Dedicated to classics and hits.

Monday, January 07, 2008

January February 2008: 18th Century English Literature

Peahen of Golden Hill

Peahen!!! 21st street, this morning, 8:45am!

when trying to woo a peahen it is important to shake your tailfeathers vigorously like so:

if you are a rather plain fellow, try feathering your nest in an aesthetically pleasing array of flowers and black beetle shells:
Bower Bird BBC Segment Narrated by
David Attenborough

Overheard in San Diego: Sessions Fest

The web home of "Overheard in San Diego"

I love the Overheard in San Diego feature from the San Diego Reader, penned by friend-of-Cat-Dirt Jay Allen Sanford. And now they're all online- including my favorite- the Sessions Fest Overheard... Check it out...

Official 2008 Coachella Poster!!!

Official 2008 Coachella Poster!!!, originally uploaded by catdirtrecords.

Here it is via the Coachella website.

Show Review: Dead Meadow, Calico Horse, The Great Northwest

Dead Meadow performances occupy two of my top five shows ever, i.e. Arthur Fest, Los Angeles 2004 & Little Radio New Year's Eve, 2006. 2004 was a great show because Arthur Fest ended up being the inspiration for Sophie's Sessions Fest, and because we'd never heard of Dead Meadow before seeing them live- which is how you know you're really going to love a band- if you hear them for the first time live and you're like "Whoa." As for Little Radio's New Year's Eve- the photos speak for themselves.

Those memories, together with my absence from live music in the month of January, and frankly, through most of December, had me in a contemplative mood last night. I was put in mind of the melancholy landscape of Halldorr Laxness's Iceland, musing on the issue of progress, and whether anything ever changes, and really, whether anything ever should change.

Calico Horse started the show. They drew a strong crowd of local music fans. Obvious, to me, that Calico Horse is a pick for 2008 San Diego Music Awards "best new band" category. Emily (ex-Muslims) is the singer/guitar player/keyboardist that powers the band, though I note she's added Matt (ex-Influx Cafe, Blue Monday) on guitar and has a capable bassist and drummer. This was my first live encounter with Calico Horse and I found Emily an intriguing front woman.

Calico Horse has a rock baseline, but most of the songs have a light, lilting quality to them that put me in mind of Tori Amos. Emily's singing is charmingly imperfect. Sophie heard an early PJ Harvey quality in her singing. I was engaged by the performance and want to hear the recorded work. Judging from the attendance last night, Calico Horse already has an avid local following.

The intermediate band was The Great Northwest. They were an unknown quality (and to the Casbah as well, which had "The Great Northern" listed on the bill.) You can read their (PDF) bio here. Their frontman is Dead Meadow's sound guy (and was the sound guy for the Dandy Warhols) and the band sounded like it was fronted by the sound guy for Dead Meadow. Sophie and I sat out the set in the Atari Lounge, where Astra was nowhere to be seen. I guess they cancelled. I set the high score- AGAIN on the Ms. Pacman machine. By the way- open $20 wager to anyone who thinks he or she can beat me on that game- I'll be there for Night Marchers & Valentine's Day if you want to throw down- but you have to show me the money before we play.

Dead Meadow took the stage reasonably early- thank god for that. Most of their songs were from the new record, which Sophie doesn't like but I think is OK. As they progressed through their set, the crowd peeled off. It almost felt like Calico Horse outdrew Dead Meadow, which is... strange.

I always feel like Dead Meadow puts on a performance that is well in excess of the individual parts that are on stageI'm glad Dead Meadow moved to Los Angeles, and I hope they come back soon.

Book Review:
 Moll Flanders (1722)
by Daniel DeFoe

Moll Flanders was first published in 1722. It was written by Daniel Defoe, three years after he had a huge success with Robinson Crusoe. Defoe didn't start writing fiction until his mid-50s- before then he was a journalist/rabble rouser/terrible business man (the chapters in Moll Flanders that describe the debtors prison of Newgate are written with such accuracy because Defoe himself spent time at Newgate).

Flander's is written in the form of an actual biography- writing fiction at that time and place was considered a sin. There are no chapter breaks, spelling and punctuation are intermittent. At first I was worried that the utter lack of form and structure would make Moll kind of a bummer but the unfamiliarity of the form was counterbalanced by the... bawdiness? The ribaldry? The lewdness?

I tell ya'- Us Magazine and TMZ got nothing on ole' Moll Flanders. Moll is an orphan. She's taken in by a local town official. Both of the son's of the family fall in love with her, one takes her for his whore/mistress, the other one wants her to marry him. Then she gets married to her brother (unkowingly!). She moves to Virginia, moves back, falls for a banker, but marries a wealthy gentleman but it turns out he has no money, becomes a thief, gets caught and moves back to Virginia.

It's no wonder that this story has been made and remade time and time and time again into movies, tv mini series and made for tv movies. Time and time again I found myself thinking, "this was published in 1722?" It's no wonder the Puritans were disgusted with English culture and left for America!

Reading Moll Flanders rather put my conscience at ease about societie's obsession with the tawdry details of "tabloid" culture. Apparently, it's been the same way since the very birth of the novel itself. Perez Hilton, TMZ, Jerry Springer & Moll Flanders. It just takes time for the appreciation to grow!

Book Review: Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe


Book Review: Joseph Andrews by Henry Fielding (CAT DIRT SEZ)
Book Review: the Vicar of Wakefield by Oliver Goldsmith (CAT DIRT SEZ)
Book Review: Tom Jones by Henry Fielding (CAT DIRT SEZ)

Hard to believe that there was a time when Robinson Crusoe wasn't deeply embedded in the western pysche.  As I sit here on my couch, it's easy to come up with a dozen contemporary reference points: Lost, that shitty Tom Hanks well you get the idea.  Two contemporary reference points.  Like Moll Flanders, Defoe wrote Robinson Crusoe as a "biography", and like Flanders, people believed it.  In fact, for many it is the character, not the author that people know and remember.

Regardless, Crusoe is an important precursor to the novel and after reading the book, its easy to see why.  Defoe's protagionist is recognizable as a modern hero.  Before I started Crusoe I had the vague idea that the book would start and end with him marooned on a desert island.  Not so.  Crusoe starts out as a young lad in the UK.  He wants to go to see, his dad tells him to stay home.  He goes anyways.  He hooks up with some Portugese traders, gets captured by a Moorish pirate, escapes, is rescued off the coast of Africa, ends up in Brazil, starts a plantation, goes on an expedition to capture slaves(!) AND THEN he gets shipwrecked.

So. He's on the island, and he builds his own little world.  The meat of the book alternates between his explaining his various innovations (builds a goat pen, farms some rice, builds a house) and making exhortations to god about his miserable fate/how lucky his is not to be dead.)  This goes on for roughly 24 years(only 150 pages of text, tho.)  Meanwhile I'm thinking, "Didn't he have a sidekick?  Friday?  Isn't Friday in this book?"

And then- voila- Friday shows up- Crusoe rescues him from some Carribean cannibals- and from there Crusoe's solitude is broken.  Despite the archaic spelling/grammar & syntax Crusoe is a quick, easy read.  It's almost like reading some kind of literary archetype- a kind of narrative that lies at the center of who we are as modern individuals.

I think individualism is at the center of Robinson Crusoe.  Crusoe's solitude is an early example of an internal, subjective narrative.  We all live in Crusoe's world now, but it's easy to see why it was such a smash in 1719- it must have spoken deeply to the rise in individualism that coincided with with the rise of other aspects of modernity in the 18th century.

Book Review: A Tale of of a Tub by Jonathan Swift

I've been struggling with molding these book reviews into a more blog friendly framework. Struggling with, and failing, in my opinion. At least it's something different, is the way I look at it. However- all that ends today with this write up of Jonathan Swift's 1704 classic "A Tale of a Tub."

You see, in 1704 the world was experiencing a proliferation of "new media" similar to what we're seeing today on the internet. Now, it's blogs; then it was pamphlets. A rise in literacy coupled with wider access to printing technology and lowered printing costs combined to create a newly democratic era of opinion. SOUND FAMILIAR?

"Tale of a Tub" is putatively a ham handed parable about a man with three sons, Peter, Martin & Jack. The man is god, his sons represent the Catholic Church, the Church of England and Protestants. Interspersed with the "story" chapters are numerous digressions, where the narrator- who is, in fact, supposed to come off as an idiot- makes numerous observations about the "culture of criticism" circa 1700 or so. You need to have some background in the era to appreciate quips about ancient vs. modern man or to chuckle out loud about the narrator's analysis of the history of criticism, but underneath the oblique references is some trenchant humor about the ease with which the newly empowered feel about venturing their (moronic) opinions about anything & everything.

In fact, it's easy to see how one might adapt this format into a similar critique of today's "snarky" blog culture.  Every man and woman a critic, and every critic a know it all. In "Tale of a Tub" Swift calls' these folks stupid and it makes me wonder- where is our Jonathan Swift?

Book Review:
 Joseph Andrew
 by Henry Fielding

Portrait of Henry Fielding

Joseph Andrews
p.  1742

     I don't know what to make of the repeated use of incest as a plot point in 18th century English lit. First Moll Flanders, and now Joseph Andrews- both use the prospect of brother/sister loving as a narrative device. I'm now four books into my survey of 18th century british literature and I have to say- I simply can't imagine what would possess a soul to pursue the study of literature beyond an undergraduate familiarity. Graduate school in literature? Becoming a professor of literature? I don't get it. My thought was that by starting this project I could generate interesting ideas for blog posts, but it's quite the opposite. I enjoy reading the novels, but it's a struggle to conceive of anything that would be interesting to anybody else.

     Joseph Andrews was originally published in the 1740s. It was written by Fielding as a kind of literary response to Samuel Richardson's "Pamela", which was the "sentimental" tale of a servant girl who was wooed by her lacivious master, eventually convincing him to marry her. Upon publication, Pamela took fashionable London by storm- readers were shocked by the frank discussion of sexuality and edified by the "moral" triumph. Fielding responded, first by authoring a response to Pamela called "Shamela" in which a bawdy servant girl seduces her way to the top.

         After the success of Shamela, Fielding wrote Joseph Andrews, which purports to be the tale of Pamela's brother. Pamela appears as a character in Josepl Andrews, now married to her aristo husband. In fact, Joseph Andrews has all the markings of something that could well be described as "post modern" and the fact that it was, in fact, written in 1740, is further proof- in my mind- of the proposition that to describe anything other then architecture as "post modern" is to brand yourself as a moron. Self awareness and reflexivity are not characteristic of post modernism, but rather characteristic of modernism itself. The fact is that writers in the 18th century were just as self aware as any "post modern" author, and Joseph Andrews is fair prove of that.

Fielding repeatedly breaks into digressions and tangents that make the reader conscious of the artificiality of the form of the novel. Andrews is filled with self consciousness, inside jokes, allusions to current events and jibes at contemporary society. The picture Fielding paints of British society circa 1740 makes it clear to me why so many people chose to emigrate. Fielding is at his sharpest when he mimics the pompous legal culture of 18th century britain. Andrews and his traveling companions are repeatedly arrested under mistaken and/or dubious circumstances, only to be freed for equally mistaken or dubious reasons.

The story, such as it is, begins with Andrews being discharged from the service of the Lady Booby- she wants to get into his pants after her husband dies, he resists her. He starts on the road from London towards his home parish in the county. Along the way he falls in with Abraham Adams- a clergy man from his home town. Adams is the comic relief to Andrew's humorless leading man. The two travel from inn to inn before meeting up with Andrew's beloved- Fanny. The three of them continue home, begging for money, getting arrests for ridiculous "crimes" and listening to various people relate their life stories. The narrative is quite obviously meant to be a critique of english society of the time, particularly of the upper classes, who are constantly described as being venal, poorly educated buffoons. At one point, Adams is attacked by the hunting dogs of a country squire who delights in having his dogs attack men. At another, they are entertained by a different country squire who is known far and wide for making promises and disregarding them.

Upon their final arrival at their home town, Joseph and Fanny announce they are to be married. Lady Booby comes back from London and tries to thwart the marriage, and she is assisted by her nephew and Joseph's sister- Pamela- the character from the Samuel Richardson novel. Then of course, it's time for the incest twist, and all is resolved for the better. Joseph Andrews should be required reading for every pompous undergraduate who uses the phrase "post modern" in their intro to lit class in college. Might I suggest delivery via a well aimed throw at the back of the head?

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