Well, of course I haven't read the WHOLE THING....Goodreads Eric makes an excellent point when he says somewhere (concerning Lorca, if I'm not mistak Well, of course I haven't read the WHOLE THING....Goodreads Eric makes an excellent point when he says somewhere (concerning Lorca, if I'm not mistaken) that he might mark a book of poetry, say, as "read" but there are very few poets whose work he's read all the way through. I think that's totally fair and we can give ourselves a break on what constitues proper "read" status, literal use of star ratings and all that jazz.
I figure, even if you haven't read every single word of a book (especially when it's usually presented in miniature form, like poetry) but you can say with honest confidence that you've reckoned mightily with it, you can count it among your reading accomplishments.
So yeah, I decided to add the Ho-ly Bib-le to my list of "read" material.
I mean, I grew up with this book as a constant textual reference point, often heard it recited before dinner, watched movies about it, gathered on a particular day every week to hear some dude explain how great a book it was, participated (against my druthers, but good-naturedly) in group discussions of many key passages for many years, was praised and encouraged for memorizing passages and reciting them, read it on my own in furtive moments, thought about it and dreamed about it and worried about it and agonized over it.
It's bullshit. And I don't mean that in a bad way. It's bullshit because it claims to have all the answers, to speak for what is unspeakable, explain the inexpressible, justify what is (often enough) totally bonkers.....
That said, it's not really any different than Tolstoy or Melville or Proust being bullshit, either. It's all artifice, when you get right down to it. I mean, I've always been a fan of the idea that art is better than religion precisely because it doesn't purport to do what religion does and if it starts talking that way, very few people are going to double down and start literally worshiping writers. It happens, sure, but by and large religion makes much bigger claims than literature does, and I'm sorry but the reach always exceeds the grasp, fellas.
I also don't want to be one of those boors who slam it completely just to score some easy contrarian points over cocktails or whatever. There is amazing writing in this book- incredible penses, allegories, theology, parables, you know what I mean.
I'm giving it three stars because it contains (for just one example) the Book of Ecclesiastes as well as an in-depth, rather gory explanation for what to do if the bull you're sacrificing has crushed testicles. ...more
Excellent essays on the dilapidated James Brown, saying *scream* into the microphone because he can't yowl anymore...
...and about the formation of N Excellent essays on the dilapidated James Brown, saying *scream* into the microphone because he can't yowl anymore...
...and about the formation of N.W.A. as pissed-off but articulate and actually relatively middle-class kids who are brilliantly exploiting white hostility and paranoia by saying the most fucked-up things they can think of on tape...
...and of how Morrisey is a totemic name among young Hispanic kids in California: "I put on ...more
....And, actually, I'm going to say that it verges on two stars.
I've heard a lot about HL Mencken, most of it approving and well-nigh worshipful, and....And, actually, I'm going to say that it verges on two stars.
I've heard a lot about HL Mencken, most of it approving and well-nigh worshipful, and I saw this copy laid out on a shelf by random chance the other day and figured now was a good time to delve into it. Some professor must have chucked it and left it to be given away or pulped and I was happy to have found it.
I just finished it on the bus today and I gotta say it's perfect bus/commute/passing the time reading. Punchy, funny, sparklingly clear, thunderous and self-assured while being mischeivous and exactingly pissed off.
It's interesting how his voice, so potent and bracing in his day, has really saturated the culture. I mean, how many cranky atheists with a self-deprecating grudge against everything, alternately furious and hilarious and happy to chortle, guffaw, howl, and snicker at the fools and mediocrities, "mountebanks", "chappaquas" (?), "buncomb" and flim-flam, "poltroonery", the list goes on (and it is mighty fun to come across these quirky, feisty words now so long in disrepair. I remember the opening to Sturges' "Sullivan's Travels" with its earnest advocacy for "the motley mountebanks" who spice up our life with their jibes and antic hop and how fun and strange and quasi-dated the whole thing was, save the fact that it is and was a brilliant, funny, sneakily powerful film) and on...think of the funny, witty, philosophically severe haters in our midst- virtually every standup worth his salt from Mort Sahl to Carlin to Lewis Black...
I have increasingly noticed how the vibe of our media climate, print radio tv it makes no difference, has sort of unconsciously (or maybe consciously, based on what little I've heard) taken the grouchy tone as tactic of self-defense- the hater is the last one to get called out for towing a party line. Apparantly I.A. Richards once said that you could define an era of history by measuring whether people were more afraid of being thought sentimental or stupid...One look at the cable channels or the alternative weekies or conservative radio will pretty much seal that deal, I should say.
Mencken is everywhere.
So I picked up this collection of Prejudices knowing I was in for a pretty good time. Mencken's got a front row seat at the freak show and he's gobbling popcorn and waving the black flag as often as he pleases. It makes for good reading. I laughed out loud several times in the course of a couple of days and that in itself is really a rarity for me. Always just used to strike me as a kind of schizoid thing, laughing at a book. Maybe it's because I'm a sentimentalist at heart and kind of prefer the Celtic twilight of sadness and despair poetic thing, I don't know, but I'm getting on in years and the newspaper is really becoming a lot funnier than it used to be, unintentionally. Mencken's the king of laughing at the newspaper, and bully for him.
His bon mots crackle with snake-oil and grit. I'd quote some- I was intending to, before I impulsively gave my copy to a friend of mine- but hell 20 minutes on Wikiquote will pretty much give you the whole story. You've got to love a guy who hates quackery in any form- Puritanism, William Jennings Bryan (he's fictionalized in "Inherit the Wind" as a newspaper sharpie who sells stuffed monkey dolls amid the fracas outside the Scopes trial- something which wouldn't surprise me at all if it were found to be true), Prohibitionists, Calvin Coolidge (!- but at the same time, let's face it, maybe a Mitt Romney of the 20's? Shmuck fucked us over big time, worth a shaken fist!), hick farmers, snooty college profs, chiropractors (!- seriously? I dunno, if you say so...) and any and all religious believer.
You can trust a man who is defined by his hates (and defines himself as such) in much the same way that you can trust a man who smokes and drinks all the time.
Humor is key, in this as in all things, and wit and vision and a knack for language. You care enough to put down what you think in a limpid, accessible, detailed way you probably know the limitations of your own grump. I do believe that unclear thinking leads to unclear writing, in direct proportions. I've had to gaze long and deep into that big dark truthful mirror enough times to call bullshit on myself, not to mention grading about 25 undergraduate papers on symbolism and metaphor.
If anything will make you long for the antiseptic light of clarity in prose, that'll do it. I can't quite imagine Mencken in the classroom- not really- though I would certainly consider assigning his essays as supplementary materials.
Mencken seems fairly enough to deserve placement in the disappointed idealist category. He diligently sticks up for good prose (Conrad getting a sensitive and deserving approbrium here, and I know he went out of his way to publish more splendid women writers than many editors of his time), good scotch, ribald debate, social libertarianism, and "living at his ease in Christendom"- a telling term if there ever was one.
He's enviable in his drollery, high dudgeon, and the glimpses of lyricism and a latent belief in the value of (old-world) culture for its own sake which is damn near refreshing, if not redemptive. He wants sharp fellas and good scotch, string quartets and adult conversation, tough-minded prose and politicos who say what they mean and mean what they say. Can't knock any of that.
And it's sort of on this liberarian issue that I start to go arm's length with the guy. I used to sort of be one, highschool intellectual style, and like all far-out ideologies it's got enough of the truth to make it adhesive, but not enough to make it pliable. HLM was certainly a libertarian avant le lettre , and it's easy to see why. I get it, I don't like paying taxes for a nanny state either, and democracy has a huge swath of stupidity and easy ridicule built into it. HLM's a Darwinist, too, and proudly and affirmitively so. No problem here, not really, embarrasing hippieish presuppositions of Your Humble Narrator aside, a little or a lot of secularism is always welcome, and a damn good thing.
But I just can't get down with the implicit- and not so implicit, as several essays attest- endorsement of a kind of Social Darwinism for its own sake. Mencken wants people to be witter and sharper and more attentive and sophisticated than they are, sure, and obviously one would have to be as big a rube as the clowns he paints to argue the point. But- and this is a big but here- SOMETIMES YOU"RE THE BUTT OF THE JOKE, TOO, PAL! I can't tell you how many times I've shown my ass in public, intellectual forum or no, and anybody who even seems to suggest they are in fact the strong and all the other knuckleheads are the weak is just full of it.
Social Darwinism, I'm convinced, is nothing more than a big ol' empowerment fantasy writ large whether done with aplomb and eloquence and a certain kind of honest self-criticsm (as with Mencken) or with boborygymous bombast, bursting with portent, full of sound and fury and signifying nothing but a pathetic and creepy and ultimately obnoxious pseudo-intellectualism full of sound and fury and signifying bupkus (Ayniegetchergun Rand) the end result is the same. Nobody- but nobody- is going to survive a world of all against all, no matter how many books you read or weights you lift or scotch you drink or wisecracks you snark out. It's futile; man was born to fail.
I suspect Libertarians like to draw a picture of the world in which they wish to live, provided they don't ever literally live there. Everybody wants to be Thor the wonder demon, and smash the peons with thunderbolts of scorn and derision, and everybody is pretty much ok with making a buck or two off a credulous sucker. But to really create a society, let alone a politics, off of this is misguided, masterbatory, short-sighted and stupid.
When you're down and out, it's to the bosom of the social contract you must turn whether you like it or not. The bootstraps are not in fact one's own but are instead a rope ladder whose ends are limitless and endlessly fasten and re-fasten everywhere. There's nowhere to escape from society, even if the dunderheads prevail they are still a stich in the social fabric and they can make a safety net if the dark day comes when you need it and brother, make no fanciful mistake about it, you will.
No matter how funny it is or what comfortable vantage point it offers for a quick-witted connessieur the presupposition is one of ruling classes, ubermensch out of a stoned sophmore's wet dream, and a kind of royalist heirarchy which even if defined in terms of good taste (ah! may it be so! A republic of letters with free health care, endless libraries, good music, and learned and witty company over a banquet of the immortals! Tra la! Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished!) is still just that- a monarchy. And if there's anything HLM, good American that he is, couldn't stand for a minute, it would be just that. Circular logic, vicious cycle.
Not to read too far into Mencken's weltanschaung (and the Teutonic word is entirely appropriate here- as a proud German- American Mencken is oft fond of the syllable-happy terms to signify culture and learning and Old-world graces, which is totally goof by me except when the point is made- as it has been- that HLM was rather more muted than he ought to have been about a certain political trend on the rise across the pond in the 30's and 40's, entirely enough in Mencken's heyday to beg for his Oylmpian scorn and skillfull mockery- to little avail???) but I'm trying to carry some of these clearly worded and enjoyable open-throated essays to some kind of logical political conclusion...and I can't help adding that I was pleased to see that even with his across the board loathing of the poltiics of his time he apparantly did vote for Roosevelt at least a couple of times, after turning his back in scorn, as he probably did most things. I can't imagine him with women, really. BTW, his assessment of Teddy Roosevelt was one of the most interesting, insightful, and well-wrought peices in the entire book.
Then again, it might just be me being overly suspicious or persnickety. I spend a lot of time peering into author photos on book covers because I believe there is much to be revealed in a face. Orwell said that the face you get after 40 (or was it 50? no matter) was the face you earned. Juxtapose this with what's IN the book, taking it all in all, and you can at least get a glimpse of what it might have been to break bread or at least converse with the man in question. I don't want to sound like a Mencken-esque phrenological nutso here but I doubt very much that its entirely foolish to discredit the study of a face for a trace of wisdom here and there...
And it could very well be that Mencken was punking us- or not quite punking us, but at least tugging at the earlobe to wake us up, a finger jab or two in the ribs to make sure we're sitting up, listening, actively engaged and ready to box with him. He strikes me as a man who hates to be bored above all else (in Farrell's excellent introduction he describes Mencken's falling to some kind of debilitating sickness and the sage of Baltimore lamenting above all else that his condition has left him unable to read or write- too stressful, bad for the nerves, doctor's orders) and will go down fighting in a fine donnybrook than go gentle into the good night. Bully for him, I say.
And maybe in the end that's all he wanted. Tweak some egos, rattle some cages, test some mettles, and feast on a sacred cow or two. He wanted a good fight, some worthy entertainment, and the company of those in the smart set who were willing to keep the jam session flowing. Love him, hate him, you can't ignore him and one gets the sense that this was a deliberate tactic on his part. Not outrage for outrage's sake, not even most of the time, but stirring sediment in as many brains as he could while he could.
I bet he probably died happy...looking again at the candid cover shot, one can envision a man who might well pick up the bar tab at the end of the night if you stuck with him and to your respective guns, waving your diplomatic entreaties off while he rummaged through his wallet for the cash, muttering vicious, brilliant curses as he glances towards the door. His eyes, his ancient glittering eyes, are gay....more
everything I wrote for Vamps & Tramps, applies here actually. Sorry. Got them a little bit confused. It matters little, though. What one says aboueverything I wrote for Vamps & Tramps, applies here actually. Sorry. Got them a little bit confused. It matters little, though. What one says about a bit of Paglia applies equally to all (or, to be charitable, most) of her ouerve. It'd be great if she was either more prevalent in the culture rather than lingering in a monthly column on a less-trafficted reader's website or if she had something more unmistakable to say. Le sigh. ...more
Ah, ma bon Camille...I stumbled across this title when I was reading other reviews on this site and I was charmed to find that I could glimpse, gruntAh, ma bon Camille...I stumbled across this title when I was reading other reviews on this site and I was charmed to find that I could glimpse, grunt a bit, and quietly murmur in that way known to the freakishly bookish "I read that."
It was in undergrad. Such an undergrad type of book. Her style is all meathooks and dynamite. Not to say it wasn't salient- I still shudder and remove myself from engaging with the more dense and sci-fi sterile tomes of Frenchified Filosophy- "gunk" was the fun and bracing and refreshingly colloqial term she used. I have always enjoyed her insouciance. She's a whip-smart cultural critic when she's not trying to be uber edgy, provacative, obsterperously outrageous. It was exciting to read back when I was 18 or so, on a very radical, if solicitous and self-righteous campus, just coming into some buildungsroman awareness of the political myself, after painfully shedding religious terpitude.
Paglia was the jolting breath of life to me, at that tender age when sex is more in the head than anywhere else. And it was a lot of fun, energizing indeed, to read her one woman kulturkampf against the squares and the prudes and the persnickities. She gave me a jolt of sugary, near-lucidating brain energy, maybe a really cold fanta for the burgeoning belletrist. It made me want to at least dream of being a provocative intellectual myself one day (one day! one day!) and stun the moneyed, literate booboise by talking about orgasms, Balzac, Bergman, and Led Zeppelin on a daytime talk show. I used to have a crush on her. Now she's more like a kooky old aunt I remember hanging out with before I left for summer camp.
When I found out she was in Yale in the 70's in Bloom's class I asked a teacher I knew could be placed in the same milieu if he knew of her at all and he said with a certain kind of poky nonchalance that he did- he sat next to her in class, in fact. Wow. What was she like?
Honestly, I wasn't all that excited about this. I had it assigned to me as a textbook in a poetry class and it was underwhelming to say the least. too Honestly, I wasn't all that excited about this. I had it assigned to me as a textbook in a poetry class and it was underwhelming to say the least. too many chestnuts- how many fucking times must read "My Papa's Waltz"?- and too few interesting works by classic authors.
I do very much appreciate the emphasis within the anthology on contemporary poets, many of whom I'd never heard of. It's always a good thing to include modern people, especially when they're not big names or are from minority groups (didn't really have much exposure to contemporary Native American poetry, or Hispanic work) and that was certainly welcome.
That's the only reason why it gets three stars instead of two. The ONLY reason....more
It's got the greats: Whitman, Dickinson, Emerson....but I really enjoyed the poetry of Sidney Lanier, a rather obscure Southern writer, too...and I've It's got the greats: Whitman, Dickinson, Emerson....but I really enjoyed the poetry of Sidney Lanier, a rather obscure Southern writer, too...and I've had a couple of really nice experiences hearing William Cullen Bryant read aloud, too...Where are you gonna hear THAT???
Really important, formative book for me. Christmas present at maybe 17 or so....helped fuel the lifelong poetry obsession I've had...more
William H Gass' intro essay is fuggin brilliant...I'd pull out some gorgeously written, learned, witty quotes but I only have one on hand and its not
William H Gass' intro essay is fuggin brilliant...I'd pull out some gorgeously written, learned, witty quotes but I only have one on hand and its not from him.
The whole book is pretty great: A provocative and civil round table discussion of writers IN politics, WITH politics, and UNDER politics...people from Argentina, Chile, South Africa, China, Ireland, the U.S, France, Somalia...presenting their own papers and commenting on others' insights. Much quotability results...
Hear ye, hear ye:
"The State is a blind mirror that will steal your face...The nature of man is bestial, the concept of progress futile and redundant, but struggle for decency continues. There will always be history because there will always be dreaming, and therefore conflict. No gain is permanent, and permanence is not a gain either. It is the walking that life is all about; the goal is only a certain dimension or configuration of absence that will help to elicit activity. Knowing meaning is a good way of preparing the unknowing. To tell a story is to activate a dream.
I must keep running after myself so as to not lose sight of the dark light of creativeness: that is, subverting the hegemony, unhinging the seemingly unstoppable process of accretion and accumulation, rattling the skeleton and the empty bowl of the mind, taunting that powdered death called respectability, keeping the cracks whistling, fighting for revolution against politics. Aesthetics and ethics cannot be separated.
It is important to take responsibility for the story: Imagination is politics. He who travels alone, travels fastest, but in the company of friends you go further...."
I suspect that this one's a little bit obscure. I actually found it in a library while looking for something else entirely. I think it was stacked incorrectly, I don't know. But this is definitely recommended for anyone obsessed with literature and politics, and the intersection between the two, who is interested in world histories of resistance and literary engagement...in a word, excellent! ...more
This is one of those big, clunky things you find in your parent's castaway bookshelf when you're 15 and, if you're impetuous enough, you start to getThis is one of those big, clunky things you find in your parent's castaway bookshelf when you're 15 and, if you're impetuous enough, you start to get deeper and deeper into until you're up over your head in some of the most powerful works ever known to man.
This is one of the treetrunk books of my life- (most) of the branches come out from this root.
The footnotes and explanatory stuff pretty much made everything come alive for me, whetting my appetite for going out and getting my hands on the Romantics, Joyce, etc etc etc....
I've never really been the same since. A milestone!...more
some excellent minor stories here, stuff I wouldn've come across probably anywhere else but plenty of obvious, boring, cliched clunkers, too, so only some excellent minor stories here, stuff I wouldn've come across probably anywhere else but plenty of obvious, boring, cliched clunkers, too, so only two stars ...more