20 September 2004, 05:25 AMh.rousseau
Another post from the new guy. Listing only books I'm actually reading now --- usually have 6 or 7 going at a time ---
An American Tragedy --- Theodore Dreiser --- more than halfway through --- I like Dreiser's reduction of all motive to self-seeking and calculation --- a continual bracing assault on what I take to be the Victorian sentiment that surrounded him in his early days.
A Graveyard for Lunatics --- first reading. Will judge later. Not far along enough.
First in His Class --- the Peter Maraniss biography of Bill Clinton. Impressively researched, though perhaps more so in its earlier parts.
Boy Life on the Prairie --- Hamlin Garland --- one of Garland's several takes on autobiography, this one in thin disguise. Informative, an interesting read if you're curious about premodern or rural lifestyles.
These Are My Rivers --- Lawrence Ferlinghetti --- a gift from a hipster acquaintance in exchange for my giving him 3 Wonder Wart Hog panels, mounted. Ferlinghetti is best when he makes sense.
An American Childhood --- Anne Tyler --- some really hot writing, otherwise, always graceful and competent. I recommend.
The Adams-Jefferson Letters --- just browsing so far.
Any other Wonder Wart Hog fans out there?
To Gothic: I'll have to check into M. R. James . . . one day . . . your recommendations are sufficiently intriguing.
21 September 2004, 05:36 AMh.rousseau
Salaam & muchas gracias, grasstains. Your question takes me way, way back and makes me dangerously loquacious.
In the 7th and 8th grade the 'bookmobile' came around to our little parochial school, and I began taking out titles. After shopping through a number of juveniles --- best remembered: Tove Janssen's Moomins --- I waded into SF and found that there were a number of people who didn't think The Way It Was Now was immutable, or inevitable, or even desirable. SF created other plausible or implausible realities and set them next to Here 'n' Now for comparison. Whee! The ride was exciting.
This was not really juvenile material. The adults who made & remade the genre had the advantage of being fully formed adult personalities, with considerable and varied life experiences, but they were impatient with the limits of conventional fiction: big ideas whirled through their heads. They did not want to be chained to the caterpillarish depiction of a dismal reality, as were the realists from Flaubert to O'Hara (names I did not then know). These guys wanted to bust out. They wanted to tromp down on the accelerator.
I began to pick out the short-story anthologies, and in one --- the 'Star' series #1 --- I ran into "A Scent of Sarsasparilla." It was immediately plain that this guy, whoever he was, was coming from a different realm than the rest --- something was moving & speaking through him that had a finesse and a humanity and a higher level of excellence than any of these other guys --- it was so finely seasoned, it was as if an unseen chef were sprinkling on layer after layer of his mystery herbs, yet it was never "too much". I said: I want to read more of this. The other writers whom I liked rolled up their sleeves and went at it in a workmanlike fashion, and I could dig that, but this Bradbury fellow had something else going on.
The next story I encountered was "The End of the Beginning" in another anthology. Too good! Lazy ease, deep sweet sadness, and reality as seen from another room. He was playing that magic music and I was dancing to his tune again. It was a friendly form of seduction. I was ready for more.
Then, "The Playground." Oh . . . !
Then, "Pillar of Fire" made me his forever.
This would be the right place to stop, but I have to go on. I was scanning the paperback racks wherever I went for books with spiral galaxies and starscapes on their covers. In the hotel lobby, with its odors of dried spit and tobacco --- the old men who sat all day in the deep chairs still pinged or dribbled in the spittoons --- their canes and newspapers always close at hand --- in the dark, echoing vault, almost churchlike, with its tiled floor and potted palms and deeply suspicious desk clerk always watching me --- in its paperback rack I found 'The Golden Apples of the Sun' with its intricate/grotesque Joe Mugnani cover, and it had The Name Ray Bradbury on it, and I said, Oh boy, I HAVE TO BUY THIS. And that was the best place to take a big bite of the Bradbury pie, because those stories were perfect every one.
Stop me before I write all night . . .
21 September 2004, 10:40 PMTranslator
I appreciate your reticence to change things from what they are.
---Some change is good, but not in art. Art is art, and as such is untouchable.
Believe me, I've seen Shakespeare absolutely trashed.
---I believe you. I';ve just seen McBeth with tickets around 35 per person. It was horrible.
On the other hand the thing that makes Shakespeare possibly the single greatest artist in history to this point is that his work moves and changes with the times.
---Rather, the times are changing, but the themes and issues he wrote about are timeless.
Our current conversation is a case in point. The fact is that it's hard to know exactly what Shakespeare thought about race, religion, or many of the "big" themes.
---I don;t think it's very hard to approximate his thoughts. I'm usually wary of unnatural interpretations of his texts, though.
And I'm not sure it matters. Do I think Shakespeare probably had specific ideas about race? You bet I do. But you disagree and this discussion has centered primarily on one play with which both of us make our arguments.
---True, it had. But it was an important play, I think, and centering on it was the right thing to do.
This is more important to me than his specific attitudes on race. I'm a playwright myself and I don't take different takes lightly and I think I can explore what I want to explore with this play if I approach it with intelligence and integrity.
---You sure can. I've recently watched Romeo and Juliet done in current times (with Di Caprio and others), and I thought the whole thing was rather ok. It's just that if you change one little part, and still present it as Shakespeare unadultered, that I think some problems might arise. But then again, you probably would have made sure that nobody thinks that they're seeing an original Othello, which absolves you compleately.
I think this is how and why Shakespeare stays alive for us today. Cuz right now everything is changing faster than it ever has before and he stays abreast of it because different people can look at his work and have it speak to them in a different way and find something unique that they want to say.
---The beauty of well-said phrases and ideas is that even if people are from different backgrounds they may still see a commonality in them. I think that's exaclty what's happening here.
It's patently obvious that Shakespeare was sexist, and he's consistently harangued by feminists and actresses for his lack of female roles. On the other hand I don't know any actress of any race who wouldn't like a shot at Juliet, Rosalind, Cleopatra or Lady Macbeth.
---I'd think there were plenty of women in Shakespeare, though, of course, they were usually relegated to secondary roles. Sexism depend on our definiton of the world, of course, and I don;t really know whether we really want to get into this topic after tackling racis and some anti-semitism...
And plays like ANTHONY AND CLEOPATRA, TWELFTH NIGHT, THE TAMING OF THE SHREW, A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM, MEASURE FOR MEASURE and AS YOU LIKE IT all offer ample opportunity to explore issues of sexual politics.
---Yes they do. Lovely plays, all of them. I especially liked Measure for Measure. But I loved them all.
They do not offer opportunities to argue any one point of view definitively.
---They don't, I agree.
Though, again, guessing what Shakespeare "probably" thought is fairly easy. Kate is nothing short of "tamed" in TAMING. Hippolyta is conquered by force and falls in love with her conqueror, Titania is upbraided and taunted at Oberon's pleasure before she gives up her nurse's child, etc.
---That's the problem with literary thories - I can be a universal sceptic and simply deny the most rational of analysis of Shakespeare. Which is why, at some point, literary theory simply bothers me.
There's way too many times when Shakespeare compares Blackness to ugliness or savagery to make me think that anything but negative connotations came into his head when he thought about Black people.
---Once again, the colour black was a negative, but I don;t think it came from the colour of the black man's skin. Then again, I'm sure that some historians have linked the two together, which means that this might be a case where we both are right - and unless we're in Shakespear's head and find out whether he wrote about the colour black because he hates black people, or whether it's because of the connotation attached to the word, we'll never know.
Certainly white people act brutally toward each other but there's also numerous examples of them acting nobly, romantically, wittily, honorably, so on and so forth.
---Othello acted quite honourably the whole play through...
The only two expressly Black characters in the entire Shakespeare canon a)are involved in disastrous relationships with white women, b)are murderers or become murderers and c)are sacrificed at the end to restore the natural order.
---Human folly was the culprit, not the colour of the skin , I think...
But again, if I were to produce either of the plays in question it would be with an eye to what I want to say in this day and time and actually I feel that is most honored by honoring the text.
---Hey, interpretations of plays are ok, as long as it's not "Othello" but "Othello +" that will be advertised...
As for Conrad, I don't know, man, you're eloquent but not entirely convincing. Don't get me wrong I'll go back and look at some of the stuff I have but I tend to think that Conrad's racism was similar to Abraham Lincoln's. Slavery was wrong -- because it was wrong -- but not because Lincoln thought Black people were equals as human beings.
---no reason why we can't disagree.
Conrad recognized the viciousness in what he was witnessing but not the inherent humanity of the victims.
---I think the opposite, but, again, at this stage it's impossible for us to come up with a uniform thought unless we actually go through the novel together word by word. So we could disagree, and I would be perfectly fine with that.
And I would argue that "savage" always has a negative connotation because it's natural opposite is "civilized". Therefore if one is a savage than he is not a member of civilization and this is what I mean.
---Unless one hates the current civlisation, and longs for the simplicity "tribe" like sort of societal organization found in the old ages and "unwhitened" lands.
Africans are and were civilized. Certainly there civilizations looked different than Western civilizations (for example they were generally operated under the principle of adapting the people to the environment whereas Western culture adapts the environment to the people) but that makes it no less valid. This is what Conrad did not recognize and this is what makes his racial attitudes questionable.
---I think he did. Remeber Brave New World, and the "Savage" who hangs himself? Compared to others, he was a savage, but he was more civilised to us than the civilised Bernard. This here touches on the specific ideas held by Conrad with respect to civlisation, savegry, natives, and what they mean to him.
His moral ambivalence and questioning are admirable and his ability to express the torment of his soul and the soul of his people is high art but for me it doesn't change who I think he was. It does change how I, as a twenty first century man of color, approach his work and that is with a willingness to hear what he has to say and to be expanded by it.
---I'm glad to hear that apparent racial barriers don't stop you from learning what others have to say about the world. Believe me when I say that I'm very tolerant of other nations, however, it ticks me off imenseley when I hear blacks or other peoples bashing the "racists" out there, and everything they say, based on the single race issue.
Interestingly, I am even now working on A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM and two thirds of the cast is from Viet Nam and say their lines in Viet Namese.
---That sounds cool. I wonder how old english translates to Vietnamese.
---If I was kurt in this post (inside joke which you got, I hope), it's because I'm quite sick, and I'm barely conscious. I'll get better soon, I hope.
18 October 2004, 01:47 PMklingwench
It's such a joy to know so many people are into books! I'm divorced now, but the only two books I ever saw at my in-laws' house were (1) Mr. Boston Bartending Guide; and (2) Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex and Were Afraid to Ask.
I must have 40 books piled up that I haven't read yet--mostly sci-fi or mystery. Book clubs are a dangerous thing!
Favorite authors are Jeffrey Deaver (wicked!), Dan Brown, Dean Koontz, Stephen King, Patricia Cornwell, Sidney Sheldon, Iris Johansen, just about any sci-fi or fantasy writer except Ursula LeGuin--she just doesn't grab me. At present, I'm reading a Ray Bradbury anthology of 100 stories--weighs a ton at nearly 900 pages, but I'm sooooo enjoying it! God bless ya, Mr. Bradbury, for giving us so much to enjoy...