Dedicated to classics and hits.

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.


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.

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