I don’t know if anyone else writing in the 16th century was as candid and self-involved and Montaigne was. Is there anyone else in the 1500s who would...moreI don’t know if anyone else writing in the 16th century was as candid and self-involved and Montaigne was. Is there anyone else in the 1500s who would say that he’d rather have intercourse with the Muses (and produce literature) than have intercourse with his wife (and produce children). Or, “I centre my affection almost entirely on myself, bestowing only very little on others.... The world always looks outward, I turn my gaze inward.”
I think that this intense interest in the self was a relatively new thing. Perhaps you could relate it to the overturning of the Ptolemaic universe, the translations of the Bible into vernacular languages (and thus more individuals reading it at home as opposed to having it interpreted for them at church), the increasing sense of the arbitrariness of social hierarchies, the overturning of astrology by astronomy, the sense that nothing’s good or bad but thinking makes it so, that we are cut off from foundational moral authority and hence left to our own devices. What came to be called existentialism is just Montaigne-like humanism in sexier (and gloomier) clothes.
I mean, look at the existentialism in this passage: “I cannot fix my subject. He is always restless, and reels with a natural inclination. I catch him here, as he is at the moment when I turn my attention to him. I do not portray his being; I portray his passage; not a passage from one age to another or ... from seven years to seven years, but from day to day, minute to minute.... Could my mind find a firm footing, I should not be making essays (trials), but coming to conclusions; it is, however, always in its apprenticeship and on trial.”
Most parents I know don’t read Montaigne out loud to their children and there’s good reason in that. In an early essay entitled “On the Power of the Imagination,” he discusses the imagination’s power over the nether regions or privates as they would say in the 16th century (and we still say now). Montaigne has a strange relationship with “this member” and is dismayed by the liberties it takes: “It intrudes tiresomely when we do not require it and fails us so annoyingly when we need it most.” He goes on to have a kind of dialogue with his member, this “noble client,” in which he scolds it for its rebellion. But then this member begins to speak back to Montaigne and points out that the rest of Montaigne’s self really doesn’t have control over other parts of his body either, and yet it is only he, this member, that is always blamed; at which point Montaigne is forced to concede that his penis is right.
In the midst of these stimulating thoughts, Montaigne approvingly reminds us of something Pythagoras’s daughter-in-law(!?) once said: “A woman should lay aside her modesty with her petticoat [archaic word for undergarments], and put it on again with the same.” Yes.
Montaigne would no doubt agree with Pascal’s “all of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” In the era in which European powers were just beginning to explore, exploit, and enslave other lands, there were those at home who were baffled and dismayed by these nations’ rapacity.
Montaigne’s judgment: “I very much fear that we shall have greatly hastened the decline and ruin of this other hemisphere by our contact….” He goes on to say that these peoples were “our” (Europeans’) superiors in terms of religious conduct, loyalty, and honest dealing.
Though his writings are riddled with classical (Roman) quotes and other literary authorities, Montaigne maintains a kind of blokish antiintellectualism: “Without lightness, I achieve nothing; application and over-serious effort confuse, depress, and weary my brain.” Or later, when he goes on about how much he values “pleasure, sport, and amusement,” and that he is “almost prepared to say that any other aim is ridiculous.” Or this: “In my youth I studied out of ostentation; a little later to gain wisdom; now for pleasure; but never for the sake of learning.”
He held that philosophers should always be happy and merry-making, schoolrooms should be strewn with leaves and flowers, and that it’s better for instructors to be too lax than too disciplined.
Montaigne is maybe at his best when he teases out the thoughts of ancient philosophers. In “On Physiognomy” he advocates a Spinoza-like focus on this life (as opposed to the idea of an afterlife). Aristotle said that philosophy was learning to die. But Montaigne retorts, “If you do not know how to die, never mind. Nature will give you full and adequate instruction on the spot.” Life should not be troubled by thoughts of death, for the “slow courage” that’s required when thinking about unknowable death is futile to cultivate. While we’re alive, knowing how to live should be the aim. Montaigne sounds very straightforward and rational here, but he's speaking against hundreds of years of philosophy and of course religion.
And there are some sublime passages in these essays, such as this one from “On Experience,” a truly beautiful expression of the literary life: “It is nothing but personal weakness that makes us content with what others, or we ourselves, have discovered in this hunt for knowledge; a man of great ability will not be satisfied with it. There is always room for someone to improve on us; indeed, for us to improve on ourselves; and there is always a different road to follow. There is no end to our investigations; our end is in the other world. It is a sign of failing powers or of weariness when the mind is content. No generous spirit stays within itself; it constantly aspires and rises above its own strength. It leaps beyond its attainments. If it does not advance, and push forward, if it does not strengthen itself, and struggle with itself, it is only half alive. Its pursuits have no bounds or rules; its food is wonder, search, and ambiguity.”
When you finish, you feel as if you’re parting from a friend. (less)
Mitchell too often describes things not for the sake of precision, artistry, or world-building, but rather for the sake of entertainment. Much of his...moreMitchell too often describes things not for the sake of precision, artistry, or world-building, but rather for the sake of entertainment. Much of his inventiveness and linguistic strength—and the guy can write like fiend—seems to be deployed for entertainment purposes. Similar to Tom Robbins in this regard. Robbins has some inventive metaphors and language, but none of it is to be taken as serious description of phenomena. You’ll notice that Mitchell’s mode is a constant slight exaggeration of reality. Nothing is kind of big but it’s brontosauran; a woman’s neck isn’t just graceful but gut-wrenchingly beautiful; an insane character will dutifully broadcast amusing off-the-cliff insanity every time he’s whisked on the page. Kind of like Dickens (strained comparisons will be a theme throughout this review). Like your standard "thriller" or other "page turner" (or so I've heard), he uses a plot device in N9D right out of Titillating Plots 101: Have two plot lines going (usually back-and-forth in a rigid pattern), and interrupt each plot line right before a particular built-up event is about to be resolved, filling the reader with suspense and making them wait twenty or so pages to “find out what happened.” For readers like me who never care about what happens, it’s just aggravating. The same strategy is used on TV relentlessly, of course: right before a commercial break you will be given a tantalizing plot-bit, stay tuned etc. Also I feel like the juxtaposition of the two plot lines in N9D is a little clichéd. The flashbacks are neat chunks, cleanly demarcated from the present-day-drab-world story line (in these bifurcated plots it’s often Eden on one side and humdrum monotony on the other). You’re either in one or the other; there isn’t any rich mingling of times such as you get with Proust, for example, in which one occurrence sets off an echo-reflection of another time, which in turn might avenue into another discursive branch of events altogether before meandering back. In Proust memory is integrated with the present, and vice versa; each creates/informs the other. Anyhow, I stopped reading this around page 100. I’m a little baffled by the extent to which this book annoyed me; I really got into Cloud Atlas. I think I’ve just had it up to here with fiction, or at least 99% of it. (less)
Parts of The Names read like a tract of linguistic idealism. One of the characters, Owen Brademas, (wh...more“A shaved head would do wonders for this group.”
Parts of The Names read like a tract of linguistic idealism. One of the characters, Owen Brademas, (who is obsessed with alphabets, the shape of words, and a cult that kills people based on their initials’ matching place names) posits that ancient structures were erected, tombs built, in order to have a place for the words. “The river of language is God,” he says, which is pretty close to Nietzsche’s “Without grammar, God is not possible” (or was it the other way around?).
Lurking throughout the book is the Wittgenstein-ish idea that there is no meaning behind words or events but just the speaking of the words themselves, an act itself. The same character referenced above wants to run the hadj (yes, how Western) in spite of the fact that he does not believe in God. Belief is irrelevant, it’s the act that counts etc. etc. I guess that’s pretty much standard existentialism, isn’t it.
More so than in any other Delillo novel, it doesn’t matter at all who is saying any given thing. There are a lot of different characters, and a fair amount of time is spent making clear who is who, yet each is wholly defined by the comments he/she makes over drinks. I think this was done purposely. Late in the book the narrator concludes that when people visit a sacred place, the main thing they have to offer is language. And this is for sure the most talk-ridden Delillo book.
"Americans choose strategy over principle every time and yet keep believing in their own innocence. . . . The Americans learned to live with the colonels very well. Investments flourished under the dictatorship." The usual story of the US stomping out democratic uprisings and supporting ruthless militants when it serves its interests (i.e., when the leader will do whatever the US wants).
So there’s some real prescient stuff on the way world hates the US. The narrator (to alleviate guilt?) talks of the US’s position in the world in mythic terms, with the US serving as a needed archetype for the rest of the world’s fears. The characters in The Names are risk analysts, investors, economists, actuaries, spies, operatives; aloof from the turmoil and grievances of the regions they’re involved in, they dabble in them and move on. They scout out places of political turmoil and violence to see if corporations’ investments are safe; they have interesting conversations over dinner. They hoard rugs for profit and talk about the interesting things that happened to them the last time they were in Tehran. Kind of repulsive.
But these people are offset by the borderline lunatics of the book: the narrator, James Axton, and Owen Brademas. In literature, as often in life, it’s best to support the lunatics. It’s clear Delillo does. These two concoct whole other narratives for the regions they visit, and while maintaining your usual Delilloan ironclad grip on clear thought they push their thinking to out-of-bounds places. There is the tendency to draw profound conclusions from pretty much anything phenomena throws at them. “Everything is connected.”
When Delillo’s name is on a book you can bet your ass the writing will often be astounding. Throughout, often when you don’t see it coming, the writing will reach a crazy pitch. Plus the structure of The Names is just weird. It makes you feel as if you’re not quite thinking about it the right way, and that if you did you’d see the book differently. (less)
This is basically a nonreview: like a restless nomad I would read several pages of one section and then find myself completely unable to go on, and th...moreThis is basically a nonreview: like a restless nomad I would read several pages of one section and then find myself completely unable to go on, and then I’d move to the next one. Same for the next chapter and the next.
Right from the beginning I knew I had already read too much of this type of writing to have much patience for it. Here’re the authors justifying the fact that they affixed their names to the books they write:
“Why have we kept our own names? Out of habit, purely out of habit. To make ourselves unrecognizable in turn. To render imperceptible, not ourselves, but what makes us act, feel, and think. To reach, not the point where one no longer says I, but the point where it is no longer of any importance whether one says I. We are no longer ourselves. We have been aided, inspired, multiplied.”
Sigh. How easy it is to date and place such writing: it could only be sixties-spawned poststructuralist theory. The way the book seeks to undermine “structured” or “phallocentric” (of course) thinking is humorlessly rigorous.
There’s one chapter comparing States to “chieftans,” and there is not one mention of any country and hardly any reference to a single specific example (references to “the Orient” don’t count). Such breezy abstractions are the antithesis of Foucault’s fine-grained analyses of actual social structures.
The main philosopher they rail against (and neatly simplify) is Plato, who was writing philosophy 2,400 years ago. Plato is like Satan to these theorists: Everything is his fault.
Like many theorists, the authors are at their worst when they turn their maniacal gaze onto fiction. But they can’t resist, they must say something. Here is a representative sentence concerning literature (they’re talking about Moby Dick and Kafka’s “Josephine the Singer”):
“It is always with the Anomalous that one enters into alliance to become-animal.” [SIC!]
This will sound brisk and simplistic (like most of this review, perhaps), but I really do think that theorists in general just don’t *get* fiction. They have no taste. (See, for a chilling example, anything Frederic Jameson has said about literature.)
I exclude Foucault, an insanely original thinker, from the above critical statements about theorists. (less)
A novel in which chronology is completely done away with. It got much better than I thought it would be after reading the first few sections. “Got bet...moreA novel in which chronology is completely done away with. It got much better than I thought it would be after reading the first few sections. “Got better” because the narrator of Amulet, Auxilio Lacoutre, is the most annoying character in all 700-odd pages of the Savage Detectives, and much of that capacity to aggravate got carried over to Amulet. For example, in one of the early chapters when talking about her ravenous hunger, she describes herself as being “the Unrepentant Glutton of the Southern Cone, or the Emily Dickinson of Bulimia.” Auxilio’s sophomoric cuteness goes hand-in-hand with the air of self-congratulation that riddles this novel.
So Auxilio is extremely self-involved and very proud of her role in this political drama. But then, many of Bolano’s characters take themselves too seriously. This is most obviously the case in Savage Detectives, but I think this is by design (you know, young poets, ideas of bohemia, etc.); this level of self-involvement is left far in the distance in 2666 (though my dark consort noted how solipsistic every character in Part I was). And Bolano, let’s face it, has a distasteful proclivity for self-dramatization, like in Savage Detectives when he has “Arturo Belano” (which, obviously cleanly equals Bolano) run around like a superhero saving peoples’ lives with berserk courage, while at the same time remaining cool and mysterious. Yes he is a superb writer, but nonetheless the corniness of such scenes is impossible to overlook. In Amulet, “Belano” again, who is Auxilio’s favorite young poet (surprise), cool-headedly prevails in a confrontation with a violent gangster in a scene that comes off as deeply cliché. The only reason given in the plot for the fact that the gangster did not demolish/demoralize Belano was that, Well, there’s just something special about this poet Belano. It’s so normal for this type of thing to happen to Main Characters that it might take a second to see how aesthetically offensive it is.
But all is forgiven. From the temporal vantage point of a women’s bathroom on a campus besieged by the military in 1968, Auxilio roams topsy-turvy through time; at times she remembers the future, or can tell what’s going to happen next in the past. It’s narrative completely unrestrained by the normal passage of time, with an ending that swells into a wild series of images using as its starting point a (fictitious?) final painting by Remedios Varo Uranga. (less)
This is a really good book for people who find reading Kant himself too abstruse to be worth it. The only full work I’ve read by him is the Prologemen...moreThis is a really good book for people who find reading Kant himself too abstruse to be worth it. The only full work I’ve read by him is the Prologemena to Any Future Metaphysics (which is a kind of primer for the Critique of Pure Reason) and I definitely did not understand large chunks of it. Sometimes these academics seem as baffled by what Kant’s trying to say as I am.
So this is a bunch of essays, all equally dense. Schneewind’s “Autonomy, obligation, and virtue” stands out for its utopian take on Kantian political philosophy (plus it’s near the end of the collection). He implies that the “perfect good” must “exist,” otherwise it’s irrational to strive towards something (good) that has no way of taking place in pure form. “The moral agent, knowing herself required to act in a way that makes sense only if certain ends can be achieved, finds herself simply taking it that the world must allow the possibility of success.” There are no details as to how this paroxysm could take place, but philosophy, according to Kant according to this essayist, helps by showing “that nothing can prove the attitude unwarranted.” So the fact that we have a sense of good at all means the perfect good must be possible! This is just straight-up Descartes, right? Academics in the humanities, pragmatic about so much else, can be strangely softheaded when it comes to the possibility of Utopia.
Maybe the following is kind of true about Kant:
Kant was critical of what was called rationalism in his day. He held that “reason” did not correspond to reality but that it was “merely a subjective law for the orderly management of our understanding. . . .” The transcendental analytic seems to mean that we are locked into the way we see the world.
Kant also seems to think that without relying on metaphysics or deductive reasoning, you are left with nothing to say about the world, no propositions with which to anchor experience: without metaphysics it’s just phenomenal anarchy.
Even though he disavowed the idea that there was a way to prove the existence of God, he did believe that the existence of God as a “substratum of possibility” was “a subjectively necessary hypothesis.” It seems that it was somewhat common for philosophers to think that positing the existence of a God-like figure was somehow “necessary.” Even Nietzsche conceded this on a certain level, I think.
Here’s a final Kantian quote to ponder:
“Art is a mode of representation which is intrinsically final.” (less)
Do not let the title mislead you: This is not light reading.
Aesthetic Theory is like an endless search for what exactly art is. Why do people bother m...moreDo not let the title mislead you: This is not light reading.
Aesthetic Theory is like an endless search for what exactly art is. Why do people bother making music, writing, painting. What is art trying to accomplish, why is it there at all. Art is the elusive main character that nearly four hundred pages of dense theory attempts to grasp.
On a grand level art, according to Adorno, is (1) against the world and polemical towards society (“by crystallizing itself as something unique to itself, rather than complying with existing social norms and qualifying as ‘socially useful,’ it [Art] criticizes society by merely existing, for which puritans of all stripes condemn it”); (2) inherently affirmative (positive), and (3) aloof from the “culture industry” and commoditization.
The culture industry, imbued in art hatred, is what contributes to the marketing and unnecessary aura and debris that surrounds the artwork. Like when you hear about a given Big-Name Author, a photo or a news story might come to mind or his charming demeanor in interviews instead of the actual text of his works. Or the glossy photos of authors on the backs of novels by NYC/London/Paris photography firms, which epitomize the culture industry Adorno despises. Adorno was extremely sensitive about consumerism. For him, it threatened everything. (“The marrow of experience has been sucked out; there is none, not even that apparently set at a remove from commerce, that has not been gnawed away.”) Part of this comes from being an immigrant and having to adjust to the garishness and product-mania of American culture, I think.
So big questions are addressed, like: Is art supposed to enjoyed? The answer is no. “The more artworks are understood, the less they are enjoyed.” Art is not just a fancy kind of amusement. The “enjoyment” Adorno is criticizing is the fixation on what do I get out of it or valuing art only insofar as it’s a good time.
“Whoever disappears into the artwork thereby gains dispensation from the impoverishment of a life that is always too little.” This seems to be a recurring motif in Western thought. Writing is there because of the inherently dissatisfying nature of existence. Or because the Golden Age is gone or Utopia has not come to being yet. (See the end of Eagleton’s Literary Theory for a perfect expression of such a utopist yearning: Eagleton states that if social conditions were able to reach a state that was mutually beneficial for everyone (Eagleton is thinking of a Marxist Paradise) he would be able to drop his pen and do something “more worthwhile” with his time. I can’t imagine what this “more worthwhile” thing might be). Existence alone should be enough—-but it’s not. Derrida’s Of Grammatology, which obsesses over Rousseau’s writings about writing covers this pathology to a maddening degree. Rousseau called writing the dangerous supplement. He was addicted to writing, even though he saw it as nothing more than a debased representation of speech, or a corruption of pure presence.
New paragraph. Though Adorno would never put it this way, art is also transcendental: “Art is the semblance of what is beyond death’s reach.” Real art gives you a glimpse beyond the prison of selfhood. “This experience is contrary to the weakening of the I that the culture industry manipulates.” So the culture industry (as anyone can see if you look at the ads in the train) continually encourages and reaffirms a celebration of Self with a deluge of imagery and text addressed at once directly to You, but also at everyone else at the same time. It is You who is lionized, and every I is encouraged to fixate on itself and its wants (yes, paradoxical that everyone’s uniqueness is appealed to, that the way to “express yourself” is to buy a product that millions of others will buy). Advertising encourages self-adoration and self-fixation, but though celebrated at every turn, it is a Self that is not self-sufficient or strong, it’s a Self that is dependent on their status symbols and image management to come to full fruition.
Adorno refers to this I, this debased self, as the “internal agent of repression.”
He also holds that the products of mainstream culture are shallower and more standardized than any of the actual people participating in the culture. That is, most of this art is beneath everyone.
Adorno says that any given artwork is on some level alien to itself, that there are aspects of the Novel for example that are contrary to the idea of the free artistic volition of the creator. He goes on to say that this “element of self-alieness” within an artwork is what is meant by the word genius as the word is understood in its pure form. This is genius not as a celebration of the creative subject, which Adorno was suspicious of, as he sees the emphasis placed on the creator behind the work as being a kind of PR mask used by those who want to sell the work (this is akin to Benjamin’s critique of Hollywood way back in the 40s: that it’s in the best interest of Hollywood that the focus be on the persona of the actors and not on the quality of the product). I think Adorno is saying that the objective work is no longer the author’s, or that it was never “owned” by the author in the first place. The pure concept of genius, according to Adorno, attempts to fuse the free individual with the grand authenticity of art. A true act of genius is out of the genius’s hands; the author is irrelevant once the work is accomplished, since the author’s genius has been dissolved into the work.
He then goes on to state that the word genius came into vogue in the late eighteenth century, and that at that time it had little to do with glorifying the artist. “Any individual could become a genius to the extent that he expressed himself unconventionally as nature. Genius was an attitude to reality, ‘ingenious doings,’ indeed almost a conviction or frame of mind.”
And finally, what good would a real theorist be if he didn’t take swipes at the bourgeoisie. Maybe you’ve wondered why music on the radio is so bad, why terrible movies repeatedly make so much money, etc. Adorno has an answer: “The bourgeois character tends to cling to what is inferior.”
“Art brings to light what is infantile in the ideal of being grown up.”
“Art today is scarcely conceivable except as a form of reaction that anticipates the apocalypse.”
“Artworks fall hopelessly mute before the question ‘What’s it for?’ and before the reproach that they are actually pointless.”
“Art, however, does not sink to the level of ideology....”
“Artworks exercise a practical effect, if they do so at all, not by haranguing but by the scarcely apprehensible transformation of consciousness.... Artworks correspond to the objective need for a transformation of consciousness that could become a transformation of reality.”
“Life would be possible without art, too.... In a society that has disaccustomed men and women from thinking beyond themselves, whatever surpasses the mere reproduction of their life and those things they have been drilled to believe they cannot get along without, is superfluous.”
“The perpetuation of existing society is incompatible with consciousness of itself, and art is punished for every trace of such consciousness. From this perspective as well, ideology—-false consciousness—-is socially necessary.”
“For art, ‘good enough’ is never good enough.”
“Art is the ever-broken promise of happiness.” (less)
I think The Cantos is a disaster. Maybe you could justify this mess by citing it as an early example of “found poetry” (i.e., large chunks of it is st...moreI think The Cantos is a disaster. Maybe you could justify this mess by citing it as an early example of “found poetry” (i.e., large chunks of it is stuff that Pound cribbed directly from primary sources, but he chopped the lines to make it look like poetry). I confess: I didn’t make it past Canto 28. There is some beautiful writing, but at a ratio of about three lines per five cantos. So it was difficult mathematically to justify carrying on in the face of this deluge of obscurantism.
There is something senile about its organization. Cantos-loving critics anxiously piece together some letters he wrote to so-and-so as evidence that The Cantos is “majestically” organized (it’s usually pretentiously explained like a math equation: AA = BB + CBC =AA, or something). And these private letters were written way before the whole poem was even close to being finished.
“Tin flash in the sun dazzle.” Excellent description of sun off water used in a couple of The Cantos, for example. Also check out Canto III (I think), which is a mind-bending description of the young Dionysius transforming a boat into a sea creature (or something, it’s been some months since I’ve read this; not 100% sure either that it’s Canto III but it’s somewhere near the beginning).
And some of the imagery, like in Canto II or XVI for example, is just stunning and might make some of you feel that reading through this thing (with an immense companion!) is actually worthwhile. (less)
At first I thought that maybe I was just sick of Bernhard. I’ve read all of the novels that preceded this one chronologically.
But then I went back and...moreAt first I thought that maybe I was just sick of Bernhard. I’ve read all of the novels that preceded this one chronologically.
But then I went back and opened up Correction, which I more and more think is his masterpiece, and was disabused of this idea. Correction is a haunting, poetic, relentless investigation of one guy’s outlandish obsession and artistic drive. It was this book and The Loser that inspired me to read all of Bernhard’s novels. The final pages of Correction contain some of the most exhilarating writing I’ve ever read.
So if you look at the chronology, you see that Bernhard first hits his mode (i.e., the uniparagraph swirling endless monologue) with his third novel The Lime Works followed by Correction. Both are highly absurdist and at times surreal. It’s followed by a few decent works that are somewhat more grounded. Then, there is The Loser, which could be seen as the best of the “grounded” works. Calling anything by Bernhard grounded only makes sense in context of his work as a whole, naturally.
I consider The Loser grounded because it’s image fiction, it’s based on an actual person (Glenn Gould) who existed in the world. It doesn’t have to do with something like a madman dedicating his life to building a cone for his sister to live in in the middle of a forest (Correction), or a maniac consumed with writing the ultimate treatise on the sense of hearing (The Lime Works: the main character in this one has the entire perfect work in his head but is incapable of writing a single sentence out of fear of disrupting this perfect work). Bernhard’s style works really well in such deranged mental landscapes.
I do not think it works as well in his book about a so-called so-called artistic dinner party (Woodcutters), or this book, which is about a tiresome old man who likes complaining about things and going to the museum every other day. In these books, the narrators’ and characters’ intellectual pretensions are immense but totally unfounded. These people seem to think they’re genius eccentrics, and yet they express themselves like blockheads. How many times can I read groups of sentences like this?:
“You may wonder why I asked you to come here again today. There is a reason. But I won’t tell you the reason until later. I do not know how to tell you the reason. I do not know. I think about it all the time and I do not know. I have been here for hours, thinking about it and I do not know. . . . I have been sitting here on the settee for hours, wondering how to tell you why I have asked you to come. . . .”
It would extremely charitable for any critic to call this musical, as critics often have when talking about Bernhard’s repetitions and reiterations. In these later satirical works, it just reads like something written by a person with a mental disability.
What strikes me is that Bernhard is probably the worst at actually writing of any of the writers I’ve ever gotten into. In his best works he’s a great writer, even if he’s not all that great at writing. Possibly something like this. And of course, perhaps it all reads better in German.(less)
Chekhov describes a character or a scene just enough to let the reader cleanly infer what’s being indicated. His descriptions are never overstated or...moreChekhov describes a character or a scene just enough to let the reader cleanly infer what’s being indicated. His descriptions are never overstated or garish; always subtle, wavering, whimsical, but precise. He lets his stories tell themselves somehow, getting out of the way when he should.
And the descriptions of these all-too-human people in mediocre villages in one-hundred-years ago Russia are so vivid that it all seems familiar and nostalgic.
Highlights! An uncharacteristically zany story about a fish falling in love with a woman and the difficulties of a trans-species relationship. Also, a series of three stories that work off each other and have the same characters. I’ve never run into this in any other Chekhov collection. The collection ends with a story so uncompromisingly dreary ("The Bishop") that it’s almost comic. The ending of "the Bishop" is similar in terms of despair-level to the ending of Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night ("the most depressing ending in modern literarture," pronounced Zizek, one of the few times a theorist managed to get something right about literature).
And it also includes some classic Chekhov stories of muted loss, failure, and quiet joy. So many of these stories have to do with provincial panic: the sense of being tucked in some remote village wasting your life away, never able to find a way to live the type of life you know you could, like a light under a bushel. (less)