Dedicated to classics and hits.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Institutions Of The English Novel by Homer Obed Brown

Samuel Richardson

Book Review
Institutions of the English Novel
by Homer Obed Brown
University of Pennsylvania Press
p. 1997

 I think most of what the reader needs to know about this book is encapsulated by the Index entry for Jacques Derrida:

  Derrida, J., 4, 8, 41-42, 74, 138, 204n.5, 207n.12, n. 19, 208n.29.

  Sure, many of those references are in the notes, but that should hardly count against Jacques Derrida- dude lives in the notes.   There is an interesting book buried in 200 pages of discipline specific jargon, which is that the canonization process of the 18th century Novel: works by Authors like Samuel Richardson, Henry Fielding and Lawrence Sterne- didn't actually happen until the beginning of the 19th century.  In other words, he's saying that there is a kind of pause button that is set on the canonization process- a delay if you will.

Henry Fielding

  I think that one point is interesting enough to explore in detail, but the rest of this book is exactly the kind of book you would expect from an Author who would cite Jacques Derrida ten times in 200 page book.

  In the style of Jacques Derrida use of paradox and counter-example, the heart of Brown's argument lies in the critical treatment of Daniel Defoe in the early 19th century, a time when other early Novelists of the 18th century were being canonized by critics like Sir Walter Scott.  An example of true literary critic hermetic-ism, Institutions of the English Novel largely exists to criticize Ian Watt's The Rise of the Novel as being superficial and reductionist.  Well excuse me for thinking that Daniel Defoe was canonized in the same time period as Henry Fielding and Samuel Richardson.

Daniel Defoe

   I think there is an interesting book that could be developed about of parts of Institutions of the English Novel, but most of this book is a struggle and carries a high level of lit crit jargon. 

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens

Charles Dickens

Book Review
Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
originally published in serial format 1837-1839
Lea and Blanchard Philadelphia edition of 1838/1839
Read on a Kindle

     I think the two contenders for most popular Author of all time are Jane Austen and Charles Dickens, though if you would have asked in the 19th century, Sir Walter Scott would have them both beat. (1)

     Charles Dickens is  often called the most popular Novelist of all time, but this is an anachronistic view that doesn't consider the lasting popularity of his Novels vs. his other output.  Importantly, at the time Oliver Twist was being published in serial form over a two-year period,  the definition of a "novel" was restricted to one or three volume bound books.  Upon initial publication, Oliver Twist was literature, but not a novel.  Over two hundred years later we call Oliver Twist, "Charles Dickens second novel;" but it wasn't the second thing he'd ever published- his other work took the form of sketches, letters, and articles.  In other words, Charles Dickens is more what we would call a "writer/journalist" then a "novelist" during his early success.

   Oliver Twist contains the single most iconic image of all Charles Dickens works- and it comes right out of the box.  Of course, I'm talking about the scene that takes place in the workhouse where Oliver Twist spends his early years.   Twist is "elected" by the other orphans to ask for a  second helping of gruel, and the reaction of the operators of the work house to Oliver's request sets the entire narrative in motion.

   When discussing Charles Dickens, it is also important to recognize how far critical acceptance lagged behind popular acceptance of Charles Dickens.  Initial critical prejudice concerned the form of publication- in typical 19th century fashion, a serialized piece didn't satisfy the basic requirement of the Novel as an art form.

  After that, the popularity was itself counted against the possibility of critical acceptance.  It would take until the explosion of the humanities disciplines in America after World War II for Charles Dickens to gain the kind of critical penumbra that we accept as a given half a century later.

  Numerous questions surround the form of the text, a by-product of the form of initial publication and the fraught relatioinships between Charles Dickens and his various publishers.  The decision on which version of the text to use is so convoulted that  it takes on a scholastic quality, but it shows you how important Charles Dickens is to general audience members and critics alike.

  It has been said that Oliver Twist is Charles Dickens take on the "Picaresque" tradition exemplified by the work of Henry Fielding, who wrote Tom Jones.  This is perhaps true in terms of theme (the disinerhited "secret" heir) and in story development.   In Oliver Twist the various locations run by like a slide show- an indiciation of the influence of the Picaresque on Dickens work.  At the same time, Charles Dickens produces a main character who is far more effective at "connecting" emotionally with the reader.  Oliver Twist is literarlly the archetype for the adorable 19th century Victorian orphan.  You can't get more sympathetic then that. 

 Consider Oliver Twist in comparison with Henry Fielding's Tom Jones.  Jones is more of a rake- prone to violent and sexual outbursts, whereas Oliver Twist is a virginal lad who can be a victim of, but hardly perpetrate violence, let alone sexual activity.  In this, he was a character who was right for the early part of the Victorian period, and in a sense, Charles Dickens invents the "Victorian Novel" in Oliver Twist itself.

  An off-putting part of Oliver Twist for a contemporary reader is the portryal of the villainous, Jewish, Fagin.  It's hard not to be a little put off by the portrayal, but I suppose it needs to be appreciated in the vein of Shakespeares Shylock in the Merchant of Venice- an occasion of literary anti-semitism that simply reflected the tastes and expectations of the audience at the time.  It's a fact, people were anti-semitic back then. What can you do?

Other Posts About Charles Dickens On This Blog

Book Review:  Great Expectations by Charles Dickens11/20/14
Book Review: Dickens and His Readers: Aspects of Novel Criticism Since 1836 by George H. Ford. 3/25/13
Book Review: Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens, 3/17/13.
Book Review:  Dickens Worlds by Humphrey House, 3/8/13
Book Review: Bleak House by Charles Dickens, 9/21/12
Book Review: David Copperfield by Charles Dickens, 8/23/12
Book Review: A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, 7/17/12.
Book Review: The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickelby by Charles Dickens, 6/19/12.
Book Review: Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens, 6/7/12.


(1)  Google ngram viewer comparing Sir Walter Scott, Jane Austen and Charles Dickens.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Visit the Integratron

Integratron Photo exterior

Show Review
Sound Bath @ The Integratron in Landers, CA.

  I'm more then a little ashamed to confess that I first heard about and saw the Integratron via a repeat of the Josh Homme starring episode of Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations. I'm not saying I heard about it because I watch Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations, rather I looked up the episode because I heard it took place in the vicinity of Palm Springs, CA.  Obviously, as anyone who has seen the Anthony Bourdain episode in question can attest, the Integratron is incredibly awesome on a number of levels.  What are those levels?

  1)  The Integratron was built by this weird scientist guy who combined outre Electric-Magnetic research a la Nicolai Tesla,  "Earth Energy" and UFO's to become a one man Prophet of what we would today call "the New Age movement."  The Integratron was built in the 1950s and this George Van Tassel guy would host UFO conventions and do quasi-scientific research.

 2)  The Integratron was purchased by the present owners and they developed this "Sound Bath" experience which is very New Agey and bears some relationship to the research of Van Tassel but lacks the hard electricity based engineering edge of George Van Tassel's work. 

 3) An associated attraction, but not visible from the Integratron itself is the "worldest largest free-standing boulder" which itself has a history dating back to the 1930s.  According to the present operators, this boulder is now located on BLM land and "poorly maintained."  Apparently you could go under this boulder and do meditation back in the day but now you will likely be murdered by a hobo or something, also the Boulder located down a dirt road. 

4) Within driving distance from the Integratron is Pioneertown, a turn of the century movie lot with an authentic desert road house, Pappy and Harriet's. At Pappy and Harriet's you can have a meal and watch a local band do a cover of  I Am A Man of Constant Sorrow, from the O Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack.  They also have a gold record from the band "Cracker" on the wall that is honor of sales of tapes and CDs!

     My only tip for booking a Sound Bath at the Integratron is to call ahead.  We called the week before and got included in a "Pop Up" Sound Bath but my distinct sense is that they want to avoid a "public" attraction status, and are actively seeking to limit idiots and morons from showing up. Or, in the words of our Sound Bath player/shaman, "NO SNORING."  You are laying on the floor for 30 minutes plus staring at the ceiling during this thing so if you can't do that make sure you can.  Anyone who does Yoga or is familiar with the principles of meditation should do ok.

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