Dedicated to classics and hits.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Manhattan Transfer by John Dos Passos

John Dos Passos

Book Review
Manhattan Transfer
by John Dos Passos
p.  1925
Houghton Mifflin Company Boston
Sentry Edition p. 1953

   I read Manhattan Transfer out of turn because I was actually interested in reading a book by Lost Generation author cum Right Wing Republican Conservative, John Dos Passos.    DURING the Lost Generation period, Dos Passos was a big deal.  A "Great American Novelist" who incorporated modernist prose literary techniques gleaned from James Joyce, and one who did things like fight in the Spanish Civil War and incorporate Socialist rhetoric into his fiction.  By the end of his life he was, "actively campaign[ing] for Barry Goldwater and Richard M. Nixon, and became associated with the Young Americans For Freedom Group." (JOHN DOS PASSOS WIKIPEDIA ENTRY)

  HEY- you want to know what taints a literary legacy?  Campaigning for Barry Goldwater and Richard M. Nixon.   I suppose though, that the work should stand independent of the man and his shift away from supporting Socialism. 

  As far as incorporating Joycean derived experimental prose techniques into a "Novel"- I'm not a huge fan. I have no doubt that I'm going to have to come to terms with "stream-of-consciousness" narratives, and Authors who jump back and forth across time and space without telling the reader what's happening, but I felt like I've already absorbed those techniques, if not through literature, through the work of film makers of Jean Luc Godard.  OH- AND PS- I HATE JEAN LUC GODARD and all of his movies except Breathless, Alphaville and Week End- which I kind of hate but respect. 

  On the posi side of the ledger- John Dos Passos writes the (non-narrated) dialogue with the aplomb of a modern sitcom writer.  I was reminded of the later work of William Burroughs and the other beat writers.  John Dos Passos, patrician he may be, was concerned in his work with what the 60s would call "the plight of the underclass" and his fiction reflects that concern.

  I found "the experimental writing techniques and narrative collages" distracting, but a book that randomly cuts between non-intertwined narratives is going to be distracting even without experimental writing techniques and narrative collages."  Here's an example of what these experimental writing techniques consist of:  He runs two word phrases together as one word. BREATHTAKING. 

  My sense though is that the Lost Generation itself is ripe for re-appropriation.  I think there is already a movie remake of F. Scott Fitzgerald's seminal Lost Generation text, The Great Gatsby, and that could well spur a Lost Generation revival.  Maybe throw John Dos Passos a bone when that comes around.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


David Hume in His Armenian Get Up

Crowded With Genius
The Scottish Enlightenment: Edinburgh's Moment of the Mind
by James Buchan
Originally published in 2003 as Capital of the Mind: How Edinburgh Changed the World (John Murray)
This edition  2003 by Harper Collins

     The Scottish Enlightenment was a "scene" in what Randall Collins prosaically  calls, "Figure 11.1. French and British Network During the Enlightenment, 1745-1800 in his seminal The Sociology of Philosophies: A Global Theory of  Intellectual Change.

     The major scenes in Figure 11.1 are geographically located in Edinburgh and Paris.  The Edinburgh "scene" consisted of George Berkeley, David Hume and Adam Smith and the Paris scene involved Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot and the rest of the Encyclopedists.  Clearly this interaction: between Edinburgh and Paris, was central to both philosophy and Art.   Buchans book, Crowded With Genius The Scottish Enlightenment: Edinburgh's Moment of the Mind focuses on this Scottish Enlightenment crowd, moving through all the different sub-scenes that contributed to the intellectual "ferment" that resulted in so many great Works.

Jean Jacques Rousseau in his Armenian Get Up

    Buchan includes a last chapter on Henry Mackenzie and his literary classic, A Man of Feeling, but most of the book deals with Philosophers, Economists and Scientists.  Given that the boundaries between Art and Science were much, much looser then they are today, but many of these disciplines were virtually invented by the key figures of the Scottish Enlightenment.

   From the perspective of a modern reader, the two key figures of the Scottish Enlightenment are David Hume and Adam Smith, though of course you need to consider that Adam Smith has had a dominating couple of centuries, and the two haven't been competitive since the mid 19th century (GOOGLE NGRAM ADAM SMITH VS. DAVID HUME)

   From a reader perspective, Crowded With Genius is a series of well written biographical sketches of the key figures of the Scottish Enlightenment and a lose chronological narrative bridging the chapters.  It's def. written for a general Audience, but the kind of general Audience that is interested in the key figures of the Scottish Enlightenment.

Henry MacKenzie: Man of Feeling

   Crowded With Genius The Scottish Enlightenment: Edinburgh's Moment of the Mind shed light on Henry MacKenzie's Man of Feeling, and it also gave context for other 18th century Enlightenment era works by French, English and Scottish authors.  Particularly, Crowded With Genius allows you to see the contemporary influence that Jean Jacques Rousseau had on his Scottish analogues.   Perhaps the key contribution of the Scottish Enlightenment was the the development of "Sensitivity" as an emotional concept worth understanding.   This Sensitivity or "Sensibility" as it was then called, took root in multiple countries and bore continuing fruit in the Romantic movement, not to mention being a direct source of inspiration in the Victorian Novel.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Confusions of Young Torless by Robert Musil

Robert Musil
The Confusions of Young Torless
by Robert Musil
p. 1906
Penguin Twentieth Century Classics Edition
Translation by Shaun Whiteside 2001
Introduction by J.M. Coetzee

    The truth is that up till this point I hadn't read a single Penguin Twentieth Century Classics Edition of any Novel from the 2006 edition of the 1001 Books To Read Before You Die list.  Obviously, though, I haven't read a single book from the 1900s portion of the list itself- which is fully 700 of the 1001 books to Read Before You Die.  That seems kind of insane to me.  If you can do the 1700s, 1800s and 2000s in 300 books, you can do the Twentieth Century in MAXIMUM- 300 books.   I'm going to publish my own book called 500 Novels To Read After You Retire.  Who wouldn't rather read 500 books then 1001?

   One of the reasons I purchased The Confusions of Young Torless is unfamiliarity with the Author, Robert Musil.  Musil is best known for his unfinished work,  The Man Without Qualities, or in the German, Der Mann ohn Eigenschaften, but The Confusions of Young Torless is a nice little introduction with the added bonus of an upper class Austrian boarding school setting and dark, gay, sexual sado-masichism as only an Austrian boarding school in the late 19th century can breed. Torless' Confusions wrap up in about 150 pages, and the Novel is informed by the morally concerned coming of Age narratives that stretch back to Goethes The Sorrows of Young Werther within the German language literary world. 

   In addition to being pleasantly short and embedded with gay sexual themes,  Robert Musil has high snob value among literratuers.  And the fact is the non-specialist is unlikely to tackle The Man Without Qualities. That is because A Man Without Qualities is almost (more then?) a thousand pages long AND IS UNFINISHED.  

   So I would say that The Confusions of Young Torless makes my 500 Novels To Read After You Retire list due to the combination of readability, snob appeal/value & gay sex scenes.  The Man Without Qualities, does not make the list. 

Monday, May 21, 2012

Les Liasons Dangereuses by Choderlos De Laclos

Choderlos de Laclos

Les Liaisons Dangereuses
by Choderlos De Lacos
Translation by Douglas Parmee
Oxford World's Classics Edition
p. 1782
this edition 1995

      This is the second to last book I have left in the 1700s section of the 2006 edition of the 1001 Books To Read Before You Die.  The last book is Jean-Jacques Rousseaus' epistolary novel, Julie or the New Heloise.  Mentally, I'm already engaging the 19th century, so it's hard not to see Les Liaisons Dangereuses in 19th century terms, anachronistic as that may be.

  Les Liaisons Dangeruses is an epistolary novel written by an Author who was well familiar with early 18th century examples, notably Pamela and Clarissa by Samuel Richardson.  The awareness is so entrenched that the Vicomte de Valmont (the John Malkovich character in the movie.) actually references plot points from Clarissa, specifically the scene where Clarissa is essentially drugged and raped by her would-be suitor.

  Laclos' epistolary novel is much more self-consciously stylish then Richardson's pioneering work.   Both Pamela and Clarissa are close to a thousand pages long, and Laclos brings it in at under four hundred pages.

  Laclos presents much the same critique of the French Enlightenment as De Sade, without all of that nasty obscenity.  As such, it's easy to see why Les Liasons Dangereuses has maintained such favor with Audiences all over the world as an example of 18th century French literature.


Blog Archive