Sunday, October 21, 2018

Alejo Carpentier, Baroque Concerto (1974)


In this novella, a Mexican nobleman and his black page, Filomeno in the early eighteenth century take a trip to Europe. After some general whoring around, they go to Italy for a festival, where they happen to run into three of the most prominent composers of the time, Antonio Vivaldi, Domenico Scarlatti, and George Frideric Handel (who apparently really did have a meet-up around this time, though not, I'm thinking, in this context), and hold an impromptu concert. The (unnamed) Mexican is dressed as Montezuma as part of this carnivalesque celebration, and this inspires Vivaldi's opera of that title, which takes extreme liberties with the historical context as it synthesizes the Old World and New. This is the most blatantly fantastic of Carpentier's works that I've read so far: time and artistic endeavor start blurring together: there are references to Stravinsky and Wagner, and the novella ends with Filomeno in attendance at a Louis Armstrong concert.

This is one of Carpentier's more obscure books, at least in English; the translation seems to be long out-of-print, and goodreads doesn't even have the cover picture (of Fernando Botero's "Dancing in Columbia") on file. I'm not entirely sure what my Official Opinion here ought to be. On the one hand, I really do like the level of oddness, which, as I say, I've never seen in Carpentier before. On the other hand, I can't help feeling that it's a little...I don't know, slight? On the third hand, that may well be criticizing it for being a novella instead of a novel, which doesn't seem to make much sense. And, I mean, what it does, it does well. I mean, it's Carpentier; what do you expect? If anything you've gotta wish that he had permitted himself to go nuts more often. It sure lingers in your mind.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Alejo Carpentier, The Chase (1956)


Boy, THIS one certainly went faster. Yes, it's less than half as long as The Lost Steps, but even adjusting for that. So here's the deal: there's a college student who dropped out to join a revolutionary group committing acts of terrorism against the authorities is on the run from said authorities. He takes refuge in a concert hall where a symphony is performing Beethoven's Eroica. Most of the novella takes place in flashback, mostly from his perspective but also from that of a ticket-seller at the concert hall. The whole thing is meant to mimic a musical piece, with the fugitive's narrative being the main theme, interwoven with that of the ticket-seller and also a prostitute, Estrella, with whom they are both involved.
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Thursday, October 18, 2018

Alejo Carpentier, The Lost Steps (1953)


This is Carpentier's follow-up to The Kingdom of This World, though it could hardly be more different. Our first-person narrator, a composer living what he increasingly comes to feel is an artificial life in New York, goes on a trip to South America with his mistress, Mouche, ostensibly on an anthropological expedition to locate primitive musical instruments used by trial people, but really out of an inchoate sense that he needs to be doing something else. They spend some time in a never-identified-by-name South American capital, in the throes of a kind of inertial decay, before heading down the Orinoco River and becoming--or so it feels--increasingly displaced in time as the world seems to become more and more archaic. Eventually the narrator takes up with another woman, Rosario, and resolves to shed the precepts of civilization and live a more "authentic life" in a nascent city that is being built up in the jungle. What happens next...would be telling. But--and I suppose this is also telling, really--the upshot of it all seems to be: sorry, some people can live this kind of authentic life, but not creative types because their work inevitably is building on things that are already there; it can't not be artificial in some degree.  Hard not to see this as Carpentier's reflection on his own work, especially given that he was a musicologist in addition to a writer.
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Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Other people's words, part...3? 4? Difficult to say.


As you know, sometimes--okay, I guess it's happened once or twice in the past--I like to quote Other People's Words from blog comments that would otherwise be lost to time (I mean, they still are, but, you know, slightly less so, I guess). I feel jealous for not having written them myself. I guess I could just go ahead and take credit for them, really--who would ever know?--but I'm just so darned scrupulous! This is a comment here, by Jordan Orlando:

What struck me in that thread [this tweet], especially, was this:
Trump says "we had Obamacare repealed and replaced," and the crowd cheers because they think he's listing an accomplishment, but then Trump finishes the sentence and says it didn't happen, because "we didn't get one Democrat vote."
Because, of course, it's the key to how this all works: Trump's supporters have no idea what's going on, what's real and what's not, or even what the point is supposed to be: they're like children at the dinner table, gauging the adults' conversation from the tonality since they don't know the words. And since they're sealed off from all real sources of information, it can't be fixed -- Trump can go get his nicotine fix of shouting all this nonsense about how great he is (the Trump movement is "the greatest in the history of this country; maybe of any country") and get his applause and his votes.

Seems dead right to me. I think there's a tendency to assume that, however awful we think magats and the republican party (but I repeat myself) are, there is, on some level, some rational reason for their views. Not a reason we would agree with or even think was minimally sane, but something that's not entirely disconnected to the world around them. NOPE. Sure, they are the way they are because of reasons that, at some point in time, could be comprehended, but not anymore. I dunno; maybe this is just a more long-winded way of saying they're part of a cult, which I've been doing for some time, but eh. I like the way this was phrased, so I'm reprinting it here.

Friday, October 05, 2018

Alejo Carpentier, Explosion in a Cathedral (1962)


This is Carpentier's longest novel (though not massive--merely a fairly dense three-fifty pages), and I reckon the one with the broadest scope. It's another historical novel that takes place in the 1790s. It concerns a somewhat obscure historical figure, Victor Hugues, a French politician who became involved in post-Revolution politics and liberated (not sure that's the right word) the island of Guadeloupe from the British in 1794. He's not really the protagonist of the novel so much as the catalyst, though. The real main characters are Esteban and Sofia (though mainly Esteban, really), orphaned rich kids who get caught up in Hugues' shit. The bulk of the narrative concerns Esteban, first in France getting caught up in the Revolution and the Terror; then back in the Caribbean, which was strongly affected by the political events in Europe in a way that isn't often considered. Sofia becomes the protagonist in the last section.
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Thursday, October 04, 2018

Truly, an out-of-nowhere thing to get righteously enraged at.


So I keep seeing ads for this thing in my facebook feed:



Presumably because they think it would be of interest to me. And...it kind of is, really. It seems like a cool and useful little device. What d'ya reckon it costs? Like fifty dollars or something? Let's just click over to the site; maybe I'll FIVE HUNDRED NINETY-NINE DOLLARS?!? In fairness, you can get it for "only" three hundred twenty-nine dollars if you preorder from indiegogo--a price that only seems non-insane by comparison. Now, yes, you could get a cheap laptop, install OpenOffice, wipe all other programs from the system, and you'd be good to go. Still, I can certainly understand being willing to pay at least some premium for a specially-designed screen; certainly, the eink display (like in an ereader) is appealing. But GOOD GOD is that ever an eye-watering premium to pay. I mean, I GUESS if you're rich enough that the absurd price doesn't even register, then okay. But I think the makers really should have at least provided some justification for this price. Come on.

ACTUALLY, though, NOT okay. Here are several things that demonstrate why I wouldn't buy this thing even with the price is reasonable, and why if baffles me that there are people who would. So, there's this astonishing paragraph:

While the hardware isn’t all that different [from a previous product with a similar MO that they released], Astrohaus is giving users more flexibility with the software. People previously couldn’t skip around a document — typos couldn’t be corrected without deleting everything written after it — but now, users can go back and correct their work. They still can’t cut and paste paragraphs, but at least they can remove annoying errors.

...

ARE YOU SHITTING ME HERE OR WHAT? You seriously released a product with a crippled word processor that didn't let you backspace? How the fuck was THAT remotely justifiable? And, you know, it's nice that they've fixed that, but, from the lack of cut-and-paste capability, it's pretty obvious that this thing is severely, severely limited in the ONE thing it's supposed to do. You guys know that OpenOffice, a fully-featured program, is FREE, right? My mind boggles. You say this is meant to be written on, but users are STILL going to have to use an actual computer to edit their work when they're done with a draft. How is this half-assedness acceptable?

And then there's this, which is somehow a positive review in spite of this bit:

Unfortunately, e-ink is still a bit pokey. My fingers tapped out words far faster than the screen could display them. That meant I would make typos but not see them until I was already tapping away on the next sentence, forcing me to backspace a lot.

So...what you're saying is, this is basically worthless for any marginally competent touch-typist. WOW. This whole thing is just so obviously broken. I don't know what to say. You might say "hey, you haven't used it yourself; it's unfair to judge. But is it? Is it really? I've only quoted from two positive reviews, and both of them make the product sound like useless garbage. That's not my fault.

The irksome thing is that this really makes me want a product that actually does what this thing claims to. Not six-hundred-dollars cool, but a hundred, even a hundred fifty, sure. You would think this would be technology that would exist, but this bizarrely misguided thing suggests that maybe...it doesn't? The fact that they've raised five hundred percent of their target so far does not seem to indicate that people are very good at critical thought.

Reviewing My amazon Purchases from 1998


Yes, there's a lot you should hate about amazon. However, one thing I like--which, of course, doesn't cancel out anything else--is the fact that you can see your purchase history aaaaaaall the way back, providing an archeological window into your past and your changing interests. For me, my first year of amazon was 1998; that was when I got to college and had an internet connection for the first time (not counting extremely occasional access at school or friends' houses). Of course, amazon then wasn't the behemoth it is now; they were still mainly a book-seller. I think they'd just recently branched into music, though when I bought music in those heady days, it was mainly from Music Boulevard. Remember them? If you don't--or if you do--It could not possibly matter less. Anyway, what did I purchase from amazon? Let the embarrassment commence!
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Monday, September 24, 2018

Evan Dara, Provisional Biography of Mose Eakins (2018)


Boy, this one snuck up on me. After alluding to Dara in my review of Lost Empress, I idly decided to check his website on the off-chance that he'd been up to something lately. And wouldn'tcha know it...?
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Alejo Carpentier, The Harp and the Shadow (1979)


Just in time for Columbus Day! Okay, a few weeks early. Whatevs.

None of us think much of Christopher Columbus in this day and age, but it's kind of surprising how recent that attitude shift is. For a very, very long time, he was uncritically lionized by about everyone. There was an epic poem written about him, popular in its time but--obviously--unread these days. I remember being taught about him in kindergarten, and there really wasn't even a hint that there was anything problematic about him--just banal "Columbus sailed the ocean blue" stuff. But these days, the only people willing to defend Columbus--let alone Columbus Day--don't even give a shit about the man himself; they're just upset by people trying to upend the comfortable, familiar hierarchy where white men are always, uncritically on top. It's not that they're in favor of exploiting and killing indigenous peoples per se (though in some cases, that may be an overly charitable assertion), but how dare you SJW snowflakes with your political correctness try to suggest that white heroes aren't heroes? Really, it's the same dynamic you're seeing right now with the Kavanaugh debacle: it's not that these republicans are in favor of rape per se (though see above parenthetical); it's just that they can't abide the sheer effrontery of suggesting that it should be enough to derail an elite white male. In the "things they care about" category, one of these very obviously ranks much higher than the other. On the surface, it seems wildly irrational for them to stick with him given that a less obviously poisonous candidate who would nonetheless fulfill all their fantasies would sail through confirmation (and maybe they'll bow to this reality in the near future), but it's the symbolism of the thing. Giving up on Kavanaugh would represent a symbolic blow to a world order that is very emotionally important to them.
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Sergio de la Pava, Lost Empress (2018)


You remember Sergio de la Pava: he's the one who, after innumerable rejections, self-published his first novel, A Naked Singularity (a maximalist, somewhat David Foster Wallace-ish thing); improbably, it achieved enough positive buzz that it was reprinted by the University of Chicago, where it went on to win a PEN/Bingham Prize for best first novel. I found it rough but very compelling and really funny in places. He wrote a second novel, Personae, a much shorter, more abstruse thing, but I wasn't sure whether anything else would be forthcoming or not: from interviews, he seemed more concerned with his job as a New York City public defender than his nascent literary career. So I was very excited to see that he had a new one coming out, especially a new one that seemed to be more in line with his first novel than second in terms of scope and ambition.
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