Truly, this is a great book. Masterful writing that crystallizes the characteristic southern locution of Carter on a sentence to sentence level. The sTruly, this is a great book. Masterful writing that crystallizes the characteristic southern locution of Carter on a sentence to sentence level. The story itself is captivating, expertly paced, full of twists and turns and populated by a rogues gallery of county bosses and political apparatchiks from a thankfully bygone era. Carter details the grinding electoral reforms it took to drag the political structure of Georgian government out of its de jure white supremacy - and yet, it's something of a thriller! I read this a month after visiting Plains, Georgia, to see the 92 year-old President Carter speak at his local church. After his sermon, I spent the day haunting the Plains environs in deep south August heat. It made this book, and this book made my visit, come alive. ...more
Long interview with Allen Ginsberg from the early 1970s, originally published in a gay liberation magazine. Not really about poetry, mostly about GinsLong interview with Allen Ginsberg from the early 1970s, originally published in a gay liberation magazine. Not really about poetry, mostly about Ginsberg's love life and his views on queer politics. Wide-ranging, gossipy accounts of who balled who in the Beat-era, but more interestingly a defense of Ginsberg's NAMBLA views, a description of his pre-gay marriage marriage to Peter Orlovsky, his take on Stonewall, how homosociality and homosexuality can open up space for healthier relationships between men and women, a sexual line of transmission Ginsberg traces through shared lovers from Whitman to himself, etc. A coherent and compelling sexual worldview that would be difficult to hold today in the milieux that perceive themselves to be equally Left and descendent from the movements discussed. Though Ginsberg is speaking only four decades ago, it's largely foreign. ...more
Clear, concise prose that doesn't sacrifice complexity; stories that deftly integrate the subjective with the narrative. I valued its lack of pretensiClear, concise prose that doesn't sacrifice complexity; stories that deftly integrate the subjective with the narrative. I valued its lack of pretension and its resistance to making the stories about the writer writing the stories. ...more
My experience of this book vacillated. At times, like in Benjamin's story of visiting the Otter at the Berlin Zoo, or in the borderline insanity thatMy experience of this book vacillated. At times, like in Benjamin's story of visiting the Otter at the Berlin Zoo, or in the borderline insanity that is common to children (not just me, right?) in The Hunchback, and in the interminable bouts of sickness that plagued me as they plague Benjamin in The Fever, the vignettes were adorable, and uncannily evoked scenes from my own childhood. Other vignettes, however, suffered from vague writing and ambiguous narrative construction, or perhaps just from abstruse translation: I found myself rereading sections, not due to the enormity of the thought communicated, but due to the imprecision in the communication itself. It's not the first time I've had that critique of Benjamin's writing, at least in the English versions of it I've read. Benjamin's language is often muddled, which muddles his arguments, and makes the supposed great revelations rarely reveal, or at least, my readings of Benjamin have rarely matched the heightened experiences I've read of others. The pieces in Berlin Childhood are a good example - excise one remarkable line like the one about the Victory Column, "Had the French gone to war with gold cannons, or had we first taken the gold from them and then used it to cast cannons?" and you're often left with remembrances not too far afield from Reader's Digest - except missing RD's lucidity. The text, academics would assert, is worthwhile as a historical document and as a component of Benjamin's ouevre - and, sure, it is - but that appeal to canonization is based not on the text itself nor the experience of a contemporary person reading it, but on the mythos of Benjamin as a figure, on his class status as a child, on generations of syllabi, and on the endless exegesis that makes the text hermetic - distanced from any of its occasionall inherent pleasures. And there are doses of pleasure here and there, as in this remark from The Otter, which could double as a telling summation of most of the suburban wasteland I grew up in:
"It was a prophetic corner. For just as there are plants that are said to confer the power to see into the future, so there are places that possess such a virtue. For the most part, they are deserted places - treetops that lean against walls, blind alleys or front gardens where no one ever stops. In such places, it seems as if all that lies in store for us has become the past."
Much of this book is charming, but much of it is bad. It makes for a better experience if one does not come to the text looking for "Walter Benjamin" as such, and leaves reading the 40 pages prefatory note regarding Proust, modernity, editor's versions, etc. to another day.
A final missive: the dust jacket claims Berlin Childhood to be "one of the masterpieces of twentieth-century prose writing." This specific praise, out of all possible jacket copy plaudits, is inexplicable....more
Photographs were great, the accompanying text was composed of cloying liberal tropes re nostalgia for an American arcadia that never existed. Sex andPhotographs were great, the accompanying text was composed of cloying liberal tropes re nostalgia for an American arcadia that never existed. Sex and violence didn't magically appear with color television or within our lifetimes, gimme a break dude....more
This book felt less resolved than the first, and perhaps a bit rushed, though it does not affect the impaPowerful. Made me cry. John Lewis is a boss.
This book felt less resolved than the first, and perhaps a bit rushed, though it does not affect the impact of it.
It's upsetting to me that there isn't video of Lewis's speech at the March on Washington, or at least, no video I've ever been able to find. Does anyone know if this is actually the case? The speech seems like an incendiary moment, can't believe the visual is lost to history......more
Oof, the sentimental treacle in this one. Last lines:
"I asked 'Have you found the meaning of life out here on the dollar racks?' It was a joke, one thaOof, the sentimental treacle in this one. Last lines:
"I asked 'Have you found the meaning of life out here on the dollar racks?' It was a joke, one that should have fallen flat. Instead Franny surprised me. 'Yes,' she said, with a knowing smile. 'As a matter of fact, I have.'"...more
This was great, I got a lot out of it. The selected writers were current and relevant - bounced into a few of them just being in New York for a few daThis was great, I got a lot out of it. The selected writers were current and relevant - bounced into a few of them just being in New York for a few days, and many others have been on my periphery in the last year. Didn't know, but somehow always knew, that Simon Critchley was a punk. ...more
A little of this goes a long way. I haven't read Vonnegut in almost a decade. I'm continually bemused at how weak I'm finding the arguments and sentimA little of this goes a long way. I haven't read Vonnegut in almost a decade. I'm continually bemused at how weak I'm finding the arguments and sentiments in leftist writing that I enjoyed as a teen to be. In this non-fiction collection, Vonnegut gives us piles of overly general, and generally unimaginative, moralizing - ironic given Vonnegut's fictive inventiveness. One of Vonnegut's rhetorical strategies is to portray himself as isolated in one of his different regional and class aspects when that portrayal is effective for his argument. Though he is Ivy League educated (Cornell, and then some graduate studies at Chicago), the son and grandson of architects, and lived most of his life in New York among the creme de la creme of the American intelligentsia, Vonnegut often trots out this naive Midwestern "Hoosier" personality to give his political observations populist weight (and to serve as an excuse for not delving into technocratic minutiae of large-scale diplomatic issues - nuclear weapons, genocide, etc). But when speaking of life in the Midwest, Vonnegut does so as an upper-class Midwesterner, who fled as soon as he could to never return ("Where is my bed in Indianapolis?"), or to return only in a privileged position - like Professor of Creative Writing at Iowa. The argumentative arrangement of his political speeches approach the non-sequitur, and are articulated in a "wise" voicing that must be a deliberate choice of the author. I find it cloying. I purchased this book with six other Vonneguts at a library sale, which I considered a great find since I am a book-peddler and college-educated white people in their twenties and thirties in Columbus, Ohio, have an undying hard-on for Vonnegut. I consider Vonnegut fans as "Good Democrats" and this book, and re-reading him at a later age, have done nothing to disabuse me of that notion. This is odd, however, because if I am pinned down to provide practical political solutions, they are almost always those that democratic socialists, like Vonnegut, advocate. I don't find myself disagreeing, really, in any way with the positions Vonnegut takes - so why my distaste? I suppose it's because Vonnegut takes these positions, purposefully, in such a general way that no one really could disagree with him. That purposeful generalization, easy to fall in-line with, easy to end debate and feel good with one's self, is deeply irresponsible to me.
I also am beginning to consider Vonnegut the progenitor of the most poisonous of current alt-American sensibilities - quirk. For shame.
The best pieces in this collection are the reporting in Biafra, the short piece on writers' conferences, the observations on Hesse, and the Playboy interview....more
After reading this book I began to see humiliation's prominence in culture in a way I had never even considered previous to this book.
Koestenbaum's stAfter reading this book I began to see humiliation's prominence in culture in a way I had never even considered previous to this book.
Koestenbaum's stylistic choices are weirdly reminiscent of how I wrote during undergrad when I wasn't writing for class: idiosyncratically structured, associative, polemical for no reason. It's definitely the defining characteristic of the book. I'm not sure if that is a good or bad thing. It must be intentional, but often feels like it was simply the easiest way for Koestenbaum to get this book finished. I used to react very positively to formal experimentation in essayistic writing; I wonder what it says about me that I was unaffected in any way by it now.
I feel like transcending your ability to be humiliated by others is important. Like, that is the source of political and social strength in society. Artistic as well. ...more
Short little collection of excerpts from the Transcendentalist movement. It seems like it was collected for a middle-school / high school audience. ThShort little collection of excerpts from the Transcendentalist movement. It seems like it was collected for a middle-school / high school audience. The first-person recollections of living in Transcendentalist intentional communities were moving. Transcendentalism, jazz, the super hero: here are America's real accomplishments amirite. ...more
Beautiful writing. It seemed that, as a man in his seventies, Morris revisited an underwritten travel journal from his twenties and gave it its properBeautiful writing. It seemed that, as a man in his seventies, Morris revisited an underwritten travel journal from his twenties and gave it its proper due. The year of traveling in question? 1933-34. Given that, mundane details are imbued with haunting significance due to the rise of fascism on the continent and the impending catastrophe of WWII, which, while clear in retrospect, is surprisingly also clear to most of the travelers Morris bumps into during his wanderjahr. Morris is jailed for taking pictures of Il Duce's Italy; he witnesses a 100-foot swastika marked by shoveled snow outside a castle in provincial Austria; a young Nazi doctor doubles as a spy on his boat across the Atlantic. Amazingly, Morris is able to maintain his fidelity to his college girlfriend in Cleveland, and, through his experiences, is galvanized into the life of a writer.
One of the blurbs on my copy describes this travelogue as an "intricate still-life." Somehow, that's quite right. This historical backdrop (Europe, 33-34) seems to exist in perpetuity as the last moment before everything else. It's nice to see through the eyes of a Midwestern American (though Morris attended Pomona, this is a Nebraskan), whose narrative, aside from Schloss Ranna, is only marked by its conventionality - language club, fast friendships, ex-patriate drinks and dance and, above all, linguistic confusion.
I especially loved Morris's salty, semi-disgusted descriptions of Venice and Paris - how these places have changed due to the tourist economy! 1934's Venice sounds fit only for its rats, but when I was there, its opulence only made me feel like one.
Piqued my interest in Morris - I've never heard anyone mention him. ...more