Dedicated to classics and hits.

Friday, May 09, 2014

The Fox (1922) by D.H. Lawrence


Book Review
The Fox (1922)
by D.H. Lawrence

  Oh man only the third D.H. Lawrence book that I've read?  Seems like more. I guess four if you count Lady Chatterley's Lover.  The Fox is a novella, not a novel, not a short story.  I'm curious about the dividing line between short story and novella, maybe more than 50 pages is a novella, less is a short story?

  The story- sorry- Novella, is about two "intellectual" women (maybe lesbians) who decide to take over a small farm.  They are plagued by a fox that keeps raiding the hen house.  Henry, a young man home from World War I shows up looking for his now deceased Grandfather.  He sticks around and sets his cap on the butcher of the pair.  The fox, in this tale, is a symbol of masculinity and Henry is himself a kind of fox.

 It's hard to discuss the ending without ruining the "fun" but The Fox is an accessible access point for someone trying to dip into D.H. Lawrence.  Also a super erotic 60s movie version came out- may have to look that up.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Death in Venice (1912) by Thomas Mann


Book Review
Death in Venice (1912)
 by Thomas Mann
in Death and Venice and Seven Other Stories
Vintage edition paperback 1989
Translated by H.T. Lowe-Porter

  Thomas Mann was best known for his major novels: Buddenbrooks (1901) and The Magic Mountain (1924) but he also wrote a grip of Novellas and short stories.  At 71 pages, "they" call Death in Venice a Novella but I would say short-story.  It details the erotic obsession of an older man with a young boy, set against the onset of the Influenza crisis in Venice.

  It's an evocative setting, and Mann is more or less dealing in a forthright fashion with a highly taboo kind of sexual attraction.  There is nothing R-rated in here- it was published in 1914, but the mood anticipates the more frankly sexual (and more disturbing) work of Nabokov a half century later.  According to scholars, Death in Venice is based on an actual experience Mann had a Venetian hotel.  As it turns out, Mann was bisexual, as is readily apparent to anyone who reads this story (though not clear at all if you read Buddenbrooks or The Magic Mountain.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Rosshalde (1914) by Herman Hesse

Painting of Herman Hesse

































Book Review
Rosshalde (1914)
by Herman Hesse
Bantam Paperback Edition

  Reviewing Rosshalde as a book published in 1914, while factually accurate, is deceptive, because Hesse was essentially unknown in English until the mid 1960s, when his books were republished en masse and became a favorite of the 1960s counter culture and subsequent generations of high school/college aged readers.   The ark is easy to see if you look at Herman Hesses' English language Ngram- basically growing by six fold between 1960 and 1974, with a peak popularity in 1980, a mild decline through the 1990s and an uptick after 1993.

   Herman Hesse has four books on the 1001 Books to Read Before You Die list.  In high school I read three of the four: Siddhartha (1922) , Stephenwolf (1927) and The Glass Bead Game (1943).  Hesse was hardly an unknown figure in world literature- he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1946.  But his mix of spiritualism- clearly influenced by German Romanticism, Freudianism and a veneer of Orientalism struck a resonant chord with the 1960s counter culture and its children.

  Hesse published many Novels that I've read that DIDN'T make it to the 1001 Books List- Narcissus and Goldmund, Journey to the East & Demian are three that I remember reading in the Bantam paperback version that mirrors this edition of Rosshalde. Rosshalde is the name of the estate/home of famous painter Johann Verguth and his loveless marriage.  He decides to leave to join a friend in India, and his youngest son (and light of his life) gets Meningitis and dies.  You can see where the self-obsessed culture of the West during the 1960s would find this level of self absorption, but its only tolerable if you take it as an anachronistically romantic Novel (which it in fact is.)

  Despite the historical quirk of Hesse being "discovered" by an English Audience almost twenty years after he published his last novel,  Hesse was not the only Novelist incorporating the new "science" of psychology/psychiatry. Hesse actually did undergo psychoanalysis with Jung.  His direct experience contrasts with that of D.H. Lawrence who actually denied early familiarity with Freud and his work on the mind.  The trend of incorporating new disciplines like psychology and other new social sciences: sociology, began in the late 19th century.  In 19th century literature this focus is often on using these new methods to describe "the lower classes" only in the 20th century did writers like Hesse and Lawrence (and Stein, and Joyce) start to apply that focus to the self.
  

Monday, May 05, 2014

Only Lovers Left Alive (2014) d. Jim Jarmusch

Tilda Swinton as vampire Eve in Only Lovers Left Alive

Movie Review
Only Lovers Left Alive (2014)
 d. Jim Jarmusch

The release of a new Jim Jarmusch film is a rare and exciting event for anyone interested in Criterion Collection type films.   Jarmusch already has three features in the Criterion Collection proper: Stranger Than Paradise, Down By Law, Mystery Train and Night on Earth (??)  He also has multiple titles that probably worthy of the Criterion Collection treatment: Ghost Dog and Dead Man.  One Bill Murray starring certified indie hit, Broken Flowers (13 million dollar domestic box office.)  Jarmusch averages approximately one film every four years.  His last movie, The Limits of Control, released in 2009, was his biggest flop.

 Your average Jim Jarmusch joint clocks between 1 and 3 million in box office.  He has resolutely maintained his independence as a film maker, which I think means that he does not do work for hire.  It doesn't mean that he distributes his own films.   Only Lovers Left Alive is released by Sony Classics and his two films before that were Focus Features.

 It's a fair observation 20 plus years in that Jim Jarmusch is not for everyone. When you compare his box office results to similar film makers like David Lynch, the Coen Brothers or other well known indie film makers like Wes Anderson that share a similar "target audience" Jarmusch will inevitably have a smaller audience.

 This is perhaps understandable in terms of Jarmusch's use of a slow, contemplative style that links all of his films with the work of Italian proto-auteur Michelangelo Antonioni.  Jarmusch evokes comments from the Audience similar to critical responses to Antonioni, namely that his movies are slow and boring.  Saying that a specific Jarmusch film is "slow or boring" is not a particularly valid point because the films are supposed to be like that.  He's drawing on a half century of international cinematic language, and it is no surprise that his foreign box office is often double or triple that of the US box office.

 The Antonioni connection is particularly significant in the context of any discussion of the artistic merit of Only Lovers Left Alive because Tilda Swinton, the vampire Eve, is to Jarmusch what Monica Vitti in L'Aventurra, La Notte, L'eclisse,  and Red Desert, is to Antonioni's in his most enduring films.  To put it bluntly, if you want an Audience to sit and stare at the screen for an hour and a half while nothing much happens, put a woman (and/or man) in the frame who merits that much attention.  Tilda Swinton is that woman (or man depending on the role.)

 For a film maker to find such a muse so far into his career seems unusual, if I was to think of examples: Godard with Anna Karina, Antonioni with Vitti, Tarantino with Travolta, I would say the muse usually shows up earlier rather than later.  But Jarmusch has never been in much of a hurry has he?  His progression, from defiantly "art house" pictures, to genre experiments, to some kind of synthesis of the two is typical of that of the independent auteur trying to adhere both to a specific artistic vision AND continue to make films.

  In framing Only Lovers Left Alive as a "vampire movie" Jarmusch has pulled off the clever tactic of cloaking an art house wolf in genre sheeps clothing. It is a tried and true tradition more than a half century old at this point. Ghost Dog and Dead Man represent earlier, and in my opinion less
successful attempts to do much the same thing that he accomplishes in Only Lovers Left Alive.

  Most surprising about Only Lovers Left Alive is the humor, something awol from many of his reent efforts. I laughed aloud repeatedly in Only Lovers Left Alive- it was truly a funny movie, and cool, and thoughtful.  The vampires are the artists, the zombies are the audiences, and the facilitators.  Only Lovers Left Alive is a metaphor about the life of the Artist in the contemporary world.  

Kokoro (1914) by Natsume Soseki

Natsume Soseki: Japanese novelist, author.

Book Review
Kokoro (1914)
by Natsume Soseki
Translated from the Japanese by Edwin McClellan

  I am 25 entries deep into the "Japanese Literature" tag on this blog but Kokoro is the first Japanese novel I've read...ever.  I'm no expert, but I've seen enough to not be shocked that the first Japanese novel on the 1001 Books To Read list involves three different suicides.  One of the suicides is a historical fact, that of General Nogi who waited until the death of the Meiji Emperor- 35 years after he "disgraced" himself by losing his banner during combat- to kill himself.  The delay between the disgrace and the resulting death is central to the Sensei character of Kokoro.

    Sensei mentors the main character, a fallow Tokyo university student laboring to find direction in his studies and his life. The distinct portions of the novel move from the relationship between the student and the sense; to the relationship between the student and his parents after graduation, and ends with a long letter from Sensei to the student, culminating in the Sensei committing suicide because of the role he played in the death of a friend of his during his university studies.

   One of the central differences between the literature of the west vs. the literature is the move away from poetry/verse within Western literature in the 18th century, i.e. the "Rise of the Novel" in England, France, Russia and America, with a supporting role in Spain, Italy, Germany and Scandanavia in the 19th entury.  Non-western cultures certainly had their own literary cultures- but across the board, "high literature" meant poetry until the 20th century.  In some non-Western civilizations, the Novel has been introduced via Colonialism- the Indian example but also the Arab/Islamic example as well. Japan is different in that they actively went out, understood Western literature on its own terms, and then created their own Novels without reference to a Western audience.

  I believe that one of the growth industries of non-Western 20th century Novels is an abiding concern with the poetics of the language.  It makes sense that people writing Novels in cultures that were more directly committed to poetry and verse would write Novels that were more concerned with the flow of the language.  The spread of the popularity of the novel in non-Western cultures during the 20th century is, along with the techniques of Modernism, the signature events in 20th century literature.   So a big part of reading 20th century literature is reading non-Western Novels.   Or non-Western verse, I suppose. If you wanted a full grasp of the subject of 'World Literature' you would be including Arabic verse, Indian verse, Chinese verse, Japanese verse.  These traditions span thousand of years.  On the other hand, Novels from these same places are essentially limited to the 20th century.  It's a very finite amount of time both compared to the native verse literary traditions AND the larger history of the Novel in the west.

   FOOTNOTES

(1)  It is worth noting that I am coming to the end of the portion of 1001 Books to Read Before You Die that can be read for free.  There are perhaps 50 additional titles that can be acquired for free via Amazon.com, and for everything else it's at least ninety-nine cents as a generic Amazon ebook.  Even a one cent book costs four dollars purchased used on Amazon. Working from a scenario where I end up getting to 300 or so books between free books and books I've already read, that still leaves approximately 700 books that need to be bought for at least one dollar a piece, minimum.  Kokoro cost me 4 dollars, for example.  I've also paid seven dollars for a Bantam paperweight edition of Rosshalde by Herman Hesse. So let's say I can get half of the remaining 700 books for either 99 cents of four dollars.  That is an average price two fifty per title.  Then for the remaining half, it's a cost of somewhere between five and ten dollars.  So we're talking like four thousand bucks.

  Which is all to say, I think I need to step up my game.  And probably trade the books I own to bookstores in exchange for new titles in that higher price category.  I certainly have several thousand dollars worth of books...in trade...

 Meanwhile, I've already  been reduced to working through the Criterion Collection Hulu Plus titles in alphabetical order, which is a sure sign that I'm on the road to exhausting that source for "free" titles.  I have no belief that there will be any opening of the floodgates so that EVERY Hulu Plus title is placed on Hulu Plus.  There is also the additional concern of the 2-3 titles that Criterion Collection adds every month, plus box sets.  I think I will likely be reduced to reviewing films I've "previously seen" without making an additional viewing.   Then Amazon Instant Video for work around

 

   

Blog Archive