I wanted to love The Warden having read that it is among Trollope's best. I don't know if this is a reasonable usage of the word, but for me it create...moreI wanted to love The Warden having read that it is among Trollope's best. I don't know if this is a reasonable usage of the word, but for me it created a kind of chronological dissonance. Encountering something that was created in a different time period for an audience not oneself and based upon worldviews, attitudes or opinions people no longer hold, can be challenging. Whether it's film or literature, social norms will seem outdated, sexism or racism - for example - will often be casual and assumed. There can be a lot to wade through to get to the story.
Perhaps it is my interest in history that has given me a relatively large amount of patience for this kind of dissonance. If it does not bear directly on a plot point I am supposed to buy, I can generally look at it a little clinically, distantly or sociologically; evaluating it for what it tells me about the period in question. I watch modern advertising in much the same fashion, feeling much the same disgust for it as I do some of these old attitudes and values. But it's easy to keep my distance.
My limited experience with Trollope had led me to put him in a small but important personal category of Victorian-era authors who seem to have their eye on the values of the next century: Thomas Hardy, George Eliot, Henry James, Charles Dickens. Essentially, this category contains Victorian authors who themselves were critical of the Victorian status quo and who often propounded attitudes that seem more modern, are more relatable from this distance of over a century. Perhaps Trollope still belongs in this category, but a certain obnoxious classism emerged in The Warden that took me by surprise.
George Orwell felt similarly - and I should have heeded his warning when making my book choice. He observed of Trollope in The Warden: "A time-honoured abuse, he held, is frequently less bad than its remedy. He builds Archdeacon Grantley up into a thoroughly odious character, and is well aware of his odiousness, but he still prefers him to John Bold, and the book contains a scarcely veiled attack on Charles Dickens, whose reforming zeal he found it hard to sympathise with."
John Bold, who Trollope does indeed seem to disdain a bit, is a reformer who champions the rights of poor dependents in the face of possible exploitation or economic abuse by the wealthy Anglican church. Like all Trollope characters, Bold is complicated and certainly not painted as a villain, but I believe Trollope meant his readers to find Bold foolish and misguided. Apparently for Trollope, as for his truly foul character Archdeacon Grantley, the church (and by extension old wealth) has a right to whatever money it can fleece without being held to account...because the powerful are inherently good and this is the way it's gone for centuries. And, while we're at it, the poor can do without even the resources they are owed, because they're poor and don't feel privation so sorely. You know, they're used to it.
If something resembling this attitude were not, just this moment, enjoying a hateful renaissance in the country in which I live, it might have annoyed me a little less. (less)
Punctuated by a couple moments of high drama, this is a quiet and simple story about a man reconnecting with humanity after years of self-imposed isol...morePunctuated by a couple moments of high drama, this is a quiet and simple story about a man reconnecting with humanity after years of self-imposed isolation. Perhaps it's because I'm also knee deep in the plot-driven and atrociously-written A Game of Thrones, but the development and trueness of Eliot's characters struck me as finely tuned as well as refreshing. I also have an abiding interest for 19th-century British fiction which, specifically or tangentially, handles the ramifications of the industrial revolution on average people, especially rural and small town people. Thomas Hardy has always been one of my go-to guys for that topic, but my increasing familiarity with George Eliot has convinced me this was also a theme important in her work and thought. This is a lovely little book. Be forewarned if you are in that camp of folks who count it a dirty word, but it is also sentimental.(less)
At some point I hope to write something more contemplative about this problematic book, but for right now I will make a simple observation. I found th...moreAt some point I hope to write something more contemplative about this problematic book, but for right now I will make a simple observation. I found this novel atrociously written and yet I intend to read the second installment. Take that for what it's worth.(less)
Published in 1947, Greener Than You Think is still an engaging, funny read. The protagonist and narrator, Albert Weiner, is one of science fiction's m...morePublished in 1947, Greener Than You Think is still an engaging, funny read. The protagonist and narrator, Albert Weiner, is one of science fiction's most delightful and dastardly villains, and he is all the more so because he seems genuinely blind to his own villainy. The scenario - scientifically-altered bermuda grass run amok - is comical, but as the plot develops apocalyptically, it is also weird and disturbing. This book provides a bunch of laughs and some commentary on modern American priorities and attitudes that are peculiarly still timely. (less)
In Lavinia, Le Guin retells portions of The Aeneid from the point of view of one of that book's mute but instrumental characters, Aeneas' Latin wife L...moreIn Lavinia, Le Guin retells portions of The Aeneid from the point of view of one of that book's mute but instrumental characters, Aeneas' Latin wife Lavinia. It's exciting to read well-researched historical fiction set in a, literarily-speaking, rarely touched place and time: pre-Roman Italy. And Le Guin's affection for Virgil's epic is clear. Her particular attention to early Latin religion is noteworthy and approaches the thoroughness of Norman Mailer's take on ancient Egyptian religion in Ancient Evenings.
Religions, dealing as they do with foundational ideas of a people's origin and place in the cosmos, are endlessly complex, intertwined with other aspects of life in murky ways, and easy to minimize, essentialize or sometimes over estimate when discussed by non-believers. Now, true, I don't know that there has been a believer of any Latin pagan religion for well over a millennium, but Le Guin has at least presented an imaginative version of paganism that demonstrates its connectedness to all aspects of her characters' life, but also displays how humans struggle by varying degrees to live according to the rules their gods have set out for them. Le Guin's characters are not all equally pious nor do they interpret their common religion in all ways similarly, but their religion is living and enacted, not remote or static.
The novel as a whole benefits from the texture Le Guin's thoughtful treatment of her characters' religion provides. I enjoy considering that her science fiction pedigree might have assisted her ability to so comprehensively imagine a foreign, long-dead people and their culture.(less)
Josef Albers was an artist and instructor at schools as prestigious as the Bauhaus and Yale. He published Interaction of Color in 1963 and it has been...moreJosef Albers was an artist and instructor at schools as prestigious as the Bauhaus and Yale. He published Interaction of Color in 1963 and it has been used by students ever since. Apparently, it was quite revolutionary at the time and though it perhaps has lost any sense of radicalism it has lost none of its utility. Essentially, Albers concocted and laid out in this book a highly specific method for teaching color behavior to students. Crucially, it involves colored paper rather than paint; a choice designed to allow the student to really focus, not on the material, but on observing how color - per the title - interacts, how our perception of an individual color changes based on the color context in which it is found, and basically how our eyes play tricks on us with regard to color.
I simply read the book and examined the plates, which was pretty enlightening. But it is written like a teacher's manual in which lessons of progressive difficulty and complexity are provided, as well as outcomes. Clearly Albers himself taught color using this method. I can imagine how really useful it could be if one actually got a set of colored papers and worked through the problems posed here by Albers. I would recommend it certainly to any art student, but also to anyone else remotely interested in color or how the human eye perceives it.(less)
Umberto Eco wrote this short treatise 50-some years ago. It was re-released in the 80s (after the success of Name of the Rose, I hazard the guess?) in...moreUmberto Eco wrote this short treatise 50-some years ago. It was re-released in the 80s (after the success of Name of the Rose, I hazard the guess?) in a new translation with a new, humble introduction by the author. It is still an engaging read for anyone interested in medieval art or the development, in general, of western aesthetics.
Like most medievalists, Eco writes of medieval thought as though he were defending its intelligence, complexity and dignity from virulent detractors. It has been a rarely-taught and poorly (or prejudicially) understood historical whipping boy for centuries. I'm not convinced this de rigueur combative stance is any less necessary these days. Every other period after the fall of Rome and before the industrial revolution seems to have joined the lonely Middle Ages in terms of representing (to the ill-informed modern imagination) all things backward, superstitious and hopelessly ignorant. In any event, the Middle Ages still gets wildly inaccurate and fanciful treatment in film and literature, and academics who do not explicitly study the Middle Ages tend to look at it as niche, useless to broader inquiries, or otherwise irrelevant to anything but the study of itself.
In this interesting brief volume, Eco traces the development of theories of aesthetics and art from the late Classical period through the high Middle Ages. In doing so, he depicts a people dwelling in an integrated world where "beautiful" and "useful" are synonymous and where man's creation is wan mimicry of God's creation which is, in turn, only a veil of seeming over God's even more perfect ideal. But he also depicts an intellectual world that, far from stagnant or over-determined by dogma, was capable of growth, of subtlety and of pure joy at contemplating physical (natural or artistic) beauty. In fact, he finds in the Middle Ages the seeds of artistic individualism, in art's move from the monastery or workshop to the autocrat's court, that would famously sprout into the effective cult status of Renaissance and later artists.
Medieval thought, on art and beauty as on everything else, was in answer to highly specific and Judeo-Christo-centric theological problems. For the most part, we are asking different kinds of ontological questions these days. But this fact does not make medieval answers to medieval questions any less reasoned or any more fallacious. In fact, their questions and answers might even prove enlightening to us if we, for a moment, imagine our own period as one that suffers from a lack of an idea taken quite for granted by medieval European culture - the integrative quality of art, life, creation and morality.
In any event, if we cultivate a modicum of knowledge about our medieval ancestors, it might be easier to realize when our own ignorance - not their illogicality or irrelevance - is the thing precluding us from a deeper understanding of them. (less)
I really wanted to love this book. I toured the Old Manse in Concord, MA this past summer and began learning more about Massachusetts' transcendentali...moreI really wanted to love this book. I toured the Old Manse in Concord, MA this past summer and began learning more about Massachusetts' transcendentalists and friends, finding their philosophies and biographies intriguing. I also was aware of Hawthorne's reputation as a literary "relative" of Edgar Allen Poe. But with the exception of his fantastic and more essay-like entries ("The Old Manse" and "Fire Worship"), few of Hawthorne's tales rise above heavy-handed allegory. The ones that do (famously "Young Goodman Brown" and "Rappaccini's Daughter") still share with the allegories a condescending chauvinism and rigid religiosity that is no less annoying for being unsurprising. In a time period where one might expect to find chauvinism and religiosity, it does not always come across so abrasively as it does in Hawthorne's most obnoxious stories, for my money "The Celestial Rail-road" and "The New Adam and Eve". (less)