, was wanted as a witness, he contacted his parents in St. Louis. They immediately arranged for him to retain a good attorney, who walked his client in to the DA's office for questioning and then walked him out, free on bond." (p 191)
Now, what's wrong w/ this picture? Or, rather, what's so sickeningly 'normal' about it & so sickeningly 'normal' about the great W.S.'s safety net? Kerouac = no money = stay-in-jail; Burroughs = rich = out-of-jail-immediately. As prison activists say: "Them's that ain't got the capital gets the punishment". & as for the murderer?:
"Lucien was sentenced to the reformatory in Elmira, New York, on September 15, 1944, to a maximum of ten years' confinement. Ann Charters's biography of Kerouac states that Carr's friends expected him to receive a suspended sentence, so they were shocked when he was remanded to the corrections system. But as Burroughs told Ted Morgan, "I was there in the courtroom . . . . I walked out with Lucien's lawyer, who said [to me], 'I think it would have been very bad for his character, for him to get off scot free' - so his heart wasn't in the case at all, he didn't want him to get off. He was kind of moralistic about it." (That man may, however, have been right.)" (p 192)
Carr was released after 2 yrs. Not much of a sentence for murder. In the end, cd it've helped that his uncle was a Rockefeller? It's even claimed that Kerouac "seemed to admire the killing as a heroic deed". (p 203) In the novel, Burroughs' alter-ego, Will Dennison, upon learning of the murder, gives the murderer this advice:
""Do you know what happened to you, Phil? You were attacked. Al attacked you. He tried to rape you. You lost your head. Everything went black. You hit him. He stumbled back and fell off the roof. You were in a panic. Your only thought was to get away. Get a good lawyer, you'll be out in two years."" (p 163)
Burroughs, a 'paragon of clarity & honesty', advises another rich kid on how to lie to get away w/ murder.
"Phillip got up to leave and walked over to the door. I walked over and stood beside him. I thought that if it was true, I ought to put my hand on his shoulder and say something kind to cheer him up. But then I remembered how he was always trying to get money out of me." (pp 163-164)
Nowhere does Burroughs seem to care much that his friend has been murdered by a person who he uniformly depicts in the novel as annoying. In fact, only Kerouac, thru his alter-ego Mike Ryko, seems to express any caring AT ALL about the victim:
"And then I said, "Well at least we'll have a good drunk this morning." I was sorry I said that, so I said, "But God, it shouldn't have happened, huh?"
"Phillip shrugged again.
""Here's to Al [the victim] anyway," I added and held up my glass." (p 170)
The overall feeling is one of not giving 2 shits for the dead man. Then again, maybe Burroughs wasn't quite so detached after all:
"After Kammerer died Burroughs went to see Dr. Paul Federn, his psychiatrist at that time, every day for a week; then he went home to live with his parents in St. Louis for several weeks. Burroughs returned quietly to New York at the end of October [..]. Within a month Burroughs's underworld connections had introduced him to the effects of morphine [..].
"For Burroughs, as we know, this was the beginning of a lifelong struggle with addiction". (p 192)
Now I'm not advocating for drug addiction as a way of 'dealing' w/ remorse & I'm not advocating for prison &/or for long prison sentences, blah, blah.. But I am advocating for caring about the victim! &, I suppose, for recognizing that the murderer might've been a victim too. At any rate, 'justice' is NOT obtained w/ money - it's just bought off.
As for the novel? In the end, it's not really THAT great but it certainly has touches that'll interest many:
"The girl behind the desk encouraged us to sign one of the petitions, which was all about a current fight in the House and Senate over a new postwar bill. Phillip & I signed them "Arthur Rimbaud" and "Paul Verlaine," respectively." (P 67)
For those of you who don't 'get the joke' here: Rimbaud & Verlaine were poets who were lovers. Verlaine was older than Rimbaud. Verlaine, supposedly in a drunker rage, shot Rimbaud in the wrist &, eventually, Rimbaud had Verlaine put in prison for 2 yrs. Add to that that Rimbaud fought as a soldier in the colonization of Algiers. I've never really respected Rimbaud much b/c of his putting Verlaine in prison.
The novel ends w/ a Burroughs chapter. The last few paragraphs are:
"So we said good-bye and good luck and so forth. Then Danny asked me what had happened with Phillip, and I told him.
"Danny thought about it for a minute and said, "Well, he can go into politics when he gets out."
""Yeah," I said. "He ought to be good at that."" (p 184)
A little bit of prescient sardonic humor given that Phillip/Lucien became the head of UPI's news desk. ...more
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Feb 09, 2013
Feb 18, 2013
Casey Droege's SIX x ATE
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - February 6, 2013
I generally like people who make shit happen, esp when the shit th review of
Casey Droege's SIX x ATE
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - February 6, 2013
I generally like people who make shit happen, esp when the shit they make happen builds community, is fun, is intellectually stimulating, & nourishing. & Casey Droege, the curator of the series that this bk is the catalog from & the person who edited the catalog itself, exemplifies this type of person. Bravo! Even better yet, I love it when I'm included in the creative end of such things & when there's a PRODUCT from it that I can contribute to. These days, w/ paperbacks being cheaper-than-ever (?) in full color, having this be a color bk is even more thrilling.
SIX x ATE is a performance series / dinner party in wch gourmet catering is coupled w/ short presentations by 6 creative types at each event. The catalog presents the residue from the 1st 3 of these events. We're promised that there will be more. I hope so. Casey introduces the catalog thusly:
"SIX x ATE is a free dinner and lecture series promoting local artists, a stronger arts network and a more interdisciplinary conversation in Pittsburgh. For each event, six artists are asked to present or perform work based on a theme while one cuisinier creates a meal based on the same theme. The dinner guests are a mixture of professionals who are connected to the arts and the theme of the night. The artists present for 5 minutes throughout the night, allowing for dinner time to be spent socializing, sharing resources and brainstorming collaborations."
The SIX x ATE I participated in was on Monday night, June 18, 2012. Someday (maybe by mid 2013), readers will be able to read my description of my part here: http://idioideo.pleintekst.nl/MereOut... . In the meantime, there's this relevant movie: http://youtu.be/6EicbqmLvbk . Also participating that night, as performers, were David Bernabo, Casey, T. Foley, Nina Sarnelle, & Becky Slemmons. The food was provided by Leslie Fleisher with sous chef Danita Greaser.
The 2nd SIX x ATE had food from Casey's mom, Linda Wallen, "with extra treats by Ali Momeni". The artists were Lizzy De Vita, Corey Escoto, Yona Harvey, Ben Hernstrom, Sara McCool, & Ryan Woodring. The 3rd featured cuisine & "special drinks provided by" Sara Humphrey and the Bar Marco team w/ the artists being Kim Beck, Ginger Brooks Takahashi, Jasdeep Khaira, Steve Gurysh, Alexi Morrisey, & Natalie Settles.
The chefs are represented by a 2pp spread, the left-most part of wch is the menu. Each of the other participants also gets 2pp. Interspersed throughout are full page comments from various attendees, all flatteringly positive. Ok, this is a catalog, not a critical work. The lush color is a joy. Alas, my name is written: "tENTATIVELY, a Convenience". After what is now 38 yrs of using the name & 34 yrs of spelling it in tOGGLE-cASE, it's still common for it to be miswritten. Oh, well.. That's a minor complaint. Casey did a wonderful job & I'm very thankful to her for creating the series, including me in it, & publishing this marvelous catalog! ...more
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Feb 05, 2013
Feb 06, 2013
Jan 01, 1976
Jan 01, 1976
Thomas Glynn's Temporary Sanity
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - January 22, 2013
In addition to simply liking the title of this bk, I was at review of
Thomas Glynn's Temporary Sanity
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - January 22, 2013
In addition to simply liking the title of this bk, I was attracted to it b/c it's published by the Fiction Collective. I like collectives, I like that people who might not be published by bigger publishing houses b/c of commercial restraints take the publishing into their own hands so that they can get it out there - hopefully w/ fewer commercial concerns to inhibit them. I know very little about the Fiction Collective, I associate it w/ Raymond Federman, a writer that I have an interest in but whose work I have yet to get to know very well. Otherwise, I met a woman recently whose 1st novel is also published by the FC & she was friendly & interesting so that got me further intrigued.
As for Temporary Sanity (1976)? At 1st it seemed a bit like an amalgam of John Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men (1937) w/ its plot revolving around the protection of "Lennie" from persecution for his difference + Paul Metcalf's Will West (1956) b/c of its main character being a native american on the run from the law + Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1962) w/ its theme of incarceration in a mental institution & its native american character "Chief Bromden". Temporary Sanity has "Lester" as a character being protected against incarceration in a mental institution + "Jim", a native american character, + running from the law. Might as well throw in a little of Mark Twain's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1875) w/ his malevolently stereotyped character "Injun Joe" being counterbalanced by Glynn's more positive characterization. There's even a bit of Stanley Kubrick's 1964 film Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb, b/c of the fluoridation conspiracy theory. I'd even throw Thelma & Louise in there if it weren't from 1991.
At any rate, Temporary Sanity fits right in w/ a lineage of outlaw narratives w/ a subtext of glorification of a 'lunatic fringe'. The native american character, Jim, is depicted as less violently crazy & more stoical than the rest of Lester's family & crew. Lester gets kidnapped to an 'asylum' & his brothers, Jarrel & Jeeter, along w/ Jim, go to visit him w/ an eye to dynamiting him & the other patients free. The head doctor puts on his professional smile to meet the family & asks Jarrel what he does (ie: for a living). "Then Jim asked the doctor what he did and the doctor just smiled at him. It was a slow smile, the kind of smile someone does when he's getting a long, slow, hard look at something. The doctor hadn't paid much attention to Jim but he did now. He asked Jim who he was and Jim told him he was an Indian. Jim asked the doctor who he was and the doctor just smiled at him again, nice and slow." (p 22) Love it! A beautiful example of putting someone on the spot who's not accustomed to having his authority questioned.
Jarrel has a thing for dynamite. It's a bet sensational, like much of the bk, but it's not that overdone:
"They trusted Jarrel in chemistry until he mixed an explosive that blew a hole through a wall in the chemistry lab. He was taken out of chemistry and put back in shop. That was the first time he tried to blow up the school. There were several attempts after that, the last one landing him in jail. He ate his way out, gnawing through a cement wall." (p 19)
Jarrel hates doctors & anyone else w/ a legalized hierarchical position & this theme underlies the family's exploits. In an internal monolog of Lester's recounting various inmate's interactions w/ institutional staff there's this: "We will tell each other about the things we did and if there is anything that is not right with us, anything that is bothering us we will talk about that. I didn't do shit today. That's not being positive Mr. Mercer. You don't know shit from shinola. Your're [sic] not even a doctor. You're a bozo. All bozos. I hate bozos. We'll go on to Mr. Hollaway. I'm fine doctor. I feel just fine. Everything is wonderful. I love all the people here. I love you. Is that all Mr. Hollaway? Yes. Is there anything I left out? No, you did just fine. Thank you. Can I have a cookie? Does anybody else want to say anything? Does anybody else have any bad feelings they want to get out so they can feel good? Yes doctor, I just want to say in all sincerity that you are a shit and that I am being oppressed in here. I am in the company of dunces, condescended to by morons, instructed by idiots, denied my basic civil liberties, persecuted, and deprived of needed legitimate medical attention." (p 28)
Jim believes he can fly. In a pivotal scene, he stands perched on the edge of the roof of a bldg about to jump - w/ various onlookers, mostly trying to get him to stop. He recalls older Indians telling stories. "But you could tell the old people were Indians in the face and that was where everything was. It was like a map, like history. They had deep lines in their face. Each face had a picture scratched in. Sometimes it was a picture of the man who wore it but most often the picture a man wore on his face had nothing to do with the man himself. It was put there when he was young by his grandmother. He knew about the picture on his face and he treasured it and helped it grow and he also knew that the picture wouldn't be finished until he was very old and that any man who died before his picture was finished, unless he died in battle, that man's spirit would roam for a hundred years before it would find peace. Each man treasured his own picture and waited for the day when he became old and could show his picture to other men. Everyone would gather around and admire the picture on his face and he would be happy and feel good. Running Bear had a picture of the Sacred Tree and the older he got the more leaves and roots and branches you could see until when he was almost ninety you could see the whole tree in his face and when Running Bear talked the tree stirred and the leaves shook just as if the wind had come along." (pp 79-80) I particularly like that passage. It's left ambiguous as to whether Jim flies here or not. His presence in following chapters is minimized for awhile & the reader is left to choose between 'realism' &, perhaps, the desire for Jim, & the imagination in general, to 'win' in a battle against stultification.
There's plenty of heartfelt description here to keep the reader interested: a description of fishing, a description of the difficulty of farming in New York state, a particularly poignant description of a "berserk mountain man" (pp 103-104), & then.. & then.. we get to the rape scene where the woman eventually succumbs to the instinctive mating urge.. I've read elsewhere on GoodReads a woman reviewing such a scene & talking about how sick of them she is & I must say I agree. Nonetheless, humans are brutes & I prefer to not gloss that over.
In a scene where a military-like force attempts to capture the family in a raid on their wilderness hide-out: "They were almost up the hill when one of them started to run, a short, chubby faced ex-marine who liked to jack deer, and fell, his gun going off and the bullet passing through his own left shoulder." (p 107) For me, this hearkens to the raid on MOVE's Powelton Village house in 1978 when at least one policeman was killed in what very well may've been 'friendly fire' resulting in all 9 of the MOVE members under siege unjustly being sentenced to prison for this. W/o resorting to spoilers, let's say that this scene sees the death of dreams.
Later, the bk once again seems to show its place in a narrative lineage by trolling thru alternative pop culture by evoking The Who's 1969 album Tommy & having Lester be a Pinball Wizard.
Parts of this were reminiscent of my own youth in the 1960s & early 1970s: "Cars flew by in a fury of stones and dust and mud, smelling of oil and rubber. Once in a while a window would roll down and a beer can would be thrown in his direction. Or an ashtray emptied to the sound of disappearing laughter." (p 140) The walker in this scene being Lester. Lester's eventually given a ride by 'hippies' (not the way it's described here). This, too, is reminiscent for me.
""The world is pure invention from one minute to the next." So says character Ronald Sukenick in author Ronald Sukenick's last novel, "Out." So suggest these three books from the Fiction Collective. This kind of inventive urgency made Beckett demand of himself "an impossible art." Collectivists Sukenick, Russell Banks and Mark Mirsky choose an implausible art, a fiction of elaborate lies. Their stories grow out of play, fantasy and myth, where imagination asserts its own amorphous way, creates its own plausibility." So says Thomas LeClair in his May 18, 1975 New York Times review of 3 early bks from the FC & I think that this excellent review cd apply to Glynn's bk as well. LeClair, a teacher of "contemporary fiction at [t]he University of Cincinnati" at the time of the writing of the review, ends w/ "The Collective is committed to "non-commercial quality fiction." Sukenick, Banks and Mirsky don't have a mass appeal, but I do think they should and could be read by a wider audience then the Collective projects or cultivates. It wouldn't be an embarrassment for one of these books to sell a lot of copies." & I quite agree. Again, this cd equally apply to Glynn's writing.
I see online that Glynn has an "eighteen hundred page novel on the first one hundred and fifty years of Dannemora prison, called The Cathedral of Time [that's] currently in the archives at St. Lawrence University in Canton New York." ( http://members.authorsguild.net/tpglynn/ ) Intriguing. I smell another challenge for the GoodReads reviewers eager for literary massiveness (Nathan "N. R." Gaddis, eg). ...more
Notes are private!
Jan 19, 2013
Jan 23, 2013
Sep 02, 1998
Jan 01, 1998
Steven Clay & Rodney Phillips'
A Secret Location on the Lower East Side
- Adventures in Writing: 1960-1980
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE review of
Steven Clay & Rodney Phillips'
A Secret Location on the Lower East Side
- Adventures in Writing: 1960-1980
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - January 15, 2013
My, my.. Once again, I must have 'too much' to say on this subject b/c my full review is too long for here. SO, if you want to read the whole damned thing go here: http://www.goodreads.com/story/show/3...
This (1998) is a very vital & important resource work that shd be in the library of any serious literary researcher. Perhaps a companion volume to it wd be John McMillian's Smoking Typewriters - The Sixties Underground Press and the Rise of Alternative Media in America (2011) (wch I haven't read yet so I'm not necessarily recommending it). Basically this is an ambitious (& at the same time somewhat necessarily myopic) overview of the small press literary publishers & publications over a 2 decade period, mostly in North America, & mostly associated w/ the "mimeograph revolution".
In the "Pre-Face" by that man of exceptionally broad knowledge & experience, Jerome Rothenberg, it's written:
"And while the Reagan years might have brought about a new resistance (& sometimes did), they also brought a new defensiveness in what became increasingly a culture war directed against the avant-garde rather than by it. The secret locations of this book's title were no longer secret but had come into a new & far less focused visibility & a fusion/confusion, often, with the commercial & cultural conglomerates of the American center. Increasingly too there had developed a dependence on support from institutional & governmental sources - the National Endowment for the Arts, say, as the major case in point. The result was to impose both a gloss of professionalism on the alternative publications & to make obsolete the rough & ready book works of the previous two decades. But the greatest danger of patronage was that the denial of that patronage, once threatened, became an issue that would override all others." (p 11)
Now, no doubt Rothenberg knows his shit.. BUT, does he know everybody else's shit?! Apparently not. Rothenberg has enjoyed the support of major presses since at least 1968 when Technicians of the Sacred was 1st published. Methinks that when Rothenberg writes "there had developed a dependence on support from institutional & governmental sources" he's referring largely to the academic poets he's probably friends w/. Even the most cursory look at, say, punks & 'zines will show an unbroken continuity from the "rough & ready book works of the previous two decades". One cd certainly look at my own publications from 1977 to the present or, to use a more recent example, those of rOBNOXIOUS (see my review of his oPEN eYES uNLOCK dOORS here: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/31... ).
The bottom line is that as long as there are people too poor &/or disconnected from conventional funding sources there will always be publications made under economically strained conditions. & it's these very publications that're often likely to include hand-done touches missing from more well-funded publications. Rothenberg is writing about the well-to-do people who're his social circle.
Alas, both Rothenberg's intro & statements like this: "Looking back at them now, the books and magazines of the mimeo revolution appear imbued with a vivid purity of intention which it is nearly impossible to conceive of creating in today's publications" (p 15) strike me as the statements of people who simply don't know the work done outside their particular cultural (&, probably, generational) ghetto.
Another example of this narrow vision is Lewis Warsh's statement that "United Artists was probably the last of the great mimeo magazines since by the mid-80s everyone had computers and all the magazines became perfect-bound with glossy covers" (p 199). I conclude from this that Warsh was/is economically well-off. His father was a principal & his mom was a teacher & he graduated from college w/ a masters degree. &, NO, Lewis, by the mid-80s NOT "everyone had computers". How can you be so ignorant?! My own magazine, "DDC#040.002 #3", was printed by myself on mimeograph in 1985. & I didn't have a computer. By the time I had one given to me by my friend James "Sarmad" Brody in 1994 it was printing out on a dot-matrix printer - something of a lower quality than mimeo.
& then there's Eileen Myles: "I've never liked mimeo. Sure, it's fast and it's cheap but it doesn't look like a book. If you can do it yourself, why bother? Why not just xerox your favorite new poems from time to time and hand 'em to your friends?" (p 223) Well.. it's not really THAT fast - after all, each page is printed one at a time - it's not like web-press printing where a large sheet of paper is printed & then folded & cut. As for why do it yourself? Maybe b/c if you don't no-one else will, maybe so you can learn HOW to do it, maybe to be pro-active!! Why not just xerox & give the xeroxes to friends? Maybe b/c xerox didn't come along until much later than mimeograph, maybe b/c mimeographs were much more affordable to individuals than photocopy machines were, maybe b/c you want to do outreach outside of yr friends!! I deduce that Myles, too, is/was a rich brat. Since the 1st issue of her magazine, "dodgems", is shown w/ a spiral binding it seems fit to comment that perhaps "dodgems" was a business report & not a cultural magazine?!
But picking out these bones is like picking a few hairs out of a pie - all in all, A Secret Location is wonderful. I got to learn more about Ed Sanders' fabulously irreverent publications: "The energy and ethos of the magazine is vividly expressed in the following statement: "Fuck You: A Magazine of the Arts is edited, published, zapped, designed, freaked, groped, stomped, & ejaculated by Ed Sanders at a secret location in the lower east side, New York City, U.S.A." Almost forty years later, it is still completely original and a total delight." (p 39) I've got to hand it to Sanders: his Bugger: An Anthology of Anal Erotic, Pound Cake, Cornhole, Arse-Freak & Dreck Poems is one of the most outrageous compilation titles I've ever run across.
There're so many fascinating publishers & publications in here!
"Similar in spirit and philosophy to Ark II/Moby I, the Journal for the Protection of All Beings was one of the first radical ecology journals. The brainchild of Michael McClure and David Meltzer, it melded the anarchist thought of the 1950s (The Ark) with the pacifism evidenced in the very early mimeo journal The Illiterati, published in the late 1940s by Kermit Sheets and Kemper Nomland at the camp for conscientious objectors in Waldport, Oregon. The newest element in the mix was work from San Francisco Renaissance poets. The first issue led off with Thomas Merton's "Chant to be used in procession around a site with furnaces" and included work by all three editors as well as an interview with Ginsberg by Gregory Corso, an interview with Ginsberg and Corso by William S. Burroughs, as well as Gary Snyder's "Buddhist Anarchism." This issue also reprinted two famous documents, Percy Bysshe Shelley's "Declaration of Rights" and the famous statement by Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce Indians." (p 97)
I was astounded to learn that the "Evergreen Review was typically published in print runs exceeding 100,000 copies and thus was able to deliver the "underground" to a large audience." (p 103) [By the way, the numbering in A Secret Location has the zeros blacked-in as if they were typed energetically on a typewriter or a mimeo stencil - nice touch!] I was interested to learn that Larry Eigner started publishing much earlier than I'd realized: there's one work, From the Sustaining Air dating from 1953. I was also interested to learn that the prolific poetry publisher the Coffee House Press is a descendant of sorts of a magazine called Toothpaste. & Eugene Jolas' Transition made a cameo appearance. Thank the holy ceiling light that Grove Press is in here too:
"Barney Rosset believed in "combat publishing," and his ongoing challenge to mainstream American sensibilities has landed him in court many, many times. He fought and won battles for D. H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterly's Lover and Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer (for which he went to court in sixty separate state and local prosecutions, six state supreme court rulings, and a U.S. Supreme Court hearing)." (p 101)
Another personal favorite publisher, Dick Higgins' Something Else Press is also featured: "The press began in 1964 following Higgins's break with Fluxus founder George Maciunas" (p 137) - this latter tidbit being enlightening in relation to some of the things I read in Al Hansen An Introspective (see my review here: http://www.goodreads.com/story/show/3... ). The Something Else Press entry continues: "Higgins's foew&ombwhnw (a 1969 collection disguised as a prayer book) contains his important essay "Intermedia," in which he describes artworks which "fall between media," arguing that the social conditions of the time (early to mid-1960s) no longer allowed for a "compartmentalized approach" to either art or life." (p 137) Shortly thereafter in a section headed Performance Art and Intermedia the editors introduce w/:
"Much of the artwork produced during the 1960s and 70s can be described as "intermedial" in that it falls between media. For example, language and writing show up as the subject and material for many visual artists, while dance, cinema, theater, and sculpture stretch their boundaries in an attempt to create new forms to embody and enact newly emerging lifestyles and consciousness. The works of John Cage, Jackson Mac Low, Dick Higgins, the Fluxus group. Charlotte Moorman, Al Carmines and the Judson Memorial Church performances, Carolee Schneemann, and many others like them are closely allied to new developments in poetry during the intense period of cross-fertilization that this book documents. Illustrated on the following pages are several examples from this generative period." (p 139)
What can I say? Nice try but no exploding cigar! In other words, this is one of the areas where A Secret Location fails the most. Many or most of the publications are basically poetry magazines, rectangles w/ artwork on the cover - there're very, very few (or NO) artists' bks touches evident that might be indicative of an imagination beyond the most banal categories. Something Else Press is mentioned but there's no mention that its Fantastic Architecture bk included a plethora of translucencies. lightworks magazine isn't mentioned at all. Was it too 'slick'? That wasn't a criteria for excluding things like Sun and Moon. Was it too much an arts magazine & too little a literary one? Issue 6, December-January, 1977, features William S. Burroughs on the cover. lightworks wd've been a welcome entry here b/c they did things like have a "Total Art Matchbook" on the cover of number 14/15 - an actual matchbk w/ matches inside. Ok, the isuue's from 1982 but there are other A Secret Location entries that fall outside the 1960-1980 parameters.
Or what about publications like Aspen? I have issue #9 the "Dreamweapon" themed one. Was Aspen too well funded or something? The issue I have is a folio w/ loose pages that includes a fantastic variety of formal presentation & includes work by such folks as LaMonte Young & Gerard Malanga. & then there're things like Egozine - Enlightened Self-Interest (the issue I have might be from 1976 or 1977) - a magazine that falls somewhat outside easy categories.
I reckon the main reason for the absence of such publications is that they aren't included in the New York Public Library research collections that're so heavily referenced here. That's a shame - b/c while the library's collection is no doubt spectacularly remarkable it also appears to be somewhat biased toward more conventional poetic output.
&, THEN, there's my typical BIG pet peeve: why does BalTimOre always get such short shrift?!! In the section on "Language Writing (pp 42-44) e pod is correctly listed & has the editors correctly listed as Kirby Malone and Marshall Reese. Then it has the cover of Hannah Weiner's Clairvoyant Journal shown, presumably as an example of a Language Writing bk. Heck, I like Hannah Weiner's work, I even read w/ her at the Ear Inn in 1982, &, yes she was lumped together w/ Language Writers but I disagree w/ her inclusion. She probably belongs in a category all her own - wch is no mean feat. Then there's this: "located primarily in San Francisco and New York, with a smaller group active in Washington D.C. Magazines and presses such as L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E, This, A Hundred Posters, E pod, Hills, Vanishing Cab, Miam, Roof, Sun & Moon, The Figures, Asylum's, Tuumba, The Difficulties, Poetics Journal, and others" (p 44).
Ok, note that Washington D.C. is credited as one of the places w/ an active smaller group but not BalTimOre. Why?! Well, my theory has always been that the 3 cities listed are considered to be 'cosmopolitan' cities & BalTimOre is just written off as a working class hellhole - ironic considering Language Writing's political pretenses. Consider this: not one of the publications listed was from DC but e pod was from BalTimOre . Sun & Moon started off in College Park - that's near DC but not IN DC. Making matters worse, in Charles Bernstein & Bruce Andrews writing re L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E they mention the same 3 cities listed above &, once again, leave out BalTimOre. That's interesting considered that at least 4 of the BalTimOre writers connected to Language Writing are published in The L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E Book: Kirby Malone, Marshall Reese, Chris Mason, & myself - as was cris cheek who lived briefly in BalTimOre. Shit! Bruce & Charles shd've known better! After all, Marshall & Kirby's pod books published something by each of them & they're both mentioned in this bk. Ok, Some of Us Press was based in DC & it published Andrews' bk Edge. Even James Sherry's acct excludes BalTimOre & includes DC (p 251). James shd know better!! BalTimOre really was a hell-hole but it still had a fantastic underground culture & the non-supportiveness of the environment made it even more remarkable. Imagine how frustrating it is to be from there & to've been a major participant in many cultural movements & to be completely neglected by historians of those movements. For that matter, IMO, David Franks, another BalTimOre based poet, did very strong & original work but only one of his publications is in A Secret Location: Touch published by Duende (see my movie of David here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kOUigE... ).
Why are e, e pod, & pod books given so little mention? I'm looking at a great issue of e right now from 1976. At least CoAccident, the performance group associated w/ the Merzaum Collective that the preceding were also associated w/, is listed in the "A Chronological Timeline of the Literary Underground, 1950-1980" that's the fold-out of A Secret Location. Why aren't the audio cassettes connected to this scene, Widemouth Tapes, mentioned at all?! Widemouth put out what's arguably the earliest published Language Writing recording: "Public Language" (1982). The yr being 1982 might seem to exclude it from here but there're many examples of work post-1980 that're obviously included b/c they're considered to be too significant to exclude. HOW(ever), eg, is included, as a feminist magazine even tho it started in 1983. The Black Mountain Review (1954-1957) & Divers Press (1953-1955) are included b/c of their obvious historical importance.
This, a magazine I've always liked very much (I have issues 4, 6, 7, & 8), is credited by Bob Perelman here as ""the first self-conscious journal of what would become known as language writing"" (p 239). That might very well be accurate. Barrett Watten & Robert Grenier were the editors. It seems to me that it was either Perelman or Watten who were outraged by the positive critical reception that Marshall Reese's bk, Writing (published by pod), rc'vd. Most, if not all, of Writing was made from "slugs", the cast-off text from the printer that Marshall worked for in the 1970s. That seemed very Language Writing to me - but, apparently, it offended the more conventional authorial position of at least one other Language Writer. I thought that was funny.
Then again, maybe Tottel's deserves more credit even than This, having been founded a yr earlier. Ron Silliman was the editor & I've always liked Silliman's writing. "Named after the first anthology of English poetry, Tottel's Miscellany of 1557" [..] ""there can be no such thing as a formal problem in poetry which is not a social one as well."" (p 243) "The first gathering of individuals who were to become known as "language poets" was edited by Ron Silliman under the title "The Dwelling Place: 9 Poets." Published in Alcheringa, it included work by Bruce Andrews, Barbara Baracks, Clark Coolidge, Lee De Jasu, Ray DiPalma, Robert Grenier, David Melnick, Silliman himself, and Barrett Watten." (p 244)
I was happy to see so much great stuff in A Secret Location: both stuff I'm very familiar w/ & stuff I'd like to know more about: Steve McCaffery's remarkable Carnival, Alan Davies' A Hundred Posters (erroneously listed as having only 38 issues - I was in the last issue, #40) & Occulist Witnesses & Other Publications, Segue, Spanner (I have issues 14, "January 1981: A Painting", 20 Supplement, & 23 - I'd really like to see other issues - esp 9! - focusing on Dick Higgins & Something Else Press), & Station Hill (one of my all-time favorite presses: SubGenius blessings to you, Susan & George!). To people like Eileen Myles who're dismissive of mimeo publications I say: look to the Spanners of Allen Fisher or the publications of cris cheek & see what the creative possibilities of mimeo really were. They're fantastic!
All in all, A Secret Location is well worth keeping around. SUPPORT GRANARY BOOKS! (&, of course, all public libraries!) What I perceive as its shortcomings might have more to do w/ the tastes & interests of the collectors who donated to the New York Public Library. I suspect that my own personal collection of small press publications might just be considerably more eclectic & unusual. Now who will preserve it after I die?!
Go HERE for the full review: http://www.goodreads.com/story/show/3... ...more
Notes are private!
Jan 15, 2013
Jan 16, 2013
Naguib Mahfouz's Midaq Alley
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - January 11, 2013
This is only the 2nd Egyptian novel that I've read, the 1st be review of
Naguib Mahfouz's Midaq Alley
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - January 11, 2013
This is only the 2nd Egyptian novel that I've read, the 1st being Fathy Ghanem's The Man Who Lost His Shadow (see my review of that here: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/78... ). As such, I certainly can't make any generalizations of any value (are generalizations EVER of any value?!) but I can say that both novels take place partially during so-called WW-II, have women characters who become prostitutes, & a character or 2 who're pro-Hitler - while Britain uses Egypt as a military base.
The Introduction by the translator, Trevor Le Gassick, gives some context: "The novel and short story, not truly traditional forms of Arabic literary expression, have developed great popularity over the past century" [if the introduction was written in 1947 when the bk was 1st published or 1966 when the bk was copyrighted then that wd mean starting in the mid 19th century] "in most countries of the Middle East. Cairo, the cosmopolitan capital of the most populous country of the area, has throughout the period been its cultural and literary center. There, in 1911 in the Gamaliya section of the old city, Naguib Mahfouz was born. [..] he was to develop a dedication to literature that would later give him international prominence as his country's leading author." (p v)
According to Wikipedia, "Naguib Mahfouz" [..] "was an Egyptian writer who won the 1988 Nobel Prize for Literature. He is regarded as one of the first contemporary writers of Arabic literature, along with Tawfiq el-Hakim, to explore themes of existentialism. He published 34 novels, over 350 short stories, dozens of movie scripts, and five plays over a 70-year career. Many of his works have been made into Egyptian and foreign films." ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naguib_M... ) That seems to reinforce the Introduction claim of "international prominence as his country's leading author".
One thing that I quickly noticed w/ this edition of Midaq Alley is that it's published by The American University of Cairo Press. I'd never heard of this "American University" (no surprise) until recently when I witnessed a documentary entitled My Trip to Al-Qaeda by &/or featuring author Lawrence Wright. Wright had been a student at this university. My Trip to Al-Queda seemed fair enuf insofar as it explained the origins of Al-Qaeda as having alot to do w/ Muslims being tortured in Egyptian prisons under Hosni Mubarek's regime.
The Introduction informs the reader that "In the middle and late thirties he wrote three novels depicting aspects of life in ancient Egypt that had obvious significance for his countrymen still living under forms of British control and a somewhat tyrannical King Farouk. Two of the novels deal with the struggle of the people of Egypt against despotic monarchs; the third shows how the Egyptians cast off the rule of the Hyksos invaders." (p vi) This "Hyksos" reference surprised me b/c my only previous encounter w/ the name that I can recall is in VALIE EXPORT's great film Invisible Adversaries. According to online sources, Invisible Adversaries "loosely covers one year in the life of Anna, a young Viennese photographer increasingly convinced that the Hyksos, a hostile alien force, are invading people's bodies and responsible for the decay and rising violence around her."
"Time and change is a recurring theme of Mahfouz' work and in the Trilogy he has ample room to develop it in full. he shows how traditional Muslim views of, for example, the marriage relationship developed in the space of only fifty years from one of absolute subservience of the wife to one of near equality." (p vii) "But for seven years following the 1952 Free Officers' Revolution under Colonel Nasser, Naguib Mahfouz wrote nothing more. His silence was broken only in 1959 with publication of his Awlad Haritna (Children of Our Quarter), an allegorical novel offering an essentially pessimistic view of man's struggle for existence. His treatment of the subject proved unpopular with Egypt's religious establishment and he felt best advised to refrain from publishing it in book form within Egypt, although it has since become available from a Lebanese publisher." (pps vii-viii) In other words, religious persecution preventing freedom of speech.
One of the characters is introduced to us as Uncle Kamil, a sweets seller: "It is Uncle Kamil's habit, even his right, to place a chair on the threshold of his shop and drop off to sleep with a fly-whisk resting in his lap." [..] ""He is always panting and out of breath, as if he had just run a race, and he can scarcely complete the sale of a sweet before he is overcome by a desire for sleep." (p 2) Apparently he has some sort of diabetes-related condition.
A café is an important location in the novel. In our introduction to it, an old poet, accustomed to coming into the café & reciting for donations, is told by the owner that he's no longer welcome.
"The café owner took his usual seat behind the till and replied:
""We know all the stories you tell by heart and we don't need to run through them again. People today don't want a poet. They keep asking me for a radio and there's one over there being installed now. So go away and leave us alone and may God provide for you..."" (p 5)
This reminds me that in many places karaoke machines & DJs have replaced live musicians at weddings & such-like. It's my understanding that people whose livelihood revolves around playing music, such as many gypsies, have been displaced by machines. This is, perhaps, a truer face of automation than the pseudo-utopian one that's often encountered.
Religion, in particular the Muslim religion that the author was raised in, runs thru the bk w/ an even more omnipresent suffocatingness than the dreary hypocritical Christinanity of my own upbringing.
"His faith rescued him from the gloom of his sorrows to the light of love, and his heart now no longer held grief or anxiety. He was filled with an all-embracing love, goodness and wonderful patience. he stepped lightly over the sorrows of the world, his heart soaring heavenwards as he embraced everyone with his love.
"As time brought him added tragedies, so had he increased in his patience and love. One day people saw him laying one of his sons in his last resting place while he recited the Koran, his face filled with happiness. They gathered around him comforting and consoling him, but he only smiled and, pointing to the sky, said:
""He gave and He has taken back; all things are at His command and all things belong to Him. It would be blasphemous to sorrow."" (p 8)
"Religion is the opiate of the people", according to Karl Marx, & I definitely agree. Mahfouz's character may be blissfully happy but it's the happiness of the equivalent of mood elevating drugs - let's not mistake delusions for insights.
Midaq Alley is certainly a highly conventional novel insofar as it revolves completely around characters & their interaction w/ place & circumstance. B/c of this conventionality, I was somewhat surprised when any punning occurred: "On one occasion when he was a little drunk he said to his guests: "In England they call those who enjoy my easy life 'large'." For some time after this his jealous rivals called him "Hussain Kirsha the Large"; later this became corrupted to "Hussain Kirsha the Garage"." This meager incidence of humor is possibly the only instance in the whole bk - unless one considers a grave-robbing scene as 'black' humor.
As w/ the Fathy Ghanem bk, I found this easy to identify w/. It wasn't 'exotic', it was akin to, say, a John Steinbeck novel. The variety of characters seemed realistic in relation to the environment & I felt like I might actually have gleaned some understanding of Cairo life from it. Even tho it was dramatic, none of it seemed fantastic to the point of unbelievable.
It was also educational to see the Jews vs Arabs issue addressed in a more daily life context. Given that I'm ardently NOT an anti-Semite, I always find hatred of Jews to be repulsive & perplexing. In Midaq Alley I got an unexpected perspective:
"In the distance, she saw some of the factory girls approaching her. She hurried towards them; her unpleasant thoughts were now replaced by a smile on her face. In the midst of their greetings and chattering, Hamida gazed searchingly at their faces and clothes, envying them their freedom and obvious prosperity. They were girls from the Darasa district, who, taking advantage of war-time employment opportunities, ignored custom and tradition and now worked in public places just like the Jewish women. They had gone into factory work exhausted, emaciated and destitute. Soon remarkable changes were noticeable: their once under-nourished bodies filled out and seemed to radiate a healthy pride and vitality. They imitated the Jewish girls by paying attention to their appearance and in keeping slim. Some even used unaccustomed language and did not hesitate to walk arm-in-arm and stroll about the streets of illicit love. They exuded an air of boldness and secret knowledge." (p 35)
Jewish girls as liberatory examples? Is that a part of the Arabic patriarchical hatred? Kirsha, the bisexual hashish dealing café owner (& father of the afore-mentioned Hussain) figures prominently in the story & his story sheds more life on historical animosity to Jews:
"Kirsha really came to life during political campaigns. In his youth he had distinguished himself in the field of politics. He had taken an active part in the rebellion of 1919 and was reputed to have planned the great fire which destroyed the Jewish Cigarette Trading Co. in Hussain Square. He was one of the heroes in the fierce fighting between the revolutionaries on one side and the Armenians and Jews on the other." (p 129)
"He had rejected respectable life and now he cared only for the pleasures of the flesh. All else was pointless, he would say. He no longer hated anyone, not the Jews nor the Armenians, nor even the British.
"He had no favorites either, and it was surprising then that at one time he felt a curious enthusiasm for this war in which he sided with the Germans. He often wondered about Hitler's plans and whether it was possible that the Führer might lose the war and whether the Russians would not be wise to accept the unilateral peace offered them. Kirsha thought of Hitler as the world's greatest bully; indeed, his admiration for him stemmed from what he heard of his cruelty and barbarity. He wished him success viewing him like those mythical bravados of literature Antar and Abu Zaid." (p 130)
I like Mahfouz's non-idealized presentations of human nature - this is (mostly) not propaganda (although there're some subdued anti-British implications at times - but even these are balanced). Reading the above passage made me curious about the 'revolutionaries' vs the Armenians & Jews in 1919 so I looked it up on Wikipedia & found no mention whatsoever of hostilities against Armenians & Jews. Instead the revolution was described as one for independence from the British. I'm none the wiser. I looked at a "Tobacco Timeline" & a Cairo entry too & found nothing relevant.
Later, Hitler's defeat is characterized purely in selfish economic terms by Hussain, who'd hoped to continue profiting from the jobs that the war created:
""How can it have ended so quickly?" asked Hussain. "Everybody hoped Hitler would be able to prolong it indefinitely. It's our bad luck that's brought it to an end."" (p 212)
""What hopeless wretches we are. Our country is pitiful and so are the people. Why is it that the only time we find a little happiness is when the world is involved in a bloody war? Surely it's only the devil who has pity on us in this world!"" (p 213)
The Muslim religion permeates this novel so much that just about everyone has some use for religious quotation regardless of how perversely used it is. This type of use of religion as the ultimate excuse & justifier seems realistic to me. Take, eg, Kirsha as he pursues his lust for a boy:
""May God reward you for your exertions, my boy..."
""Thank you, Sir."
"The café owner went on indignantly:
""Life's really one long trial, but it's very rare that one's exertions receive the reward they deserve. What a vast number of exploited working people there are in this world."
"This statement struck a responsive cord in the boy and with conviction he agreed:
""You are right, Sir. What a lot of exploited workers there are in this world."
""Patience is the key to joy. Yes what a lot of people are exploited and what this means in simple terms is that there are a great number of exploiters. However, by the graciousness of God, the world's not entirely devoid of merciful people, all the same..."
""Where are these merciful people?"
"He almost answered: "I am one of them myself," but he stopped himself and said reprovingly:
""Don't be slanderous, my boy. All is well with Muhammad's people." Then he changed his tone and asked: "Why are you going so fast? Are you in a hurry?"" (p 42)
Later, when Kirsha is being upbraided by the local religious figure for having sex w/ the boy he says: ""It is God's will" to wch the religious man replies: ""No, it is the will of the devil! Shame on you!"" (p 84). As a pimp is luring in his next woman chosen for whoring he says: ""Didn't you know that men follow beautiful women wherever they are? This is a basic principle of life. If a girl like you were not followed, then there's something wrong in the world; it would mean that the day of resurrection were indeed near."" (p 143) Muslim pick-up lines!!
Yes, religion permeates everything. After a fight between a husband & wife in public:
"The turmoil of the battle left a heavy silence. The onlookers exchanged amused glances of malicious delight. Dr. Booshy was the most amused and delighted of all. He shook his head and said in tones of mock sadness:
""There is neither might nor power, but in God. May God do what He can to patch things up."" (p 88)
A modest engagement party takes place: "They read the opening verses of the Koran, as was the custom" (pp 91-91) [..] ""I'll pray for your success and will visit the tomb of our Lord Hussain and ask him to watch over you and bring you success." (p 93) Yes, religion permeates everything, even greed, of course:
"Umm Hamida was overcome with amazement at the widow's sudden generosity. She clasped her hands together and said to herself:
""Are men worth all this trouble? Long may your wisdom reign, Oh Lord, for it is You who have decreed that women worship men..."" (pp 147-148)
"you hear these people justify their opinion by God's Koranic description of Himself as 'mighty and revengeful'. But I tell you, gentlemen, that Almighty God has no need to revenge and only adopted this attribute to advise men to practice it. God has already stated that the affairs of this life should be settled only on the basis of reward and punishment. Dear and Almighty God's own essential attributes are wisdom and mercy."" (p 233)
Whatever. Even in this relatively 'mild-mannered' blither 'God's words' are ultimately justification for ultra-violence & hate - something that I feel we cd use considerably less of. Again, tho, it's precisely this non-idealized representation of Muslims by Mahfouz that endears me to him. Instead of making out that all Muslims are some sort of personification of perfection just by virtue of being Muslim, we get the much more realistic spectrum of the usual self-serving con artists. I think of drug dealers w/ Fraternal Order of Police decals on their doors - a little hypocritical camouflage goes a long way.
One of the characters is Zaita, the 'cripple maker'. His trade is to make artificial cripples, to give the appearance of infirmities to enable people to beg more profitably - then taking part of the profits. I'd seen footage in a Mondo movie of an African man purported to be an actual cripple maker - someone who took children & deformed their limbs thru torture, malnourishment, & starvation - again, for begging purposes. I haven't known whether the Mondo movie footage was fake or not so it was interesting to find such a practice mentioned here.
Another educational aspect of the bk is mention of the title of "Bey" wch the children of a wealthy character want him to attain. Bey is a Turkish term for Lord. The Turks had dominated Egypt for centuries. I might've expected Amir or Emir as a more likely Arabic term but, apparently, the Turkish influence still prevailed at the time.
Hussain's attitude to his father's sexual preference for boys interested me: "His father's misconduct did not concern him in the least. All he objected to were the scandals and disgrace his father caused and the fiery quarrels and scenes at home. The "sin" itself did not bother him in the slightest. Indeed, when news of it first reached him, he merely shrugged his shoulders in indifference and said unconcernedly: "He is a man and men don't care about anything!"" (p 63) In general, I found the conflict over Kirsha's sexuality to be interesting b/c I have little or no knowledge of what Egyptian sexual culture is like.
""No, no! I refuse to submit to the will of a woman. I am a man. I am free. I can do what I like! Let her leave the house if she wants to. Let her roam with the street beggars. I am a criminal. I am a cannibal!"
"All of a sudden Sheikh Darwish raised his head an said, without looking towards Kirsha:
""O Kirsha, your wife is a strong woman. Indeed, she has a masculinity which many men lack. She is really a male, not a female. Why don't you love her, then?"
"Kirsha directed his fiery eyes towards him and yelled into his face:
""Shut your mouth!"
"At this, more than one of those present commented:
""Oh, even Sheikh Darwish now!"
"Kirsha turned his back on the old man in silence and "Shiek" Darwish went on:
""It's an old evil. In English they call it 'homosexuality' and it is spelt H-O-M-O-S-E-X-U-A-L-I-T-Y. But is not love." (p 89)
Darwish's constant English teaching pedagogy is, perhaps, another one of the few humorous elements here - as well as, probably, more sly commentary on the excessive colonizing influence of the British. Darwish particularly interested me when he was the only person to openly oppose a political candidate trying to buy political influence in Midaq Alley thru currying favor w/ Kirsha & his cronies. The candidate asks the 'Shiek' to pray for him:
"Emerging from his silence, Shiek Darwish spread his hands wide in blessing and intoned:
""May the devil take you!"" (p 133)
In the interest of avoiding spoilers, I've skirted much of the main plot of this novel. All in all, I found it quite interesting & am glad I have 3 more of Mahfouz's novels in my personal library. Now let there be time for me to actually read them!
Notes are private!
Jan 10, 2013
Jan 13, 2013
Jan 01, 1964
Aug 01, 1997
Roland Topor's The Tenant
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - December 15, 2012
The way I remember it is that my 1st encounter w/ Roland Topor's review of
Roland Topor's The Tenant
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - December 15, 2012
The way I remember it is that my 1st encounter w/ Roland Topor's work was in a bk I read in October, 1975, called Bizarre (1965), compiled by Barry Humphries. As I recall, there was a series of Topor cartoons that I hated so much that I actually tore out the pages that they were on b/c I felt like they ruined the bk for me. I still have that copy of Bizarre so I took it off my shelves to consult it for this review &, indeed, pp 47-52 have been torn out. I've never done this w/ any other bk & find the idea of doing so completely against my usual tendencies so this was an extremely strong reaction on my part.
Looking at the table of contents, I see that the title of the section torn out was "Handy Household Hints for the Mutilation of the Mona Lisa". There's no credit given. That causes me to wonder if I misremember Topor's being the creator of these. The title intrigues me somewhat, it seems like something that might've amused me slightly, but I remember the pictures as being so incredibly stupid that I found them intolerable. I shd probably find another copy of this bk w/ these pages still inside so that I can clear up this mystery: why did I hate them so much? Did Topor actually do the drawings? Topor has drawings in the "Love at First Sight" section. Perhaps I confused these w/ the ones torn out. Dunno.
Since then, Topor's work has very peripherally been in my life. He was, eg, in Werner Herzog's film Nosferatu (I have no idea who he was in that), a film that sortof marked the beginning of what I considered to be Herzog's decline. The Tenant was turned into a film by Roman Polanski, a film that I thought was one of Polanski's better ones - but I'll have to qualify that.
Polanski! Polanski's early childhood was tormented by nazi brutality. A Polish Jew, he had the misfortune of having his mother forced to go to the Auschwitz concentration camp where she was promptly murdered. His father was taken away too but survived & he & Polanski were eventually reunited. He was robbed & exploited bv a Roman Catholic family, forced into traveling in the Polish sewers to steal food, beaten, etc.. It's a wonder that he survived - but it's no wonder that so many of his films are so grim. Making matters even more horrific, Polanski's pregnant wife, Sharon Tate, was then gruesomely murdered in 1969. Topor, too, was the son of Polish Jews, refugees in Paris from the nazis, who was born in Paris & managed to somehow survive there under nazi occupation. This connection between Topor & Polanski is obvious.
I've seen many Polanski films: "Two Men and a Wardrobe" (an early short), "Knife in the Water" (1962), "Repulsion" (1965), "The Fearless Vampire Killers" (1967) (I think I hated this one so much I never watched the whole thing - again, very unusual for me), "Rosemary's Baby" (1968), "Chinatown" (1974), "The Tenant" (1976), "Pirates" (1986) (another one I didn't bother to witness all the way thru), "Frantic" (1988), "The Ninth Gate" (1999), "The Pianist" (2002). For the most part, I've thought of Polanski as a somewhat mediocre filmmaker - w/ the notable exceptions being the ones that explore the deepest psychic dis-ease: "Repulsion", "Rosemary's Baby", "Chinatown", & "The Tenant".
In Ed Sanders' bk about the Manson Family, wch, oddly, I no longer seem to have, I remember Sanders being deprecating about Polanski saying something to the effect that Polanski had the distinction of having made the most repulsive movie ever, "Repulsion". This seemed bizarrely insensitive of Sanders to me at the time - & still does. According to an online source, "Repulsion", "Rosemary's Baby", & "The Tenant" are loosely referred to as "The Apartment Trilogy". All 3 depict an extreme claustrophobia of psychic terror - the 1st & last being exemplars of paranoid deterioration.
So why do I like Polanski's most depraved films the most & dislike the comedies? "Chinatown" is probably in my top 10 of movies that get to the heart of how the powerful become that way & stay that way. Its basis in the California manipulations of control over water is far more important than I suspect many people wd ever give a 2nd thought too. "Repulsion" is an incredibly convincing depiction of the mental deterioration of the main character - w/o reliance on fancy special effects, the character's state of mind is horrifyingly easy for the witness of this film to sympathetically enter into. Polanski is about as 'masterful' as anyone can get in this area.
Nonetheless, it disturbs me somewhat that the main films of Polanski's that I like are the ones that strike me as the most authentically tortured. & "The Tenant" fits right in. At the same time that I don't necessarily find Topor's writing to be the greatest (at least in translation from the original French), I can say that the overall theme of a man drifting uncontrollably thru various unstable states from daydreaming to fever dreaming to what-apparently-is-never-meant-to-be-clearly-'true'-or-paranoid-or-whatever IS great.
The claustrophobia, the helplessness, the hopelessness of The Tenant is utterly convincing & utterly fatal. What at one level cd be reduced to a parody or a critique of living in an oppressive apartment house, becomes, at another level, a delving into the general precariousness of the human mind. The main character daydreams:
""I'm on horseback, leading ten thousand maddened Zaporozhe Cossacks. For three days now, the frenzied hooves of our horses have thundered across the steppes. Ten thousand enemy horsemen are racing towards us, surging across the horizon with the speed of lightning. We don't turn an inch from our course; the shock of the two hordes, when they come together, can be heard for miles. I am the only one who remains in his saddle. I draw my scimitar and begin carving a path through the masses of men on the ground. I don't even look to see who receives the blows. I just cut and chop away. In a little while, the plain is nothing but a vast expanse of bloody remains. I sink my spurs into my horse's flanks, and he whinnies violently with the pain of it. The wind presses against my head like a tight-fitting helmet. Behind me, I hear the cries of my ten thousand Cossacks . . . No, behind me, I hear . . . No. I'm walking in the streets of a city, at night. The sound of footsteps makes me turn around. I see a woman, trying to escape from a drunken sailor. He snatches at her dress, and it tears away. The woman is half naked. I hurl myself at the brute and knock him to the ground with just the impetus of my charge. He does not get up. The woman comes up to me . . . No, the woman runs off into the darkness . . . No. The Metro at six o'clock in the evening. It's filled to overflowing. At every station, more people try to get into the cars. They push and shove the people who are already inside, supporting themselves against the doors and butting backwards with their rumps. I arrive and give the biggest shove of them all. The whole crowd of people bursts through its walls and falls onto the lines. The train coming in the other direction crushes the screaming mass of travellers. It goes on through the station in the middle of a river of blood . . ."" (p 92)
Note that in each of these fantasies, the character is powerful in different ways & is a survivor, a winner. In his 'actual' life (this concept being rendered effectively dubious here) things are quite different. This, of course, is typical of the way daydreams are generally conceived of but Topor makes esp effective use of it here.
In the brief bio of Topor at the beginning of this bk, he's described as having been "a founder member of 'Groupe Panique' with Fernando Arrabal, Alexandro Jodorowsky and Jacques Sternberg; he was later associated with the artistic movement Fluxus, working closely with such artists as Daniel Spoerri and Robert Filliou" [..] "Alfred Jarry's Ubu Roi being a favorite subject. His feature film Marquis, made with Henri Xonneux and based on the life of the Marquis de Sade, was released in 1981." Jodorowski, Spoerri, Filliou, Jarry, & de Sade?! This was a man delving deep. How do humans survive their own horror? & why did I react so violently against (the hypothetical) Topor in 1975?! It's highly significant that Polanski chose to play the main role himself in his film version of The Tenant. ...more
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Dec 14, 2012
Dec 15, 2012
W.D. Howells' The Landlord at Lion's Head
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - December 11, 2012
I got this at a bkstore that's closing up shop. review of
W.D. Howells' The Landlord at Lion's Head
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - December 11, 2012
I got this at a bkstore that's closing up shop. This is at least the 7th bkstore to do so in PGH in the 17 yrs I've lived here. Only 1 bkstore that I can think of has replaced them. Not a good sign. On the spine of this 1897 hardback the author's name is written as "HOWELLS". When I bought it (for a dollar) I thought it read "HGWELLS". This bk is almost physically identical in size & color to 2 H.G. Wells bks I already have (The Research Magnificent & Mr. Britling Sees It Through) - even down to the gold ink of the lettering. Hence the ease of my mistake. & I got another Howells bk under the same conditions.
So here I am w/ 2 bks by an author I don't recall ever having heard of. As it turns out, he's an American who lived, according to Wikipedia, from March 1, 1837 to May 11, 1920. Then again, this novel is listed there as from 1908 & my edition is from 1897, copyrighted 1896 - so much for Wikipedia's accuracy. Wikipedia also lists at least 50 bks by him including a collaboration w/ his friend Mark Twain. I reckon most Americans have heard of Mark Twain but how many have heard of William Dean Howells?! Only the title of what's reputed to've been his most famous novel, The Rise of Silas Lapham, seems even vaguely familiar.
SO, what we have here is a prolific American author, supposedly nicknamed "The Dean of American Letters" (presumably a pun off his middle name), now largely forgotten a mere 92 yrs after his death. Looking on one online bkstore that brags of over "8,000,000" bks I find ONE by Howells. I find a few more on Amazon, 1st editions from the 19th century, reasonably priced. What's going on here?
Howells is, by reputation, a 'realist'. I usually prefer works of the imagination to works based more on observation of human nature but I like both. If I were to choose between Lautrémont's Les Chants de Maldoror (1868) & this bk, it wd be no contest. Lautrémont was a visionary genius. But Howells is far from deserving this apparent post-mortem neglect. It seems to me that, once again, canonization is rearing its ugly head. How many highly literate Americans even know much about 19th century American authors? A friend of mine (who's taught 19th c American lit) & I listed how many such authors we cd think of off the tops of our heads. We came up w/ something like 16. That's less than 1 for every 6 yrs of the century! Surely there were many more remarkable writers of the time!
When reading a 'realist' work I reckon the test, for me, is: how convinced am I of the 'realism'? What seems realistic in a novel about a hotel to a person who doesn't run one might be very different indeed to someone who actually run one. What was interesting for me about this novel was that, even tho it's framed by a very different time of societal proprieties, it still rang 'true' in terms of subtleties of human nature & issues of human conduct.
I wdn't credit this bk w/ having any formal innovations. It's a classic 19th century novel of a nature that, it seems to me, was already decades old. No matter, that doesn't completely devalue it for me despite my thirst for innovation. Having the main locale be a country summer hotel provides a solid pretext for a rotating cast of traveling characters & Howells uses this to advantage w/o just milking it as a gimmick.
While there's plenty of subtle drama here, it doesn't depend on tragedy - unlike so much these days, no-one has to be murdered in order for the plot to be engrossing. Reading it, & enjoying it, & caring about the characters, made me feel like I am, indeed, 'old-fashioned' - despite my having been about as immersed in the 'avant-garde' my whole life as just about anyone who ever has been.
Howells doesn't oversimplify, always a relief to me. The ultimate character of the title is somewhat annoying, somewhat sympathetic, & not overly depicted in stereotyping ways. He's an individual - at the same time that he's presented as a person involved in ordinary day-to-day class struggle - ie: he's not political but he's caught up in class struggle in a personal way.
A crucial scene is one where Jeff, the landlord of the title, has brought food out to clients of the hotel on a picnic. One of the 'ladies' treats him like a servant & tries to put a good face on trying to get him out of the way so he doesn't 'contaminate' (my word choice) their little party. Jeff is aware of how he's being treated. His mother, the actual landlady of the hotel at the time, learns of this & evicts the offending woman from the hotel. In a sense, this conflict then fuels much of what happens later as Jeff grows into a young man at Harvard & manipulates people who look down on him from their privileged positions.
The novel's rich enuf in details: the people who populate the hotel, Boston, alluded-to trips to Europe & Egypt, Theosophists (only mentioned as "them Blavetsky fellers" (p 190) but still present) & the use of the planchette for 'spirit communication'. I'll be reading more by Howells (maybe) but not anytime soon. If I can help revive interest in him, I'm happy to do so. At the very least, reading this made me want to visit the country in New England where Lion's Head mountain is. ...more
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Dec 11, 2012
Dec 12, 2012
Paul Metcalf's Will West
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - December 7, 2012
When I found this bk I figured I'd found something genuinely on a review of
Paul Metcalf's Will West
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - December 7, 2012
When I found this bk I figured I'd found something genuinely on a small press. The press's name is "The Bookstore Press" & it's from Lenox, MA. The original date of publication being 1956, this 2nd edition is from 1973. Metcalf's name seemed vaguely familiar but I might've just been recognizing the last name somehow. Looking in another bk that I'm currently reading, A Secret Location on the Lower East Side - Adventures in Writing, 1960-1980, I find Paul Metcalf indexed & connected w/ United Artists literary magazine.
Online, a brief Wikipedia bio says that "He wrote in verse and prose, but his work generally defies classification. Its small but devoted following includes Robert Creeley, William Gass, Wendell Berry, Guy Davenport, Howard Zinn, and Bruce Olds." That's quite a recommendation. Then again, it's on Wikipedia where people routinely have their friends or underlings write glowing bios for them that're often little more than bullshit.
On the back cover blurb, Will West is described as Metcalf's "first experimental novel". Given that the bk's only 76pp long, it's more appropriately described as a novella. Is it experimental? Not much so - maybe to someone who only read mainstream pop fiction at the time it was 1st published it might be - but in contrast to Kenneth Patchen, eg, it strikes me as a bit lame. It does alternate between regular & italicized fonts w/ a POV change coinciding & sometimes the prose alternates w/ poetry. That's a little experimental. I suppose. & the namesake main character of the title, Will West, is evocative of both "Wild West" & of the character's westward journey.
West is largely of Cherokee descent & much of the italicized parts are dedicated to Cherokee culture. How accurate any of this is historically, I can't say. If it's accurate, then that might explain Howard Zinn's purported liking of Metcalf's writing.
The narrative has a dramatic drive to it that I found a bit too easy even tho it's, fortunately, not milked for all the misery it can provide. I wdn't really recommend this to anyone, it just seems too shallow - maybe his other bks are more substantial. I wonder what Sherman Alexie wd think of this? ...more
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Dec 07, 2012
Dec 07, 2012
Apr 27, 2009
Philip K. Dick's In Milton Lumky Territory
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - September 21, 2012
Philip K. Dick is a great writer. He's a write review of
Philip K. Dick's In Milton Lumky Territory
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - September 21, 2012
Philip K. Dick is a great writer. He's a writer that just about every aspiring fiction writer wd love to be. The prose is easy to understand, fluid, engaging, but not banal. The characters are idiosyncratic - they can be 'normal' w/o being stereotypical - they're the product of keen observation of humanity. Dick was married 5 times & one 'has to wonder' whether the marriage depicted here was similar to any of his.
I wasn't even that interested in reading this. I read almost everything by Dick in 1984 or thereabouts & was deeply impressed by him at the time.. but that was long ago & revisiting him is a bit too been-there-done-that. AND, since this is one of his realist novels, & not SF, I wasn't really that intrigued. It might be too much like Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman or John Updike's Couples or some such. In other words, I'm not generally that curious about reading 20th century realism. THEN, I read the 1st sentence, "At sunset, acrid-smelling air from the lake puffed along the empty streets of Montario, Idaho", & I was hooked. It's not THAT brilliant of a sentence but it still did it for me.
As it turned out, I became completely engrossed in the plot - even tho it was about a traveling businessman & his dysfunctional marriage. All the neuroses of the characters are played just right. They're grand, they're annoying, they're subtle. No one's completely a villain or a hero, they're all 'normal' people trying to get by & generally fucking it up a bit here, pulling it off a bit there. The thought that Dick cdn't get this published in his lifetime is sickening. If a novel THIS GREAT cdn't get published, what unappreciated gems are out there languishing?! ...more
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Sep 21, 2012
Jan 01, 1955
Jan 01, 1956
Franklin W. Dixon's The Clue in the Embers
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - April 7, 2012
In the past yr, my friend, the poet & essayist review of
Franklin W. Dixon's The Clue in the Embers
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - April 7, 2012
In the past yr, my friend, the poet & essayist Alan Davies, conducted an email interview w/ me in wch he wrote: "I would be interested in knowing which books first struck you / as a boy / which authors – and the reading of what things might have pointed (pushed?) you in the direction of writing and the other arts." This unleashed a flood of memories about childhood reading wch led to my thinking of The Hardy Boys.
The Hardy Boys bks, a series of mysteries starring teenage brothers Frank & Joe & a supporting cast of friends, were probably staple reading for most white boys like myself from the time of their inception in 1927 'til when? I'm not sure what the answer to that is. At any rate, I probably read every one I cd get my hands on from ages 7 to 9 if not beyond. Then, of course, my tastes got more sophisticated, & I moved on w/ no desire to revisit childish things. Now, tho, I find it moderately fascinating to reread something that I wd've last read 50 yrs ago to reappraise the culture that they represented at the time.
As I replied to Alan regarding a list of bks that I'd read as a child:
"It's not too hard to find things that these bks had in common that're still meaningful to me today. The White bks anthropomorphized a mouse & a spider, etc - wch fed into my natural inclination to identify w/ non-human life. Of course, Carroll & Tolkien did much the same thing. There's science, there's myth, there's fantasy; nonsense, struggle, freedom, hero's journeys. Twain's sense of justice.
"Kids bks seem to be generally written by people w/ a sense of ethics, people who want to inspire children to aspire to leading a life of integrity pushing for just societies."
SO, it was of interest to me to read in Wikipedia's Hardy Boys entry:
"The Hardy Boys have evolved in various ways since their first appearance in 1927. Beginning in 1959, the books were extensively revised, largely to eliminate racial stereotypes. The books were also written in a simpler style in an attempt to compete with television. Some critics argue that in the process the Hardy Boys changed, becoming more respectful of the law and simultaneously more affluent, "agents of the adult ruling class" rather than characters who aided the poor."
I think that I wd've read both the original, pre-revision versions, & the post-1959 ones. The cover I uploaded for the edition I read wd've been from the earlier versions. This bk read like a serial. Most, if not all, chapters end w/ a 'cliff-hanger'. I'm reminded of the more recent Raiders of the Lost Ark movies insofar as this bk, & probably all of the series, immediately starts off w/ something over-the-top & keeps going. This one, in particular, is 'exotic', from the perspective of a middle-class American boy,
On the 1st page, the Hardys learn that their friend has inherited some shrunken heads. Now this, for me, was esp vivid b/c when I was a kid rubber novelty shrunken heads were common & I had one. When I was about 18, in 1971 or 72, I started trying to write a somewhat Captain Beefheart inspired poem that probably had some formal restriction on it that eventually defeated me. The subject? Shrunken heads. I sometimes wonder what happened to that failed attempt. Most likely I destroyed it. I'm sure I've wondered since then where I got the info about shrunken heads that I used in it. Then I reread The Clue in the Embers where shrunken heads are explained as follows & realized that I'd probably gotten it from there!:
"The savage Andean Indians used to take the heads of their enemies in local warfare. After the removal of the skull from the severed head, the rest was reduced by boiling to the size of a man's fist. The eyes and lips were pinned and laced, and the interior treated with hot stones and sand. With the use of a local herb, the hair remained long and kept its original luster."
Assuming such details to be at least somewhat accurate rather than purely fictional, I like such touches in The Clue in the Embers. There're a few others. Mostly what amuses me about them is the way the Hardy family is presented as 'normal' while the sons are plunged into life-threatening, world-traveling adventures on a rapid-fire basis at the same time that they go on dates & do other 'normal' kid things. Take this paragraph from page 3:
""I'll sure need some nourishment if I'm going to hassle with a lot of shrunken heads," Frank declared. "Joe, let's finish that clam chowder Mother made yesterday. It always tastes better the second day.""
Ha ha! Nothing like a little of mom's clam chowder before an inspection of a shrunken head collection! Now the character who inherits this stuff immediately gets a threatening phone call from a man named "Valez". I then wondered whether there'd be racial stereotyping of Latino guys as sinister. On page 7 it's written:
"Glancing around the platform, the boys saw no one who resembled what they thought Valez might look like. Most of the faces were familiar and the others were those of teen-agers."
Ok, what did they think Valez might look like? They didn't have much to go on since they'd only heard his voice over the phone & didn't even know if his name was a pseudonym or not. When reading, before I read the Wikipedia entry quoted above, I thought that the author avoided racial stereotypes by eliminating the people at the train stn b/c they were either familiar or were too young. 'Dixon' didn't write something like 'They didn't see any swarthy skulking sinister South Americans.' As such, I found the story throughout to walk a thin line between stereotypes & attempts to be sensitive & anti-racist.
The 'exotica' plunges on when the Hardys are attacked by a blowgun. I'm sure this was the type of detail that was meant to be particularly thrilling. How common was blowgun imagery in 1955? I don't know. I reckon it was plentiful. Then, by page 36, a man w/ tattoos is introduced. Tattoos definitely weren't common in my neck of the woods in 1955 so this wd've been 'exotica' from my childish perspective too. Putting him in context, he's a seaman. In the narrow-minded world I was raised in, a tattooed man wd've probably been pretty frightening to my mom. Here, he's described as having a "voice no less friendly than his handshake."
I don't know what it's like for boys growing up in the 21st century, but in my youth becoming a boy scout & learning to "be prepared" was the 'norm'. I hated the cub scouts & the boy scouts. In The Clue in the Embers, the Hardys always have a flashlight handy & have no problem repairing a broken window. What wd most kids use for lite these days? Their cellphones? & wd they be able to repair a broken window?
By page 101, Valez is suspected of being an illegal immigrant. An illegal immigrant from south of the US border? Is there a racist generalization at work here? Again, a thin line.
&, then, in the midst of action like Joe's being waylaid & trussed-up, curses, shrunken heads, blowdart arrowheads, etc, the boys go out on a date w/ the girls for a picnic & some fun at the Amusement Park. I mean, they're not under any stress or anything, right? They just take it all in stride. &, of course, the reader is being set up for something almost serious to happen in this idyllic picnic setting. I think of things like Leopold & Loeb, rich kids who kidnapped a boy, possibly sexually molested him, & killed him, trying to get ransom - all in an attempt to commit a 'perfect crime' - not b/c they needed the money. If James Ellroy were to rewrite a Hardy Boys story I reckon it might go somewhat more along such lines.
The previously mentioned 'curse' involved the making of a cone of ashes from mahogany - &. perhaps such a practice exists or existed. It's one of the details in the bk that I suspect came from some sort of anthropological source.
Back to the stereotyping tightrope:
"Aunt Gertrude spoke up for the first time and snapped. "Why those Indians might kill you if they found you looking for their treasure!"
"Mr. Putnam smiled tolerantly. "The Indians in Guatemala respect the white man. The boys wouldn't have any trouble with them, but I also doubt that they would receive any clues about the treasure. No, you're more likely to have trouble with an occasional band of hostile, renegade Ladinos who have fled to the mountain regions.
""Ladinos," the explorer explained, "are Spanish-speaking, mixed-breed people. They are very proud and do no manual work like laboring in the fields or carrying loads. Mainly, they own stores and cantinas in the towns and villages and hold political offices.""
Now, I sortof cringe when I read of people described in terms of "breeding". It makes me think of 'good breeding' (rich people) & 'ill bred' (poor people) or of mating a poodle w/ a pit-bull or something. It reeks of nazi genetics.
2/3rds of the way thru the bk, one of the villains, a man, is in disguise as a woman. Oh! The 1950s! Nowadays that wd scream of drag queen but, here, it's just a "disguise". Later, Tony's luggage goes missing & he moans about what he's going to do w/o his clothes.
""You'll have to dress like an Injun!" Joe laughed and folded his arms across his chest Indian style. "You heap big chief of our tribe.""
This is where it gets even more ridiculous. Maybe we have Mark Twain to thank for the use of "Injun" as an acceptable "Americanism'. After all, "Injun Joe" was a famous character of his, a villain - &, as much as I love Twain, his depiction of Native Americans in Roughing It (if I remember correctly) is completely racist, demeaning, insensitive, & hateful. It's not quite so bad here. Nonetheless, Tony's imitation of a indigenous person in Guatemala is immediately convincing to the natives. Not fucking likely.
""Suppose we all wander into the village," Frank proposed. "By the time we get there they'll probably have elected Tony chief of the tribe!""
In the meantime, NO, the locals aren't that stupid, thank goodness:
"Tony sobered. "This shaman business was a fake," he said. "They knew right away I wasn't an Indian."
In the meantime, they barely survive a volcano (might as well throw one of those in, right?) & a native ritual where they're trussed. Perhaps the most annoying scene for me, & the one most reflective of an uncritical attitude towards the 'white man's' imperialist 'right' to go anywhere he wants, is when the Hardys & friend Chet decided to just go into a bldg that has 2 people blocking the entrance. When they're stopped from entering they get outraged & immediately attack the guards - How dare anyone stop them from going anywhere they want to!
&, of course, they find the treasure, big surprise, & hand it over to the government w/ the blessing of the wise old 'Indian' chief whose people accumulated the treasure in the 1st place. Right, like the government's going to then distribute the wealth for the good of the people! I wonder what the rewritten version's like? Does the government come in & slaughter all the 'Indians' to take their land? That wd be more realistic.
But, of course, this is a kid's adventure tale meant to instill a sense of sensible daring in boys & not to delve into the complex miseries of human rottenness &.. yeah, I enjoyed it as such. ...more
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twice - 1st in early 1960s
Apr 07, 2012
Apr 07, 2012
Frederik Pohl & C.M. Kornbluth's Critical Mass
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - March 30, 2012
Another great bk by Kornbluth & Pohl, review of
Frederik Pohl & C.M. Kornbluth's Critical Mass
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - March 30, 2012
Another great bk by Kornbluth & Pohl, reinforcing their place in my pantheon of favorite sf writers. In my adult yrs this pantheon consisted originally of Philip K. Dick, J.G. Ballard, & Samuel Delaney. The Strugatsky Brothers were added, then Stanislav Lem. Sometimes 'James Tiptree, Jr'. Vladimir Savchencko & Michel Jeury on the strengths of the single bks I've been able to find by each of them. Other people drifting in & out from time to time. But Pohl & Kornbluth are in there solid now.
Kornbluth was born July 2, 1923, 4 yrs later than Pohl, but had the misfortune to die March 21, 1958. Pohl was born November 26, 1919 & is, as far as I 'know' still alive today. W/ each new successive Pohl introduction to their collaborative works that I read, I feel the loss more of Kornbluth as a major talent more. This particular collection is the most poignant one yet in that respect b/c all of the collaborations were finished by Pohl from works of Kornbluth unfinished &/or unpublished as of Kornbluth's death. From Pohl's introduction:
"Cyril had always been a little plumper than was strictly good for him. When the Army made him a machine-gunner, lugging a 50-calibre-heavy MG around the Ardennes forest, they shortened his life. Exertions damaged his heart, and in his midthirties his doctor told him that he had a clear choice. He could give up smoking, drinking, spices in his food, a lot of the food itself, irregular hours and excitement; or he could die of hypertension.
"For a while Cyril tried doing what the doctor told him. he took his medicine: tranquilizers, mostly, the not-quite-perfected tranquilizers of the fifties, which had such side-effects as making him a little confused and a little intellectually sluggish. He followed the diet rigorously. He came out to visit us during that period, and my wife cooked salt-free meals and baked salt-free bread. We couldn't do much writing. He was not up to it. But I showed him a novel I was having problems with. he read the pages of the first draft and handed it back to me. "Needs salt," he a\said, and that was all.
"So I suppose Cyril made his choice. In his place, I think I might have made the same one. he went back to coffee and cigarettes, gave up the medication, went back to writing, finished the revisions to Wolfbane, wrote two or three of his best novelettes, signed on as an editor for The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction - his first experiment with editing, rather than writing, science fiction, and one which he enjoyed enormously. ...And then on a snowy March morning I had a phone call from Mary, his wife, to say that Cyril had shoveled out their driveway to free his car, run to catch a train and dropped dead on the station platform.
"He left behind a bundle of incomplete manuscripts and fragments, some of which I was later able to revise and complete. Most of the stories in this volume came out of that bale of paper, and were published after his death."
This was the 1st collection of Kornbluth/Pohl stories that included non-SF. One of these is "A Hint of Henbane" wch Kornbluth had finished but not sold. Pohl reworked it & sold it to Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine. Then there's "The Meeting" about wch Pohl wrote:
"A few years before his death, Cyril wrote a story about a school for "exceptional" children. It was not science fiction; it was not exactly a story, for that matter (being more description than event) and no one seemed to want to buy it. But it came out of Cyril's heart, because one of his children was in just such a school."
All in all, this is a diverse collection: "Mute Inglorious Tam", eg, is set in medieval England w/o being a time travel story, "The World of Myrion Flowers" has black characters (for wch it was criticized despite it's being anti-racist), "The Engineer" is a tale of politicking interfering w/ function - something I witness all the time in the museums where I work. Kornbluth's imagination was fertile, Pohl's still is, I only wish Kornbluth had lived as long. ...more
Notes are private!
Mar 29, 2012
Mar 30, 2012
Mass Market Paperback
Jan 01, 2010
Jan 01, 2010
Franz Kamin's Scribble Death
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - March 25, 2012
Franz Kamin was a friend of mine. I performed in some of his pie review of
Franz Kamin's Scribble Death
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - March 25, 2012
Franz Kamin was a friend of mine. I performed in some of his pieces. At my suggestion he joined GoodReads, so he's an author here, but he never posted anything. He died in a car crash along w/ his old friend & mine, James "Sarmad" Brody", in 2010. I spent 7 mnths from October, 2010 to May, 2011 making a documentary about him called "DEPOT (wherein resides the UNDEAD of Franz Kamin". I've screened this in Minneapolis, NYC, & Milwaukee as of March 2012. I have a briefcase filled w/ things relevant to him.
As I approach closure in my memorialization of him, I've been planning to finally file away this briefcase. In order to do that I felt like I 'needed' to either read for the 1st time or reread his main bk, Scribble Death & write a review about it here. Reading it was somewhat strange. I've probably had it for decades - maybe since it came out - & parts of it were very familiar for various reasons.. BUT, as far as I can tell, I'D NEVER READ IT IN ITS ENTIRETY BEFORE. & that's what was strange: How cd I've been friends w/ Franz for so long & had this bk for so long & NEVER READ IT ALL?!! After all, I read ALOT & reading this bk didn't take long - it's only 171pp.
I know there was a time when some reason or another was floating around in my head for not reading this: Now, tho, it's hard for me to imagine sd reason being a very good one. &, yet, I know that friends of mine have bks of mine that they've never read - that they've had them for decades. I know they're afraid of them, afraid of the intensity. When choosing between escapist entertainment & a bk by me, there's no contest. But I usually adamantly avoid being in such a light-reader context. In fact, I've read many, MANY bks far more challenging & disturbing than Franz's. After all, I've read de Sade's The 120 Days of Sodom, eg. Franz doesn't come anywhere close. So I didn't avoid reading this b/c of its content exactly, I avoided reading it b/c it was Franz's & I LIKED FRANZ VERY MUCH. Strange.
Scribble Death wd've been mostly written in the early-to-mid 1980s & was published in 1986. Franz was a hardcore alcoholic during much of time & wd've gone to the Twin Cities shortly after Scribble Death came out to dry out. As far as I 'know', he stayed sober for the remaining 24 yrs of his life after that. As such, Scribble death is sortof his peak alcoholic work - &, yes, I like it very much for that. We're not talking Bukowksi here, thank the holy ceiling lite - there's very little here, formally, that reeks of alcohol. But there're plenty of autobiographical & otherwise references to alcoholism.
In the SUBWAY 2 section (pp37-38) Franz wrote:
"When I first came to the City (about 12 years ago), I didn't know as much as I do now about drug and alcohol induced hallucinations. Often I would find myself down in the subway holes staring at the same set of tracks crossing itself at right angles and wondering which way to step to get on teh train. Or find myself in some weird unknown place like Tottenville, explaining to the booth attendant that I wanted to go home but couldn't quite remember the name of the stop (Crainal or Camel or something). Or riding on the YY line, not being able to remember why. Or not finding myself at all..."
Basically, I think this is a truly great work &, yet.. at the same time, I'm not sure that I think it's as great as, say, his earlier Ann Margret Loves You and Other Psychotopological Diversions (see my review here: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25... ) even tho it's longer, & perhaps, more coherently structured as a bk.
I'm very glad I read this after I made the documentary. It all resonated w/ me so much more than it wd have 25 yrs ago. EG: I learned while making "DEPOT" that the tombstone on the cover of Ann Margret.. is a child's grave in the cemetery across from Station Hill Press (the publisher of this bk) where Franz often went for walks. One documentary interviewee, poet Mitch Highfill, relates that the child, Jacob Lane, was stillborn & that Franz was obsessed w/ this grave. Another interviewee, (John Beaulieu - check out the interview here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1xhKN3... ) talked about how he & Franz wd record walking thru the graveyard in order to use the Raudivé technique for playing back the tapes to 'hear the voices of the dead' (see Peter Bander's bk Voice From The Tapes - Recordings From the Other World) - something that other friends of mine & I experimented w/ around the same time.
Mitch also mentioned that he performed as part of Franz's piece entitled "The ERADICATION OF NEW YORK SUBWAY GRAFFITI by JACOB LANE" during the last of the Sound Poetry festivals there. So, then, I found references to this embedded in Scribble Death.
The bk is divided into "Scribble Death" sections numbered w/ Roman numerals. On p29, at the end of "Scribble Death I", there's this note:
"PLEASE STOP at this point before entering into the concluding sector. make a Gap of at least four minutes. I would prefer that you would spend this four minute Gap not doing anything and not thinking anything. of course, you are free to do what you like; but, my preference is that you do and think nothing for four minutes. You could get around to the concluding page tomorrow night, for example. However, I am going to wait for four minutes..."
I waited for a little over 4 minutes. As for not thinking? I'm not sure I ever do that. The end of "Scribble Death II" is far more developed. Such instructions to the reader remind me of Jackson Mac Low's published by Dick Higgins' Printed Editions. This bk even has a section entitled "Reading & Performing Asymmetries". Jackson & Franz were friends.
The "READER'S PREFACE to the FIRST and SECOND CLOSURE" of "Scribble death II" states: "Ideally, have someone else read them to you or make a cassette of your own voice reading, and follow the instructions as given [..] The 2 'Closures' themselves (not including their prefatory introductions) are to be read in a slow, semi-expressionless, hypnotic voice with ample pauses between each word-group or phrase."
I recorded my slow reading of the 4 sparse pages of these FIRST and SECOND CLOSUREs, taking over 13 minutes, & played it back listening to it, as Franz proposed, w/ my eyes closed - trying to play along w/ the obvious auto-hypnotic suggestiveness of the process. "[V]isualiz[ing] the entire sequence" (of being a butterfly) was one of the more interesting experiences of the bk for me. As w/ so many things w/ Franz, this interest in hypnosis reminded me of my own interest along these lines 15 yrs or so before this bk was written.
Making it even better, there's a later sequence in Scribble Death where the butterfly reappears from a different perspective. Thanks to this quasi-auto-hypnosis, I had the interesting experience of being able to almost feel my identification w/ the butterfly in this section.
On p78, Franz references the suicides surrounding the playing of the song Gloomy Sunday. This, too, was something I learned about while interviewing people for "DEPOT". Having the stories reappear in this quasi-fictionalized/quasi-alcohol-hallucination/quasi-oneiric text gave it a particularly mythic power.
"Scribble Death III" constitutes the most substantial part of the bk & is subtitled My Autobiography in the Form of a Little Anthology of Linked Deaths". This is like the Brothers Grimm updated to the 20th century. Formally, the entire bk interpenetrates itself w/ various ways of tale-telling. Here, the segues are particularly pleasing for me.
Scribble Death is permeated w/ guilt & horror over Franz's having been employed "slopping rats" for an NYU lab. His job involved both feeding & killing the unfortunate test animals. PP92-93 provide a particularly horrific description of torturing a fiddler crab. "The scientist knew that the real purpose of this and most other 'laboratory controlled' torturings was to get enough information of any kind to publish a paper. The papers were absolutely essential to the survival of the scientists. No scientist could survive as a scientist, unless he could publish papers. Publish or perish."
Each Scribble Death section begins w/ a title page w/ a picture, taken, I believe, by poet Charles Stein, of Franz seen from behind walking down a country road & getting further & further away from the fotographer. I've always found these fotos to be particularly poignant. In a very understated way, they represent Franz slipping away from the reader thru his alcoholic despair. I can relate. How sensitive humans manage to survive the emotional complexities of life is often beyond me.
Even tho this bk cd've been much, much better, there's a weird clarity to it that I find profound. I've rarely read a bk that I identify w/ so strongly. Do other readers of it feel the same way? I doubt it. Reading this almost makes me feel like I was Franz's twin brother. Franz's actual brother, not a twin, committed suicide. To roughly paraphrase what my girlfriend Amy Catanzano has sd to me: 'Only you could've made a documentary about Franz because both of you were/are so deeply multidisciplinary." & it's even more than that: Franz & I were/are like a socio-emotional Brothers Grim even tho Franz came from a wealthy family & basically didn't have to work for a living for most of his life & I come from a lower middle class family & have had to work to support myself for most or all of my adult life.
When a 'name' is given to a process for purpose of reference and simplification (that is, so that the entire process does not have to be described), that is called NOMINALISM. Unfortunately, when the intuitive knowledge of what such a process is, is replaced by a name, the process often comes to be thought of as a thing, and thus it loses the very essence of its processuality; as in the case of 'Energy' - there is no such thing as 'Energy.' There is no such thing as 'Life.' There is no such thing as 'Love.' There has never been, nor is there now, nor will there ever be such a thing as the 'National Debt' (merely an invention of the little war-like countries called 'Governments' to rob the larger more peaceful countries called their 'Constituents." [sic - I believe this closed quotation mark is a typo in the bk]) There is no such thing as 'Music'. Music is whatever any 2 people agree to its being (too bad for Academies, the Critics, the Theoreticians, and the Avant Garde.) But, is there such a thing as DEATH? (This may be a case of INVERSE NOMINALISM; that is, what has been commonly thought of as a process, may actually turn out to be a 'thing.')"
Keep in mind the 'name': tentatively, a convenience. ...more
Notes are private!
Mar 24, 2012
Mar 26, 2012
Jan 01, 1957
Mary Manning's Passages from Finnegans Wake by James Joyce - A Free Adaptation for the Theater
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - March 15, 201 review of
Mary Manning's Passages from Finnegans Wake by James Joyce - A Free Adaptation for the Theater
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - March 15, 2012
I finished reading James Joyce's Finnegans Wake in february of 1976 when I was 22. Even tho I'd read Lautremont, Jarry, Breton, Genet, Burroughs, & other experimental writers by then, this was the most experimental work I'd read yet & it comes close to remaining so! I remember reading Burroughs say in The Job something to the effect that Finnegans Wake is too experimental! Ha ha!
W/ that in mind, I'm always fascinated by people who do work inspired by Finnegans Wake. What a challenge!! There's John Cage's song, for voice & closed piano, "The Wonderful Widow of Eighteen Springs" (1942) the words to wch "are adapted from page 556 of James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake" as the liner notes to Brian Eno's "obscure" label release of it say. A few things about this latter: 1st, the title of the bk is Finnegans Wake not Finnegan's Wake. the song that the title of the bk refers to has an apostrophe but the bk title doesn't. 2nd, Robert Wyatt, formerly of The Soft Machine, sings the song. 3rd, the obscure album that this song is on, Voices and Instruments was released in 1976 when I read Finnegans Wake & I got the album shortly thereafter - so things started to fit together.
The lyrics to Cage's song, as presented in the afore-mentioned album's liner notes, are "nightby silent sailing night isobel wildwood's eyes and primarose hair, quietly, all the woods so wild, in mauves of moss and daphnedews, how all so still she lay, neath of the whitethorn, child of tree, like some lost happy leaf, like blowing flower stilled, as fain would she anon, for soon again 'twill be, win me, woo me, wed me, ah! weary me! deeply, now evencalm lay sleeping; night; Isobel, sister Isobel, Saintette Isobel, Madame Is a Veuve La Belle."
& on p45 of Manning's Passages from Finnegans Wake by James Joyce - A Free Adaptation for the Theater Shem is presented as saying: "Isobel, she is so pretty, truth to tell, wildwood's eyes and primarose hair, quietly, all the woods so wild, in mauves of moss and daphnedews, how all so still she lay, neath of the whitethorn, child of tree, like some losthappy leaf, like blowing flower stilled, as fain would she anon, for soon again 'twill be, win me, woo me, wed me, ah weary me!"
& when I got to this part of Manning's adaptation, I automatically started singing the Cage melody along w/ the words. More about the musicality of Joyce's text anon.
There are slight differences between the mutually quoted passage so I decided to look at p556 of the 1975 Viking edition of Finnegan's Wake that I have &, sure, enuf, I have the page number, "556" circled & the phrase, "the wonderful widow of eighteen springs", wch appears on it, underlined in pencil. SO, obviously, I'd been thru this process before. Interestingly (perhaps only to nerds & detail-oriented folks like myself), Cage's beginning phrase, "nightby silent sailing night" is the the 1st 4 words of the paragraph in wch the rest of the text is contained & is actually written (at least in the edition I have) as "night by silentsailing night" - ie: the contractions are changed - wch cd be b/c of the record liner notes or b/c of Cage's adaption (I suspect the writer of the liner notes). Also, the 1st "isobel" is spelled w/ a lower-case "i" - another mistake, again presumably b/c of the liner note writer. Again, in Cage's version as presented by the LP, "now evencalm lay sleeping; night;" is followed by text that actually precedes it, in fragments, in the original..
Contrarily, Manning's quoting is a straight excerpt - although the attribution to Shem is her call. Following the paragraph that both Cage & Manning quote from, the 1st 3 words of the next paragraph are "nowth upon nacht" wch is the name of another Cage vocal & closed piano piece (1984) & includes the entire paragraph verbatim - w/o any rearrangement.
In 1976, again, I also got a copy of the record "anna livia plurabelle", a "Jazz Cantata" by Andre Hodeir on the excellent Philips label. Hodeir studied w/ Olivier Messiaen &, according to Wikipedia ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andr%C3%... ), "He composed, in 1966, the monumental jazz cantata Anna Livia Plurabelle, on James Joyce's text, and in 1972 of Bitter Ending, by The Swingle Singers and a jazz quintet, on the final monologue of Finnegans Wake." Interested? For music scholars, let me make it even more interesting: the violinist on the recording I have is Jean-Luc Ponty, & the alto saxist is Michel Portal! Whew! I'm listening to the record now as I write this & Ponty's prominent playing sounds Stephane Grappelli inspired. Hodeir was also a violinist.
Now many a work has been inspired by both Joyce & Gertrude Stein, often considered to be the 2 most radical modernists of 20th c. English lit. Cage was a staunch proponent of the work of both. I found this online: "There is a strong theatrical element to works like “Living Room Music” (1940), performed with sofa, table, chairs and props all used as percussion instruments to create percussive-speech woven around a brief spoken text by Gertrude Stein" in reference to a 2012 Cage music fest.
Online ( http://www.rosewhitemusic.com/cage/te... ), I also find this relevant excerpt from "John Cage: Choral music (a timeline)" by James Pritchett:
Cage composes Living Room Music. Living Room Music for percussion and speech quartet is in four movements: "To Begin", "Story", "Melody", and "End". No percussion instruments are used. Instead, Cage indicates that "any household objects or architectural elements may be used as instruments." Examples given are things such as magazines, a table, "largish books", the floor, a window frame. In the second movement the players perform a rhythmic reading of a text from Gertrude Stein's The World is Round: "Once upon a time the world was round and you could go on it around and around." The third movement is optional. In it, one player performs a melody on "any suitable instrument."
This is an informal music, a home entertainment. Cage's percussion players were frequently not professional musicians—his earliest ensemble consisted of bookbinders he knew. In Living Room Music they are as the amateurs of the past, sitting around the table at home with their parts and playing for their own pleasure."
Elsewhere online, ( http://newalbion.com/artists/cagej/au... ), Cage is quoted in an autobiographical statement re using Stein's text:
"Later when I returned to California, in the Pacific Palisades, I wrote songs with texts by Gertrude Stein and choruses from The Persians of Aeschylus. I had studied Greek in high school. These compositions were improvised at the piano. The Stein songs are, so to speak, transcriptions from a repetitive language to a repetitive music."
Stein's repetitiveness was probably not conducive to Cage's later development but Joyce's much more complex musicality probably was & he composed many pieces that used Joyce:
"the wonderful widow of eighteen springs" (1942)
"Writing for the ___ Time Through Finnegans Wake" (1979?-?)
[there are multiple versions of this - at least 5? that I 'know' of - hence the blank]
"Marcel Duchamp, James Joyce, Eric Satie: An Alphabet" (1982)
"nowth upon nacht" (1984)
There's also "Laughtears", a "Conversation on Roaratorio" recorded between Cage & Klaus Schöning in 1979. The Joyce coined word appears on p1 of Manning's play & I cf it to the epigraph before the introduction to it:
"Loud, heap miseries upon us yet entwine our arts with laughters low!""
Even Mary Ellen Bute, perhaps mainly known for her 35mm animations to classical music, made, as her final film, Passages from Finnegan's Wake, a feature-length film made from 1965-67. While, alas, on the Bute Wikipedia entry I find no mention of Manning, I found this excellent article, "Finnegans Wake on Film", by Patrick A. McCarthy ( http://www.flashpointmag.com/pmfilm.htm ) wch I hereby excerpt from:
"What made it possible for Mary Ellen Bute to create her film, Passages from Finnegans Wake, was the play of the same title by Mary Manning, which inspired the film. In a 1964 interview, Bute described how she got started:
'It's long been a cherished dream of mine. I went to see it at Barnard College, the play by Mary Manning, Passages from Finnegans Wake, performed by the Barnard girls. It was marvelous—witty and moving. It was also a great success in Paris. So I telephoned the Joyce Society immediately and its secretary, Frances Steloff, of the Gotham Book Mart … went to see it. She agreed with me about its power and we first tried to produce it off-Broadway as a play, but the project failed because Margery Bartington's dramatization, Ulysses in Nighttown, was also trying to raise backing and the Joyce Society felt it couldn't afford to sponsor both.
'So I applied for the film rights for Mary Manning's play and the book and they came through.
'Mary Manning took two years to extract from this enormous book the characters and high points and to give it dramatic form. She did the screen treatment too.'"
It's tempting to quote the entire article! Read it!
I've never witnessed the play OR the film! What a shame! (& I'm not being sarcastic!) For what it's worth, by the by, Parker Tyler's bk Underground Film - A Critical History lists the Bute film under 1965 in his chronology.
I might as well also mention that I have at least 2 other recordings of readings from Finnegans Wake - 1, that I probably got in the early 1980s from poet Chris Mason, of Joyce himself reading from it, &, 2., "Shem the Penman" read by Cyril Cusack & "Anna Livia Plurabelle" read by Siobhan McKenna - both directed by Howard Sackler (wch I didn't hear until 1997). Earlier today, I listened to the Joyce recording again. I remembered it as lo-fi & scratchy. It is. I also remembered that I wasn't that impressed by it when I 1st heard. I still wasn't. Perhaps the 'strange' thing about Joyce's reading of it is that, if I hadn't seen the incredible text 1st, I'd just think that the recording was just of a guy reading an English text w/ a thick Irish brogue. I'd never think that hearing any of the other recordings - including in the relatively straight-forward Cusack & McKenna readings. .
As if all of this weren't enuf, there was also another play wch the great ESP record label put out the soundtrack of: "The Coach with the Six Insides" (1962). I found this in the ESP website ( http://www.espdisk.com/official/catal... ):
"Jean Erdman, choreographer and wife of the late Joseph Campbell, the leading authority on James Joyce, adapted FINNEGAN'S WAKE into a musical play, with music by Teiji Ito. The late Leonard Frey, best known as the hapless tailor in stage and film versions of FIDDLER ON THE ROOF, was in the cast. It was recorded by Richard L. Alderson. Musicologists, take note."
Erdman had been a dancer w/ the famous Martha Graham dance co. As her Wikipedia bio says: "She had become well acquainted with the novel during the four and a half year period that her husband collaborated with Henry Morton Robinson to write A Skeleton Key to Finnegans Wake (1944)." Teiji Ito was also married to the great American filmmaker Maya Deren & he composed for her films too - amongst other remarkable accomplishments! The :33 excerpt from the ESP Sampler of the Erdman play's soundtrack has a Finnegans Wake remake of 'The Lord's Prayer'.
In Denis Johnston's "Introduction" to Manning's bk it's written:
"We must also remember that Joyce was a man already half blind when writing the Wake, but with a wonderful ear for music. Consequently, large sections are not intended for the eye at all, but for the ear. It has a rhythm, and sometimes even a rhyme that demands to be read aloud.
"His bludgeon's bruk, his drum is tore. For spuds we'll keep the hat he wore And roll in clover on his clay By wather parted from the say."
& I have to whole-heartedly agree. Johnston begins w/:
"Finnegans Wake is a book that everybody knows about, but that few - apart from professionals - can honestly claim to have read."
Well, I read it, the whole thing. I'd read somewhere that it was written circularly & that the end joined the beginning, so I started somewhere in the middle, I don't remember where - maybe p256 or 356 or 364 or.. - & read to the end & then back from the beginning to where I started. I remember that it was a very slow process but, still, maybe only 2 or 3 mnths. I recall realizing that if one read it aloud (I probably did it mostly mentally - thru what I call "Sound Thinking") the flow of it became much less laborious.
Mann's play almost makes the Wake 'linear'. Shem & Shaun might also me Mutt & Jute who might also just be pairs of men as archetypes. The Wake is brilliant in its phoneticizations & these are used for excuses for puns galore. Take the easy example of Manning's rendering into dialog:
"Are you jeff?
"But are you not jeffmute?"
Mutt & Jeff are, of course, taken from "Mutt & Jeff" the cartoon characters. This leads to "jeff" as a rhyme for "deaf" & "jeffmute" as a play off "deafmute" & "MUTT & JUTE".
In the play, the song "Finnegan's Wake" is sung. In the Wikipedia entry on the song ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Finnegan... ), it's written that: "In the ballad, the hod-carrier Tim Finnegan, born "with a love for the liquor", falls from a ladder, breaks his skull, and is thought to be dead. The mourners at his wake become rowdy, and spill whiskey over Finnegan's corpse, causing him to come back to life and join in the celebrations. Whiskey causes both Finnegan's fall and his resurrection—whiskey is derived from the Irish phrase uisce beatha (pronounced [ˈiʃkʲə ˈbʲahə]), meaning "water of life"."
In the same entry, it's explained that: ""Finnegan's Wake" is famous for providing the basis of James Joyce's final work, Finnegans Wake (1939), in which the comic resurrection of Tim Finnegan is employed as a symbol of the universal cycle of life. As whiskey, the "water of life", causes both Finnegan's death and resurrection in the ballad, so the word "wake" also represents both a passing (into death) and a rising (from sleep). Joyce removed the apostrophe in the title of his novel in order to suggest an active process in which a multiplicity of "Finnegans", that is, all members of humanity, fall and then wake and arise."
In keeping w/ this 'universality' of Joyce's original, Manning quotes, on pp14-17, various "HCE" (Here Comes Everybody) references:
"Humme the Cheapner, Esc, overseen as we thought him, yet a worthy of the naym..."
"H! C! E!"
"Our hero! here Comes Everybody!"
"Finnegan, the late corpse, now enters resurrected into H. C. EARWICKER"
I'm sure that Finnegans Wake is a treasure trove of reference & that Joyce embedded far more than most. In the play, there's a reference to "Nanon L'Escaut" wch is, of course, a reference to "Manon Lescaut", the name of a short novel published in 1731 & of operas by both Daniel Auber (1856) & Puccini (1884). Why the different spelling in Joyce? Only yr local Joyce scholar may know, I certainly don't!
Speaking of Joyce scholars, I've avoided reading A Skeleton Key to Finnegans Wake b/c I didn't want to resort to a 'Cliff Notes' type understanding of the work. Now I think maybe I shd read it.
In a scene where 2 women are washing clothes, there's this:
"Throw the cobwebs from your eyes, woman, and spread your washing proper! It's well I know your sort of slop. Flap! Ireland sober is Ireland stiff. Lord help you, Maria, full of grease, the load is with me!"
Joyce manages to punningly incorporate a "Hail Mary" into the talking. On page 35, he changes "handmedown" into "handwedown" - more HCE perhaps?
But what about the play?! It must've been quite the thing! In the "PRODUCTION NOTE" near the end of the bk, Manning writes:
"Versatile actors, clever and imaginative lighting, ingenious sound effects are essential to this production of Finnegans Wake. The words are the things indeed and the words should be sacred. Perfect audibility is required and the most loving training of the choral passages. Joyce wrote to be heard."
Indeed. It's hard for me to imagine the skill that it must've taken for people to realize this play. Just remembering the words must've been a phenomenal feat. & what's happening to Joyce scholarship now? Has it become mostly a thing of the past? Are the days of all the great works inspired by Finnegans Wake now 'safely' behind us? Aside from the works already mentioned, I find on the Wikipedia page for Finnegans Wake ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Finnegan... ) these updates:
"Phil Minton set passages of the Wake to music, on his 1998 album Mouthfull of Ecstasy."
"Danish visual artists Michael Kvium and Christian Lemmerz created a multimedia project called "the Wake", an 8 hour long silent movie based on the book. A version adapted by Barbara Vann with Music by Chris McGlumphy was produced by The Medicine Show Theater in April 2005 and received a favorable review in the 11 April 2005 edition of The New York Times."
I'm fairly sure that my friend Gerry Fialka is part of a group near LA that discusses the Wake. After researching for this review, I'm tempted to do a sampler piece based on it too. Who Knows? Holus Bolus.
Of course, there are far more people who were influenced by &/or directly used text by Joyce than those that I've mentioned above. Scott W. Klein, in an article I found online ( http://www.cmc.ie/articles/article850... ) entitled "James Joyce and Avant-Garde Music" says this:
"Composers have been drawn to these diverse sides of Joyce, in many cases the more traditional tonal and Romantic composers finding a congenial set of texts for setting from the poetry -- and Myra T. Russel has noted that there are well over 140 composers who have set them"
One sidenote that I'm not sure has been widely noticed, is that the Luciano Berio piece entitled "THEMA (Omaggio a Joyce)" (that I have a recording of as part of the "Electronic Music III" LP on the turnabout vox label) is not exactly the same piece as Berio's "Omaggio a Joyce" (wch I have a recording of on the "ELECTRONIC MUSIC/MUSIQUE CONCRETE - A Panorama of Experimental Music, Vol. 1") b/c the latter doesn't include Cathy Berberian's unaltered performance of the Joyce text that begins the former. Oddly, "THEMA (Omaggio a Joyce)" is listed on the liner notes as having been composed in 1958 & "Omaggio a Joyce" is listed as having been composed in 1959. Given that the latter is 6:23 & the former is 8:15, it seems that the main or only difference between the 2 is the elimination of the unaltered voice reading (wch I timed at about 1:54). Perhaps this was removed (w/ or w/o Berio's permission) to shorten it for the "ELECTRONIC MUSIC/MUSIQUE CONCRETE" record.
See my related review of Indians here: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13... ...more
Notes are private!
Mar 15, 2012
Mar 15, 2012
Aug 30, 2011
Marc Saporta's Composition No. 1
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - March 1, 2012
This bk is a collection of loose pages in a box. It's publish review of
Marc Saporta's Composition No. 1
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - March 1, 2012
This bk is a collection of loose pages in a box. It's published by Visual Editions of London who say: "We think that books should be as visually interesting as the stories they tell; with the visual feeding into and adding to the storytelling as much as the words on the page. We call it visual writing." I find this both exciting, insofar as the publishers seem seriously intent on publishing things that're different, & naive, since they seem to be unaware of, or deliberately in denial of, the tradition that they're a part of.
"We think that books should be as visually interesting as the stories they tell" presupposes that bks inevitably tell stories wch strikes me as rather unimaginative. "We call it visual writing"? Surely they realize that there's such a thing as Concrete Poetry, Visual Poetry, Picture Poems, & Typewriter Art? Surely they realize that there've been narratives that incorporate the appearance of the text as an element of the narrative & that calling such texts Visual Writing is like reinventing & renaming the wheel? Take, eg, my own, Puzzle Writing solicited as an experimental narrative by Crag Hill of Score & published in 1994 ( http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/10... ) - or Tom Philips' A Humament published in 1980.
Composition No. 1 predates both of the above in its original publication date (1961?) but doesn't predate the beginnings of Concrete Poetry in the 1950s. Even more importantly, it doesn't predate Pictorial Poetry wch editor Milton Klonsky, in his Speaking Pictures, dates from the 16th century.
Visual Editions also claims that Composition No. 1 is "is the first ever “book in a box”" & that might be true but I'm usually a bit distrustful of claims of being "first". Often these claims are made by people who simply haven't researched more obscure precursors. Again, Composition No. 1 might be the 1st but the wonderful Correspondence - an exhibition of the letters of Ray Johnson, published by the North Carolina Museum of Art in 1976, surely deserves an honorable mention for its looseleaf structure.
When I found this marked down from $40 to $35 at the Strand Bookstore in NYC I was initially interested but after leafing thru it a bit didn't find the innovations to be worth the price. It wasn't until I found a used copy for $25 that I decided to buy it.
It might seem that I'm a bit down on this & on Visual Editions but, actually, I'm highly interested in both. I think Visual Editions shows great promise & I hope they flourish financially. Saporta's use of looseleaf structure was very stimulating. Being familiar w/ experimental writing, I half-expected Saporta's narrative to be more 'abstract' than it was & was pleased to discover that in many respects it's a very conventional narrative in wch flashbacks & flashforwards & jumpcuts are the standard MO for moving between pages. The closest thing I can accurately compare it to in novels wd be Julio Cortazar's wonderful Hospscotch 1st published in 1963 but, as much as I love Hospscotch, I'd have to admit that Composition No. 1 is even formally ahead of that if the original publication date of 1961 is correct (Tom Uglow's Introduction claims 1962 but I've found 1961 as the date here: http://nickm.com/if/composition_no_1.... ).
It's perhaps easiest to compare Composition No. 1 to 20th century avant-garde musical structure, particularly aleatoric music, insofar as the building blocks are recognized as valid in any linear or even vertical relation. Interestingly, the title of the bk is also the title of a painting by one of the bk's characters, Dagmar. This seems to tie the novel into modern art.
The order of the pages as I got them in my copy had a title page on top followed by a credit page followed by the introduction followed by the only page not cut to the same size: "The Anatomy of Your Favorite Novel" by Salvador Plascencia - twice the page size but folded over to make it fit. I kept those pages in this order but slightly cut & shuffled the remaining pages to be in keeping w/ the openness. When I read Finngenas Wake when I was 22 I started from a page in the 'middle' of the bk, maybe 356, & read to the end & then from the beginning to my starting point b/c I'd been told that the bk was circularly structured & that the end connected to the beginning.
Plascencia is credited w/ providing "diagrams" wch, as far as I can tell, means only the diagrams on the afore-mentioned page. What's unclear to me is WHO DID THE TYPEWRITER ART that's on the verso of every page of Saporta's novel? According to the GoodReads description "Along with their usual consideration to high quality craft and finish, the designers have also generated unique digitally-generated artwork for the backs of each page, making for a gorgeous, tactile design relevant to literary, art and design and digital audiences." Yes, but are they just fluff added irrelevantly to Saporta's story? That wd seem to be the case, nice tho they are.
Each page has a few paragraphs of narrative descriptive text on one side & the "digitally-generated artwork" (that looks like typewriter art to me) on the other. Even tho it appears to be constructed from letters & words, in its form as published here it's so reduced that even w/ my best magnifying glass it's barely readable as text. Instead, the images look like topographies, close-ups of natural textures, arial fotos of mudslide areas, computer projections of stochastic phenomena, etc.. I assume these are just there to fill space instead of having text on both sides & don't serve a deeper purpose.
Whatever the case, the 'typewriter' art is rendered biomorphic by not sticking to rows of lines but having the text more in free-flow w/ spaces between some areas like rips or rifts & other areas w/ greater blackness due to overtyping. The closest thing I can compare these to are Steve McCaffery's great CARNIVAL series, the 1st panel of wch (made from 1967-1970) was published by The Coach House Press in 1973. McCaffery's is far more astounding, tho, & WAS made w/ a typewriter instead of the much more easily generated digital (presumably computer) process.
As for the narrative, it's carefully crafted to hang together in any order & to still have some tale-telling tension. There're 3 main characters: Marianne, Dagmar, & Helga. The reader gets intermittent glimpses of their lives. Helga is a teenager coming of age sexually. Tension is generated by making it unclear whether she's nervously inviting a passionate sexual encounter or whether she's half-welcoming a forced one. Marianne is the only character who suffers from a progressive deterioration. As such, whenever she appears, her mental state may apply a place in a chronology. Dagmar is, perhaps, the most mysterious of them all. Sometimes I thought that she might be the one forcing the sexual encounter w/ Helga.
Other narrative ploys appear: a war between the Germans & the French is in progress. It may or may not be WWII. There're various side-conflicts that set a stage w/o overly defining it. Marianne's husband is a compulsive gambler who's ruining them financially. Marianne might be sd to be the main character &, for me, the novel works just as a conventional novel insofar as every time I learned more about the characters I was interested in their development.
Most of all, this bk is like a jigsaw puzzle. There's a picture to be brought to completion & reading the pages is the same as adding a piece. & the finished puzzle IS a 'picture' - it doesn't have a beginning or an end, it's whole in & of itself.
One cd order the pages so that the most chronological narrative is created using Marianne's deterioration as a central line. Even in that way, however, things like Cohen's struggle, or Buisson's gang, or the war narrative wd have no clear place in time. Saporta has been careful to make sure the narrative stays open. While I can't agree w/ the reviews that say that this bk is "is an object of immense beauty and danger" & such-like (after all, I see alotof artist's bks that are even more spectacular) I find that all in all, this was excellent & goes far beyond gimmickry. ...more
Notes are private!
Mar 01, 2012
Apr 25, 2010
Apr 25, 2010
Eckhard Gerdes' The Unwelcome Guest plus Nin & Nan
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - February 14, 2012
"'Needless to say'", despite my hav review of
Eckhard Gerdes' The Unwelcome Guest plus Nin & Nan
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - February 14, 2012
"'Needless to say'", despite my having heard about "bizarro" writing, if that's a potentially correct term, for quite some time now & despite its being a genre that I'd somewhat naturally find interesting, I've only recently started reading w/in it. Perhaps the 1st such thing I read was Bradley Sands' My Heart Said No, But the Camera Crew Said Yes! (see my review here: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/76... ). I certainly enjoyed Bradley's bk & I've certainly enjoyed Gerdes'.
"'In today's society'", I reckon that the obvious lineage of bizarro writing stems from absurdism: Alfred Jarry to Eugène Ionesco to Edward Albee to Monty Python's Flying Circus to "Blaster" Al Ackerman. This is a lineage I can whole-heartedly identify w/. Astute social observation coupled w/ subversive nonsense.
"'In conclusion'", Gerde's writing is full of literary references. I even suspect that details such as place names may be references. EG: "The first time I'd heard of him was in Dubuque." Any chance that Dubuque was chosen b/c of Albee's play "The Lady from Dubuque"?
The Unwelcome Guest plus Nin & Nan might be appropriately called novellas. Both are full of surprising changes but w/ different styles. I think The Unwelcome Guest is dream-like & Nin & Nan relies more on puns & plot. In The Unwelcome Guest the protagonist's profession changes in wildly diverse ways. Fairly early on he stops at a hardware store w/ his 2 youngest sons & then starts to walk home, having forgotten that he drove. Perhaps he's senile. Not too long after, we're informed that he was a trucker:
"I remember one time I was driving my rig - 1 full 18-wheeler. I had to tank up at this gas station I knew of at the intersection of two alleys in the warehouse district. I'd been drinking, so I wasn't at my best, and I pulled up short at the pump - the nozzle reached to a foot away from my gas cap. I had to get back in the cab and pull forward some more, which was a little embarrassing. I pushed past a couple of smoking busybodies by the pump. Right as I was about to reach for the cap to open it again, the rig started moving. Oh, shit, I thought. I'd forgotten to apply the brake. The rig rolled ahead and then made a sharp turn, barely missing the building across the alley. It swung around and then barreled into one of the warehouses. I heard an explosion and figured I was in serious trouble."
A comedy of errors.
Gerde references people that many of us might not've heard of - probably to both promote them & pay homage to them. EG:
"I see Jim Chapman coming back the other way.
"'How're the woods?' I ask.
"'Freaky. I just wrote about them.'
"'Oh.' Better find some new ground.
"This time make sure it hasn't already been taken.
"Gerdes and Chapman, in a land grab for material, race neck and neck."
Who's Jim Chapman? I'd never heard of him but the mention here made me deduce, obviously, that he's a writer so I looked him up online & found that he is AND that he's one of Gerdes' publishers. Worked for me - now I want to read something by him. Other slightly more well-known writers are mentioned such as Raymond Federman, William Gass, Kenneth Patchen, & William S. Burroughs. Arno Schmidt is mentioned at least twice. Now I'm extremely interested in reading something by him.
The writing flows in a somewhat stream-of-consciousness style but is liberally dosed w/ whatever possibilities seem to titillate the author. Despite this being true of both novellas, they're significantly different from each other. Here's a sample passage from The Unwelcome Guest:
"On board will be provisions for my feelings as well as my hunger and thirst. Stowaways might tell me I'm a good captain - my first mate apparently finds doing so demeaning. However, I still trust my first mate and will not find in the stowaways a replacement. As I said, I am loyal, even if no one else is. I'll stay here and work crosswords. I'm safe in my cabin.
"I ignore it.
"I ignore it, too. I have work to do. I'm not looking for love again. It becomes hate. I don't understand the rules of trinkets, phone calls, ex-husbands, or whatever is in that jewelry box. I can announce a tornado by accident - I savvy the weather. I know when to duck. It's duck season. I have my waders on. I crouch. Low-flying projectiles are heading at me. I'm being told again that I'm the sorriest human who has ever lived. It's okay - I've been hated before. I don't think it's permanent."
Some gender-critical language makes it in here such as the pronoun "hir".
I initially liked The Unwelcome Guest a bit more than Nin & Nan but that eventually evened out somewhat. The drawings, handwriting, & juvenile comics inserted in The Unwelcome Guest helped liven it up - shades of Patchen, perhaps.
Some of you may've noticed what might seemed to've been irrelevant beginning phrases to the 1st 3 paragraphs of this review. Allow me to explain by quoting:
"But instead of giving up, like a carpenter who only knows how to use a hammer, they give me their "in today's society" and their "needless to say" and their lame "in conclusion" and stupefy me - they bash in my brains with their misplaced modifiers, random punctuation, and ignorant disagreements."
Gerdes' "Or: reject the unwelcome guest who comes to occupy your head" reminds me of the Street Rat(bag) slogan: "Evict the ruling class from the real estate of yr mind."
Nin & Nan has a more straightforward plot than The Unwelcome Guest despite its extreme fluidity. Nin & Nan are 2 characters of uncertain human form who continuously resist the Empire in its many forms. References to modern-day problems, filled w/ word-play, abound:
"Unfortunately a refried-bean-colored Pinto was already in that stall and exploded when the Barracuda slammed into its infamous and exposed rear-mounted gas tank. refried-bean-colored crap blew all over the place."
The infamy of the Pinto's deliberate & fatal misdesign gives the author a chance to make a joke off of pinto beans. Another example of this: "The crap tables stank."
I cd particularly identify w/ the rebelliousness of Nan as expressed here: "Well, maybe not Nan, who instinctively suspected any synchronized activity."
Having the Emperor be named "Pinocchibush" was the touch that made this the most topically obvious as political satire. (Now, fortunately, ex-) President Bush's notoriously ill-formed speeches are parodied thusly:
"'And now! Live from the Empire City. His Highness!' Canned applause.
"'Good evening, My Subjects. I have been told by my advisors that some of you have tried and failed and have deconstrued incorrectly what my earlier states meant, er, statements, er, meant. If you have assumed I have leveled a permanent ban on resorts and terriers, you have misapprehended me incorrectly. Though we need to guard against terriers' activities in our resorts, I of course am not suggesting we close our hostilitality industries. But let me not allay your fears one more second - every dog has his day."
"Chapter Nine: The Makil Health Care Center" was esp endearing to me as a critique of modern medicine. "'It's designed as a huge cross, each wing dedicated to one specialty: hysterectomy, tonsillectomy, circumcision, and cosmetic surgery.'" &, yes, it 'may kill'.
I love puns - & Gerdes may even be a bigger homonymphonemiac than I am: "Nin was thinking they'd take a long walk down a short beer."
"'I had a wallet made of foreskins. Whenever I rubbed it, it turned into a briefcase,' said Sam.
"'That joke is as old as the heels,' said Nin.
"'So's that metaphor,' said Nin."
Was having Nin refute himself rather than having Sam do it a mistake or deliberate? "'In conclusion'", "'in today's society'" it's "'needless to say'" that:
"Will you all just shut up? My house has just been invaded by ladybugs and box elder bugs - there go those elders chasing the young ladies again - and I can barely walk without crunching something. Even the harmless can be annoying. Unless annoyance is their harm.
"They attack the paper I am writing on. They distract me from the table. Now I have nothing to Chase Manhattans down with the fascist regime! What am I hunting for, again? meaning? Or just the next word? Or do I want the last word? Omega. Which ends in an alpha, which begins the whole stinkin' process all over again." ...more
Notes are private!
Feb 14, 2012
Feb 14, 2012
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