Saturday, January 31, 2015

Perspective: you cant haz it.

So there’s this woman I’m friends with on facebook, whom…I never actually met; I’m not quite sure how this happened.  But be that as it may, there we were, and it was fine, she seemed pretty solid and smart with typically okay politics.  And then, as you may have heard, the king of Saudi Arabia died, and she wrote THIS:

I taught ESL to students under the Saudi scholarship program for a few years, and it was indescribably enriching to my life. I ate kabsa, learned about Islam, saw tons of wedding photos, held an occasional newborn baby, and laughed--A LOT. Thanks, King Abdullah, for sharing these fantastic students with me!

Ha ha, yes, he may have sanctioned the beatings of pro-democracy advocates, his country may have continued to be one of the most viciously repressive and misogynistic places on Earth, he have have sanctioned and funded terrorism, BUT HEY, at least he gave some white girl from Ohio a chance to feel culturally enriched, so hey, SIX OF ONE HALF DOZEN OF THE OTHER, amirite?  Yes, obviously, that comment isn't specifically endorsing the regime as a whole, but trumpeting only the positive you see in people who were world-class shitheads is just perverse, and that whole post just looks like something you'd see in The Onion making fun of comically self-centered, narcissistic college kids.  And it isn’t even like Mussolini and the trains (JUST PRETEND THEY DID, OKAY?), because at least there the statement is “well, he may have been bad at least he made the trains run on time!,” conceding that maybe he did some stuff that wasn’t so great.  This is more like saying, after his death, “he made the trains run on time!” as if that were his primary legacy.  Good GOSH.

It’s obvious that she really just wanted to use the king’s death as an opportunity to brag about how awesome and culturally enriched she is, that this wasn’t any kind of political statement, but really, now.  Pretty embarrassing all ‘round.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Anthony Trollope, Barchester Towers (1857)

It's a very direct sequel to The Warden, and it makes you wonder why such things were, as far as I can tell, not often done in Victorian fiction.  The industry was big business, so why wouldn't more people capitalize on successes to make an extra buck?  Maybe because the average Victorian novel was so long; the authors always felt they'd said all they had to say about that.  Then again, that doesn't stop our contemporary authors of twelve-volume fantasy "epics."
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Sunday, January 18, 2015

Anthony Trollope, The Warden (1855)

Okay, time to read Trollope (or, as the kids say, ttrt). My only experience with the man was from reading The Way We Live Now many years ago. I indistinctly remember liking it but not being blown away, but mainly, I remember a character called Lord Nidderdale, just because it's so fun to say. Nidderdale. Anyway, clearly that wasn't enough, so let's dive into his most famous thing, which is this six-volume Chronicles of Barsetshire series, shall we?
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Thursday, January 15, 2015

Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, Uncle Silas (1864)

One fun thing is to read the books that were lying around the house growing up but that I didn't investigate at the time because I was too dumb. That was my initial impetus for reading Wilkie Collins, which worked out great, 'cause Wilkie Collins is awesome. It was also my impetus to read Le Fanu, here. I won't lie: I was definitely hoping to find another Collins, the two of them being basically in the same wheelhouse. And...
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Saturday, January 10, 2015


Ooh, fun.  It looks like it should be a question in The Onion's "what do you think," but I'll give it a try.  I think they are most likely slanted fariously: sometimes ne-, sometimes multi-, and sometimes some delightful combination of the two.  Well?  Am I right?  What do I win?

Speaking of Rome's pagan dogmas, although it took me a while to come round (and really, who can blame me, given the church's history?), I have to admit that ol' Pope Fran seems pretty cool.  The only problem is that he's just one guy, and when it comes time to replace him, you can be sure the regressive Vatican power structure is gonna do their godamnedest to avoid making THAT mistake again.

Friday, January 09, 2015

Public Advisory

Mentioning Ulysses in the previous entry reminded me: whenever the novel comes up on the internet, there's invariably some dude who'll say something to the effect of "what's so hard about it?  It's just the story of a man walking around wondering if his wife's cheating on him.  Anyone can read it!"  To which I say: STOP THAT.  It's stupid, and you bleeding well know it's stupid.  Since when does the subject matter of a book determine its difficulty level?  Since never, is when.  The fact is, Ulysses is a difficult book--less so with familiarity, of course, but that's true of anything--and you're not helping anyone by pretending that new readers should have no trouble with it.  If anything, you're just going to discourage them when they realize it ain't so.  So come on, people.  Cut this nonsense out.

Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Time (1913-1927)

So first things first: let’s resolve something that’s been preying on my mind: what should my reward be for finishing In Search of Lost Time?

Nobel Prize
MacArthur Genius Grant
Heisman Trophy
Level-Select Code
Copy of Our Exciting Home Game
Big Bag of Money with Dollar Sign on Side
Honorary Presidency of Earth
Regular Presidency of Earth
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Marcel Proust, Time Regained (1927)

Well, you have to give him this much: his novel does have an ending.  I thought maybe it would just sort of trail off, but it definitely ends, with ol’ Marcel shaking off his despair at the conviction that he would never be able to be a writer and writing.  And writing and writing and writing and then writing some more.  MY GOODNESS.  There is a certain roughness, with some textual inconsistencies—he was revising on his deathbed, as people are fond of telling us—but still.  Ends.  It does.
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I heartily condemn this event or product

So the other day I was teaching a discussion class, and as always, I started by asking students what was on their mind, what they wanted to talk about, &c.  And what they wanted to talk about was the Charlie Hebdo murders.  So we did for a little while.  I’ll tell you what we did not do: we didn’t spend any time explicitly condemning them.  Why not?  Because it’s automatically assumed to be the fucking default that people do not approve of horrible crimes, and the fact that you or anyone would implicitly assume that that wouldn’t be the case for Muslims along with everyone else just shows how fucked up we are.  The prevailing opinion was that “they”—meaning Western governments, media, &c—are going to blame “us”—meaning Muslims and Arabs in general—for the situation.  They didn’t even seem notably angry or surprised about this; it was more a matter of resignation—yeah, that’s just how it always goes.

Monday, January 05, 2015

Marcel Proust, The Fugitive (1925)

The original title of this one is La Fugitive, but to avoid confusion with a recent book of that title by Rabindranath Tagore, it was renamed Albertine Disparu, and to this day it appears that there’s some uncertainty as to which title should be considered definitive.  The Fugitive is a good title in that it complements the previous, but I think Albertine Disparu sounds rather cool; the only problem is that it translates into the uneuphonious Albertine Gone.  You might try saying Albertine Vanished or something, but there the problem is that the verb is simultaneously in the simple past and a past participle, meaning that as soon as you realize that it makes up a really dumb-sounding English sentence, you can never read it any other way.  Where’s Albertine?  Oh, Albertine vanished.  Good ol’ Moncrieff signally failed to find a good solution by calling his initial translation The Sweet Cheat Gone.  Seriously, dude?  Seriously?
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Friday, January 02, 2015

Marcel Proust, The Captive (1923)

Oh good lord Marcel.  I must admit, I felt sort of uncertain at condeming him so unequivocally in the last entry, because maybe it’s just me lacking perspective—it’s hard to really feel these sorts of passions from the outside; maybe we all act like this when we’re in their thrall.  But secreting the object of said passion in his family’s apartment, hiding her existence from his friends, controlling her movements as much as possible and having her followed whenever she does go out and oh just for kicks let’s not forget lying next to her sleeping body and masturbating, though admittedly that last one may be gilding the lilly a little, DOUBLE ENTENDRE INTENDED?  NOT normal or sane, I think it’s fair to say.  This may be related to a remark I made regarding Swann’s Way, that it’s only “realistic” in a kind of heightened way.  But whatever it is—gah.
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