I never met language I like more. The Red Cross knight in book one is a dear, and later there's Britomart, she-knight. Stuffed with sex and violence....moreI never met language I like more. The Red Cross knight in book one is a dear, and later there's Britomart, she-knight. Stuffed with sex and violence. Such fun and earnest intent. Has the wild adventures of Boiardo and Ariosto but Spenser, bless him, is far more serious than they... like Malory after the frivolous chivalry. (less)
Years spent on journalism. Much more lively a tale than I thought.
He remains the champion of psychic freedom against the determinism of his day. It's...moreYears spent on journalism. Much more lively a tale than I thought.
He remains the champion of psychic freedom against the determinism of his day. It's this that caused his split with the Left -- as the Left now sails. Though for most of this book he throws the weight of his frantic journalism into the effort to keep up polite interactions, a common ground, with the scientific materialists, misled, he believes, by a creed of rational egoism. Until the satire or protest that is Notes from the Underground, where determinism has become a more urgent enemy for him than tsarism.
He's in terrible straits at the end of this one: his wife dead, followed hard on by his wonderful brother -- who slaved himself to death at the journals, which D., with the brother's family to support, promptly almost does too. The hours they put in and the stresses they were under -- never mind the persiflage. But the journal goes bust again, and that loads D. with debts he is never free from for the rest of his life. If you wonder how he survived the last instalment (prison camp) this is just about as rough. He says himself.
Aside from the hardest worker who ever tried to earn a crust for his dependents, he's a far stronger person after prison camp and less vulnerable. He still behaves with beauty and great generosity of spirit. Sizzles at the journalistic battles, though: he cares so much. He has such energy.
His first wife I'd call an abusive spouse, with the fraught temperament you meet often in Dostoyevsky's women. Mind you he knows fraught himself. It was on his honeymoon, after a 'massive seizure' to which she was 'a horrified witness', that he was told these attacks that came upon him in Siberia are in fact epilepsy and incurable. He declares he wouldn't have married had he known. Plainly, she wouldn't have married him. From the beginning to the end, however, he calls her the most noble, magnanimous woman he ever met. If you can't work out whether Ivan and Katya -- or Mitya and Katya -- love or hate each other, just read about his real life. (less)
Why he wrote about murderers for the rest of his life. A faith in humanity lost and found among examples of them. Would he have been a great writer wi...moreWhy he wrote about murderers for the rest of his life. A faith in humanity lost and found among examples of them. Would he have been a great writer without Siberia? It's hard to say yes. He came out stronger in every way. Shorn of an old idealism, because that was ignorant, and now he has knowledge, and no less belief. He himself says he is unchanged in principles. The need of the psyche for freedom - ahead of survival instincts or what they call self-interest - he witnesses. Epilepsy strikes, and love that's as disastrous. (less)
Wasn't convinced. It was horribly pessimistic, and even when I thought the pessimistic books must be right - at which time I read this - ignorant as I...moreWasn't convinced. It was horribly pessimistic, and even when I thought the pessimistic books must be right - at which time I read this - ignorant as I was, it came across as shaky to me. (less)
Often shaky but also open-minded. When he has a photo of Trash, a New York drag king, to point out why Trash isn’t in the least estranged from human p...moreOften shaky but also open-minded. When he has a photo of Trash, a New York drag king, to point out why Trash isn’t in the least estranged from human prehistory… that’s the flavour of the book. It’s full of pieces of evidence that embarrass archaeologists and are left in the basement of museums.
He is anti-biological determinism (sociobiology), and instead sees the work of culture – hence ‘culture’ in the title. For instance, we chose our loss of hair, and were never ‘naked apes’, for loss of hair went hand in hand with our ornamenting ourselves (see the drag king).
He has a theory on everything… overmuch for 300 pages, so it's a book bursting at the seams and can seem in-brief. Whether his ideas are outdated I can’t say. I find his foundations sound, because I'm on side with his stress on culture. I’m sure exciting things have happened since this book. One thing I know of – he has Bruce Bagemihl’s early work in his bibliography, but makes statements disproved by publication of Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity, a book often relevant to his themes. (less)
It was tough at times. Her conflicts with gender in her youth were horrific, if you even part-identify, and she’s set on suicide in age. So, tough in...moreIt was tough at times. Her conflicts with gender in her youth were horrific, if you even part-identify, and she’s set on suicide in age. So, tough in the way her fiction is – alienated subject speeds to a bad ending – but I needn’t have been afraid to meet this writing-hero.
I liked her throughout – and mention it because not every reviewer has. My admiration has only escalated. It’s true I heard among the Tiptree rumours she was America’s first woman general, whereas she left the WAC a major. The WAAC/WAC was interesting – her hopes and disappointments in it. She managed to do useful work in photointelligence. But just what she thought and felt about women in uniform was eye-opening for me. Because Tiptree was a person wrecked by gender expectations. She felt herself wrecked – I quote this from an early age:
To grow up as a ‘girl’ is to be nearly fatally spoiled, deformed, confused and terrified; to be responded to by falsities, to be reacted to as nothing or as a thing – and nearly to become that thing.
She was a brain and a person without sufficient use. Always taken for ‘masculine’, though she kept up a repertoire of both. She was a (rarely-practising) lesbian who ended up in a great friendship-marriage. But even Ting failed at the equality experiment, and sex remained a murky issue for her.
Her letter-friendships with Ursula K. Le Guin and Joanna Russ were a highlight, as she found an almost-home in the sf community. Though as one sf guy said to her, it’s no use you coming along to the conventions for a sense of belonging, since you have so much more life experience than this group of nerds. And when she was outed she found hard to write again. James Tiptree Jr was a liberation. I’ve forgiven Robert Silverberg, who famously called Tiptree’s writing ‘ineluctably masculine’: turns out he was a nerd daunted by her he-man attainments (from real life), and he said afterwards he’d needed his head examined. But in her 60s she upset a feminist sf talk-fest, and made Samuel R. Delany hostile. I do not and never hope to understand the questions involved. But this book dives pretty deeply into them; I deduct a star because I wasn’t always happy with the commentary.
I want to mention her time as a rat psychologist. I’ll link to an article on it, though I think the article undervalues her written work and is weak on lit crit: http://starcraving.com/?p=555 It explains her mission to bring the social sciences to sf – ‘there are more sciences than physics.’
I can only wish she’d taken Joanna Russ up on her offer (sight-unseen, in a letter that began, “I like old women with a very special feeling and get all dreamy and erotic about them...”) and run away with her, but hey. You don’t get a happy ending in a James Tiptree Jr story. (less)
Caution: she'll strip you of your human vanity. That's her expertise. She'll inspect you, closely, as just a species, among the other species, and sub...moreCaution: she'll strip you of your human vanity. That's her expertise. She'll inspect you, closely, as just a species, among the other species, and subject to the indignities we watch (or we implement) in them. And is she wrong? How can she be wrong? She's tougher-minded than the rest of us, less vain, less sentimental. She'll inspect you like a scientist and experiment upon you. She had a brain the size of a planet and a scalpel in her hand. Unafraid to use it. Unafraid. Where does she get the strength for this distance from the species? I think she'd answer that, I only half-belonged to the species; I was a woman. Besides, she doesn't consider us human -- yet. Can we be? Most of her tales don't give us a chance. They may be cautionary tales. (less)
He calls this an adaptation, not a translation, and that's my note of caution. It interprets for you, and often, I think, chooses a simple meaning out...moreHe calls this an adaptation, not a translation, and that's my note of caution. It interprets for you, and often, I think, chooses a simple meaning out of several. Still, it's great for an easy-to-get and unfrightening English version.
I love the Cleaves -- Francis Woodman Cleaves whose translation he uses for this, but whose language he changes. Even though Cleaves' presentation, the intro and how he sets out the text, is only fit to baffle you, and he never did publish the second part: the notes.
Urgunge Onon is another alternative: strictly a translation, but meant for a general audience.
Five stars for the Secret History itself, obviously. (less)
Fascinating close-up on late paganism and early Christianity. Paganism, alas, lost the battle. I do take sides, and I felt this book does, frankly. Th...moreFascinating close-up on late paganism and early Christianity. Paganism, alas, lost the battle. I do take sides, and I felt this book does, frankly. The Christians are very often crazy, and the pagans have a wisdom you might often see here for the first time. So the upshot broke my heart. And he became my favourite historian.
No doubt I do him a disservice - I'm sure he's impartial; it's because he is, because paganism gets a fair case, that I am left with a grief for what we lost. (less)
It's an antique but I loved this book. I came away with a vivid portrait of Hannibal, a deep respect for him - I was devastated at his final defeat, a...moreIt's an antique but I loved this book. I came away with a vivid portrait of Hannibal, a deep respect for him - I was devastated at his final defeat, although I admired his worthy enemy Scipio too. Yes, it's like a novel. Still, Cottrell quotes great swathes of Livy for you; after this I went to Livy, and found I hadn't missed much in the Cottrell. He's unashamed to tell you about Hannibal's sheer military genius, and my God how clever he is. That was what I liked him for. The man attains to wit in his military tactics.
What struck me most, though, was Cottrell's deductions, investigations, on the actuality of these huge-scale battles: how horrific they were. He talks about them in terms of 20thC battles. Left me scarified that did.
The difference in how Romans and Carthaginians thought about war is one of the most interesting aspects to the story. (less)
In which he knuckles down to writing novels. He marries his stenographer who seems to be the doormat-type. Yes, but see the last instalment of his lif...moreIn which he knuckles down to writing novels. He marries his stenographer who seems to be the doormat-type. Yes, but see the last instalment of his life; and he's absolutely desperate to deliver his novels by deadline. Guess what the forfeit is if he doesn't? Abrogation of his rights to any profit from future works for the next ten years. So he hired a stenographer to go faster... and kept her. Most of the rest of this book is crit on the novels. What else did he have time for?
D. writes: "I am convinced that not a single one of our writers, whether past or present, ever wrote under the conditions in which I am continuously forced to write. Turgenev would die at the very thought." He also wrote, "My epilepsy has worsened so much that if I work for a week without interruption I have an attack, and the next week I cannot work because the result of two or three attacks would be -- apoplexy. And yet I must finish. That's my situation."
I find Frank's crit on the turgid side, but he's made me think of the novels as "ideological tragedies". I always knew they were about people driven mad by ideas, ideas worse than the people are: I guess he’s getting me more specific, as I slog through 50 pages on Crime & Punishment. Since Frank details the ideologies bubbling at the time, you see how Dostoyevsky extrapolated or pursued ideas to consequences no-one else had seen. Obviously people objected to that. 'Excuse me, we don't believe in knocking pawnbrokers on the head.' But that's the novelist's eyes, beyond ideology to what used to be called the universal human, eh? And why he makes sense to me, vital sense, and seems to be about ideas I’ve struck or half-had in my life, not what he found in a newspaper in Russia 1866. (less)