"I am the second Adam. I learned to read / and write through my sins' lessons"--
It's really hard to describe Darwish's poetry. It's a little Lorca-esq"I am the second Adam. I learned to read / and write through my sins' lessons"--
It's really hard to describe Darwish's poetry. It's a little Lorca-esque in places, but not that extreme or loud. It's quietly surreal, and simple but also lyrical. There are so many lines I underlined and poems I need to go back to. A few excerpts:
"It's your bad luck that you chose the gardens near god's borders, where the sword writes clay's tale..."
"We store our sorrows in our jars, lest the soldiers see them and celebrate the siege ... We store them for other seasons, for a memory, for something that might surprise us on the road."
"we are in need of myth to bear the burden of the distance between two doors..."
Not knowing Arabic, I can't comment on the accuracy/faithfulness of the translation, but like Borges, I'm not too worried about accuracy or the problematic notion of "faithfulness.". What matters is (and should be): Is it beautiful in English? Does it move me? Yes and yes. And as much as I would've liked to see how Fady Joudah—himself a Palestinian American poet (and doctor)—has rewritten Darwish (for every translation is a rewriting), that was good enough for me.
The essays on dysfunctional narratives, defamiliarization, epiphanies, inanimate objects, and melodrama were so full of insightsReally, really good--
The essays on dysfunctional narratives, defamiliarization, epiphanies, inanimate objects, and melodrama were so full of insights that they more than make up for the less-than-stellar essays in this collection.
Especially eye-opening for me were the essays on epiphanies, inanimate objects, and melodrama—these in particular made me excited to write fiction again. One of the things I appreciate about his essays is that despite his polemical titles (e.g., "Against Epiphanies") he doesn't really argue for any one type of fictional devices/styles/patterns; he looks at literary patterns and codified "rules" of writing and basically dismantle—or to use his own words—burns them down. In the essay on epiphanies, for example, he questions the predominance of epiphany stories by pointing out there has been a deluge of insights—both forced and natural—in contemporary fiction, but he describes what a successful epiphany looks like and also shows alternative ways to end a story (with an action not completed, a la Carver's early stories or with a mystery a la Borges).
Or take the essay on inanimate objects, it's basically the same move. He traces the historical roots of "pathetic fallacy" where a writer attributes human emotions to inanimate objects. Usually that's a no-no in contemporary fiction, but Charles Baxter shows pretty convincingly that instead of one-to-one correspondence with the main characters' emotions, objects can—and should—be at least as expressive and energetic as the characters themselves.
And finally, the essay on melodrama. Again, he shows the word to be not what we think it is, arguing it's a form and not an aesthetic judgment or pejorative. In his own words, "Melodrama is the recognition, dramatically, that understanding sometimes fails, articulation fails, and enlightenment fails." The opposite of melodrama is humanism/enlightenment: that every action is explainable and forgivable. In melodrama, the villain uses his or her power for evil means. There is no explanation, no understanding. By its nature, melodrama claims, evil is inexplicable; it's just there and you can't explain it away. This really struck a chord in me, as I believe many actions, many human actions, that is, are so complex and hard to understand (WHY DID HE SHOOT ALL THOSE INNOCENT STUDENTS?), even hopelessly incomprehensible.
This leads to a related but slightly tangential matter. Recently, a learned reviewer of Haruki Murakami's 1Q84 said he didn't really want to keep reading it past Book 1 because, he felt, there was not enough humanism in the book, that it portrayed evil as evil and didn't go beyond that. Now, this could be a valid criticism, and I sort of get where the reviewer is coming from. A novelist ought to look at evil and make some sense out of it. Yes, for the most part I agree, but that's the position Humanism takes, that every action is understandable—or at least illuminable. The criticism, when leveled at melodramatic works, doesn't quite work because for Murakami, evil is unknowable. All that violence and criminal actions portrayed in the book—and those mysterious Little People—they are just there in this world, incomprehensible.
Again and again, Charles Baxter's essays challenge contemporary fictional norms and show us whole landscapes of alternative possibilities in fiction, and that, to me as a writer, was exciting.
There are moments, for sure, when the dialogue soars to lyrical beauty and the absurd situation Rosencrantz & Guildenstern find themselves inMeh--
There are moments, for sure, when the dialogue soars to lyrical beauty and the absurd situation Rosencrantz & Guildenstern find themselves in go beyond just the metatheatrical commentary on minor characters in a major play not getting any explanations: are we not all in this boat headed to England, not knowing why we are on it, without anyone giving us any explanations? In this vein the play reminded me of Kobo Abe's The Woman in the Dunes a bit. And then there's also the poignant rumination on death through the mockingly un-serious acting of Player (who, by the way, is my favorite character in the play, really).
But for me, the play is too squarely in the modernist style of absurdism a la Beckett or, to some extent, the Russian absurdism of Daniil Kharms—meaning, while I can appreciate the absurdist/nonsensical elements in it, it's not the kind of work I enjoy to my heart's content. Plus—and this has to do with my sense of humor—I found none of Guil and Ros's antics funny (though I might have to see them acted out on stage).
A good play if you love Beckett. Not so much if you don't.
I got this book back in my college days at the recommendation of Cornel West (I was fortunate enough to take his cCan't believe this is out of print--
I got this book back in my college days at the recommendation of Cornel West (I was fortunate enough to take his class on tragicomedy), and it does not disappoint. Kerr, an eminent drama critic of his day, vivisects comedy and tragedy with so much insight that I could not help underline SO many passages, all delivered in the old-school generalizing/ruminating tone that's irresistible for me. One e.g.:
His main argument is that tragedy is intertwined with comedy, or more specifically, that comedy is born of tragedy and hence secondary in the sense that the clown needs someone and something to make fun of. His argument is much more multifaceted and complex than that, but that's the nutshell.
To quickly illustrate comedy's reliance on tragedy, imagine an old lady in a wheel chai and send her spinning down a slope toward a stone wall. Funny?"[T]here is something terribly funny—something quite terribly funny—about the real old lady racing toward a wall... Dare we laugh? We want to. The impulse is there, dark, beckoning, conspiratorial. We are even aware that if we can laugh, the laughter will be deeper more centrally located, more candid. But see here, now. The old lady may be hurt. She may be killed. Comedy at is most penetrating derives from what we normally regard as tragic."
While he deploys his lyrically and philosophically pleasing argument, he corrects some misconceptions of the genres along the way. Hubris is one. He argues that tragedy isn't really about a hero falling from grace because of hubris or other tragic flaws (as is commonly understood in lit classes). In tragedy, the hero recklessly claims something divine and suffers, but in the end may be granted that divinity or achieve something equally good. Thus: "Arrogance, even hubris, may—after a searing period of transformation—end in sanctification, as it does with Oedipus."And the whole idea of "tragic flaw" is not borne out by the evidence at hand—it's substantiated only in Christian moral plays, but not so much in Greek or even some of Renaissance plays, such as Shakespeare's Othello or King Lear. If Othello's tragic flaw was that he was innately jealous, Kerr points out, then why did it take the malice-incarnate of Iago to drive him to his tragic act?
Or take the comic endings, and he nailed it with Molière's Tartuffe—a comedy I loved but felt flawed because of its deus-ex-machina ending. The artificiality and arbitrariness of the endings of many comedies, Kerr argues convincingly, is really a mockery of all happy endings. "The very fun that is in them resides in the fact that they are patently not true." Fixing the plot is easy, he claims, because "any hack, any amateur could do it—if he cared to. The obvious fact of the matter is that Molière, who possessed as much skill in plotting as any man who ever wrote comedy, is simply being cavalier." So it makes sense to assume that the artificial ending of Tartuffe was intentional and it was supposed to be preposterous.
There are many, many other insights in this book (such as the characteristics of comedy and how Chekhov's plays are not tragedies but comedies that make fun of the human intellect), and this is a must read for anyone who wants to deepen their understanding of drama and its twin genres. If you can find it at the library or a used copy somewhere, I'd get it and see if this is you cup of tea....more