Thursday, September 30, 2010

Silence and Slow Time: Studies in Musical NarrativeSilence and Slow Time:
Studies in Musical Narrative


by Martin Boykan


For much of the twentieth century, the musical world seemed divided between Schoenberg and Stravinsky. It was a neat pairing: the German versus the Franco-Russian, the presumed Dionysian versus the presumed Apollonian, and it continued a tradition that pitted Gluck against Piccini, Wagner against Brahms (or Verdi). At one point Stravinsky himself took note of the pairing and compared it to the old argument between Tolstoyans and Dostoyevskians, wickedly adding that he was a Dostoyevskian (though it must be said that at that time he had already become a serial composer). (p 129)



Beginning with an essay on the lied this volume studies the nature of musical narrative. Musical analysis and time in music are also themes in the essays in this illuminating volume that suggests ways of thinking about music that is true to the nature of performance. While the book explores musical examples from a wide range of Western music the chapters devoted to twentieth century music proved most helpful and interesting. The exploration of the Schoenberg Trio and discussions of Stravinsky, Webern and twelve-tone theory are incisive. Both the importance of narrative in music and the interrelations of time and music and its impact on those passionate about serious music are given a thoughtful presentation in this valuable volume.


Silence and Slow Time by Martin Boykan. Scarecrow Press, Oxford, UK. 2004.



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The Brothers Karamazov


He was sentimental. He was wicked and sentimental. (I, 4,p 25)




What makes a book a classic? There are those volumes which have withstood the test of time; Homer's epics, Shakespeare's plays, and Milton's poetry come to mind. Then there are those books which as one reads and rereads them grow richer, remain fresh and yield new discoveries with each rereading. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky is one of these books. As his ultimate novel, capping a successful (in retrospect if not immediately upon publication) run of novels that included The Demons, Crime and Punishment and The Idiot; all of which might be considered precursors to some extent for his final novel. The Brothers Karamazov was not intended as a final novel as it was a planned first volume of at least a two volume narrative of the life of young Aloysha Karamazov.

As I begin another rereading of this great work I am focused above all on questions that arise from my reading. Yes, there are still questions to be resolved or at least considered even after several readings of the book. One thinks of the famous comment that In Search of Lost Time by Marcel Proust was written to be reread. What does it mean to act in the world? In the first part, Book One, the reader is introduced to most of the main characters including Fyodor Karamazov and three of his four sons, Dimitri, Ivan and Aloysha. We have already been told that the youngest, Aloysha, will be the unorthodox hero of the book in the Narrator's introduction. What are the relationships between each of the sons and their father? Brief biographies of each of the family members provide the first clues to the character of each and suggest tensions that will be explored as the novel develops. This beginning is one that befits that massive, almost eight hundred page novel that will follow. And it is a beginning that suggests if we pay attention to the action and the details that follow, despite the narrator's claimed ignorance as noted in Chapter three when he comments on the return home of Ivan, the middle son:

This so-fateful arrival which was the start of so many consequences, long afterwards remained almost always unclear to me. Generally considered, it was strange that so learned , so proud, and seemingly so prudent a young man should suddenly appear in such a scandalous house, before such a father, who had ignored him all his life . . . (I, 3,p 17)

The so many consequences and more questions, if not more answers, will have to be left aside for consideration on another day.


The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky. Everyman's Library Edition. 1992 (1881)


Sunday, September 26, 2010

Crossing to Safety
Crossing to Safety


by Wallace Stegner


"There it was, there it is, the place where during the best time of our lives friendship had its home and happiness its headquarters."


Crossing to Safety is a meditation on the idealism and spirit of youth, when the world is full of promise, and on the blows and compromises life inevitably inflicts. Two couples meet during the Depression years in Madison, Wis., and become devoted friends despite differences in upbringing and social status. Hard work, hope and the will to succeed as a writer motivate the penurious narrator Larry Morgan (this seems to be a theme for Stegner's male protagonists) and his wife Sally as he begins a term teaching at the university. Equally excited by their opportunities are Sid Lang, another junior man in the English department, and his wife Charity. They are fortune's children, favored with intelligence, breeding and money. Taken into the Langs' nourishing and generous embrace, the Morgans have many reasons for gratitude over the years, especially when Sally is afflicted with polio and the Langs provide financial as well as moral support. During visits at the Langs' summer home on Battell Pond in Vermont and later sharing a year in Florence, the couples feel that they are "four in Eden." Yet the Morgans observe the stresses in their friends' marriage as headstrong, insufferably well-organized Charity tries to bully the passive Sid into a more aggressive mold. Charity is one of the most vivid characters in fiction; if she is arrogant, she is also kindhearted, enthusiastic, stalwart and brave. Her incandescent personality is both the dominant force and the source of strain in the enduring friendship. Stegner is superb at expressing a sense of place, and his intelligent voice makes interesting observations on American society in the decades of his setting. But most importantly, he speaks to us of universal questions, reflecting on "the miserable failure of the law of nature to conform to the dream of man."

I remember this as a 'road' book in the sense that the story seemed to move from place to place as the action progressed. An early location is Madison, Wisconsin, but since it is set in the depression it does not resemble the Madison I remember from my days at the University in the late sixties. Despite the evident hard work of the author who tried to bring motion into his meditative work and his beautiful writing, I did not really connect with the characters and their relationships.


Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner. Penguin Books, New York. 1990 (1987)


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RecapitulationRecapitulation

by Wallace Stegner

When the cottonwoods have been rattling at you all through your childhood, they mean home . . . one puff of wind through those trees in the gully is enough to tell me, not that I have come home, but that I never left it." (p 116)



Nostalgia is a longing for once familiar circumstances or surroundings that are now remote or irrecoverable. It is this nostalgia that is the hallmark of Recapitulation, a novel by Wallace Stegner, that surrounds you while depicting events and details unfamiliar and raises the feeling of nostalgia for those once familiar circumstances of your own that are as remote as that small town in which you were raised and that you left long ago seldom to return. It is the return of Bruce Mason to his home town of Salt Lake City and the memories that the visit triggers that inhabit the pages of Stegner's fine novel with an aura of nostalgia that makes the reader feel that he is part of Mason's life as he grows and learns and experiences some of the common rites of every young man's journey through life. Except he is no longer a young man and his view is from a distant adulthood that gives the memories a melancholic tinge and, perhaps, a certain emphasis that shades the memories with the patina of time.

Stegner creates real believable characters in Mason's family, among which include a distant and imperious father and loving mother who is nearer in spirit to her studious son. Bruce is able to escape a life that is supported by a father whose profession is selling contraband (during prohibition) through hard work both in several jobs that provide financial independence and his studies that emancipate his mind. His trip to Salt Lake City, seemingly to perform the necessary rites surrounding his Aunt's funeral, becomes a traversal of a previous life. One filled with ghosts and none closer to his adult self, yet further in a sense, than himself as he ponders near the end of the book:


"He felt like the last remaining spectator at the last act of a play he had not understood." (p 274)

Through his beautiful prose and his ability to capture the essence of nostalgia and the characters that inhabited the play that was the life of Bruce Mason, Wallace Stegner creates a wonderful story and a great book.


Recapitulation by Wallace Stegner. Penguin Books, New York. 1997 (1979)





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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Cousin Bette: Poor Relations, Part One (Penguin Classics)
Cousin Bette

by Honoré de Balzac


In Paris, when a woman has made up her mind to use her beauty as her livelihood and merchandise, it does not necessarily follow that she will make her fortune.
- Balzac, Cousin Bette, p 155



Cousin Bette by French author Honoré de Balzac is set in mid-19th century Paris, telling the story of an unmarried middle-aged woman who plots the destruction of her extended family. Bette works with Valérie Marneffe, an unhappily married young lady, to seduce and torment a series of men. One of these is Baron Hector Hulot, husband to Bette's cousin Adeline. He sacrifices his family's fortune and good name to please Valérie, who leaves him for a tradesman named Crevel. The book is part of the Scènes de la vie parisienne section of Balzac's novel sequence La Comédie humaine ("The Human Comedy"). Writing quickly and with intense focus, Balzac produced La Cousine Bette, one of his longest novels, in two months. It was published in Le Constitutionnel at the end of 1846, then collected with a companion work, Le Cousin Pons, the following year. The novel's characters represent polarities of contrasting morality. The vengeful Bette and disingenuous Valérie stand on one side, with the merciful Adeline and her patient daughter Hortense on the other. The patriarch of the Hulot family, meanwhile, is consumed by his own sexual desire. Hortense's husband, the Polish exile Wenceslas Steinbock, represents artistic genius, though he succumbs to uncertainty and lack of motivation.

La Cousine Bette is considered Balzac's last great work. His trademark use of realist detail combines with a panorama of characters returning from earlier novels. While I do not admire it as much as some critics, it has been compared to works by Shakespeare and Tolstoy. It is considered both a turning point in the author's career and a prototypical naturalist text. The novel explores themes of vice and virtue, as well as the influence of money on French society. Bette's relationship with Valérie is also seen as an important exploration of homoerotic themes. I would compare it with Dickens although it lacks his humor and overall seems more bitter. The best of Dickens, by contrast, usually focuses more on a positive character.


Cousin Bette: Part One of Poor Relations by Honore de Balzac. Penguin Classics, New York. 1965 (1846).



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Camera
Camera

by Jean-Philippe Toussaint

It was about at the same time in my life, a calm life in which ordinarily nothing happened, that in my immediate horizon two events came about, events that, taken separately, were of hardly any interest, and that, considered together, were unfortunately not connected in any way. As it happens I had just decided to learn how to drive, and I had barely begun to get used to this idea when some news reached me by mail: a long-lost friend, in a letter composed with a type-writer, a rather old type writer, had informed me he was getting married. Now, personally, if there's one thing that terrifies me, it's long-lost friends.



The Belgian novelist Jean-Philippe Toussaint is quickly becoming one of my favorites. The opening sequences of “Camera,” one remind me of the enjoyment I experienced recently reading another work, Television, by the same author.
Toussaint’s writing is comic and in this case that entails a sort of comedy with a tendency toward the mechanical. People, gestures and events become like automata — compressed, sprung, interlocked and endlessly repeating. The action, limited as it may be in this book that exhibits the author's control over inaction, in “Camera” take place among automobiles: machines whose very name encodes self-generated motion without end. To the extent there is any plot it involves the hero’s repeated trysts with the driving-school secretary. But this exists within and overlays a background of mechanical wordplay.

It seems that not much happens in “Camera.” But the hero is in a continual battle with a reality of driving lessons, journeying and falling in love. The hero muses that “in my struggle with reality, I could exhaust any opponent with whom I was grappling, like one can wear out an olive, for example, before successfully stabbing it with a fork.” That olive appears a few pages later, in a restaurant scene whose dialogue is passed over entirely, the better to let us appreciate the olive’s lined surface, its “resistance diminishing” beneath the pressure of the tines. Who will win this battle is not always clear. In an interview reproduced at the novel’s end, Toussaint cites Kafka: “In the fight between you and the world, back the world.” Continuity or focus is provided by the titular camera. The novel progresses and this reader had fun with the real moments while not necessarily sharing the level of despair brought forth by the author. The battle can be fun, if you let it.


Camera by Jean-Philippe Toussaint. Dalkey Archive Press. 2008 (2005)


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To Autumn

by John Keats


Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap'd furrow sound asleep,
Drows'd with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

Where are the songs of spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too, -
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


Poem For Autumn



Hermann Hesse is known primarily for his novels but he was also a poet and the following poem captures both the beauty of autumn and the poignance of the passing of summer with inspiring verse.




September

The garden is mourning,
The chilli rain is sinking into the flowers.
The summer is shivering
Towards his end.

Golden leave by leave is dropping
Down from the high acacia.
Summer’s smiling astonished and droopy
In the dying dream of the garden.

For a long while
He is standing, beside the roses, longing for a rest
Slowly he closes his wide eyes
Which became tired.

Monday, September 20, 2010

In Memoriam

Two Sonnets

These are among my favorite of all Shakespeare's wonderful sonnets. While appropriate for the the end of summer, today they bring memories of my dear friend Marcy who passed away just a week ago. So on this penultimate last day of summer I dedicate these sonnets to her memory. Adieu my friend.


LXXIII.

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin'd choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou seest the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west,
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death's second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see'st the glowing of such fire
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire
Consumed with that which it was nourish'd by.
This thou perceivest, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.


XXX.

When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
I summon up remembrance of things past,
I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,
And with old woes new wail my dear time's waste:
Then can I drown an eye, unused to flow,
For precious friends hid in death's dateless night,
And weep afresh love's long since cancell'd woe,
And moan the expense of many a vanish'd sight:
Then can I grieve at grievances foregone,
And heavily from woe to woe tell o'er
The sad account of fore-bemoaned moan,
Which I new pay as if not paid before.
But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,
All losses are restored and sorrows end.
- William Shakespeare

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Thousand Cranes
Thousand Cranes

by Yasunari Kawabata

Now, even more than the evening before, he could think of no one with whom to compare her. She had become absolute, beyond comparison. She had become decision and fate.
- Kawabata, Thousand Cranes, p 145

Yasunari Kawabata won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1968 in part for his novel Thousand Cranes. This novel is set in post World War II Japan where the protagonist, Kikuji, has been orphaned by the death of his mother and father. He becomes involved with one of the former mistresses of his father, Mrs. Ota, who commits suicide seemingly for the shame she associates with the affair. After Mrs. Ota's death, Kikuji then transfers much of his love and grief over Mrs. Ota's death to her daughter. What made this novel notable for me was the way that the author demonstrated the themes of grace and precision through his beautiful and disciplined prose style. This comes across even in translation and combined with the beauty of the 'tea ceremony' makes this a short elegant novel. The subtle psychology of the relationships of Kikuji add to the power and beauty of the book. His attempts to overcome his loneliness and deal with death are particularly moving. While the novel resonates with the feelings, images and icons of a very different foreign culture it can be appreciated for its spare but not uncomplicated telling of meaningful events in the life of very human individuals. This is a great short read that may expand your experience or at least give you a taste of a different world.


Thousand Cranes by Yasunari Kawabata. Vintage Books, New York. 1996 (1959)



Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Survival Game

Ender's Game
by Orson Scott Card


"I told you. His isolation can't be broken. He can never come to believe that anybody will ever help him out, ever. If he once thinks there's an easy way out, he's wrecked."
- Ender's Game, p 40.


Ever since I read The Count of Monte Cristo as a boy, I have been a fan of the heroic genius who conquers all in spite of the odds. I also enjoy coming-of-age stories and the battle between good and evil. If you take all of these factors and place them in a future where the Earth is attacked by seemingly superior aliens from outer space you have an outline of the structure of Ender's Game. Orson Scott Card has created a young hero named Ender Wiggin and it his development at a school for potential space military leaders that makes up the bulk of the novel. It is here that teachers train them in the arts of war through increasingly difficult games including ones undertaken in zero gravity in the Battle Room where Ender's tactical genius is revealed. The gradual development of the character Ender Wiggin through his experiences at the school and his growing understanding of his relationship with his brother and sister are major factors that set this book apart from the average science fiction novel. They explain why Ender's Game won the 1985 Nebula Award for best novel and the 1986 Hugo Award for best novel. I found the combination of a likable young genius fighting for good against the evil from outer space to be absolutely captivating and was not disappointed that I took some of my reading days to return to the genre I loved when I was Ender's age.


Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card.Tom Doherty Assoc., New York. 1986 (1985)


Good Advice


Quote for Today



Old people love to give good advice; it compensates them for their inability to set a bad example.

—Duc Francois de la Rochefoucauld, who was born on this day in 1613

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Babbitt
Babbitt

by Sinclair Lewis


THE towers of Zenith aspired above the morning mist; austere towers of steel and cement and limestone, sturdy as cliffs and delicate as silver rods. They were neither citadels nor churches, but frankly and beautifully office-buildings.
The mist took pity on the fretted structures of earlier generations: the Post Office with its shingle-tortured mansard, the red brick minarets of hulking old houses, factories with stingy and sooted windows, wooden tenements colored like mud. The city was full of such grotesqueries, but the clean towers were thrusting them from the business center, and on the farther hills were shining new houses, homes--they seemed--for laughter and tranquillity.
Over a concrete bridge fled a limousine of long sleek hood and noiseless engine. These people in evening clothes were returning from an all-night rehearsal of a Little Theater play, an artistic adventure considerably illuminated by champagne. Below the bridge curved a railroad, a maze of green and crimson lights. The New York Flyer boomed past, and twenty lines of polished steel leaped into the glare.
In one of the skyscrapers the wires of the Associated Press were closing down. The telegraph operators wearily raised their celluloid eye-shades after a night of talking with Paris and Peking. Through the building crawled the scrubwomen, yawning, their old shoes slapping. The dawn mist spun away. Cues of men with lunch-boxes clumped toward the immensity of new factories, sheets of glass and hollow tile, glittering shops where five thousand men worked beneath one roof, pouring out the honest wares that would be sold up the Euphrates and across the veldt. The whistles rolled out in greeting a chorus cheerful as the April dawn; the song of labor in a city built--it seemed--for giants.
(Sinclair Lewis, Babbit, p 1)


It has been more than forty years since I read this book, so it is probably a good time to return; but I'm not sure what to expect from rereading this classic from the pen of Sinclair Lewis. More recently I've read Main Street which I enjoyed. However, Babbitt, while demonstrating the signature Sinclair Lewis satirical style, lingers in my memory as a different sort of book. Carol Kennicot, was endearing in her earnest innocence, while Babbitt has the reputation of a brash booster who gives urban business a bad name. There must be more to the novel than this simple-sounding approach to character. Yet, the character lives through this image. The opening of the novel suggests that Babbitt is living in a world of "grotesqueries" that make up the city of Zenith. This portends what is to come and is in itself a sign of the thought the author has put into his work. The towers of skyscrapers are contrasted with the lowness of tenements. All culminating in the comment that this is "a city built - it seemed - for giants." Enter the lilliputian booster in the person of George F. Babbitt. This reader is confident the style will carry him over and beyond the drudgery of the naturalistic philosophy that underlies this "classic" of the nineteen-twenties.

Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis. Signet Classics, New York. 1961 (1922)



Sunday, September 12, 2010

Historic Interviews



Frost/Nixon
by Peter Morgan

"I have never been a quitter. To leave office before my term is completed is abhorrent to every instinct in my body, but as president, I must put the interest of America first."
- Richard Nixon's resignation speech, Aug. 8, 1974

I moved to Chicago in the summer of 1973. That summer the news was filled with the ongoing investigation into the Watergate burglary and its cover up by President Nixon which culminated in 1974 with his resignation. I remember following this story as I was starting out my career, but what I do not remember was the series of televised interviews of Nixon conducted by David Frost in the spring of 1977. The fourth and final interview was reportedly seen by 45 million Americans of which I was not one. I was in the audience today, however, for a performance of Peter Morgan's play, Frost/Nixon, directed by Louis Contey at the TimeLine Theatre Company in Chicago.

This production is the Chicago premiere of the play which originally premiered in London in 2006 and on Broadway in 2007. With Terry Hamilton as Nixon and Andrew Carter as Frost both actors were excellent in portraying these larger-than-life characters. The ensemble supporting them was also excellent with David Parkes outstanding as Nixon's chief of staff, Jack Brennan, and Matthew Brumlow providing narration in the role of a young Jim Reston. The play was effective in demonstrating the personalities of the two lead characters. Morgan captures Nixon's hubris and desire to reinvent his character and Frost's success in using television to his advantage, all while building the dramatic action to an electrifying climax in the fourth and final interview that focused on Watergate. Capturing a famous historical moment the play suggested to me a simpler more innocent time that was ending with this morality tale of power and politics played on the stage. The staging itself was witty and effective in emphasizing the importance of television with much of the play shown on TV monitors for the theater audience. TimeLine Theatre Company has once again provided great history theater.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Abolitionist Novel

Cloudsplitter
Cloudsplitter
by Russell Banks

"It was no longer clear to me: were we doing this for them, the Negroes; or were we simply using them as an excuse to commit vile crimes against one another? Was our true nature that of the man who sacrifices himself and others for his principles; or was it that of the criminal?" (Cloudsplitter, Russell Banks)

This novel is a historical novel in sheep's clothing. What, you may ask, do I mean by that? The title of the novel, Cloudsplitter(1998, finalist for Pulitzer and PEN/Faulkner), suggests that this may well be a biographical novel depicting the life of John Brown, and to a certain extent it is just that; but it is primarily a historical novel about the the antebellum period in America focusing on the Abolitionist movement and John Brown's role in that movement. The insights into the different aspects of abolitionism provide fascinating reading. For example, in his portrayal of Brown in Cloudsplitter, Russell Banks shows how Brown is more interested in the mighty sword than the ringing word. After listening with his son, Owen, to one of Emerson's talks in Boston, Brown walks out on the Sage of Concord while the sophisticated crowd applauds wildly:

"That man's truly a boob!" Father blurted. "For the life of me, I can't understand his fame. Unless the whole world is just as foolish as he is. Godless? He's not even rational! You'd think, given his godlessness, his sec-u-laahr-ity, he'd be at least rational," he said, and gave a sardonic laugh."

The book is filled with such detail about abolitionism and this makes it a worthwhile read. However, I found that, in spite of its length, the novel ultimately disappointed in its limited portrayal of the most famous episode in Brown's life, the raid on Harper's Ferry. Thus the reader who picks up Cloudsplitter expecting all the details of the life of the eponymous historical figure may be, as I was, somewhat disappointed by the end of the book.


Cloudsplitter: A Novel by Russell Banks. Harper Perennial, New York. 1999 (1998).




Monday, September 06, 2010



In Search of Lost Time

The Fugitive, Book VI

Dreaming and Imagination



Often it was simply during my sleep that these "reprises," these "da capos" of one's dreams, which turn back several pages of one's memory, several leaves of the calendar at once, brought me back, made me regress to a painful but remote impression which had long since given place to others but which now became present once more. (p 725)



There are books that I love and those, much fewer in number, that I do not and the majority that fall between these extremes. My current rereading of Proust's In Search of Lost Time perplexes me because I cannot find a place in the geography of my reading in which it belongs. After my first reading of Proust, while I recognized the importance of the work and the beauty of the writing I was not able to like, much less love the book primarily due to what I found to be the lack of the heroic, the failure to connect, whether the author's fault or mine, and with this lack of connection a conclusion that this was not my kind of book. However, even then I had misgivings about that conclusion because I knew that this should have been 'my kind of book' (what this means is the topic for another time).

The perplexity engendered currently, as I am in the novel's penultimate section entitled The Fugitive, is one which finds me discovering the deeper meaningfulness of Proust which raises his work in my estimation at the same time that I continue to disagree with many of the observations and notions of the narrator. It is the continuing confusion created by the juxtaposition of reality and the "illusion of reality" that is one focal point of my perplexity. The continuing obsession of the narrator with Albertine,not only after she has left him but after she has died, is contrasted with his indifference or the approaching indifference which he sees as the alternative to this obsession. One example of this obsession leads him to this image, "I saw myself astray in life as on an endless beach where I was alone and where, in whatever direction I might turn, I would never meet her." (p 701) One is reminded of the dark forest from another famous work but the importance of the places are not commensurate no matter how strong the feelings of our narrator.

The extremes of his emotions make for interesting reading, but despite the permutations of feelings described over the course of many pages his situation does not seem to make anymore sense. One approach I may consider is to think of his life and his dreams to be different aspects of the same thing and in doing so accept that the irrationality of dreams may have more influence over his life than I previously imagined. That one needs to expand his imagination to enjoy the experience of reading Proust is a truth that when recognized makes the beauty of the novel more real, and it raises the value book in my estimation.

In Search of Lost Time Vol V, The Captive & The Fugitive by Marcel Proust. The Modern Library, New York. 2003 (1923)

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Essential Anarchism

The Essential Works of Anarchism
The Essential Works of Anarchism

by Marshall S. Shatz


"anarchy, as it is usually understood, and a well conceived form of society without government, are exceedingly different from each other."
- William Godwin, An Enquiry Concerning Political Justice


While I am in the midst of reading Peter Kropotkin's autobiography, Memoirs of a Revolutionist, I thought I would return to an old friend in this collection of works on the topic of anarchism. Marshall Shatz's compendium, The Essential Works of Anarchism, is a comprehensive anthology of essays on anarchism. Included in this volume are classic essays on theory, including excerpts from Godwin's seminal work, as well as personal memoirs and autobiographies from thinkers such as Peter Kropotkin, Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman. Finally there are selections on the practical application of anarchism and its status in the twentieth century. Suggestions for further reading make this a well-conceived volume for anyone seriously interested in the theory, practice and history of anarchist thought.


The Essential Works of Anarchism, Marshall S. Shatz, ed. Bantam Books, New York. 1971.

Saturday, September 04, 2010




Book Blogger Hop



Just when I did not expect it I encountered the Book Blogger Hop at Crazy-for-Books.com. I find that browsing book blogs is an on-line variant of browsing in bookstores and the idea of visiting new book blogs is an attractive idea and, with almost three hundred bloggers participating, apparently many others do as well. During the short time I have been maintaining my blog I have accumulated links to other literary sites that I find appealing. The Hop is a weekly opportunity to find more fascinating readers who like to blog about their reading experience. Perhaps some others in the blogosphere will find my musings of interest. As part of the Book Blogger Hop there is a weekly question.

This week's question comes from: Sarah @ SarahReadsTooMuch

Do you judge a book by its cover?

In choosing a book to read I use many factors to make my decision. Often I find new books from my current reading. Many of the books I read are filled with literary references and I love to just read books about books (eg. Michael Dirda). However, when I am browsing in bookstores I do find that a book's cover is a factor in gaining my attention, if not my interest. Do I then judge the book by its cover? Perhaps in part, but only in the sense that the cover is one factor in the whole experience of a book which goes into any judging in which I might engage. The act of judging a book is something I need to contemplate further, for the notion intrigues me and I'm sure there is more to it than any single aspect, such as a cover, may convey.


Thursday, September 02, 2010



Advise & Consent
by Allen Drury

So they rode on, old friends from the Senate together carrying their country's hopes, while below America sped away, the kindly, pleasant, greening land about to learn whether history still had a place for a nation so strangely composed of great ideals and uneasy compromise as she.
- Allen Drury, Advise and Consent


Allen Drury was born on this day in 1918, and he died on this day in 1998. I remember reading his greatest novel, Advise and Consent, and seeing the film version in the late 1960s. Drury followed up his first novel with a handful of sequels and over a dozen other books, but none of them came close to the popularity of the 1959 hit — ninety-three weeks on the best-seller list, a play, a movie and a Pulitzer (the Pulitzer Board overriding their committee’s recommendation of Saul Bellow’s Henderson the Rain King). Advise and Consent explores the United States Senate confirmation of controversial Secretary of State nominee Robert Leffingwell who is a former member of the Communist Party. The novel was followed by Drury's A Shade of Difference in 1962 and four additional sequels. While Drury's Advise and Consent is arguably the best of its genre (and may have defined the genre) I have enjoyed others like O'Connor's The Last Hurrah and, more recently, Primary Colors.