sexta-feira, fevereiro 27, 1981

Hell on Earth: "One Hundred Years of Solitude" by by Gabriel García Márquez





(Original Review, 1981-02-27)



I love One Hundred Years of Solitude, in my top three books. When I first read it, it was quite confusing, with all the names the same - and so sad and funny. Not to skip ahead, but I still remember that none of it really made sense until I read the very last page - and then I understood everything in a kind of revelation - I'd never had that feeling before nor since with any other book, and that is why I think it has stuck with me all these years. Sometimes, if I see it in a book store, I just read the last page - but it's never the same.

The characters are trapped in their family history. Marquez frequently uses animal imagery or comparisons to characterise the humans as they are consumed by passion or vice of some kind - similar to a 14th Century view of the world that man is below the angels and above animals unless they give way to sin or vice of some kind. There is a kind of hell on earth feel to the book the more I think of this. The wheel of fortune is always turning and people will always fall from hope into despair. Progress often leads to ruin and the search for knowledge consumes. There's very little human contact other than the obvious! When Fernanda and Aureliano Segundo put Amaranta Ursula on the the train, they briefly touch which is unbearably poignant. People are lonely and wall themselves up away from others metaphorically and literally. There are lots of echoes of literature generally.

The lessons-to-be-learnt-by us-all were there all the way through the book and the magical element and humour kept the reader slightly apart and somewhat protected from the horrors of human behaviour. I loved the ending where it all came full circle and they weren't even looking out for the poor baby!

Here is an alternative view behind Garcia Marquez use of magic and surreal in his stories. His fiction is full of humour and warmth without skimming over the more unattractive aspects of human behaviour. He used humour AND fantasy as a tool or a means of looking at those aspects of life which are difficult to absorb or understand. Make no mistake, they are savage commentary on politics and human nature but without the humour and fantasy to lighten the touch they are almost impossible to absorb. To him fantasy and magic are simply a way of trying to explain the unexplainable, not everything in life has logic and solution or clarity. This is his message and he was brilliant at doing so as it also captures our imagination. He was deeply embedded in the Latin American culture where the unexplainable was often attributed to fanciful gods of nature. Much like the Greek classical myths with Hydras and Minatours and so on. If you read the texts in Spanish and understand the Latin American humour, amongst the horror they have comic moments which are very funny. A sort of "suicide bunny" black humour is very much there in the background. This is very typical Latin American. Just because it is magical and funny doesn't make it not serious in intent.

I accept that this is a world apart and from a different era and I think Marquez uses a different kind of language to report the unsettling which makes this startling. Although it's a grim book, it has a huge amount of humour in it. It's a roller coaster of a ride that is always startling and powerful. Perhaps, one needs to understand that the point of good literature is not to portray society as "what it assumes itself to be", but rather "what it actually is". So if some readers or reviewers are discomforted by reading a portrayal of the true nature of human societies, and on the basis of that discomfort, judge the author as "strange and magical"; they need to reserve their judgments till they attain full maturity.


quarta-feira, fevereiro 25, 1981

Hot Flushes and Palpitations: "Persuasion" by Jane Austen





(Original Review, 1981-02-25)



I think it's evident, once one steps back from an emotional response to the novel, that it would have benefited from some editing and expanding by Austen, had she lived.

I can see the flaws in it. It seems disjointed and overly episodic, and I think the excursion to Lyme is a bit forced into the narrative although I believe it’s essential to the novel. The trip to Lyme is essential: the flirtation between Wentworth and Louisa comes to a crash, he can see Anne's steadiness, and we can see her lack of romantic desperation—her grit in the teeth, not of poverty (bad enough), but of loneliness—… and it's all by the sea, place of both voyage and anchorage. On reflection I've found the Mrs. Smith episode slightly unbelievable as well - not in the sense that Anne wouldn't visit her now that she's fallen on hard times, but that she would so serendipitously know all about Anne's scheming suitor (a scene or two of Mrs. Smith, where she and Anne could have some interaction beyond her being an information booth, might've been flesh rather than padding.) Wentworth's letter to Anne, on the other hand. . . what a sublime piece of literature, all on its own; I have to admit also that I felt a bit of a hot flush myself on reading Wentworth's letter to Anne... If I'm in the right frame of mind, I can actually get palpitations reading it :-).

I think Austen herself found the ending problematic. She rewrote it at least once--originally, the concluding chapters were fewer and shorter, and the denouement was to have occurred when Anne and Wentworth accidentally end up alone together at her father's house, and explanations ensue. I think what we have now is at least better than that.

This theme of a love from the past that recurs over and over and over again in literature, especially from or set in this period, is completely alien to me. I accept that everyone's experience is individual, but I've never had an unrequited love and whenever I've met any of my partners from my youth, even the best ones, I've never felt much in the way of regret, let alone proclaimed: "they must be mine again!"

I do like the idea of two people who were "in love" having to come to terms with dealing with each other now. But I've never liked this (or any) of these pop culture memes that make teenage sensations the epitome of human existence and experience! Don't get me wrong, I like romance and I see how themes of escapism can be explored and how a dynamic contrast can be useful in a narrative, but still, find it so weird. It's pretty normal to think of missed opportunities in terms of second chances, not just in romance (in this, you confess to being unusually well-adjusted to your own past), but in education, business, friendship, family connections, and so on. In this case, it might seem a bit Hollywood, that the couple, well-matched when one is convinced to reject the other, are even more perfectly suited after he gets rich and she finds even lonely toil preferable to any other suitor. You sometimes see this criticism of Shakespeare's comedies: so much turmoil results, with a bit of happy accident, in the first day of a happy marriage. But that sense of 'comedy' is a vision of life, of fertility and regeneration, that coexists (for many) alongside the grime and sleaze and villainy that Shakespeare exults weirdly in, and that Austen shows menacing from first page (Sir Walter's stupid vanity) to nearly the last (William Elliot's… well, read it and see).

It's not that 'comedy', in the sense of romantic happy endings, is Hollywood, but rather, that 'Hollywood' is mutilation and degradation, a bastardization, of a human instinct for fecundity, even as tragedy is confrontation with the limits of health and strength.

It seemed that for the first half of the book not a lot happens other than people moving house, or "popping round for a chat." When Louisa abruptly jumps off the wall and lands on her noggin, the interest perked up a bit, particularly as she seemed to be dead - then it turned out she's just got a concussion. For me, it wasn't until Anne finds out the truth about her cousin from Mrs. Smith that the tension you describe really began for me - then the whole underlying tension between her and Wentworth really starts to go from simmering to boiling. 


terça-feira, fevereiro 24, 1981

Petty Judgementalism: "Anna Karenina" by Leo Tolstoy



(Original Review, 1981-02-24)


If you're not familiar with the The Orthodox Church's intricacies, don't bother reading the novel. It might also to understand the social context in which Anna Karenina is set, which Tolstoy doesn't explain because he was writing for fellow members of the Orthodox Church who would have understood the particular nuances. For Russian society at the time, an immoral act was one that offended all Creation and therefore God himself - it is quite common for Russian priests even now to admonish those confessing to serious sins by telling them that they are 'spitting in Christ's face'. Yet there are subtleties to Anna's predicament that are probably lost on Westerners: unlike the Roman Catholic Church, which forbids divorce for any reason, the Orthodox Church permits this where a marriage has irrevocably broken down, on the basis that it was never based on true love in the first place and thus null and void. So in the novel it is only Karenin's pride (which for the Orthodox is the greatest sin of all) that stands in the way of dissolving his tragically unhappy marriage. Anna's action challenges the hypocrisy of society and she brings down the anger of the hypocrites upon herself because she has the barefaced cheek to expect people to behave towards her as they did before her "fall" from grace. Her "friends", such as the poisonous Princess Betsy, desert her because she is an uncomfortable reminder of their own failings.

In fact, I'd go a little further and suggest that the absence of clearly defined mores has led to the proliferation of petty judgementalism infiltrating every aspect of life. It's like Jacques Lacan said about Dostoyevsky's famous quote, ('If God is dead, everything is permitted'), accurately turning it around to say "If God is dead, nothing is permitted." And so we all throw the first stone at one another...

The great Victorian judge and political philosopher James Fitzjames Stephen said that the main deterrent to crime is not the law, but public opinion. He was right. One of the reasons Arab countries have such a low crime rate is that a thief would be shunned by his family and wider community. The most judgmental people I know are self-described non-judgmentalists: they hate (straightforwardly) judgmental people, i.e. people with personalities, who don't have to cling on to PC BS in order to create a persona for themselves.

PS. Something I didn't know until recently was that Vronsky, like Levin, was based on Tolstoy's own experiences. He represented Tolstoy's own shallow, artificial lifestyle that he gave up and was ashamed of. Vronsky is mature, attractive and amoral. He sees nothing wrong with pursuing a married woman because society's hypocrisy allows for that, but he gets in deeper than he intended. Not the deepest of characters, but Vronsky's casting in this film was absolutely ridiculous.

sexta-feira, fevereiro 20, 1981

D'Arcy is a Toad: "Pride and Prejudice" by Jane Austen





(Original Review, 1981-02-20)



If Jane Austen had never become a novelist, what would have happened? What would have happened to the British? Have Jane Austen's works become an antidote to a harshness in the world? Are they a key to disarming totalitarian societies? To making the world decide to be happier and freer? People read Jane Austen's novels to be entertained, after all. The problem with the world today is that it does not really know how to entertain itself or fears doing so - even in this busy, time-aware technological age - and even in Western societies where the hubs of the world's light entertainment have been developed in the last one hundred and fifty years (with theatre and music hall and all that) (and their milieu) would be far poorer.

For me Austen is brilliant at conveying the restricted options that women of this period and class had (privileged as they were). Marriage was really the only decent "career" option to them; everything else (spinsterhood and governess) conferred real loser status. Austen, while seemingly amused at the shenanigans centered around the game and rituals of marriage, also managed to convey just how desperate the situation could be for women (and their families) reliant on a "good match" - particularly if they chose badly or acquired "reputations" that knocked them out of contention for a solid "settlement". For all the emphasis on marrying for love, such as that between Mr. Darcy and Lizzie B - there was a very mercenary eye towards the fortunes that Mr. Darcy brought to such a marriage - the economic reality of marriage was never far from Austen's (or her contemporary audience's-) mind. Why do women admire D'Arcy so much? He was at best a toad for most of the book. In fact, a cut n' shut, modeled on one bloke until just before he goes to London, and someone else after that. No wonder he reformed - it's someone else! Captain Wentworth now that is a man to admire, an exemplar of masculine virtue. Jane Austen had an exceptional understanding of women, but the young Austen knew very little about men.

For me, Austen reminds me of how little agency women of that time had - rather than making me nostalgic, it makes me grateful to be living in a time and society that allows far more options for women in how they can live their lives (as imperfect as they can often be).

I was also interested in the notes on the significance of the mourning clothing. Some years ago I read a book specifically dealing with the history of mourning costume in Europe. The conventions over the centuries are as complex as they are fascinating and elaborate. One snippet: in the 19th century, a widower marrying again within the mourning period, was expected to hold a "mourning wedding"; this included the requirement that the current bride wearing mourning for the previous wife for the duration of the mourning period's run (both in terms of the dress worn for the wedding), any wedding decorations were also expected to be appropriate to the period of mourning.

Total Bastards: "Catch-22" by Joseph Heller


(Original Review, 1981-02-20)



The most memorable part for me is Milo sitting in a tree. He passes Yossarian something and encourages him to taste it - it is disgusting. What is it? Chocolate covered cotton. He's bought up the entire Egyptian cotton crop and can't find a way to sell it on. Every time I come across some disgusting processed food in the supermarket I think of that scene. And the ending, when Yossarian finally leaves the camp and it suddenly collapses into a cruel and bitter world (a man beating a donkey?) - that has stayed with me. From the Opening Sentence to the brutal but inspiring finale. No book has ever made me laugh so hard yet the last third of this book is a constant assault on the senses with the death toll spiraling out of control. One of my favourite episodes, which so resonates with today's bureaucratic world, is when Doc Daneeka's name is falsely on the list of occupants on plane to keep his flying pay topped up. When the plane crashes killing all on board he disappears from the USAAF paperwork and has to live in the woods next to the base...Heller writes it better than I.

Keller was a visionary. Milo Minderbinder, General Dreedle, Scheisskopf, Wintergreen, Cathcart, Peckem - all total bastards, people who variants of which we have all had the misfortune of having to deal with in our lives and as always these people who end up the winners from the suffering of Yossarian and yet right at the end he gives you that bit of optimism, shows that if you don't give in if you can see through the system and figure out you don't have to be a part of it then maybe you have a chance of coming out on top.


[2018 EDIT: 1981, back row, solid geometry class, high-school, math book wide open, hidden from view paperback "Catch-22", big smile. What fond memories.]

segunda-feira, fevereiro 16, 1981

Hell-Fire: "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man" by James Joyce



(Original Review, 1981-02-16)



"April 27. Old father, old artificer, stand me now and ever in good stead."


In "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man" by James Joyce


How much I love/hate Joyce when I read about him...how could he have denied his mother on her deathbed? That act disturbed me - he did not even kneel when she died.I am not speaking of hypocrisy here just thinking of a young poseur who was thinking of himself above all - as you do at that age - especially if you are the ''favourite'. How much are the writings of Joyce autobiographical? Is the 'real 'Stephen Dedalus - AKA Joyce - a 'self-obsessed arsehole' - and did Joyce realise that about himself during his writing? As regards the Portrait Joyce changed the original title from Stephen Hero- why did he do that? When did Stephen stop being a Hero?

Read it again recently - skipped loads of 'the sermon because being brought up a Catholic have kind of heard it all before but have never been on a Retreat where apparently, in the olden days, you would receive the hell-fire message in spades. I found it interesting in the book that Stephen had to find an anonymous confessor to his 'sins'. He seemed too proud or ashamed to confess to a priest at the school who may have recognised his voice.

I think one of the best things I learned from The Portrait was how much Joyce loved his jovial, irascible Father. The last chapter in The Portrait seems a bit of a 'cop-out' with its diary entries...a bit rushed-but maybe that was all meant.The last entry is particularly poignant (vide quote above)

The bits that stick in my mind aside from the obvious passages (Hell Fire Sermon ) are the childhood passages, Dedalus remembering his uncles' tobacco smoke, listening to and trying to make sense of the adults arguing about current affairs as a bystander, the bewilderment of starting a new and strange school and trying to understand and navigate the adult rules and language of the constitution chimed with my own memories of childhood. The child is the father of the man, I think Joyce says we cannot shake off these experiences, they form who we are. You are always going to be an exile from them even if you leave physically and geographically.

domingo, fevereiro 15, 1981

Childhood Reading: "The Cay" by Theodore Taylor






(Original Review, 1981-02-15)




I have some sympathy with some people in the sense that it is disappointing to re-read a cherished childhood book and have these once-unquestioned prejudices jump off the page. Quite disconcerting. However, when we were ourselves children, it was water off a duck's back. We were reading for the story, not the attitudes.

Of course we do not want to perpetuate racism or stereotypes. But our history is our history. And sometimes we have to face it, even in forms that were once considered benign. Why the books were published in the first place and what this says about the prevailing society is a question worth asking, however. That discussion is what can make them pertinent.

I still vividly recall one favorite book with absolutely brilliant illustrations done by the author. In the era of my childhood, it was wonderful to read about the friendship between a white American kid and a black man. It was one of those battered-spine books even then. The stereotypes now so obvious to me were not on my screen when I was ten, mostly because I longed for adventures and a friend like that. It was a book that took me to another world. In other words, despite what I now see as cringe-worthy aspects of the story, the abiding lesson I drew in childhood was that friends come from unexpected places, from across cultures, and from across races. Not a bad place to start.

When I was ten I was blazing through Tolkien, Lewis, and Lloyd Alexander; for me they were not only stomping great stories. I also drew massive, permanent lessons from them about strength of character, perseverance, good and evil. In those old pre-Internet days at age ten I'd no idea that Tolkien and Lewis knew each other, no idea of any religious undertones or subtleties. When I re-read them now through my prism of a long life lived, I still thoroughly enjoy them while being much more aware. It's a different experience - that is not to say a negative one, but an additional one. Childhood reading is like hearing a great song for the very first time. It's free, exuberant, entirely unfettered. I too understand the dismay expressed by some modern readers.

terça-feira, fevereiro 10, 1981

Shakespeare's Excessiveness: "Moby-Dick" by Herman Melville





(Original Review, 1981-02-10)



This is a book that knows how excessive it is being.

It took me three times through it to realize that it's the greatest novel in the English language. Of course it has everything wrong with it: the digressions, the ludicrous attempt to out-Shakespeare Shakespeare, the prose through which a high wind blows perpetually, the fact that it's written almost entirely in superlatives . . . Never mind, it's overtopped by wave upon wave of genius, exuberant, explicative, mad in its quest to be about everything at once and to ring every bell in the English language. Yes it can be tough going sometimes, but here's an all-important hint: read this book aloud. Needless to say, it would never get across an editor's desk intact today. And today we're poorer for that. Something else: no one ever seems to mention how madly funny it is. It's vital to tune in to the humour, I think, if you are to enjoy reading it.

“The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym” is a good book, but doesn't quite rank with Poe's best work, and the "Scarlet Letter" has always seemed to me so narrowly provincial in its concerns that I've never been tempted to read it. But "Moby-Dick" is something else. Strange, digressive, sprawling, experimental, playful... it's a book that takes chances - and sometimes falls flat on its face: for example, not all the digressions work and, as someone already mentioned, the attempts at Shakespearean language are often laughable. But in the end, I think it has to be recognised as a monumental effort.

First encountered it at 19 as required reading and found the tale enjoyable but the digressions on whaling baffling and tedious. Some year’s later I am two-thirds of the way through re-reading it. It now seems as though the tale is the most minor and uninteresting part of it. The supposed digressions are the bulk of the work.

It is beyond marvellous. The language rings with echoes of the Bible and Shakespeare but the high style is mingled with prose of such simple directness that it barely feels like a 19th century novel at all. For me, what rises endlessly from the pages is a sense of joy and wonder - the sheer joy of being alive and experiencing each moment as something new, and the profound wonder of man in the face of a natural world he may come close to conquering but will never fully understand.

I still find myself struggling to get my head around what it all means and quite why it is so great. But great - immense, staggering, colossal - it surely is. A mighty work.

[2018 EDIT: "Moby-Dick" will be the equivalent of the Hogwarts Sorting Hat at the gates of Heaven. If you liked it, you'll go straight through the gates. If you didn't, well....]

As a side note, whilst “Moby Dick” remains his towering achievement, works such as "Bartleby the Scrivener", "Billy Budd & Pierre", or "The Ambiguities" are all remarkable in their own ways, whilst utterly different. Alongside "Bartleby", though, for me, Melville's other astonishing achievement is "Confidence Man" - a breathtakingly modern, or perhaps better, "post-modern" book, almost entirely without precursor. Imagine a literary "F is for Fake", & you begin to get a tiny hint of what Melville is up to. Of all writers, he seems to me to be the one who, standing at the very cusp of that moment when literary form is about to find itself cast in stone, is able to invent, it seems as if with every work, a wholly new literary form in & for each of his works. In every sense of the word, his writing & his works are excessive, just as Faulkner's Willbe, & those of Gaddis, &, to an extent, Pynchon. This "excessiveness" is, for sure, a predominantly American phenomenon.

Corny, not the Sublime: "Manfred" by Lord Byron



(Original Review, 1981-02-10)



It has been a long time since I read Manfred, and much longer since Paradise Lost, so maybe I am wrong. But Milton's Satan was first and foremost, I think, rebellious. Satan's will was his own, NOT God's, he was so to speak his own man. He could not regain Paradise because wherever he went, Hell went. Satan in Paradise is Satan still in Hell, "myself am Hell". This Satan might have BEEN Sublime, but by the 20th century he is no more than a literary symbol. Manfred was still able to be Satanic, but he too was first and foremost, a creature of his own will, and thereby alone and lonely. But despite all those crags and peaks, there is no Sublime left for him to be for us. And in us I include Dashiell Hammett. The Dark is no longer anything religious or based in any thing of the sort. There is no Devil or Satan, cosmically majestic being. Manfred was a metaphysical play, that could only be called paranormal today. Satan exists in media in all his ancient regalia, but we are talking genre fiction, Hollywood, and comic books, and he has to coexist with Aliens from deep space or buried under the ice, or from another dimension. The recent hero of comics, a movie, and now TV; some modern TV characters are really just Sam Space, a bit grungier and dealing with supernatural villains.

The great Romantic concepts of the Sublime, Poetry, Imagination, Dream, were all much diminished by Hammett's time and have done nothing but lose steam since then. If Hammett had made Sam Spade into a Manfred we would only see the Corny, not the Sublime.

sexta-feira, fevereiro 06, 1981

Juxtaposing of Characters: "Agnes Grey" by Anne Brontë





(Original Review, 1981-02-06)



I read "Agnes Grey" after a visit to the Mosteiros dos Jerónimos, supposing I ought to try the lesser known sister after reading so much of Charlotte's work and of course “Wuthering Heights.” What a wonderful surprise. Anne had me at "...she would rather live in a cottage with Richard Grey than in a palace with any other man in the world." It's a beautiful novel and undeservedly overlooked. The tone is on the surface much less dark, but Anne pulls no punches about women's oppression and the appalling behaviour of the 'noble' families she had the misfortune to encounter in her time as a governess. The dialogue reminds me of Jane Austen in places, exchanges that are gently witty and scathing. Mr. Weston is something of an unassuming romantic interest, but coming to the novel as an adult I rather more appreciate Anne's quietly decent men than the Byronic sociopaths her sisters were obsessed with. For me the novel is more about women. Agnes' relationship with her mother is genuinely touching, imbued with Anne's longing for her own. The final meeting between Agnes and Rosalie juxtaposing their characters and fates, now firmly fixed, is haunting stuff. Anne's heroines are not defined by the men they love, but by their own convictions and resources - how refreshing even in 1981!

quinta-feira, fevereiro 05, 1981

Anti-Sublime: "The Maltese Falcon" by Dashiell Hammett





(Original Review, 1981-02-05)



For me there is an outer level of “The Maltese Falcon,” a mystery story, then an inner layer of the accelerated, psychologically intensified 5 days of the Falcon, and then within that the noir love story of Sam and Brigid, and this idea of the parable just seemed to add a strange and unexpected inner layer to the Sam and Brigid story, one of precisely the old medieval 'mystery' of sin and redemption. And just as Hammett gave us Satan, he gave us plenty of medievalism too in the story of “The Maltese Falcon” and the Knights Templar (themselves accused of Satanism), and he gave us the Levant connection. I don't have this all packaged together but I think there is at least a case to be explored if not made. I have been calling him a dark knight all the while and said earlier that Sam is more than willing to fight fire with hellfire and that too makes him 'satanic' in a much reduced sense, in that unlike the traditional heroes, the white knights, he fights dirty against dirty fighters. We have seen how much people are willing to condemn him for it in comments here and elsewhere. It is though, perhaps part of a bigger picture.

The noir sublime, it is a great idea, I just don't know that it is possible. We live in the times we live in and there is little of the old aesthetic of the sublime. If we get any sublime today it tends to be from deep space, or undersea, photography or pondering quantum paradoxes. Our noir is not the old Dark Romantic, it is noir. But the power of blackness is not the old power of dread and terror from Beyond or Above, its entirely post Nietzschean and is, as I said above, human, all too human, and that means sordid. Man is the measure of all things, and it is not a very big measuring stick. Hammett, I am sure had no illusions about that, but the satanic is still with us, it is just within us and all around us. It is us.
I don't know whether there is really any vital literary character in the 21st century who can carry the banner of the dark hero, although the media is full of them, but I do think Sam Spade could and maybe did. Anyway if you do think about it and come up with something please post it.

And Sam Spade has also in some manner a certain grandeur, he is larger than life, a more powerful being than the rest of us. Marlowe, not so much. Marlowe is the eternal underdog who somehow wins, Spade the eternal top dog who is a sure bet to win. Satan was God's underdog, but never ours. After a time at a big agency, learning his trade, Spade would HAVE to have his own shop, be his own man, Marlowe could have his because of Spade creating the model. Being his own "man" is the entire essence of being Satan in literature, if not religion.

There is NO sublime in “The Maltese Falcon”, it is more anti-sublime and deliberately so. This Satan has to get up and go to work in the morning having none of the powers of Milton's Satan, since no one could believe in such sublimity in 1928. It's hardboiled. Implicitly Sam has made a moral choice, he is on the side of the law, not a criminal, and you have to believe he would be a very good criminal if he chose to be so, and he has that choice. Sam sets out to do, and does, something very noble that tends to get lost in crime fiction, and he does it on his own, not hired, or consulted. He sets out to solve a murder and bring the killers to Justice. That seems to me to be noble and heroic (since it involves considerable risk to himself). It is his will to do it.

It is impossible today to be one's own angel, but one can be one's own machine. That is the essence of the Satanic NOT being the bad guy, unless you are religious and believe the Christian version. Imagine Satan as not being the corrupted being of religion and media, but a being who insists to be his own master. I believe that is why Milton's Satan captivated the imagination of romantic poets that:

Hazlitt named Satan as “the most heroic subject that ever was chosen for a poem” ... A year later, Percy Shelley maintained that Satan is the moral superior to Milton’s tyrannical God, and why Milton sided, however unconsciously with Satan. It is the uncoupling of Satan from sin and evil, and his role as an agent of free individual will that makes Satan heroic. And THAT is possibly the widest possible sense of right and wrong there is, that and being your own master, to do what is right. Sam does what is right. And Satan is sublime because he opposes omnipotent power, Sam no.
“The Maltese Falcon” has been called a proto existential novel and he is an absurd man, because in a nihilistic universe, without right and wrong for him to be aware of, he is yet a hero and chooses not to do wrong and yet to do his own will.

quarta-feira, fevereiro 04, 1981

Plinky Plonky: "The Tenant of Wildfell Hall" by Anne Brontë





(Original Review, 1981-02-04)


“The Tenant of Wildfell Hall” has received a lot of scholarly attention more recently, it has various depths beyond the exploration of domestic violence. She was partly not appreciated because her sister openly and strongly disagreed with the subject matter of the novel and prevented republication after Anne's death which left the novel behind somewhat.

Anne's work tends much more towards social realism than Charlotte or Emily, which also possibly turned Charlotte (a critic of Austen) against the novel. Everyone has their own opinion, I would personally say that it's not a 'how-to guide to perfect relationships' at all, it explores numerous topics such as class structure, art, hunting, religious hypocrisy etc., and the use of the diary form is clever in presenting the issues within upper class domestic spheres.

Having said that, I just don't get it. I think without Emily and Charlotte, Anne wouldn't be read at all now. I find her characters one-sided and little more than stand-ins for positions in Victorian morality. Helen is good because she loves God and self-sacrifices. The alcoholic one obviously drinks himself to death. Whenever he came into the story I imagined a plinky plonky piano playing over a sepia silent film with captions about the evils of drink; Helen and her hideous drippy religious friends swooning in the background. I just don't get how you can compare that to the anguish and drama of "Wuthering Heights" or any of the Charlotte novels.



domingo, fevereiro 01, 1981

Dark Romance: "The Power of Blackness: Hawthorne, Poe, Melville" by Harry Levin





(Original Review, 1981-02-01)



Harry Levin wrote a book called “The Power of Blackness” about Poe, Hawthorne, and Melville, the classic trio of Dark Romance, and there is no doubt Blackness and Night haunt the human imagination and generate oneiric phantasms to boot. In the French cultural scene although surrealism was losing steam, it was still a powerful force and it did emphasize the oneiric, and Borde and Chaumeton were very interested in the grotesque, bizarre, and oneiric per se. I tend to agree with them in one sense, especially if we take Noir to be the latest incarnation of a long, long dark tradition of literature (and film, etc.) and apply it backwards. I am not aware offhand of any such overarching grouping of literature but I think it is a possible overarching category that would include a vast variety of literature from the Iliad, through Greek tragedy, lots of folk literature or things like Beowulf and on through Gothic and Dark Romance and up to our present noir.

Hammett makes it hardboiled and realistic, but I think that it has a hidden 'oneiric' psychological dimension in that those 5 days I think Sam was in a virtual state of altered consciousness. Which I’ve written about elsewhere. Perhaps such extreme states, including dreams are also the sublime. I had not really thought of that, but it is worth thinking more about, in the context of “The Maltese Falcon,” just how much of an (ironically) 'oneiric' novel this hardboiled novel really is. For me the psychologically extremism of “The Maltese Falcon” actually manifests itself in the intensity and unity of the prose made possible by it being hidden. I mean that Sam's altered state of consciousness is hidden from the reader but it works to intensify he events and with Hammett’s absolute mastery of rhythmic prose it has enormous impact on the reader, or this reader anyway. It is a pressure cooker. Poe gets a similar intensity of effect with Roderick Usher, but there it is not hidden and is compressed into a short story, where Hammett succeeds in stretching it out over a whole novel. Hammett counterpoints the hidden quality by constantly giving it away with Sam's facial expressions, gestures, and especially his eyes, and he certainly brings up dreaminess there. I would have to think some more about this 'sublime' of dream and extreme psychic states but it certainly dovetails with NIGHTmares.
That fake scene was great, but I don't think I could call it sublime. Huston was absolutely right to use the 'such stuff as dreams are made of' line, but Hammett was even more right to not point out this kind of moral to the story. Reminded me a bit of the finale of Vathek, now THAT was sublime.