Dedicated to classics and hits.

Friday, April 13, 2012


Rameau's Nephew and First Satire
By Denis Diderot
Translation by Margaret Mauldon
With and Introduction and Notes By Nicholas Cronk
written 1760s-1770s
published in German Translation 1805
This Edition 2006
Oxford World's Classics

  Of the 13 books from the "1700s" in the 2006 Edition of 1001 Books To Read Before You Die, seven of them are by French Authors.  Specifically, Jean-Jacques Rousseau (4) and Denis Diderot (3).

  Rameau's Nephew is the first of those seven to fall, because I already had a copy sitting on my shelf.  Reading the introduction, I remembered why I had actually put this book down after starting- Rameau's Nephew ranks up there with Laurence Sterne's Tristram Shandy in inaccessibility to the modern reader.  Tristram Shandy, at least, is in the form of a Novel, whereas Rameau's Nephew takes the form of a "philosophical dialogue" between "ME" (Diderot) and "HIM" (A "Grub Street Hack" living in mid 18th century Paris.)
    Both books draw on the tradition of Rabelais' Gargantua and Pantagruel- a series of five books published in the 16th century by French writer Francois (accent omitted) Rabelais.  Like Gargantua and Pantagruel, Rameau's Nephew is not, itself, a novel, but the style and content was absorbed by later Novelists.  I mean that the two characters of Rameau's Nephew have a life to them that is lacking of other books written during the same time period, and more resemble the world-wise anti-heroes of Flaubert then the cardboard picar-esque character of your Peregrine Pickles or your Humphrey Clinkers.
    Certainly not a work for a casual peruser of 18th century literature,  Rameau's Nephew is best read in a critical edition, whether that be paperback or e reader- you can't just stumble through the 100 pages that comprise Rameau's Nephew and hope to "get" it- there needs to be some background with the underlying scene (specifically, the French philosophes of the Enlightenment.)

Thursday, April 12, 2012


Book Review
The Man of Feeling
by Henry MacKenzie
p. 1771
Oxford World's Classics Edition p. 2001
Edited by Brian Vickers
With an Introduction and Notes by Stephen Bending and Stephen Bygrave

  I was working on the Bibliography for this blog when I noticed I'd never actually published a book review for The Man of Feeling by Henry MacKenzie, even though I bought it November in 2009 and must have read it in 2010.   Although I never wrote a review, I referred to it at length during my review of Laurence Sterne's A Sentimental Journey, posted in April of last year.   Back then, here is what I had to say:

    Sterne's A Sentimental Journey was published three years before Henry MacKenzie's The Man of Feeling.  Man of Feeling was in instant hit, selling out within two months and being reprinted six time in the following decade.  Both novels echo the on-going debate in 18th century about the impact of modernity on the nature of man.  As G.J. Barker-Benfield persuasively argued in his book, The Culture of Sensibility, "popular novels written by men in the 1760s and 1770s were preoccupied with the meanings of sensibility for manhood...and the ambiguity we now tend to read into the novels of Laurence Stern or Mackenzie reflects this contemporary ambivalence."       Regardless of how one interprets the underlying debate OR the role of the "novels of sentiment" in the 18th century, it's clear that these tales had an audience.  Of course, in light of the rise of female novelists in the 19th century,  I am left wondering who was buying all the copies of MacKenzie's The Man of Feeling.  Was it men, interested in getting a fix on their identity in a rapidly changing world?  Or was it largely women, interested in men who were depicted behaving in a traditionally "feminine" manner?      Sterne's Sentimental Journey is a clear way-station on the way to MacKenzie's mincing, sobbing Man of Feeling.  Unlike MacKenzie, Sterne is a comic genius, and his book is filled with episodes of satire and wit that are sorely missing in Man of Feeling.  There is also an element of bawdiness in A Sentimental Journey that is so clearly an element of Sterne's Rabelaisian style- something lacking in MacKenzie, let alone the oft humorless novels of sentiment that were published after the turn of the century.  Blame the Victorians, or don't, it matters little.      However it's clear to me that the "Sentimental Man" was a cultural trend with all the complexity and force of later trends like Rock and roll, and it's interesting because it was one of the FIRST such modern trends whose influence was reflected in a contemporary art form that was ITSELF just rounding into form (the novel.)  For that reason it's worth thinking about, because by learning about people then, we can learn about ourselves now.

     That's as true as it was then as it is now.   Henry MacKenzie's The Man of Feeling has a antiquated feel to it, simply from the type of culture depicted- the culture of sentiment.  Important as it is to understand that time period, it's not very appealing from a Modern perspective, except as a historical text.  Perhaps that is why I didn't review it back in 2010.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


Gustave Flaubert

Book Review
Sentimental Education
by Gustav Flaubert
p. 1869
Read Penguin Paperback Edition

   You can't really appreciate Flabuert's novel, Sentimental Education, without getting a sense of the way the main character's name is written.  It is spelled "FREDERIC" without the accents.  In many of the translations they translate his name to FREDERICK, and that just misses so much of the subtlety of the name itself.  A large portion of the plot of Sentimental Education describes the attempt of a young, provincial man trying to "make it" in the big city.   In that regard it is the inspiration for a more contemporary take on the same theme like Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney.

  In Sentimental Education, Frederic Moreau is helped by what is termed a "modern inheritance" - not enough to conquer, but enough to keep him in the game.   Part of what makes Sentimental Education a frankly  scintillating example of the Novel as Art Form is the way Flaubert integrates the exciting current events of the time and place (Paris, France, mid 19th century) with a very insightful, very cutting Novel of manners.

  The way Flaubert depicts Frederic Moreau stumbling through puddles of blood and dead bodies with a kind of spirit akin to that displayed by Alex in Clockwork Orange- a kind of gleeful sang froid, will be recognizable to any critic who has had to cope with the output of hyper-prolific internet rap acts like Odd Future- "SKIPPING THROUGH THE BODIES" I call it.   Well, at the very least, it's nothing new.

   Sentimental Education is also worth reading for the tour-de-force depiction of material possessions- which is definitively a trait picked up by a modern Author like Brett Easton Ellis.  Although writers like France Burney or the Bronte sister depicted social space, they didn't really depict the material dimension of that space- the possessions.   Flaubert, with his lavish depictions both memorializes and satirizes what we call "consumer culture"- he's writing about Paris in the 1840s.

   A third dimension of mastery of the Novel as Art Form that Flaubert shows in Sentimental Education is his manipulation of time in the novel to pull the reader along by the force of events.  Again, this is a big, big difference between Sentimental Education and earlier Novels- they are very, very clumsy when it comes to time.   Many fields of Artistic endeavor have seen a general shortening of length- or compression- of the form- whether it be MP3s or the Short Story.

  It's important to be able to appreciate Sentimental Education as a satire similar to the effect that Burgess was going for in Clockwork Orange or Ellis in American Psycho.  At the same time there is the very real and realistic depiction of human emotion that certainly came from "with-in."   I suspect that's an ingredient to every classic novel that many non classic novels lack- people don't care about the characters.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Riddle of The Sands


The Riddle of the Sands: A Record of Secret Service
by Erskine Childers
published 1903
Project Gutenberg Ebook Edition
Read on Ipad/Ebooks

  This is a book where I regretted the Gutenberg Free Ebook format because there are several maps that are crucial to understanding The Riddle of The Sands, the first "spy novel" ever written.  When you consider the amount of market share the "mystery, thriller and suspense" category occupies, it's a wonder that a book like The Riddle of the Sands isn't taken more seriously, but I'd literally never heard of it before seeing it listed in 1001 Books to Read Before You Die (2006 ed.)

  Although The Riddle of the Sands was written in 1903 it's definitely a Victorian, rather then Modern, work of literature.  The Wikipedia article referencing the work of H. Rider Haggard as a main influence, and it's easy to see the family resemblance.  Sands thematic contribution was to, "establis(h) a formula that included a mass of verifiable detail."  Spy novelists later in the 20th century- people like Ian Fleming and John Le Carre- rode that formula to mass market glory later in the 20th century.

   You can also see the impact of the "mass of verifiable detail"  in more "serious" literature- particularly the work of Brett Easton Ellis, William Vollmann or David Foster Wallace- or for that matter the "serious" genre fiction of a William Gibson or Neal Stephenson. 

  However the real contribution of The Riddle of The Sands is the pacing- Childers early spy novel is only 300 pages in length, and he artfully deploys time to obtain narrative impact.   It's funny, because as I write this I'm reading Flaubert's A Sentimental Education, and the main issue the critical introduction calls out is Flaubert's deft manipulation of time and it's relationship to the verifiable detail he deploys to obtain realistic impact. 

Monday, April 09, 2012

SHOW REVIEW: Colleen Green, Heavy Hawaii, Sunwheel, Asha


Heavy Hawaii
Colleen Green
Soda Bar San Diego, CA.

   Let me just say that I was actually excited to see two new local bands for what felt like the first time in two years.  I got there early just see Asha and Sunwheel.  I know Asha was a "game time" substitution because Dunes dropped off the bill.

ASHA SHESHADRI:      I think many show going San Diegans would recognize Asha from her being at  shows over the past couple of years.   She performed as a one piece with an imposing looking keyboard and then some combination of sampling/looping equipment- no drum machine.  Asha is certainly talented and smart enough to grasp some of the essentials of the up and coming girl with a keyboard and looping equipment genre that GRIMES is currently heading up.  It's funny though, because when I actually saw Grimes in Toronto last year I wouldn't have said she was markedly better then Asha last night.  I'm not trying to belittle Grimes or compliment Asha or vice vera, all I'm saying is I've seen them both perform in front of less then 50 people in the past 12 months, and they struck me as essentially being equally talented.  Certainly if anyone was to tell me that Grimes is waaaaay better then Asha, I would just scoff at them.

    That being said, the recent Grimes record clearly reveals how important a command of WARP Records era drum beats is to perfecting a variation of girl with a keyboard and looping/sampling equipment that will play in the sticks (like in San Diego, for example.)  Right now, Asha's music is interesting but static.  That's fine for being the opening band on a four band bill, but I would think she would want to add some beats before she hits the road, lest she fail to make the requisite good impression.  Personally, I like the music the way it is- that's just my observation about the actual market for her music.

 Asha has a tape out on Digitalis LTD (#234) which I will be writing about later.

SUNWHEEL:  I read a review, written in French, of a Crocodiles show in France last summer- they headlined some festival and had an audience of a few thousand people and the reviewer said- in French- this was just the translation, that, "Crocodiles should write more then 2 good songs before they start acting like conceited assholes."  I laughed out loud at the time, and even though I disagree with the observation in reference to the Crocodiles life show, I think it reflects the attitude of a significant portion of the Audience, especially the smaller Audience you get for local bands.

    Sunwheel certainly had some things going for it:  Three piece band with no drummer, just a drum machine,  two guy/one girl that had a press pack ready appearance and an in style gothy synth pop sound that fits in loosely with other Artists that are breaking out of local scenes with a similar sound.

  And while I'm appreciative of stylishness and having an actual stage presence as a local band, the songs need work.  In particular the set closing number needs to be banished, and if it means the set is one song shorter, so be it.   In recorded form the singer's voice is going to be crucial to obtaining any kind of wider interest, and I simply haven't heard any recordings, so I'm not sure if he's got a good voice or not.   Finally, and this is just a helpful suggestion, I don't know if the minimalist drum programming is the way to go, certainly  some more up tempo-ness would be appreciated during the life show.  Maybe a cover song?

  In conclusion though Sunwheel is about a thousand times more interesting then your tradition blues rock or Vampire Weekend inspired four piece with four white men who grew up in upper middle class suburban locations (which seems to comprise about 85% of the local bands in San Diego, CA.) so any criticism contained herein should be taken as positive encouragement, not negativity.

COLLEEN GREEN- What more can I say about Colleen Green other then that the Heavy Hawaii fans (I guess?) who showed up last night and sat at the bar talking through Colleen Green's set are a bunch of rude fucking assholes.  It's just common courtesy.  Ignore the local openers to your hearts content, but give the touring band 15 minutes of your time.  The bottom line is that Colleen is selling a ton of records right now, so it really doesn't matter what a bunch of San Diego losers think, but you were all rude to her, and that's an embarrassing fact.  If you actually watched Colleen Green perform last night you are surely convinced at how amazing she is live.  Colleen Green kills live.

HEAVY HAWAII- Skipped this set mainly because I felt like their fans were rude assholes to Colleen Green.  I'm just waiting for that LP to be finished and get released on Art Fag Recordings later this year.  Maybe early next year at this rate.  It should be noted that Heavy Hawaii def. has an audience of +100 for those of you considering who to book as local acts for upcoming San Diego area events- music festivals, WHAT HAVE YOU.

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