What is the plot? I don't know. The plot is female rage and barbarism, distrust of the symbolic order, ending with a ray of socialist hope. The plot iWhat is the plot? I don't know. The plot is female rage and barbarism, distrust of the symbolic order, ending with a ray of socialist hope. The plot is amorphous gendered fury cut through with ritual recitations of the named and specific, because every woman is also an individual. This is also the best baby name book ever written, I'd change my name to Anemone Flavien posthaste, but I actually quite like the one I've got. Monique Wittig might be the writer who finally convinces me to learn French....more
Repeated viewings of Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen in my childhood carved out a lot of space in my imagination for the be-schnozzRepeated viewings of Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen in my childhood carved out a lot of space in my imagination for the be-schnozzed Baron and his unbelievable exploits. My Baron will always have the supremely elegant face of John Neville, which not even the prosthetic Munchausen nose could unbalance.
So I was excited to dive into Krzhizhanovsky's The Return of Munchausen, which promised to revisit the Baron in ways both postmodern and political, and in only 117 short pages! What will our Enlightenment-era German nobleman make of the USSR?! Despite the excitement and the brevity, this book took me forever to get through, perhaps because it has the most ludicrous footnotes of any novel I've ever read, and my academic side compelled me to read all of them. Are you reading a translated 1920s Russian novel that uses the mythicized German adventurer as a critique of Soviet polity, and yet somehow have never heard of St Augustine, Methuselah, Isaac Newton, the French Revolution, the League of Nations, or Albert Einstein's Theory of Relativity? Don't worry, the footnotes got you covered. The footnotes were so out of control I first wondered if Krzhizhanovsky (what fun it is to type his name) put them there himself in some kind of proto-Pale Fire poke at academics. But I think they are the work of the translators. Some were quite helpful, of course, explaining clever inversions of Russian proverbs, or the novel's allusions to Bolshevik happenings around the time of its writing and etc. Perhaps you might have missed the entire point of the book? Don't worry, that is also explained helpfully in footnote at the end of Chapter Seven, when the Baron references his encounter with "the country about which one cannot lie." What does it mean?! Footnote: "Soviet Russia. The world's greatest liar, Munchausen, has been beaten at his own fantastical game by still more fantastical Soviet reality. His tales of the USSR are, as it turns out, not tales at all. Some of the facts they contain are mentioned in these notes." Ah. What a way to make the fantastical and sharp profoundly pedantic.
Will read this again sometime when I know a little more about early USSR and Krzhizhanovsky's body of work, gladly skipping the footnotes that give me a brief wiki-esque overview of Kant or whatever....more
I read this because my library didn't have Postcards From the Edge, which I've been meaning to read for about fifteen years. Instead of a fictionalizeI read this because my library didn't have Postcards From the Edge, which I've been meaning to read for about fifteen years. Instead of a fictionalized account of her life, Wishful Drinking is an adaption of a one-woman show Fisher did. Her death in December at the age of 60 puts a much darker spin on a lot of already rough autobiographical material that she takes to pains to make amusing, so it made for a bit of an emotionally confusing reading experience now. But still, Carrie (I guess we're on a first-name basis now) is so engaging, and the book only takes about an hour to read, and who wouldn't want to spend an hour with Carrie Fisher?...more
During the height of the Cold War, an asteroid appears above Earth. It's not just a regular asteroid though! It kinda just hangs out, like the Moon, aDuring the height of the Cold War, an asteroid appears above Earth. It's not just a regular asteroid though! It kinda just hangs out, like the Moon, and when researchers land upon it, they discover that it's terraformed inside, and that it is bigger on the inside than the outside. (Whoa!) Some kind of weird space-time thing, the researchers suppose, so they bring to 'the Stone' one Patricia Vasquez, a grad student in her early 20s who does a lot of math stuff that no one really understands but seems sufficiently space-timey to potentially be of use. When Patricia arrives she discovers that there are very complicated and yet haphazard firewalls in place to control the flow of information about the Stone, but because of her unique space-time knowledge, she's going to get the Super-High Clearance, the kind where you are burdened with all sorts of heavy facts but can't talk about it to anyone, because maybe then it will leak to the Reds, who are only sort of invited to research on the Stone, and all hell will break lose! (view spoiler)[ Even with the advanced security procedures of "just please don't mention any of the batshit insane and extremely terrifying things you learn to anyone!" all hell, in fact, does break lose. (hide spoiler)]
Then follows some Cold War-y stuff that is really dated, and the adventures with space-time REALLY begin. I was fairly entertained while reading, and was pleased that after a few hundred pages, Bear finally let a Soviet person have an emotion. It ends with some interesting loose ends, but fear not, potential reader, you will not be denied the several paragraph of description of Patricia Vasquez's boobs that you long for! I mean, how I am supposed to envision the young mathematician from LA who touches the square root of space-time without knowing what her rack looks like?! But also, props to Bear for making his main science brain a young Chicana woman, and a fully-developed (heh) character at that. The fact there were a number of interesting and able female characters did help counter-balance all the Red Scare propaganda nonsense. Will probably not seek out the sequels, but if I stumble across one somewhere, I'll take it as a message from space-time to give it a whirl....more
A zippy account of the existentialist milieu and their intellectual antecedents that didn't work as well for me as seems to have for most other readerA zippy account of the existentialist milieu and their intellectual antecedents that didn't work as well for me as seems to have for most other readers, though I did learn quite a lot and am glad to have read it. Though Sartre and Beauvoir and their existentialism are supposed to be the stars here, I found the book to be much better on Heidegger and phenomenology. Bakewell does a remarkable job of making those imposing sounding terms and ideas into easily understandable tidbits of understanding, and tracking the oscillation of her fascination/repulsion with the Problematic Prussian (I know Heidegger is not from Prussia but I haven't come up with any other alliterative nickname for him yet) was fun. There's also a lot of valuable material in here about philosophers who haven't reached household name status, like Husserl and Merleau-Ponty.
As adeptly as Bakewell can do philosophy-lite (and not that lite, to her credit) for us non-specialists, this book was very bad on politics, or specifically, on anything related to Marx, Marxism, communism, anti-colonialism and decolonization, etc; all dealt with with the most undigested Cold War-era Communist Zombies Are Coming For Your Freedom kind of rhetoric. This is too bad, because fascinating, tricky questions emerge when one puts existentialism, and its emphasis on personal freedom and authenticity, in conversation with the need to have a political strategy, perhaps one that might involve, I don't know, various kinds of solidarities or sacrifices, especially when confronting structures much bigger and more powerful than you. They are not easy questions, even for a mind like Sartre's, or Beauvoir's, or any of the figures mentioned, but least they did grapple with them, unlike this book, which acknowledges this conflict but immediately retreats into (here I put on my black turtleneck and French accent) a kind of bourgeois squeamishness about the whole matter. Henri Lefebvre, a fascinating thinker and one who influenced Sartre, is trotted out only to be ridiculed as the Robot Mouthpiece of the French Communist Party, with nary a mention of his break with the party, or his lifelong Marxism, though they would both be quite relevant to the chapter. Oh well. At least Bakewell grapples mightily with the political questions raised by Heidegger's work.
Despite these issues (and also I could not stand the "In Which Some Stuff That Happens in this Chapter is Cheekily Described" faux-Victorian epigraphs), this is a nice book for all of us who were Teenage Existentialist to revisit our favorite adolescent philosophy.