I have always admired this play as Shakespeare's most theatrical tragedy, but I also feel that it often veers close to melodrama. Shaw remarked that " I have always admired this play as Shakespeare's most theatrical tragedy, but I also feel that it often veers close to melodrama. Shaw remarked that "Othello" is written "in the style of Italian opera," and it shares with Verdi and Donizetti the same big emotions, the same clear demarcation of good and evil, that give "Lucia" and "Trovatore" their emotional intensity--and their lack of essential seriousness too. During this reading, however, I began to realize that this play is much more than the greatest of melodramas, and that the key to appreciating its depth lies in the concept of the public mask.
Othello is a man who always wears a mask in public: it is the mask of the thoroughly professional military leader who is far too noble to be moved by the emotions that might cause others to be petty or untrustworthy. Iago wears a similar mask: the mask of the thoroughly professional military subordinate who is frank and blunt and incapable of dishonesty. Othello's mask hides a snake's nest of fears bred from the insecurity of being a black man in an alien white society; Iago's mask hides the fact that he is a stone-cold sociopath consumed with jealousy and rage. Othello cannot see the reality of the evil beneath a mask so similar to his own, and instead misinterprets every frank gesture of his devoted wife as proof of the diabolical mask of an accomplished adulteress. This is Othello's fatal error, and he and his love pay dearly for it. ...more
Here is the only Portuguese literary joke I know: Q. Who are the four greatest Portuguese poets of the 20th century? A. Fernando Pessoa. Trust me, it' Here is the only Portuguese literary joke I know: Q. Who are the four greatest Portuguese poets of the 20th century? A. Fernando Pessoa. Trust me, it's funny. But it does take a little explaining.
Fernando Pessoa, in order to express various philosophical and poetic moods, constructed a series of what he termed “heteronyms.” The heteronym, although similar to the mask or persona, differs in that each one is equipped with a name, a personality, a biography, and a physical description, as well as a distinct writing style. Although Pessoa made use of more than five dozen heteronyms in the course of his thirty-five years, the best known are Alberto Caeiro, Ricardo Reis, Álvaro de Campos, and Bernardo Soares. Of these four, his greatest creation--and perhaps the heteronym closest to Pessoa's self--is Bernardo Soares, the "author" of "The Book of Disquiet."
“The Book of Disquiet ,” if not unique, is close to it. It is a little like a novel, often like a collection of prose poems, and often like a series of aphorisms and philosophical reflections. The heteryonum that is Soares enables Pessoa to communicate a disciplined, definite vision of the world, necessarily limited in scope, but intensified and concentrated. In this sense, it resembles Roman and English satire, its authorial mask as carefully crafted and resonant as those of Horace and Juvenal, Pope and Swift. Soares, however, takes no interest in vice, let alone the reform of humankind; in fact, he seems to care little about humanity in general, or people in particular.
It is here that the novelistic aspect of “Disquiet” becomes interesting. Soares is a shy, isolated man, a clerk at a Lisbon commercial firm who adds up columns of figures, and seems to do little else. Although he mourns his colleagues when they pass away, he never seems to communicate with them when they are alive; the closest he seems to get to fellowship are his encounters with the waiter in the little cafe where he eats his nightly dinner and consumes his nightly bottle of wine. At first, we feel sorry for him, for we feel his great isolation and are moved by his great passion and profound love for beauty which he can only express through his journal.
Slowly, however, we begin to see that this isolation is a personal and artistic choice, a way of refining his art and his being . If he cares about human beings at all, it is only because they are useful adjuncts to his own magnificent loneliness, because they resonate as discrete elements of the poet's imagination, much as a certain play of light on a Lisbon street may reflect one particular color of the canvas that is the poet's consciousness. Perhaps this is why the book “The Book of Disquiet” reminds me of most is “The Chants of Maldoror,” that uncompromising paean to the magnificent isolation of evil.
There is of course a great difference. “Maldoror” could only have been produced by a very young man hiding beneath a very old mask. His persona is a posture of isolation through which he begins to know himself. “The Book of Disquiet,” on the other hand, is the work of someone who knows himself well, and cares only about reaching a kind of existential purity: a clarity of view, a refinement of mood, the isolation of particular beauties that resonate more deeply and linger longer than the others.
Soares is a monk of the poetic mind, for whom aloneness is a vocation. Its fruit, “The Book of Disquiet,” is rare and delicious, filled with vivid descriptions, evocative language, and refined reflections....more
Soon after I pledged to pursue all writings gothic and ghostly, I decided that one of my early tasks must be to read (or re-read) all the short tales Soon after I pledged to pursue all writings gothic and ghostly, I decided that one of my early tasks must be to read (or re-read) all the short tales of Poe, including every essay or ephemeral journal-piece that contains even a nugget of narrative. Now, thanks to the assistance of Mabbott's excellent edition, I am well on my way toward accomplishing this task, since Mabbot's comprehensive collection of stories includes every one of Poe's short works with the germ of a story or the scrap of a plot. Now, with the completion of this first volume of tales, I have read all of Poe's short narrative pieces composed between 1831 to 1842. (Those written between 1831 and 1839 I have already commented upon in my reviews of "Tales Grotesque and Arabesque").
Most of the best tales from this period are the well known ones which I first read forty or fifty years ago. I cannot say that I have here discovered--or rediscovered--any neglected gems that shine with the brightness of "Usher" or "Ligeia," but I have found a few that deserve to be in their company ("A Man of the Crowd," "The Oval Portrait")and more than a few charming, lesser works.
I was impressed by the charmingly sunny and forthright style Poet adopts in his humorous pieces, such as "Never Bet the Devil Your Head" and "A Succession of Sundays." I admired and enjoyed the aesthete in Poe, for the way his detailed description of the homely art of interior decoration (in "The Philosophy of Furniture") as well as the larger canvas of landscape ("The Landscape Garden") seem to look forward to the decadents of the fin de siecle. (Indeed, Poe excels in descriptions of every kind, including a marvelously detailed account of how a black cat opens a latched door in "Instinct vs Reason.") I was also struck by how the element of description shapes much of the content of his shorter tales ("The Island of the Fay," "The Colloquy of Monos and Una," "Eleonora," "The Masque of the Red Death"), creating something very much like a prose poem.
All in all, I now have a new appreciation for the breadth and humanity of Poe, his unrelenting curiosity and his considerable artistic and intellectual range. ...more
Now that I have completed the second volume of "Tales and Sketches" (which contains all of Poe's short narratives from 1843 to 1849), I have a richer, Now that I have completed the second volume of "Tales and Sketches" (which contains all of Poe's short narratives from 1843 to 1849), I have a richer, more nuanced appreciation of his body of work.
There is so much more to Poe than the dozen and a half commonly anthologized stories which, if taken as representative, create an unduly eccentric and morbid conception of both the writer and a man. These pieces exhibit a Poe who is, above all else, overwrought: overwrought in style ("Usher", "Pit and the Pendulum"), overwrought in emotional intensity ("Ligeia,""The Tell Tale Heart"), and overwrought in grotesque effects ("Zenobia", "Xing a Paragrab"). Moreover, it becomes easy for the reader to psychologize the literary personality of the man who could produced such overwrought pieces, viewing him as a hothouse flower like Swinburne or Dowson, rather than as a bustling professional writer who--whatever may be his temperamental or constitutional flaws--commanded a range of writing styles and a variety of attitudes and moods.
Having now read all the short narrative pieces, I am particularly struck by how many of these narratives are presented in a plain, easy and almost modern style ("Thou Art the Man" "Hopfrog"), less ornate and Latinate than his fellow Dark Romantics Hawthorne and Melville, let alone his polysyllabic disciples Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith. Also, the tone of many of the pieces included here is one of clinical coldness, the opposite of emotional intensity ("Marie Roget", "The Man of the Crowd"), and the grotesque effects, whether horrific or comic, are often subtle ("The Oblong Box," "The Spectacles").
Neither Poe nor his work is easily classifiable. Having now read the "colloquys" as well as his pieces on premature burial and mesmerism, I realize that Poe believed that life both human and cosmic is composed of shades and gradations, that consciousness/dissolution, life/death, and spirit/matter might--if we had the instruments to observe them precisely--reveal themselves to be stages of the self-same incremental process, not actual dichotomies at all. Perhaps we should attempt to see Poe's works as he saw the universe, following each progression and retrogression, observing every alteration in degree and form, seeing each as part of a rich, comprehensive whole....more
Perhaps the oddest and best mystery ever written. Police Inspector Grant, flat on his back in hospital, solves the historical mystery of Richard III a Perhaps the oddest and best mystery ever written. Police Inspector Grant, flat on his back in hospital, solves the historical mystery of Richard III and the Little Princes in the Tower. I know, I know--sounds boring. But it isn't. A fascinating meditation on history, propaganda, prejudice and memory....more
This is an odd book. It begins with a frame story the author abandons after a score of pages, features a host of characters whose names sound like the This is an odd book. It begins with a frame story the author abandons after a score of pages, features a host of characters whose names sound like the imaginary friends of a clever six year old (Fax Fay Faz, Goldry Bluszco, Lord Brandoch Daha, etc.), and a meandering narrative often slowed by page upon page of magnificent but hardly essential description. Its style is an Elizabethan pastiche of leisurely--and often difficult--sentences crammed with "hard words" and crowded with allusive phrases bordering on direct quotation (mostly from Shakespeare), not to mention whole songs lifted word-for-word from the works of 17th century poets.
Yet it is partially the oddness of the book--particularly the eccentric and unique prose style--that gives it power. These characters do not live in a world that sounds like ours, and they do not speak as we speak, and this helps Eddison capture the majesty—and strangeness—of his epic warriors. His heroes share a combination of lofty nobility and careless contempt for others that puts them in the exalted company of Homer's Achilles and Shakespeare's Hamlet. These men are too great to worry about being good, let alone being likable, and they set an exalted standard for fantasy characterization that has never been equaled. Only Moorcock's Elric of Melnibone comes close.
A book of short stories about the Orkneys, northern Scottish islands still marked by their Viking heritage. These tales are as spare, strange and elegA book of short stories about the Orkneys, northern Scottish islands still marked by their Viking heritage. These tales are as spare, strange and elegant as anything by Raymond Carver, and yet broader and richer in their appreciation of our common humanity....more
A masterpiece, demonstrating how grace redeems and love restores over time. This play features one of Shakespeare's most interesting psychological stu A masterpiece, demonstrating how grace redeems and love restores over time. This play features one of Shakespeare's most interesting psychological studies (Leontes) and two of his most charming heroines (Hermione and Perdita). Shakespeare's art has deepened to the point where he can deliberately choose an outrageously improbable denouement and present it in a way that makes his play more moving and richer symbolically than it would have been with a more probable conclusion....more
If you read about ghosts in order to be filled with dread, then Edith Wharton may not be your favorite supernatural author. On the other hand, if you If you read about ghosts in order to be filled with dread, then Edith Wharton may not be your favorite supernatural author. On the other hand, if you are a fan of elegant realistic fiction but like a few chills from time to time, Wharton's ghost tales may belong at the top of your list. Each of her stories is a subtle exercise rooted in everyday reality, and the ghostly presences--such as they are--emerge from the nourishing soil that constitutes her finely crafted realism. Many of her stories touch on the cruelty of domestic power relations, not only between husbands and wives, but also between mistresses and their servants. Specters haunt those who once had the power to change things for the better but did not do so, and visit the living not only as a reproach for past sins, but also as a silent exhortation for redress.
All the stories here are worth reading, but when Wharton's seriousness of purpose and subtlety of style combine with genuine ghostly thrills, the result is a handful of first-rate ghost stories ("The Eyes, "Afterward," "Bewitched," "Kerfol, "The Pomegranate Seed") that should be on everybody's reading list. "Afterward" is not only the finest tale in this volume: it is also a masterpiece of the form that not only rivals the achievement of Henry James but also deepens and enriches the Jamesian theme of how a richer knowledge of evil often derives from young America's encounter with old Europe. In "Afterward," Wharton shows us that the ghosts that haunt Americans in Europe may not be the ancestral specters inhabiting ancient houses, but rather the embodiments of crimes committed by American businessmen in their "wild cat" days back in the States, crimes that cry out for expiation....more
A series of epigrammatic reflections on how things fall apart. This is a bleak, atheistic book, but it is strangely comforting and even humorous in it A series of epigrammatic reflections on how things fall apart. This is a bleak, atheistic book, but it is strangely comforting and even humorous in its unembarrassed nihilism.
Characteristic Cioran quotes:
"Anyone who speaks in the name of others is always an imposter."
"By all evidence we are in the world to do nothing."
"Chaos is rejecting all you have learned, Chaos is being yourself." ...more