I remember the sense I had as a child that sexual perversity had been invented in the 1960's. Before that, everyone did it purely for procreation, andI remember the sense I had as a child that sexual perversity had been invented in the 1960's. Before that, everyone did it purely for procreation, and only to people they were married to.
This was often the face put forward in the fifties, the dark ages of sex as culture. It's no wonder that this is where we get stories about couples having no idea what they are actually supposed to do on their wedding nights.
The depression and the war resulted in the centralization of cultural power. Nationalism, McCarthyism, church-based religion and patriotism are all about surrendering individuality for the safety of the group. Sure, the most eccentric 5% of the populace will be imprisoned, committed, or blacklisted, but the dull majority will be able to cling to the reliability of enforced normalcy.
This also allows the culture to transfer the energy normally spent on chasing tail to material production. There's a reason the puritans and Amish get so much done. However, once the war, persecution, and economic hardship disappear, leisure returns, and with it, recreational sex.
That isn't to say that there was no recreational or enjoyable sex in the fifties. It was not sex itself that went away, but the cultural discourse that has often surrounded it.
As usual, anyone who looks to the literature of the past can find all the peculiarity and perversity their heart desires. From Fanny Hill to De Sade to Sappho, there is plenty of sexual history to contend the myth that the clitoris was discovered in the 1960's. Most fourteen year old girls can tell you it doesn't take a team of scientists to find it. Fourteen year old boys might disagree.
The Satyricon presents a great deal of straightforward sexuality, including all the various sodomies and same-sex pairing. Particularly interesting from a sociological standpoint is the sympathetic presentation of pederasty. For the uninitiated, that would be a sexual relationship between a grown man and a pubescent boy.
Pederasty has been recorded among many cultures, from the Spartans and Athenians to the Romans, Japanese Samurai, and the most prestigious colleges of Britain and America. It was often a method to tutor the young man in the ways of life, not just sex.
After the West romanticized procreative sexuality under Christianity, a father might have brought his son to the town prostitute to 'educate' him. In my youth, it was vintage issues of Playboy passed from friend to friend. Now we have the internet and sex ed in school.
Each method has its strengths and weaknesses, but as the Satyricon shows, they are different means to the same end: producing a fully-fledged member of your society. Though pederasty is now a deviant practice, it is not inherently psychologically damaging (at least, not more than any other sexual relationship has the potential to be).
Even sexual abuse is not necessarily harmful outright. Psychological damage can also come from social moralizing after the fact. The culture of victimization and powerlessness saps all strength and identity from those who have been forced to endure unfortunate circumstances. In cases of abuse, children often do not feel frustration and depression until people around them make it clear that they are supposed to feel this way. A man who becomes bankrupt is not hurt by the loss of pieces of paper, but by losing the freedom and power the culture ascribes to them.
Some have argued that youths cannot make informed decisions, and hence are liable to fall into manipulative and unequal relationships. While this is certainly true, many full-grown adults are equally uninformed and prone to manipulation.
I don't mean to suggest any need to change our laws, since our cultural traditions have no role for pederasty, there is no way for it to operate as a healthy relationship. However, I would suggest that people try to appreciate that our traditions are just as arbitrary as those of the Romans. There's nothing like history to remind us that there are many, many ways.
The Satyrican is also historically important for its uniquely accessible form. It is one of the only surviving examples of a novel-type narrative from the Roman tradition. It depicts the lives of small people and their everyday activities, from theater to dinner parties to beggars, prostitutes, and impotence.
The tale even follows the form of a comedic picaresque romance. Even though there is no direct tradition linking the development of the modern novel in seventeenth century Spain and the nearly identical narrative structure of the Satyricon, it provides an example of parallel evolution for the edification of literary critics.
The lighthearted tone and humorous situations give this work a remarkably modern feel. Indeed, it is more accessible than many newer works. It is intriguing for its presentation of Roman life, for its similarities with the novel, and for its frank depiction of the unheroic.
The Greeks and Romans developed calculus, crossbows, and steam power a thousand years before they would enter common use. Why should they not also innovate realism? I find comfort in the fact that the funny sex novel predates the codification of the bible. It seems history is as much the property of the prurient as the holy; maybe even moreso....more
Most of the time, comics do not benefit from deep and patient consideration. The vast majority owe their popularity to a world of powerless men trappeMost of the time, comics do not benefit from deep and patient consideration. The vast majority owe their popularity to a world of powerless men trapped in a work-a-day world that provides them little pride and less edification. Readers of history often fantasize about living in another age, readers of travelogues imagine impossibly pricey vacations, and fans of Romance want an 'unbound pillar of desire', which I think is a piece by Rodin.
Likewise, many comic readers have been happy for little more than sexy, fast-paced excitement. This demand has been met by a bevy of innumerable authors over the years, but usually with the same old band of familiar heroes. This preponderance has lead to a wealth of stories and histories for each character, often contradictory ones. However, none of that mattered until some of the more leisure-gifted fans tried to make sense of it.
The ever-blossoming result of these hundred thousand monkeys can be at turns humbling, nonsensical, horrifying, and depressing. If you are the sort who teases tigers at the zoo, then perhaps you'll enjoy the effect of whispering the word 'continuity' amongst a band of the faithful. You'll have to be careful, of course, as breathing the word at ComicCon is liable to end in broken marriages, sundered friendships, oceans of tears, and rivers of blood.
It was not always so dire. Alan Moore carelessly sauntered over from England and after writing two or three things, made it okay to take comic books seriously. His dangerous artistry spawned a generation of new writers, who all, to one degree or another, have come to consider comics to be Art.
These writers have been trying to 'fix' continuity since about when I was born. They write year-long series called "Secret Countdown to Final Infinite Earth Civil War Crisis: Zombie Zero Hour", just so you know that they mean business and once they're done, you can finally get along with the escapist power fantasies in peace.
Warren Ellis is one of those literary writer guys inspired by Moore to use things like 'tropes' and 'metaphors' in his 'tales of existential exploration'. It's all quite serious. In this particular philosophical exegesis, Ellis takes on a common theme of artsy writers, namely: what would the lives of superheroes really be like, if they were real people.
He chooses a group of heroes to represent, each chosen for being forgotten and mishandled by the 'continuity gestapo'. He then imagines what it would be like to live in a world where giant dragons in purple underwear threaten the peace of the world on a daily basis. His exploration (exploitation?) of the contradictions inherent to heroism in a world where battles often level cities is particularly poignant.
Like Watchmen, Nextwave holds a wink and a nod up to the genre, stomping thoughtlessly on the already blurry line between the ideals of right and wrong, the point of inescapable gray where the serious cannot escape the ludicrous, and the ludicrous cannot escape Warren Ellis. But unlike Watchmen, this is a satire which attempts to maintain the absurdity of its genre. In the end, however, Ellis must bow respectfully to the men who came before him, and he duly admits that he could not be as ridiculous on purpose as they were by happy accident.
I can't very well list Peake as my favorite author on the Titus books alone, spectacular as they are. While those books may provide a frantically laboI can't very well list Peake as my favorite author on the Titus books alone, spectacular as they are. While those books may provide a frantically laborious definition of 'idiomatic' (if not merely 'eccentric'), Peake is more than simply Gormenghast.
There is his art, his (somewhat abortive) poetic career, and his minimal forays into drama, adventure, war reporting--and here, light farce. Published the same year as Lucky Jim, Peake provides us with another English vision of strange and liminal folk,--except his island is not the metaphorical isolation of academia, but the literal geography of Sark, where Peake relocated his family after The War.
Unlike Amis, Peake's satire falls much more broadly, often striking his protagonist as readily as any other target. As with his Titus books, there is a restlessness inherent in the fact that Peake never turns his hand, and so the reader is always left looking for purpose and direction. Just when you think you've pegged him, Peake tends to swerve.
The book meanders ridiculously, taking its time to arrive at the conflict. Until we reach the driving theme, the book is somewhat slow-going. It does not proceed ponderously, like the Titus books, but there is a measured pace which requires that the reader take the time to let things unfold.
In theme, it roughly resembles Sinclair Lewis' Elmer Gantry, which so shook up American religion twenty years before. Like Gantry, Pye is our swell-headed yet carnivorously charming proselytizer and self-promoter, but trades big-top evangelism for the good old C of E, and so his religious notions take a more chummy, upright bent.
While Lewis contents himself with exposing the ungainly, cruel man behind the pulpit quacksalver, Peake paints no such plain indictment. Peake lampoons not only his self-righteous hero, nor just religion, but the very physical and spiritual life at the root of any discussion of belief (or the lack thereof).
Peake doesn't fall hard on one side or the other, but gives us equally wonderful and absurd arguments for (and against) both at once. A reader looking to be instructed or justified will spend all of their time searching. Peake makes it clear that he doesn't have the answers, but he does provide a good number of questions, and each is arm-in-arm with chortles.
There is no preachy author surrogate here, nor the comeuppance of a fable. Yet this lack of direction sometimes injures the work. While Gormenghast moves about these difficult questions slowly, giving a reader a clear view before drifting on grandly, Pye alights quickly and then it's on to the next. There is little evidence of Peake's mastery of language and style, though a keen eye will see 'Pye' as a sleek and straightforward counterpoint to Gormenghast's wrought and grandiose.
Both books move slowly, and both are grounded in their settings. Gormenghast's measured pace is that of the ancient castle: the gait of a museum-goer turning always upon some new and unexpected wonder of yore. Pye's is more akin to it's dreary, peculiar island: a walk along the shore, where some sights will pique the eye, but will more often leave the mind roaming than rapt.
It is a testament to Peake's wryness and sense of character that this light, undecided, often pointless tale comes off as amusing, sweet, and even original. His mildly fantastical religious parable calls to mind both another Brit and another Lewis: Clive Staples, but Peake has writ a religious send-up that is more even-handed and much less bitter.
First the grand fantasy of Gormenghast deflates Tolkien's pretension, then Peake's follow-up highlights the short sight of yet another of the Inklings. Shame I'll never teach Lit, this one has a lot of intriguing cross-pollination....more
I've come to recognize that one of the main reasons I enjoyed this book so much was that I listened to the audiobook, performed by comedian Lenny HenrI've come to recognize that one of the main reasons I enjoyed this book so much was that I listened to the audiobook, performed by comedian Lenny Henry, whose background as a Brit of Caribbean descent made him the perfect choice to bring the characters to life. A lot of audiobooks aren't very good, but this one way great, and really brings out the fact that Anansi stories are meant to be heard.
It's recognizable Gaiman stuff, with the fish-out-of-water narrator in a modern fantasy world, with the author sxploring the history and the form of the mythic story, but there's a level of deprecating humor in this book that is lacking in other works by Gaiman.
One can catch snips of wit in any of his books. Any good book must include some humor: an author might as futilely try to excise pain or desire from life as humor. Gaiman has never placed any such artificial limits on his work; indeed, the only limits on his books are those he, himself cannot overcome.
Previously, his humor was only an occasional element, but there was apparently something in the writing of this particular book which finally allowed him to unleash his sense of the comic as a whole entity. The text swims and bobs with the ridiculous, the unfortunate, and the clever.
After reading 'Good Omens', written by Gaiman and Prachett, I was told that without Prachett, it would have retained none of the humor. I now begin to wonder whether if Pratchett added anything at all. Indeed, this work of Gaiman's overshadows that earlier work in both degrees and shades of the insightful and entertaining.
With the focus on Anansi and stories, the book provides an amusing analysis of storytelling itself, so that anyone who studies the nature and classification of tales will find certain asides and references particularly amusing. It is rare these days that an author will write a piece of fiction which explores on a subtextual level a concept or idea fundamental to the work itself. I have come to wish that more authors could gain the audacity that Gaiman found here.
There is a degree to which this story matches Gaiman's usual monomythic progression from naive outsider to coy insider, which at the outset was my greatest difficulty with the work. The inevitability and redundancy of this trope makes me wish for Gaiman's more eccentric and perverse moments. However, I found in the clever and skilled text a story worth experiencing, and one which matches or exceeds Gaiman's other attempts in the modern fantasy genre.
The story is not as epic or dire as Gaiman's tend to be, and without that there is a loss of urgency in the story. This is not really a deficiency, however, as the playful humor could not cohabitate comfortably with an ever-steepening plot curve.
The work fits into Gaiman's usual mode, exploring the myths and psychologies that most interest him. It may lose some of his fans in that it is less dark and brooding, less hopeless, but this could hardly be counted a loss. Any reader who wants more of the same can re-read his old works. the rest of us may appreciate seeing a master storyteller exploring his form in a new and engaging way.
Sometimes, I grow the silly delusion that I might have the potential to be a writer. As a curative, I read this, Lycidas, and Hours of Idleness; thenSometimes, I grow the silly delusion that I might have the potential to be a writer. As a curative, I read this, Lycidas, and Hours of Idleness; then I recall that not only am I not a writer, I am old....more
I'm hesitant here, as anyone self-important enough to commit suicide is likely too self-important to be a thoroughly enjoyable writer, but even greatI'm hesitant here, as anyone self-important enough to commit suicide is likely too self-important to be a thoroughly enjoyable writer, but even great cynics are sometimes impressed by the procession of reputation. Just a little bit....more
Alright, so he's an old bastard. I know. He was generally wrong-headed and entirely conceited. He's also hilarious and witty. I would that all those wAlright, so he's an old bastard. I know. He was generally wrong-headed and entirely conceited. He's also hilarious and witty. I would that all those who disagree with me could do so in such a pleasing fashion....more
This send up of religious institutions was so devestating that many religious leaders called for Lewis to be stoned to death for writing it. His bitinThis send up of religious institutions was so devestating that many religious leaders called for Lewis to be stoned to death for writing it. His biting, insightful, and humorous look at religious hypocrisy is as pertinant today as it was when it was first written.
The pure strength of Lewis's prose is refreshing after reading more recent authors. His control and understanding of syntax, grammar, and words maintains a strength and clarity of voice throughout the work. However, he does not sacrifice wit or levity for all his precision.
There are occasions when his passion overcomes him and his critiques fall a little heavy-handed, but these moments are rare and short. He never falls to the sort of surrogate lecturing that many 'political' authors do, and so does not risk boring or underestimating his reader.
He certainly never partakes in the more grievous sin of lecturing the audience as the narrator. Indeed, he rarely makes a point towards his own opinions without undermining it with a little hypocrisy or hubris on the character's part.
The absurdity of Voltaire's satire has nothing on the ridiculous yet believable world created by Lewis. Hyperbole is the haven of the idealist. Realism is more interested in engaging reason than inciting passion, and while Lewis's understated wit never insults his reader's intelligence, it still presents an unsettling and prescient view of power, ignorance, and the masses....more
Tried to start him at the beginning, as many of my dear friends love him. However, this book showed no particular charm nor skill of construction. ItTried to start him at the beginning, as many of my dear friends love him. However, this book showed no particular charm nor skill of construction. It is an early piece, so this unpractised work is to be expected. The jokes were more worthy of groans than guffaws, and I was left feeling rather let down, since he's been compared to the superlatively funny Douglas Adams.
After finding this one dull, a friend suggested I try one of his later books, so I started Moving Pictures, which was better crafted, but no more amusing. I guess you can't trust your friends.
I used to find these books endlessly fascinating as a child, especially the more odd and mystical elements. Of course, what I liked most was the frantI used to find these books endlessly fascinating as a child, especially the more odd and mystical elements. Of course, what I liked most was the frantic detail. There were entire stories laid out in these pictures, and no doubt they helped me to question how much meaning and action one could put into a single image.
In high school, I made a short series of my own called The Necro Files (ha ha, aren't sixteen year-olds funny?). It would feature a different odd locale (Atlantis, a circus) and then all of my different friends and acquaintances being killed by themed characters.
The theme of each character was the method by which they would inflict death upon you. There was pointed-stick man, decapitation man, and even spinal paralysis man. Some of them were even incidental or accidental killers (failed suicide attempt man was a favorite). Needless to say, I was glad to live in that brief period just after Columbine before such drawings would have had me expelled....more
At a dinner party, Wilde is supposed to have admired some other guest's bon mot, commenting "I wish I had said that" to which host and prominant paintAt a dinner party, Wilde is supposed to have admired some other guest's bon mot, commenting "I wish I had said that" to which host and prominant painter James McNeil Whistler replied: "You will Oscar, you will." Though often quoted as a great wit, Wilde was more imitator than innovator, which explains his praise of critics over artists.
No book better represents Wilde's social and economic reasons for this position than 'Dorian Gray'. Though he is writing a novel, Wilde maintains a disconnect between himself and the Artist and Thinker, adopting their form only, and leaving the content to those unclean laboring masses.
His style is polished, practiced, and endlessly indulgent, which tends to obscure his lack of depth. Like Bouguereau, his touch is impressive, but as magnificently realized as the gauze and tits are, they do not aspire to be anything more than gauze and tits.
It is the cleverness of Carlyle: idiomatic, intriguing, but ultimately faltering in ideas. It is clever despite the content. But while Carlyle's is wild, bizarre, and flawed, Wilde is merely undecided. He is not simply a product of an elite class which epitomizes form over function, he is a rarefied parody of it.
His aphorisms, quoted endlessly, are rampant in his style, providing punchlines in comedies like 'Earnest' and here, sarcastic indictments. Yet unraveling them is rarely fruitful, since their meaning is less interesting than their construction. He plays with the form and structure of language--the tacit agreements and expectations of conversants--producing wry surprise, but not insight.
When he is inappropriate, is is not to build a case for impropriety, but to shock for its own sake. Statements which might be profound or intriguing if taken to their conclusion are instead twisted, altered, undermined, and ridiculed until all direction is lost. Instead of a discussion of ideas, Wilde recreates the quotidian society talk which is couched in the language of ideas that have already come and gone.
It is mere conversation, stylized to the point of incomprehensibility. Like business jargon or rap slang, it is all posturing: the conveyance of simple ideas by culturally specific vernacular. Anyone conversant in the form understands the underlying meaning, while anyone unfamiliar with the style is quickly outed as inadequate.
While 'paradigm' and 'synergy' are real terms with specific meanings, these are only used properly by academic experts in theory; by the time they trickle down to Project Managers and HR Heads, they have ceased to represent economic and social thought, and have merely become markers. Wilde's language is similarly derived from a small, specialized class--his are painters, philosophers, and authors--but by the time it reaches the idle, it has traded its function for pretense.
The idle consumers of the arts adopt the language of the arts and then refine it. Since they are not artists themselves, they do not have firsthand knowledge of the skills and qualities involved ('The Turpentine Effect'). Instead, they become critics. They become generalized 'aesthetes', and create their own meaning for art. Artists value art in their own way, based in experience, skill, meaning, and place in tradition. Consumers create meaning based upon novelty, quantity, connections, and money.
This pattern is still evident today in Modern Art, where blank canvasses may sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars and the most technically skilled artists work for a pittance in advertising, which has taken over for the church (in more ways than one). Likewise, literary prizes go to popular bestsellers while writers respected within the writing community rarely get enough to pay living expenses and remain unlauded.
This power dynamic is clear enough in the book--creators are constantly undermined and belittled by consumers. Since the consumers control the financial and social survival of the artists, they feel justified in the belief that they are the real soul of art.
Lord Henry is able to talk circles around painter Basil, in what appears to be Basil's own language, but in fact is not. Basil is a painter, and as such must spend the majority of his time and energy honing his skill. Henry is under no such duress, and so is free to spend all of his time mastering a complex linguistic system based not around art, but power structures.
Like high school, 'nerds' rarely have social power, but this is not just a social deficiency on their part, it's because they spend their time in fundamentally different ways. Keeping up with appearances is a full-time act for popular children, and so those who care more about reading books or doing homework will simply be unable to keep up.
The artists must spend their time honing their craft, and so even if they have a deep understanding of art itself, will have difficulty in overcoming the social and monetary barriers the wealthy have erected. Basil concedes to Henry's points because they seem tightly-constructed and are built from a framework of artistic and intellectual terms. However, this does not make them cogent or meaningful.
Henry often contradicts himself when addressing (and brow-beating) Basil, but even when Basil brings up these contradictions, he is unable to paint Henry into a corner, because Henry feels no need to stick to anything he says. He has no ideas, no philosophy, merely a customary way of life and a complex series of interlocking self-justifications.
Basil is actually hindered by the fact that he has concrete, informed ideas about art (and the world), because this makes him predictable and centered in a discussion which, while superficially about art, is actually a continued reinforcement of social inequality. It mirrors the endless discourse between atheists and believers, where neither side can come to any agreement because one is discussing differences in ideas, and the other differences in terms.
In such occasions, neither side can win, unless of course, one side has the social and economic power on which the other is reliant. Dorian himself is another curious case, as he is valued for being, in himself, a representation of artistic ideals. He is a beautiful man, and so he needs not labor in paint and clay to be pertinent to art, he is the aesthetic focus.
He has monetary means, so he need not pursue Basil's knowledge-based value, and since he is beautiful, he does not need to constantly reassert his superiority, like Lord Henry. While he could simply subsist on his own beauty, he eventually spends his time becoming an elite collector: learning the market and finding the most rare items, and tacitly maintain his superiority over other consumers. They must support the value of consumption, as it is their own sole value, and hence must respect someone who has mastered the art of consumption itself.
Wilde's own knowledge of consumerism is evident in a divergent chapter on the history of excess, which outshines the rest of the book. While it has no conclusion, it indicates what Oscar might have become as an academic: a man who, like Rabelais, would have been capable of studying, collecting, and conceptualizing a part of history left mostly unrecorded by more academia.
But Wilde chose to concentrate on criticism, championing its superiority to the art on which it is based. Like Lord Henry, we can see that Wilde's empty aphorisms are not meaningless, but their meaning is social power, not thought. If he had recognized the economic dynamic which tied his characters into their roles, he might have created an insightful satire on the society in which he lived, instead of merely serving as an example of it.
He makes light of dowagers and artists and the poor, but this is all what we might expect, if Lord Henry is as much Wilde as we imagine. To make fun of those who are below you is simply a justification of the status quo and the silver spoon. Lord Henry also makes light of himself, but not in the same biting, constructed way. While his debates with Basil are meant to demonstrate who is most important in art, and his discussions with Dorian to point out his social naivete, Henry's self deprecation has no such ulterior dynamic.
He feels his position is tenuous enough that he bolsters it with clever speech and condescension, but not enough to comment on it or grow beyond it. In the end, Wilde is as uncomprehending as Henry, praising the critic because if the critic is not superior to the artist, then Wilde must keep his quipping mouth shut. Like Carlyle, he creating a clever structure to justify the luck of his birth, and like Carlyle, his technique is as overwhelming as his philosophy is brittle.
There is always give and take in art, philosophy, or science. No man is an island and inspiration and influence are not anathema. The Modernists have worshiped originality for a long time, but this is like Wilde's hollow rebellion: an attempt to disparage what has come before in order to hide the deficiencies of the present. The past casts a great shadow, but closing your eyes to it will not let you escape it. It is only by the light you cast that you may be set apart from the darkness.
That Wilde repeated is not his crime. Whistler's comment is not biting simply because Oscar cannot help reusing every clever thing he hears. What might have drawn Whistler's umbrage (as a painter) was that Wilde placed the idle, wealthy critic above the artist. He placed repetition above innovation. Wilde stood on the shoulders of giants in muddy boots, he used their own words to declare them inferior, and represented the value of paintings by their purchase price and the jealousy they drew from other consumers.
But the critic can be as great as the artist, because the critic can be an artist. Every book is both a refutation and an acknowledgment of what came before. Virgil is a critic of Homer, Milton is a critic of Virgil, and Eliot a critic of Milton. They each took what came before, reiterating some, abandoning else, and subverting the rest.
It is often the problem with critics that their works do not synthesize a new vision. For Wilde and the idle rich, it was often enough to tear down. The only flaw is that you cannot tear something down unless you have some fundamental philosophy to speak from. Wilde has little to offer in return but refinement and wit, which will serve well enough at dinner parties or farces, but are not sufficient for much else.
Wilde himself has said that he intended artists Basil to be how he sees himself, Lord Henry as how he is perceived by others, and Dorian as who he wishes he could be. And here, he is the artist, writing as Basil painted, out of a need to create, to prove himself, a need that never quite overcomes the artist's self-loathing and perfectionism. All throughout, he is beleaguered and harangued by his own domineering critic, whose supercilious, biting wit is the timid artist's mask, and whom the artist cannot defeat, even in the fantasy of his own work. The artist would like to play the lover, but the critic is determined to prove a villain.
Then there is Dorian, who is not the unconfident creator, dependent on an audience, nor the bitter cynic who masters art by paying for it (or refusing to). Dorian aspires to be the keeper of art, the academic who records its history and for whom value is the result of knowledge and research, of the sort Wilde demonstrates in his one-off chapter on the history of aesthetics.
But Wilde, or little Basil, will not aspire so high. Yet we can hardly sympathize, for Wilde at once recognizes his shortcomings (he is, perhaps, too aware of them), yet cannot prevent them from manifesting into the overbearing form of Lord Henry, the part Wilde played in life. He cannot stand to create, unselfconsciously, nor manage to elevate his criticism to an objective record of art.
It's hard to be sympathetic for the man who is just insightful enough to be humorously bitter, but denies himself from a whit more....more
I recall an Onion article just after the 2000 election jokingly talking about how Bush was going to reverse the clinton years and pick up where his faI recall an Onion article just after the 2000 election jokingly talking about how Bush was going to reverse the clinton years and pick up where his father left off. It talked about making tax refunds, starting a new war in Iraq, and running the economy down. It's rather frightening to think about it coming to the end of two terms. The world is a strange place; I'm surprised it's still here....more
This book does not stick so well in my memory in either a negative or positive way, but I think this comes from the book being a mixture of two thingsThis book does not stick so well in my memory in either a negative or positive way, but I think this comes from the book being a mixture of two things which I could not feel more differently about: allegory and satire.
The first I find to be as silly and pointless as Aesop or Passion Plays. Characters in an allegory are oversimplified symbols, and so cannot comment on the nature of actual human beings. The style is already so firmly affixed to cultural states and norms that it cannot really say anything beyond the dichotomous, and dualists are blinded by their egos.
I do love satire, but that is generally because of the wit and skill it takes to subvert and re-imagine. Unfortunately, once one has drawn so deeply on hyperbole in a work, it loses its ability to find that necessarily uncomfortable 'grey area'--that rift between assumption and observation.
Voltaire is witty and funny, but his condemnation and praise falls only on unrealistic absolutes, and hence becomes only political rather than philosophical. In this, he becomes in many ways Shakespeare's opposite; whose characters were so vaguely sketched that they could be held representative of many disparate identities.
It is too easy to force and distort arguments when the accepted givens are so strictly defined and counterpointed. This problem should be evident to anyone in America today who sees how opposition to ideas is transformed into meaninglessly pejorative identities. The temptation of thought-terminating cliches grows ever more in the face of such opposing forces as Voltaire presents.
No doubt much of Voltaire's popularity stems from the fact that he is so narrowly applicable and divisive. In this way he almost works like a philosopher since his ideas are so forcefully professed. However, unlike a philosopher he represents his opponents in a state of utter ridicule, he is less convincing than polarizing.
The other part of Voltaire's popularity comes from his empty century. The Seventeenth had Shakespeare and Milton. The Nineteenth showed the ridiculously fecund blossoming of the Romantics. The Eighteenth, however, has Fielding, Swift, Voltaire, and Pope. Fielding has escaped as wide a reading because his satire was more social than strictly political. Pope and Swift were likewise satirists, but of such a fanciful nature as to escape more simplistic and contentious forces. This leaves us with the more accessible Voltaire, who may be used to attack ideas, but not to build upon them....more
Beautiful and wonderful. Works of genius by a man who freed himself enough that he could give himself up to that genius instead of trying to make sureBeautiful and wonderful. Works of genius by a man who freed himself enough that he could give himself up to that genius instead of trying to make sure that it came out perfectly. As pleasing as his other works are, none I've read can match the joy, humor, simplicity, and odd truth of these.
Like children's literature should be, these stories never lose their humor or punch. Despite some redundancy with actual myths and some cases of artificially lowering complexity for children and hence growing transparent, eminently enjoyable....more