Monday, December 08, 2014

Marcel Proust, The Guermantes Way (1920-21)

I was treating this book as sort of the make-or-break point. I had previously read the first two for a class as a college senior (without retaining much, naturally), so I knew on some level that I could do it. But could I handle a THIRD one?!? Also, because this one is the longest and the fifth and sixth are the shortest, we are now more or less exactly halfway through the whole. Whoa: we're halfway there. Whoa, whoa: living on a prayer. OKAY. Anyway, ain't no stopping me now.
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Thursday, November 27, 2014 police think they have the authority to kill a minority

 (reposted and slightly expanded from facebook.  I apologize for the overly on-the-nose post title.)

So the one time a cop pointed a gun at me, I was in graduate school and just taking a walk, and at first I didn't even notice him because it was cold and I had on a heavy overcoat with a hood which blocked my peripheral vision so I couldn't see him and headphones so I couldn't hear him and wasn't aware of his presence until he was SCREAMING at me to put my hands up. Apparently, the story was that I resembled the description of some guy who'd robbed a gas station. Some other cops came and they drove me off to the scene of the crime and when they saw that my footprints (it was snowy) didn't match the perpetrator's, they apologized and drove me home. The cop who initially stopped me was definitely acting like a dick, but what's notable is that at no time during this incident was I actually even a tiny bit afraid. The idea that I could be shot by a cop was just alien to me--totally unreal. This obviously has a lot to do with general upbringing and social class; not that my occasional interactions with cops for traffic violations and the like have been anymore pleasant than anyone's, but I just never, in my own experience, have associated the police with lawless violence. I somehow have this WEIRD FEELING like that might not be the case were I not a white guy.

I don't want to over-dramatize: there's a temptation to take an incident like this and blow it up so you can be perversely proud that OMG something SO SERIOUS happened to me; it was a sleepy, small-town kind of police force with, as far as I know (ha), no significant history of racially-motivated behavior. In spite of that, though, in light of recent events, it's nonetheless hard not to wonder: I mean, I DID ignore the cop for however long before I realized he was addressing me; it's fairly unlikely I'd actually have been shot if I were black, but it's very easy to imagine a young gun with a chip on his shoulder about insufficient respect for HIS AUTHORITAH making things a lot more unpleasant for me than they were.

Anyway, happy Thanksgiving! I'm thankful that I'm unlikely to be murdered in cold blood because of my skin color! How about you?

Tuesday, November 25, 2014


So I don't know about you, but growing up in a middle-class white liberal family, I had this very, very clear idea that in the past there was racism, and maybe there was still a little of it about, but basically, Martin Luther King, jr. and company fixed the problem, and now everything's great.  You get a little older, a little more cynical, a lot older, a lot more cynical, but still, regardless of how wildly irrational it seems, on a deep level, this uplifting narrative remained embedded.

But see the entire right hysterically cheering the fact that it has apparently now been officially established that a cop can just murder a black kid with impunity--and not even just a cop, a wild-eyed vigilante like zimmerman is just as good--that these same kids are all dangerous thugs, animals, &c, you know the score--and not just random bottom-feeders, but prominent pundits and politicians--and it comes to you, with a sinking feeling, that, in fact, America is a viciously racist country, and you start thinking awful, dispiriting thoughts like fuck, man--maybe we shouldn't've elected Obama; we had this idea that he could symbolize racial harmony, but obviously we were wrong--sure, we knew that the wingers were intransigent, but we perhaps did not wholly anticipate the extent to which they would all immediately, without a moment of hesitation, turn the racial vitriol up to eleven (or maybe that's just me from my clueless position of white privilege, but I cannot help my shock), and fuck, man--they won.  This horrific racial hatred has been re-normalized to a degree I would not have imagined possible.  Love lost, and reflexive, unreasoning hatred won.  Congratulations, you monsters.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Marcel Proust, Within a Budding Grove (1919)

Okay, marathon not sprint, etc.

So, Within a Budding Grove. Or, if we prefer, In the Shadow of Young Girls in Flower. We will, I suppose, have more to say about C.K. Scott Moncrieff's title in the future, but from my perspective, they range from Pointless But Harmless to Actively Bad. I'm sure I'm only the thirty thousandth person to point out that Remembrance of Things Past has considerably different connotations than In Search of Lost Time, being a passive rather than an active endeavor. Within a Budding Grove is okay in and of itself, but Proust's title has the advantage of actually giving you some idea of what the book is about. Okay, so you could say that Moncrieff's does as well, but it's at a higher level of abstraction, no question. I figure if you're going to deal with Proust at all, you might as well assume that he knew what he wanted to do.
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Saturday, October 25, 2014

Marcel Proust, Swann's Way (1913)

Oh, yes. We are doing this, motherfucker.

You really have to make a conscious effort to decide to read Proust. It is unlikely that you will just wake up one fine day and casually think, you know what I want to do? Read thirty-five hundred pages of navel-gazing by a neurotic Frenchman. But you've gotta do it! What are you, some kind of jerk?
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Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Walter Scott, Waverley (1814)

People say this was the first "historical novel."  I can only imagine what people must have thought encountering this concept for the first time: Huh?  A novel that also has HISTORY?!  Who is this man who can do such devilment?!?  I'm surprised they didn't burn him at the stake for witchcraft.
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Friday, October 03, 2014

Tobias Smollett, The Expedition of Humphry Clinker (1771)

A wealthy family travels around England and Scotland, and various members thereof write letters to different off-screen non-characters.  These are: Matthew Bramble, the irritable but kind-hearted family patriarch; his grating, unhappily-single sister Tabitha; his quietly amused nephew Jery; his niece Liddy; and Tabitha's maid, Win[ifred] (and the fact that I add no descriptors to those last two may not be by random chance)--although the great majority of the novel, along with whatever narrative momentum it has, is found in the men's letters.
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