VANISHED EMPIRES

Dedicated to classics and hits.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Show Review; Marina and the Diamonds, Christine and the Queens @ The North Park Observatory (FKA North Park Theater)

Marina of Marina and the Diamonds: She's Welsh!


Show Review:
Marina and the Diamonds, Christine and the Queens
@ The North Park Observatory (FKA North Park Theater)


    I confess that the sale of the North Park Theater to the people who own the Observatory in Orange County took me by surprise.  I hadn't even been to it before it changed hands.  My impression is that they had a stable ownership group and a booking agreement with Tim Mays.  Under those circumstances, why sell?  Of course the answer is likely simple and obvious, "Money."   Judging from some of the high profile gigs planned in the next several months: Passion Pit! Best Coast! Decemberists! they either kept the already booked shows or are able to get the same level of acts as Tim Mays. 

 I found the oppressive security impossible to ignore.  I try to eschew the whiny, nit picky type complaints that are the bane of on line reviews, but the sold out Marina and the Diamonds show was populated entirely by younger women under 21, LGBT's and people who were both under 21 AND LGBT.  And yet, I was at the show with someone who had a ball point pen confiscated at the door.  I counted something like 20 separate security guards working the crowd.  The only explanation I received was that the permit was up for modification as part of the balcony being re opened, so the venue wanted everything to go smoothly.

  And you know, I understand when security guards cop attitudes WHEN THE SITUATION REQUIRES it, but part of security is customer service, and the unsmiling, demeanor of the staff was totally out of synch with the warm, open style of the music and the fans.  I felt as if the venue was disrespecting the fans, honestly, like no one had given a thought what to expect from the nights audience.

  So there were four of us there, we were there to see openers Christine and the Queens and then Marina's make up artist and her producer boyfriend who has played in Deftones and is in the band Crosses with Chino for Deftones.  I felt like he and I were the only two straight guys in the place who weren't there with our daughters.   My entire preparation for the show consisted of reading Pitchfork's decent review of the new Marina and the Diamonds LP

  Arriving at the venue fifteen minutes before Christine and the Queens took the stage, I was literally the only man in the gender segregated frisking line- which is fucking ridiculous- particularly considering the show.   The main reason we were there to see Christine and the Queens is that she has sold upwards of 400,000 records in Europe, and I guess the idea is that she's looking to expand here audience in the United States, perhaps with the assistance of a US based representative. I don't know the details, because I'm not privy to the conversation, but the idea that this woman has sold 400,000 records in Europe intrigued me to say the least.
Christine of Christine and the Queens

 
  Christine and the Queens performed as a three piece, with songs that I understand had been translated from French into English for the occasion.  Unlike Marina, Christine had not played Coachella, but she had been in Austin for SXSW.   She performed with two musicians and two back up dancers, who I was told had been flown over from France as "part of the touring party."  Watching Christine open for Marina at the North Park Observatory was something like seeing Kasabian headline the San Diego outpost of the House of Blues last year; the experience of seeing an Artist used to playing for thousands play for hundreds.

 I was told that Marina had ordered her fans, via social media, to appreciate Christine and the reception she received was so unlike that normally accorded to opening acts that I thought people in the audience might have thought she was Marina (only an ignorant rube would have thought that, but there you are.)  Christine moved effortlessly between high energy dance pop and slower confessional dance pop.  The introduction of the two hunky French-African male dancers lent some real pop star energy to the performance.   Christine also sported a major league level stage prance, she was like a little elf capering back and forth across the stage.

  I could see Christine garnering a larger audience state side, but my opinion is that it would have to be on the back of a novelty radio hit, which would have to cross over between pop stations and adult contemporary.   She is fun though, and worth checking out if you have the opportunity.

  In between sets the conversation centered around Marina and her rise to prominence, with a general agreement that she had been able to motivate a legion of fans via savvy (and personal) use of social media.  Marina is now on LP 3 (FROOT is the name of the new record.)   She followed a path that has become very familiar in the internet era: Emerging from Welsh obscurity via the internet, releasing a well regarded debut LP in 2010 (on a major label), releasing a poorly regarded second LP in 2012 where she tried to be both Katy Perry and Lana Del Rey at once (and failing), followed by a "return to roots" 3rd LP (success/failure yet to be seen.)

  There is a no denying that she has a legion of devoted fans in the right demographic for pop superstardom, but after reviewing her career trajectory and her label affiliations, I would suspect that the issue is that there are not enough of said fans, and that Marina is what you call a "cult artist" existing somewhere in the middle of a Venn diagram where one circle is "pop stardom" and the other is "critical approval" and not really maxing out on either side.

  If you look at the top "similar artists" for Marina and the Diamonds on Last FM (Charli XCX, Natalia Kills, Azelia Banks, Lana Del Rey, Tove Lo and Sky Ferreria) you get an idea of both the challenge and potential for Marina in the marketplace for indie/pop divas. Charli XCX, Lana Del Rey and Tove Lo have radio hits AND major label support.  Natalia Kills, Azelia Banks and Sky Ferreria have an outsized grasp on the collective mind set of the internet.

  In that regard, the failure of her 2012 LP, with tracks produced by hit makers like Diplo and Dr. Luke, looks like a potentially career defining grasping for, and failing to grasp, the proverbial brass ring.  At the same time, the decent review for the new LP from Pitchfork seems to indicate the potential for some kind lasting presence.  The Coachella slot and rabid fans last night would seem to weigh in her favor.   My questions after the set last night is what, exactly is going on with radio promotion for whatever single they've picked off the new record?  Marina needs a radio hit or bust.  This is her third record.  Rabid teen fan girls and the LGBT crowd are a great start, but I'm positive she sees herself more in line with Charli, Lana and Tove Lo then with Azalia and Sky.
  
 My favorite songs in her set last night were those from that second LP, the fact that I was entirely unaware of this record's existence until last night is strong evidence that it was an abject failure in terms of breaking her to radio, because if any of her songs had made it, I would have heard them on the radio, because I listen to Top 40 radio all the time.   Why do two songs with Dr. Luke if you can't get either played on the radio?

  I also note that her t shirts were 30 bucks, and that she likely signed a 360 deal with Atlantic, so if you were to ask, "What are the real ramifications of signing a 360 deal with a major label?" a realistic answer would be, "Your concert t shirts will be thirty dollars and up."  Perhaps what is most curious about Marina is that she appears to have built an indie type audience from within the major label system, and perhaps it could be said that her ultimate success or failure will speak to the ability of the music industry to adapt and exploit the newest internet generated, self formed, pop starts.

  And all you Marina fans from last night! You are beautiful!  Don't let anyone tell you that you aren't amazing!






 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Hamlet (1940) by William Faulkner

Book Review
The Hamlet (1940)
by William Faulkner
 
  Often said to be the least Faulkernian of Faulkner's major novels, The Hamlet is book one of the so-called "Snopes trilogy."  If you come to The Hamlet after reading Faulkner's earlier works, you may have some of the same thoughts I had while reading The Hamlet, first, that Faulkner was tired of people "not getting" his books and wanted to write something that norms would understand. Second, that The Hamlet was not written as a novel at all but is rather four inter connected stories which take place in chronological order and feature overlapping characters.

  Unlike the Compson family, reoccurring characters from his earlier books whose declining gentility sets the tone for "early Faulkner," the Snopes clan is decidedly down market, share croppers with no fixed homeland who appear in the shared territory of all of Faulkner's books: Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi as economic migrants.  Yoknapatawpha County was based on the area around Oxford, Mississippi, and like all of his books the landscape is a major character. I lost count of the number of times Faulkner either describes something as decayed or uses a synonym for decay in reference to some aspect of the landscape.

 He also throws in a straight forward cow fucking scene, taking its place among the rogues gallery of mentally challenged characters in Faulkner books committing vile sex crimes.  I mean, I guess fucking a cow isn't that vile a sex crime but it just comes up apropos of nothing.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Age of Insight: The Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind & Brain, from Vienna 1900 to the Present by Eric Kandel

Detail of Judith by Gustav Klimt

The Age of Insight: The Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind & Brain, from Vienna 1900 to the Present
by Eric Kandel
Random House, published 2012

  The Age of Insight: The Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind & Brain, from Vienna 1900 to the Present reads something like a 600 page New Yorker article written by a Nobel Prize Winner in neuroscience.  The main project of The Age of Insight is to create linkages between the way artists and scientists thought about the unconscious in Vienna around the turn of the century with more recent developments in brain science.  Kandel is not the first author to postulate that the mix of Freud, Klimt, Schiele and others represents a critical point in the transition into "Modernity." 

  In particular, the "art" chapters of this book very much track the ideas developed by historian Peter Gay in his books about Freud and Vienna. For a variety of reasons relating to the type of people and type of society in Vienna in the late 19th and early 20th century, there was fertile cross-pollination between art and science in a way that would become impossible with the increased professionalization of both areas later in the 20th century.  Kandel does bring in material on the scientific side that extends beyond the Freud heavy analysis of Peter Gay.

  His chapter on the Vienna School of Medicine and the role of Carl von Rokitansky in establishing a scientific basis for medicine after he was appointed the head in 1844 provides a much needed opening chapter for the scientific/artistic revolution to follow.  Kandel is up to speed on network theory and the recently popular idea that innovation comes from the interaction of small groups of specific individuals with common interests.  In late 19th and early 20th century Vienna, a transitory period where anti-Semitism was unfashionable and many restrictions were lifted on Jewish activity resulted in an influx of wealthy, sophisticated Jews into the Austrian professional and social hierarchy.

  Given the lengthy, multi-part title of the book, I was a little surprised that the word "Vision" or "Visual" didn't make it into the mix, since The Age of Insight is equally about sight and vision as it is about the unconscious.  After laying out a straight forward description of the expressionist art of Klimt, Schiele and Kokoschka, Kandel plunges into a hundred years of neuroscience.  This is the area where Kandel spent his career, and the field where he became a Nobel Prize winner...and it shows.

   When it comes to the science concepts, Kandel shows an obvious command of the material.  His writing isn't dumbed down, but he does a great job of avoiding jargon.  Kandel's major concern is to make the case that thinkers like Freud and artists like Klimt and Schiele correctly anticipated deep truths about brain functioning that weren't proven true until the 1990s, when advanced neuroscience made it possible to fully image different parts of the brain and correlate it to particular activities.

  His insights are too numerous to catalog, but for anyone with an interest in 20th century art, aesthetics, science and the overlap between those subjects, The Age of Insight is a must read.

 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

La Ciénaga (2001) d. Lucrecia Martel

Argentinian director Lucrecia Martel, made La Cienaga (2001)

Movie Review
La Ciénaga (2001)
d.  Lucrecia Martel
Criterion Collection #743

   After going a couple weeks without watching a Criterion Collection title on their Hulu Plus channel, I find myself idly wondering during quiet moments about what is new.  Only 416 Criterion Collection titles are on the Hulu Channel, and I've made it through 237 of those, more or less.  I think maybe 25 plus of what's left are the Zatoichi samurai series and I'm not watching all of them, leaving about 150 movies available. Most of those remaining are Japanese films followed by Italian and French films.  Of the non Hulu plus available Criterion Collection films, many of them are the best known American releases- Wes Anderson's movies, Repo Man, movies like that.  I'd say I've watched maybe half of those films.  So honestly, the project of viewing all of the Criterion Collection films is not especially complicated, if only because you can knock out more than half as part of a 7.99 a month Hulu Plus subscription.

   What have I learned?  A LOT about European art films of the 1950s and 1960s.  Even more about Japanese film from that same time period.  Less about smaller national cinemas and underappreciated American independent and genre films.  Nothing about mainline Hollywood hits.  If you were to predict the trajectory of future additions to the Criterion Collection, I would say that "World Cinema," especially films from non-traditional film industries, is likely to be the biggest area for growth.

  For a good example of both the present and future of the Criterion Collection, you could do worse than La Ciénaga (2001) by Argentinian director Lucrecia Martel.  Portraits of dysfunctional upper middle class families are a subject near and dear to the heart of the Criterion Collection and "serious" film makers everywhere.  It has been that way from the beginning of European art film and it probably mirrors the larger cultural interest in Freud and family psychology that dates from the beginning of the 20th century.

   La Ciénaga sits firmly in the tradition of the disintegrating "European" bourgeois family, though here the family is Argentinian.   Although the accompanying essay on the Criterion Collections' website situates Martel among a tradition of 'new Argentinian' filmmaking informed by the economic turmoil of the 1990s, I saw this film as a fairly straight forward regional take on this larger genre.  To her credit, Martel employs a diffuse and elliptical film making style that lessens the familiarity of the milieu, but to me the pleasure was in an artist doing a nuanced take on an already popular number.

  Fans of dissolute bourgeois families and their drama will enjoy La Cienaga, for those not in that category, it will be the filmmaking technique that jumps out.  This technique is best expressed as "hazy" and "gauzy"... it reminded me of a less polished variation on the films of Sofia Coppola.  There isn't a main character at all, unless you count the decayed vacation home in which the action takes place.  This house is like the embodiment of the locations in novels like Under the Volcano, where the geographic landscape mirrors the decrepitude of the characters.  In particular, the unclean, murky green pool on the back patio of the house is like a psychic tumor hovering just off screen.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Show Review: Benjamin Booker @ The Roxy Los Angeles, CA.

Banjamin Booker, solid at The Roxy last Thursday





































Show Review:
 Benjamin Booker
@ The Roxy Los Angeles, CA.

   As I texted to an old friend last week, Coachella is a place of DEAD DREAMS, so I'm stoked not to be there.  It doesn't mean I'm uninterested in the proceedings.  We've got Apple TV and you can watch the streaming You Tube channels using "Apple Play" and the quality is quite good.  I'm comfortable asserting that I'd rather watch Coachella on my couch then actually be there.  Coachella brings with it a panoply of warm up gigs, gigs in between show weekends and post-Coachella tours, and so I found myself at Thursday nights warm-up gig for Benjamin Booker at The Roxy in Hollywood.

 Benjamin Booker is another artist managed by Monotone, the company my gf works for- she doesn't work with Benjamin Booker, but I know his manager and he is a cool guy.  Seeing the working of the music industry at this level of professionalism is eye opening, largely in a positive way, though the nameless horror is always close at hand.  For example, seeing a show in Hollywood, where the nameless horror practically stalks the street.

  Fortunately the show was on a Thursday so Hollywood wasn't in full flag.  The Roxy is a decent sized room (500 capacity?) with not one but TWO separate VIP sections overlooking the main floor.  Colin Hanks was there.  This was my second Colin Hanks sighting (Queens of the Stone Age Halloween Show.)  Benjamin Booker played a crisp, energetic set.  I'd heard he was suffering from strep throat but you couldn't tell, and he didn't complain.  Booker fairly exudes a level of professionalism far beyond his place on the indie league table. 

  His music is a mixture of trad rock, punk influences with a distinctive mini-set of fiddle based folk tunes providing the punctuation to break up the sameness of his standard sound.  Booker plays as part of a three piece- he plays guitar, then a  bassist and a drummer.  The bassist and drummer both also play the fiddle for those bits.  Booker's voice is gruff, I sense that his delivery was no doubt impacted by the strep throat, but that his vocal style lessens the difference between how he sounds sick and how he sounds well.

  He wasn't particularly mobile on stage, but he exudes star-level charisma.  The audience was super excited to be there.  They left happy and enjoyed the show.    The bottle service menu for The Roxy was hilarious, but I would probably think ANY bottle service menu at a rock club is hilarious.  Benjamin Booker is no doubt on track for a major label or equivalent career and has the potential for real staying power.  He needs some hits though because I didn't hear one last night.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Between The Acts (1941) by Virginia Woolf

Is it possible there has never been a Virginia Woolf biopic?

Book Review
Between The Acts (1941)
by Virginia Woolf

    This is the last Virginia Woolf novel on the 1001 Books list. It was finished just before she committed suicide and published just after, under the supervision of her husband.  There is nothing much to recommend Between The Acts above any of the other Woolf titles in the 1001 Books project, but it is her last completed work of fiction, and Woolf is so central to any kind of canon of modern literature that her last book is worth a moment of reflection.

  Between The Acts comes after Mrs. Dalloway (1925), Orlando (1928), To The Lighthouse (1928), Night and Day (1919), Jacobs Room (1922)  and The Years (1937).  Of those seven novels, I have no trouble recommending Orlando.  The other books are basically variations on the theme of upper-class English elliptically dealing with their personal issues.  I think if you took Orlando out of the mix, you could combine the rest og the titles into one big book, and no one would be the wiser.

  Suffice it to say that if you are reading a Virginia Woolf novel there is some kind of romantic misunderstanding or contempts that spans decades.  There is no ominiscent narrator to tell you what's going on, and most of her material is written from inside the head of several of the characters, without giving signposts to the reader about who is talking or when- that is for you, the reader, to figure out, hopefully with an assist from the internet if you are reading Woolf today.

 Woolf is not really a story teller, she is an explorer of interior emotions.  This comes partially as a result of her dedication to modernist literary technique, and partially as a result of her interest in the then new area of psychology. Her premature, self inflicted death no doubt reflected a struggle with depression.  Even a cursory glance at one of her books reveals an obsession with head space and mental state, and sadness, and regret.  She is an apostle of thoughtful sadness.

  Woolf is an author worthy of in depth study, if only because each of her books requires timely unraveling and contemplation of what, exactly, is happening and, what, exactly it all means, if it means anything at all.  In that sense she is ill suited for the 1001 Books list and perhaps ultimately the question is whether she should put seven titles on the list.  I mean I understand why, it's because she is one of the holy trinity of modernism (Gertrude Stein, James Joyce.)  But presumably the 1001 Books list is not for actual graduate students and professors of literature, and I think those are probably the only people who need to read seven or more Woolf novels.  The lesser among us can surely be content with Orlando and one other, perhaps Mrs. Dalloway or To The Lighthouse.
  

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

At Swim-Two-Birds (1939) by Flann O'Brien

Flann O'Brien/Brian O'Nolan, modernist Author.

Book Review
At Swim-Two-Birds (1939)
 by Flann O'Brien

   Flann O'Brien was the pseudonym of Irish author Brian O'Nolan. Decades before "Metafiction" or "Post-Modernism,"  At Swim-Two-Birds was both, and how.  The 1001 Books descriptive essay says, "This is a novel about a novelist writing a novel about the writing of [a] novel."  At Swim-Two-Birds was plainly ahead of its time, and it didn't help that it was published on the eve of World War II.  It was essentially out of print before Pantheon Books republished it in New York in 1950. Although many important English literati were hip, it's very easy to see the potential for At Swim-Two-Birds to find an audience among English departments in the mid to late 20th century, and beyond.

    In addition to the stridently recursive plot within a plot within a plot, O'Brien/O'Nolan layers At Swim-Two-Birds with multiple references and allusions to Irish folklore. Of course James Joyces' shadow looms large over O'Brien, but the influence doesn't overwhelm the proceedings.  It is possible to read At Swim-Two-Birds casually because of the peppering of folklore, found language and esoteric knowledge inside the novel within a novel within a novel.   Personally, I was able to understand that it was a "novel about a novelist writing a novel" but the part about the novel itself being about the writing of a novel was lost on me.

   When I read a book like At Swim-Two-Birds, an experimental classic that waited something like 25 years before finding a substantial audience, I think about what it must have been like to be Flann O'Brien.  Did he even think what he had written was great, or did he accept the lack of wider audience attention as an indication that he failed or that his work was not good.  Importantly, At Swim-Two-Birds did impress his peer group- Graham Greene, working as a reader for his publisher, was instrumental in securing the initial publication, and Joyce read it and was impressed (and died immediately after reading it as it turned out.)

   I'm fascinated by that aspect of the experience of being an Artist- when someone creates an epic, enduring work of art and it fails to reach a general Audience. This experience was really only fully possible after the development of both a general audience for art AND the development of an avant garde sub culture. By 1939 that avant-garde sub culture fully existed, but hadn't broken out into the consciousness of a general audience.   Events like the Ulysses/Joyce obscenity trial contributed towards this break through, but it wasn't until the 1960s that avant garde art reached anything approaching a general audience.

  The larger question is in what sense is it even worth it for an Author to create a work that is brilliant but only recognized as such long after it can no longer play any role in adjusting his or her material circumstances?  "Art for Art's sake" is a romantic notion, and many artists are romantic no doubt, but I would hardly call experimental modernist novelists romantic.  The idea of an experimental modernist novelist dying unknown in a garret is itself perhaps romantic, but I doubt the novelist would consider it so.

  There are parallels to what musicians are experiencing these days- what is the point of art that doesn't benefit the artist?  Why would one even create at all if there is no possible benefit?  Perhaps O'Brien/O'Nolan did consider such things in the 1930s, but certainly a contemporary reader contemplating the delay between publication and the generation of a significant audience for a work might well ask that question.

Monday, April 06, 2015

The Congress of Vienna: Power & Politics after Napoleon by Brian E. Vick

This is a map of Europe after the Congress of Vienna.  You can see much of Poland belonging to Russia

The Congress of Vienna: Power & Politics after Napoleon
 by Brian E. Vick
Published October 13th, 2014
Harvard University Press
(AMAZON)

  I spent most of December and January listening to the very lengthy free audiobook version of War & Peace.  A plausible sub-title for War & Peace would be "The Invasion of Russia in 1812 by Napoleon, told from the Russian point of view."  The Congress of Vienna is what happened after the end of War & Peace, which ends with Napoleon's disastrous and eventually career ending loss to the "Winter of Russia."   Napoleon left a number of lingering issues in his conquered territories.  He had rearranged borderlines in Germany and Eastern Europe.  Significantly, the issues resolved in the Congress of Vienna would be revisited as part of the World Wars of the twentieth century.  I'm talking about "How to divide up Poland" and "What to do about German principalities that had a Protestant population and a Catholic monarch."

   The major players were the Russian and Austrian Emperors, with the Russians in the stronger position.  Also important were the Prussians.  Less so were the English, the Danes/Swedes/Norwegians and the post-Napoleon French.  The classic historical take on the Congress of Vienna is through the prism of early 19th century international European diplomacy.  You can take the machinations more or less at face value and use it to explain subsequent developments in 19th century European history, or you can critique the events using any number of critical appartati developed by 20th century academics.

  The significance of The Congress of Vienna: Power and Politics after Napoleon is that he moves beyond the "power politics" mode of analysis to include interesting discussions of the salon scene of Vienna and the role of "small world" Networks in the formulation of consensus within the Congress. Vick persuasively argues that the salon world, largely run by and for women, was a crucial ingredient of the international negotiations.  He argues that the salon world represents an early or intermediary step on the role the crucial "Public Sphere" of discussion, a term coined by German philosopher Jurgen Habermas, and that the salons provided an "off stage" where participants could converse more or less freely.

   Vick also devotes sections to a discussion of international human rights issues like the treatment of Jews and the international slave trade.  This emphasis helps dissipate the received idea that the Congress of Vienna was populated by a bunch of self obsessed European autocrats.  Vick's introduction of recent trends in history to a staid subject like the Congress of Vienna is a welcome one, the kind of once in twenty years type of event that is suited to this event.


Thursday, April 02, 2015

Sometimes an Art: Nine Essays on History(2015) by Bernard Bailyn


Book Review
Sometimes an Art: Nine Essays on History(2015)
 by Bernard Bailyn
Published January 20th, 2015 by Knopf
(AMAZON PRODUCT PAGE)

  Bernard Bailyn is a heavy United States historian specializing in trans-Atlantic history focusing on the British Empire and the early United States.  Over a lifetime of writing and teaching, his is one of a small number of really first rate global-level academic historians who can also write to a broad, popular audience.  Among his major hits are The Ideology of the American Revolution (1992), a kind of synthesis of state of the art academic history with some of the revisionist themes in popular history that sprang to the fore in the 1960s and 1970s; he also wrote The Peopling of British North America (1988), which the standard undergraduate level treatment of that particular subject, and for over a period of 30 years at this point.

  The general theme of his work is to emphasize the connections between the Empire of Great Britain and the colonies that would become the United States.  Thus, this book of essays- many of which seemed to have been adapted directly from speeches given on various august occasions, orbits around the ideas he has explored over a lifetime and other areas: there are repeated mentions of subjects like Australian and Caribbean history.  The non-speech essays seem to be either articles or introductions written for various special events within the field of history.

  His thoughts are illuminating if you are interested in historiography (the study of the study of history) in a general sense- although endnotes are included, everything is pitched at a general level and the book itself is under 300 pages.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Good Morning Midnight (1939) by Jean Rhys


Book Review
Good Morning Midnight (1939)
by Jean Rhys

  "As depressing as a Jean Rhys novel" should be a metaphor. Like the other Rhys title that has shown up during the 1001 Books project (Quartet (1929)), Good Morning Midnight is about a woman at loose ends.  Rhys' train wreck protagonists are half proto feminist icons and half Edwardian "fallen woman" existing in the grey area between mistress and prostitute.  In fact, they had a phrase for it "demi monde."  Quartet was explicitly a roman a clef (thinly veiled fictional account of biographical material) about her lengthy affair with Modernist Author and Editor Ford Madox Ford.  

  Neither Good Morning Midnight or Quartet are explicitly biographical, but it's hard not connect the dots.  Quartet is a portrait of the author as a young woman, and Good Morning Midnight is a portrait of that same woman as a drunken, suicidal, penniless wreck, shifting between horrific flashbacks involving a life on the margins and an equally horrific present, where she aimlessly wanders the streets or Paris, spending a monthly stipend left by an unnamed benefactor from her past- enough to survive but not enough to live.

  The end of Quartet involves her being raped- or maybe it's just an attempted rape- and robbed by a gigolo.  Good Morning Midnight is sad in a thoroughly modern way.  The great sadness and loneliness at the heart of the "liberation" brought by modernism to men and women around the globe is itself one of the great themes of 20th century literature, and Rhys is one of the earliest practitioners of the sad science of individualism.

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