"Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque" appears to be the only collection of Poe's short fiction over which he had a measure of control. In the preface "Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque" appears to be the only collection of Poe's short fiction over which he had a measure of control. In the preface, the thirty-year old author claims that, if he has sinned in writing these short pieces, then he has willfully sinned, for they are "the result of matured purpose and careful deliberation." I believe that it is reasonable to suppose that not only the choice of tales but also their very arrangement was approved of--and most likely determined by--the author. After reading the first volume of "Grotesque and Arabesque" from cover to cover, I am convinced that this must be the case.
The tales themselves are of variable quality, but the arrangement of them--at least in this first volume-- is extremely artful. First of all, they are not only deftly organized in terms of the type of tales they represent, showing to good advantage Poe's variety and range, but they also document the growing sophistication of his style, showing how each tale type begins to take on the qualities of the other.
The "Arabesque" pieces (which are musical and meditative, like tone-poems) and the "Grotesque" pieces (which are visual and satiric, like caricatures) alternate throughout the volume. The disparity between the two types is most dramatic at the beginning, but toward the end we begin to notice that they share many features in common: "King Pest" has much meditation in its satire and "Ligeia" has much caricature in its music. The first volume then concludes with a a two-part piece, which begins in a satire of Blackwood's editorial policy ("The Signora Zenobia") and ends with a Blackwoods's parody ("The Scythe of Time") that--ludicrous though it may be--is nevertheless a horrific "black comedy" mood piece which combines in an explicit fashion the imagery of dismemberment, time and death which fill the two types of tale.
Indeed, the theme of the self--its nature, its preservation, and the fear of its dissolution--is what unites the pieces in this volume. Every protagonist is subject to an attack on his integrity and identity, but, depending on the type of tale, he will handle such attacks in different ways. The heroes of the arabesques consciously face the possibility of death and dissolution, and, although they may learn much through their attenuated sensations ("the Fall of the House of Usher"), their far-flung voyages ("M.S. Found in a Bottle") or their extreme passions ("Ligeia"), although they may destroy their daughters or their sisters ("Morella," "Usher") or half of themselves ("William Wilson") in hopes of preserving their identity, they are still defeated in the end. The heroes of the grotesques, on the other hand are either dullards or monomaniacs, and they avoid the suffering that such attacks cause (attacks which usually come in the form of dismemberment or a trip to hell) either by their own obliviousness ("The Man That was Used Up") or their assertion of one aspect of their personality to the exclusion of all else ("The Duc d'Omlette," "Bon-Bon"). Toward, the end, however, even the dullest, most single-minded folks find their lives disrupted by the demonic adversary, Time.
Most of the stories we think of as Poe classics are the arabesques: "Morella," "William Wilson," "Usher, "Ligeia." They are justly celebrated, but they gain much by being seen side to side with the grotesques. For example, it has been a long time since I have read "Ligeia," and its placing between "The Devil in the Belfry" and "King Pest" made me see for the first time how close to parody it is (particularly its decadent, Huysmanesque description of the decor of the abbey). On the other hand, it was the arabesques tales that made me see the underlying seriousness of many of the grotesques (I now particularly admire "The Devil in the Belfry," "King Pest" and "The Scythe of Time.")
In short, the arrangement of these stories--Poe's doing, I am sure--makes this first volume a unity, more impressive in its cumulative power than any individual tale.
Sir Richard Burton has said "there is no 'Nights' without the nights," and I agree with him. Without the frame story of the "Thousand Nights and a Nig Sir Richard Burton has said "there is no 'Nights' without the nights," and I agree with him. Without the frame story of the "Thousand Nights and a Night," the stories themselves--while still a fascinating collection of Oriental folklore filled with fine examples of the extemporaneous storyteller's art--lack resonance and depth. As told by Scheherazade, however, each individual story is not only a stratagem enabling her literally to keep her head on her shoulders for one more night, but--taken together--they also function as a three-year course in civility and tolerance for her murderous spouse, a man made vicious and half-mad by a former wife's adultery. The corpus of the tales--by exhibiting examples of a variety of women (the virtuous and resourceful as well as the manipulative and adulterous), by showing the consequences of revenge and the beauties of forgiveness--help Scheherazade heal the psychically wounded shah who in time becomes not only a good man but also a good king, one who appreciates not only the mystery of woman, but also the importance of mercy and compassion--praise be to Allah, the source of both!--in the pageant of human existence.
Like all great books--as opposed to the perfect merely good ones--"The Arabian Nights" can often be infuriating. Many of the tales are little more than examples of what Henry James termed the easiest form of fictional invention, the improvisation, and others are too coarse for the modern sensibility, with their humor or horror derived from dwarfs, paralytics and the maimed. At the best, however, the tales are mesmerizing, creating a world of marvels that is nevertheless so gritty and real that you can almost smell the scents of the bazaar and see the variety of people parading down the palace avenues, crowding into the alleys and streets. And then, of course, there are the maidens, each as beautiful as a moon.
The very best tales are the ones you already know--The Fisherman and the Djinn, Aladdin, Ali Baba, Sinbad the Sailor--but there are others here almost as good: "The Tale of Three Apples" tells a story of rift and reconciliation across the generations that-in its bittersweet, twilight wisdom--reminds me of the tragi-comedies of Shakespeare, and "The Tale of Judar and his Brothers"--a darker, more marvelous version of the biblical story of Joseph--unites magic and tragedy in a surprising and memorable way.
A superb work of prose, this autobiographical essay in epistolary form is also--although Wilde would never call it so--an unconventional moral exhorta A superb work of prose, this autobiographical essay in epistolary form is also--although Wilde would never call it so--an unconventional moral exhortation and an impressionistic work of Christology.
This letter from prison written to Lord Alfred "Bosie" Douglas--Wilde's young lover and the occasion of his downfall--urges the young lord to face up to his own reckless past behavior and to seek the knowledge of self that can only be gained through suffering. "Shallowness is the only sin." Wilde repeats again and again. "Whatever is realized is right." What Wilde calls "a failure of the imagination" is the moral evil that afflicts Bosie, and it is only by a necessarily painful growth in self-awareness that this young man can become a fully human, completely realized work of art.
Some of the most interesting passages here are Wilde's exploration of the nature of Christ. Wilde considers Him the true founder of the Romantic movement, the first authentic individualist, a man who saw each person as unique and who revealed to humankind the profound truth that we must grow through suffering into love....more
Bob Collins' "Naming the Dead" is a superb collection by a veteran poet and editor. It could properly be considered a "selected poems" as well as a "f Bob Collins' "Naming the Dead" is a superb collection by a veteran poet and editor. It could properly be considered a "selected poems" as well as a "first book," for it distills the essence of a poet's life and experience. An accomplished--and widely published--poet like Collins must have rejected scores of chapbook pieces in order to pare this collection down to forty poems this good, this focused, this resonant in theme.
The book consists of seven sections--a one poem prelude, a one poem coda, and five movements of six-ten poems.
The first movement concerns Collins' New Jersey childhood. The music of the verse is casual and accomplished, belying the grim vision of the poems. Although the tone is elegiaic, it is elegy as sharp and clear-eyed as "The Seafarer." Whatever the object of youth's memory may be--a polio epidemic, vacant lot baseball, the dreaded "rich kid" little league rivals--the memory itself is always at the mercy of the brushfires of time, fires that blot out the self and leave nothing but the terror of nonexistence that waits in the primeval waters below. My favorites here are the first and last: "Enuresis," a poem about bed-wetting which lulls the mind with anapestic latinate terms until the word "night terrors" brings it to a chilling conclusion, and "Catch," a poem that captures both the anger and the love of a ritual father-son game.
The second movement consists primarily of older poems, more rough-hewn in style, but powerful. The two sections complement one another, for each poem here serves as a myth or metaphor for the plight articulated in the first movement, and they too are filled with images of fire and water, each poem heavy with the burdens of death, memory and time. My favorite is the one about a new "Magician's Assistant," who expects a trap door to open during the saw-in-half trick, but instead finds herself literally disembodied, transformed into a sea of floating molecules with a terrifying emptiness between.
The third movement is the best, central both in position and theme. It consists primarily of elegies for deceased friends and acquaintances. Collins assessment of these people is clear-eyed but generous, and he is hard on no one but himself. It ends with my two favorite poems in this section, each offering the possibility of love and hope: "New Year's Day: Red River Gorge (1973)" in which the typically frightening image of conflagration is transformed into a friend's welcoming bonfire, and "Via Sacra," in which the poet makes a difficult river journey near Adena burial mounds with two living friends by his side.
Movements four and five are less concentrated and more varied in theme, and both are more open to love, light and humor than the movements that have gone before. Four is full of the mundane experiences of life (cleaning out the garage, teaching a daughter to swim, finding out you have only one reader on amazon.com), and movement five functions as a recapitulation of the themes--the impossibility of return, the necessity of the journey, the importance of love and hope--and also brings something new, a touch of hard-won optimism. My favorite poems here are "Going Home," a somewhat bleak, although humorous, view of an American's "return" to Ireland, and "Listening to the Dead (Birmingham, 1995)," which begins in irony and Grateful Dead nostalgia and ends in a hope and--almost--a belief in the transforming power love.
I highly recommend "Naming the Dead." This is a book by a man of solitude who understands friendship and love, a man ready to take us on a rich, fulfilling journey of everything he--and we--have lost....more
Jeanne Theoharis is a straightforward scholar and committed progressive whose purpose is to reveal Rosa Parks as the lifelong lefty she undoubtedly wa Jeanne Theoharis is a straightforward scholar and committed progressive whose purpose is to reveal Rosa Parks as the lifelong lefty she undoubtedly was, but Theoharis is also too good of a researcher and too dedicated to the truth not to reveal the many biographical ironies in Mrs. Parks' story. I'm a progressive too--one of the quieter, more contemplative sort--and the presence of multiple ironies in this biography is one of its aspects I find most interesting.
The first irony is that the conventional mainstream view of Parks, the one that has turned her into a bland icon--St. Rosa the Simple, St. Rosa the Heroic, an archetypal "church lady," neither dangerous nor disturbing--was originally a public relations creation of the Montgomery civil rights establishment. Forever concerned with avoiding the "commie agitator" label and properly fearing the ever-present possibility of violence, they downplayed Parks twenty years of left-wing activism (stretching back to the "Scottsboro Boys" era) and minimized their own organizational efforts.
The second irony is that the way the progressive community chooses to look at Rosa's action today--that it was merely one small, crucial link in a long chain of calculated activism--is based in part on the fabrications of her racist critics, who were eager to depict her as the tool of the Communist conspiracy. Although it is true that Parks was a lifelong activist who had received summer training at the left wing Highlander school on scholarship, and it is true that for some time the Montgomery civil rights community had been looking for the proper test case to institute a bus boycott, it is also true that on the fateful day Parks made her choice, she made it autonomously and spontaneously--magnificent in her solitariness, without the comfort of any clear plan. By seeking to elevate the status of community activism, this progressive analysis minimizes the transforming action of an authentic hero.
A third irony is that this pioneer of civil rights was minimized and mistreated both as a woman and a member of the working class by the middle class leaders--both male and female--of the civil rights movement. During the boycott, she was present on the dais, but not allowed to speak, and--during the years when she and her husband suffered financial hardship--in great part due to her activism--she was passed over for various paid positions in the movement in favor of better educated, middle class women.
A fourth irony: this legendary image of decorum, peace and meekness was a radical in her views and associations--much more radical than King. She was not herself a devotee of non-violence: although she believed it was a useful strategy for large protests, she thought it prudent for the individual activist to exercise the right to bear arms. Robert F. Williams, author of "Negroes with Guns" (1962)--opponent of non-violence and an important influence on the Black Panthers--was a friend of Rosa's. In her later years in Detroit, she developed an excellent relationship with young activists, adopting African dress and frequenting the local "Black Power" bookstore. In a late interview, a reporter asked her to name her own civil rights hero, and she replied, "Malcolm X."
A fifth irony: Rosa Parks, the social justice icon most associated with one grand gesture, forever frozen in that photo-op image staring out the window of a bus, was by nature an assiduous, self-effacing advocate for social justice, whose presence was habitual at meetings and who worked humbly for the cause. If Woody Allen is right, and "80% of success is showing up," then Mrs. Rosa Parks is the most successful figure in civil rights history. As the radicals of Detroit were fond of saying, whenever there was an event "she was always there."
Theoharis is not an inspired writer, but her style is clear, her facts are unspun, and her energy and industry as a researcher are indefatigable. She has produced a definitive public biography, one that every one interested in the Civil Rights Movement should read.
This is the most personal work on cinema yet written by David Thomson, a movie historian and critic whose originality of insight is matched only by Ma This is the most personal work on cinema yet written by David Thomson, a movie historian and critic whose originality of insight is matched only by Manny Farber, whose elegant style is unrivaled by all but James Agee and Dwight MacDonald, and whose comprehensive and detailed knowledge of the field is unsurpassed by anyone. His "The New Biographical Dictionary of Film" (Fourth Edition) is the only 1000 page reference work I have ever read with complete delight from cover-to-cover, and I hope to do the same with the fifth edition soon.
Anybody who has read Thomson knows that he is a man of strong opinion who refuses to pull any punches or follow anyone else's agenda. He's not one of those self-conscious mavericks either: he likes what he likes, for good reasons, and tells you what he thinks.
This book is even more personal and eccentric than the usual Thomson, for two reasons: 1) it is not precisely about movies, but about "screens," planes of various sizes on which we view images, and how their size and the conditions for viewing (a massive screen as part of an audience in a theatre, a flat screen TV in your living room with family, an iPhone screen with ear buds in a crowded airport alone)affect the viewing experience, and 2) Thomson wrote this book to explore primarily how these screens have shaped his own viewing experiences, and only secondarily how they may have affected others.
Because of this dual concentration, Thomson's otherwise comprehensive and historical treatment of visual images that move contains some surprising additions and emphases. He includes treatments of the early motion photography of Muybridge, the significance of "I Love Lucy," the impact of Marilyn Monroe, the narrative structure of pornography and video games, as well as a marvelous anecdote and analysis of how he once screened Minnelli's "The Clock" for a college class by showing the first half forward while simultaneously projecting the second half backward. He has almost nothing to say about women in film (except for actresses of course), very little about the Western, and the amount of space he accords a particular classic director is always a personal--and sometimes a seemingly arbitrary--decision.
It is an enjoyable and informative trip, however, with many entertaining detours, and--in spite his divigations--Thomson never strays far from his central theme that "the most profound subject in all movie is time and the way it passes, and resembles itself."
This collection containing all of Henry James' supernatural fiction is not only a book of chilling ghost tales, but also a book of psychologically com This collection containing all of Henry James' supernatural fiction is not only a book of chilling ghost tales, but also a book of psychologically complex short stories, written by a master stylist. The first two pieces are exceptions, mere apprentice works (after beginning well, “The Romance of Old Clothes” ends melodramatically, and the wordy and unfocused “The Ghostly Rental” lacks both compelling incidents and interesting themes), but seven of the remaining eight stories are excellent, and five of those seven (“Owen Wingrave,” “The Friends of Friends, “The Turn of the Screw,” “The Real Right Thing,” and “The Jolly Corner”) are masterpieces of the form.
I believe James' ghostly fictions improved as his style developed and matured. His later prose--charged with psychological nuance and attenuated suggestion--is so subtle in the way it conjures wraiths of meaning that one is often unsure whether it is the narrator, the author, or indeed the reader himself who has summoned any particular hint of significance; sometimes the meaning itself seems no more than a will o' the wisp, a vaporous adumbration, a mere exhalation of style. Reading his long, often baffling sentences can be especially infuriating for the reader of James' lengthy later novels--particularly for the reader who anticipates something akin to realism and psychological precision--but in a ghostly novella or a long scary short story, this later style may be just the thing. Searching for meaning in the old master's subtle prose can be like searching for ghosts in a fog: when the fog parts suddenly, and the spectre reveals itself, the effect--as in “The Jolly Corner”--can be both chilling and unique.
Enough has been said about the “The Turn of the Screw” and “The Jolly Corner,” so I won't weary you with my commentary, but I would like to say something about three other stories in the collection. “Owen Wingrave,” the most conventional of the five, uses its gothic cliches—including the procession of censorious family portraits lining the walls of the Wingrave's ancestral home--to show what a great burden generations of military tradition must be for the soul of a young man who—despite his personal courage—is a confirmed pacifist. The ending of this memorable work is poignant and tragic. “The Real Right Thing” takes for its theme not only authors and their biographers, but the ethics involved in the biographical process; it may be read as a supernatural corollary to “The Aspern Papers,” one of James' finest novellas. My absolute favorite of James ghost stories, however—and I'm including “The Turn of the Screw” and “The Jolly Corner,” both of which I love—is “The Friends of Friends.” It takes its inspiration from the common experience of having two friends who have so much in common you're certain they would like each other, but who—despite your best efforts—never are able to meet. From this simple idea, James builds an absorbing narrative of friendship, love, betrayal and lost opportunities. If you read nothing else here, read “The Friends of Friends.” ...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