Dedicated to classics and hits.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

The Anatomy Lesson (1983) by Philip Roth

Book Review
The Anatomy Lesson (1983)
by Philip Roth

  The Anatomy Lesson is the third book in the initial Zuckerman trilogy, later published together with books one and two as Zuckerman Unbound.  Both wikipedia and I agree that The Anatomy Lesson is the weakest of the initial Zuckerman trilogy.  The Anatomy Lesson picks up with Zuckerman after the death of his father and mother, plagued by an undiagnosable back pain that causes him to spend most of his time on his back in his apartment, unable to write.

  Zuckerman is ministered to by a variety of women, a nurse, students, typists, and others.   I'm sure Roth would agree that The Anatomy Lesson is Zuckerman at his least, a condition compounded by what can only be described as a "drug addled" decision to abandon writing and enroll in medical school in Chicago.   Off he jets to Chicago in the middle of winter, gobbling pain pills and smoking joints in the airplane bathroom (was that ever something people did?) before an encounter with a college classmate, now a surgeon in Chicago and the man Zuckerman is counting on to get him into medical school, sends him teetering off the edge, landing him in the hospital, where The Anatomy Lesson ends. 

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Dungeons and Dragons Art and Arcana: A Visual History (2018) by John Peterson and Sam Witmer

Book Review
Dungeons and Dragons Art and Arcana: A Visual History (2018)
by John Peterson and Sam Witmer

  I almost bought the coffee table sized hard copy of this book from Barnes & Noble with a Holiday gift card I received as a present, but I figured there would be no way that my girlfriend would let me display the enormous red colored book with a dragon on the cover on our coffee table, so I checked out the Ebook instead from the library.

  Surely, it is a different experience looking at the artwork on a smart phone vs the enormous physical edition, but Art and Arcana is also a narrative history of the Dungeons & Dragons phenomenon, which has directly inspired a generation of sword and sorcery entertainment in a variety of mediums, ranging from movies, to books, to video games.    The weakness of Art and Arcana is the weakness of Dungeons & Dragons itself: A relatively brief golden era where it rained supreme and the market for role playing games was expanding and then at a peak, and then several decades of rights mismanagement:  Missing key trends (card games, video games), embracing product churn (five editions) and of course, ill advised movie versions (the live action Dungeons and Dragons film, the animated Dragonlance film.

  I had my own period of interest in Dungeons and Dragons, beginning in late grade school and ending in middle school.  It was casual- I never went to conventions or had any awareness of the larger culture in the pre-internet era.  By the time of the internet I was over it, and I ended up being too old for Dungeons and Dragons inspired online games like World of Warcraft or any kind of console game. 

  The most interesting chapters were the pre-history of Dungeons and Dragons- I think I could read a separate book about the pre-D&D world of warcraft type gamers.  One other conclusion impossible to ignore is how white and male Dungeons and Dragons began and remain, even as they branched out to scenarios directly based on Arabic or Meso-American cultures.

  Another interesting section dealt with the 1980's anti-Dungeons and Dragons hysteria, and while of course it's appalling, I do say, that upon, reflection, the early versions of Dungeons and Dragons were a little obsessed with devils and demons, and it was a criticism seemingly embraced by the parent company itself.

Monday, April 22, 2019

I Am Dynamite! (2018) by Sue Prideaux

Book Review
I Am Dynamite! (2018)
 by Sue Prideaux

  I Am Dynamite! is an up-to-date biography of the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche.  Despite the fact that the thought of Nietzsche underlies much of the western philosophical tradition of the past century and a half AND that he was also a favorite of the Nazi regime of the Third Reich.   This association with the Nazis has made him a figure of fun among the middle brow, but if you ask any serious litterateur or philosophy student the principal figure of the western philosophical tradition over the past hundred and fifty years and they are likely to point to Friedrich Nietzsche or a philosopher directly influenced by him.

  In case you are wondering, rescues Nietzsche by blaming his sister, Elisabeth Förster-Nietzsche. This involves writing a separate mini-bio of Forster-Nietzsche, with an entire chapter about her role in the ill-fated National Socialist-inspired Nueva Germania that was launched by Foster-Nietzsche's husband, Bernhard Forster, who was one of the first Germans to espouse the "pure aryan" philosophy that was adopted by the Nazi Party.

   Elisabeth returned to Germany after the death of her husband and installed herself as the caretaker of Nietzsche, who had descended into the utter madness, of mysterious origin, that marked his final decade.  Nietzsche, when coherent, was not a fan of his sister or her proto-Nazi husband.  He also disagreed with his long-time hero-mentor Richard Wagner on Wagner's antisemitism, and with the antisemitism of his sister.   To be clear, Nietzsche wasn't a huge fan of Judaism but only as it related to his mortal enemy, Christianity.  Friedrich Nietzsche's primary critique was on the impact of Christianity on western civilization.  This was not a widely held opinion outside of small circles of radicals in France and England, and Nietzsche was friends with none of them.

 Prideaux memorably describes Nietzsche discovering the writing of Dostoevsky in French translation, in an Italian book shop, and excitedly reading through his oeuvre, excited to find a common philosophical spirit.  Nietzsche was stark raving mad when the world finally came around to his prophetic utterances, rendered more ironic by the fact that it was Nietzsche's own ranting about his prophetic status that got him committed in the first place.

   I listened to the Audiobook- it was a great choice- really made the text come alive, but I also think the book would make for good reading.  Prideaux is a skilled writer of narrative biography, and I came away from I Am Dynamite! with a better understanding of what Nietzsche was, and more importantly, what he wasn't.   I am sure that had he remained competent, he would have resisted co-option by the Nazi party, and probably wouldn't have lived in Germany.

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