Saturday, July 28, 2018

Alejo Carpentier, The Kingdom of This World (1947)

Carpentier (1904-1980), in spite of being born in Switzerland to a French father and Russian mother, grew up in Cuba, wrote in Spanish, and always considered himself a Cuban writer. And this book, in particular, is considered extremely notable--an ur-Latin-American novel (I'd thought that Pedro Paramo held that role, but perhaps this one is ur-er). There's a pretty striking blurb from Ilan Stavans: "It all starts in these pages: magical realism and its discontents, the illustrious tradition of modern Latin American novels, and maybe even the Hispanic world as we know it today. Without The Kingdom of This World there would be no Juan Rulfo, Julio Cortazar, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, or Mario Vargas Llosa." So...there you go.

This novel (some would call it a novella) takes place in Haiti before and after its independence, through the eyes--mostly--of a slave (later a former slave) named Ti Noël. It depicts the lives of the French overseers and slaves, and later of Henri Christophe, who, as Haiti's first king, reproduced the brutality and cruelty of the French. Compared to Garcia Marquez (say) the magical element is understated, but the narrative is suffused with myth and voodoo ritual.

The thing that immediately impresses you about this is how much Carpentier is able to fit into a hundred thirty pages. The book is short, but it nonetheless feels very sweeping. It is riveting stuff, as a story of Haiti in particular and the human condition in general. To be honest, he was a bit of an afterthought to me: I sort of thought, okay, whatever, I'll read this and be done. But now, I think I'm going to have to read more of his stuff, just on accounta he's friggin' badass. This, I think, is the kind of book that should be taught in high schools. Stop boring kids with The Scarlet Letter! Give them something like this, that'll put meat on their bones!

History Facts with Wikipedia

Friday, July 27, 2018

Things other people say.

A comment on Lawyers Guns & Money by a person known only as Warren Terra:

...the disrespect and even loathing this administration shows for all forms of intellectualism, in both science and the arts, is quietly stunning.

For the second year running, the Trump administration hasn't awarded the National Medal for the Arts. They also haven't awarded the National Medal for the Sciences. They discontinued the White House Science Fair (despite April 2017 articles saying they wouldn't). Trump was the first US President in memory not to invite the American Nobel Laureates to the Oval Office (George W Bush, who saw the 2008 and maybe 2004 Democratic nominee endorsed in an open letter signed by every living American Nobelist, never stopped this practice). I'm sure I could find other, similar examples of disrespect for science and the arts in the White House.

In one sense, this is really only about the seven-thousandth-worst thing about this administration.  And yet, in another, you can't rank things like that, and it's highly indicative: previous administrations, even republicans, would at least pay lip service to these things because, whatever their flaws, they at least had the idea, however conscious, that America's cultural and intellectual heritage should be celebrated and respected.  Not so with the current goons and their followers.  The only thing they care about is their ideology of corporatism, authoritarianism, and white supremacy.  They don't actually give a shit about the country, and it would never even occur to them that there would be any reason for them to pretend otherwise.  It's why they don't give a shit about Russians undermining our democratic processes: our contemptible president is giving them what they want, so who cares?  This does put them in an awkward position at times, since they can't exactly admit this (and, I'm quite sure, most of them won't even to themselves).  Suffice to say, however, that my sympathy is limited.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Osman Lins, Avalovara (1973)

Lins (1924-1978) was a Brazilian writer. I wasn't sure whether Brazil counted as part of Latin America, but then I realized that the term was fairly all inclusive, and also includes Francophone countries like Haiti. Whether it counts as "hispanic" is another question, but probably not super-relevant here.
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Saturday, July 21, 2018

Kid have really dopey senses of humor.

That's something that people often forget: you can think something's dumb, but it'll still be hysterical to kids, BECAUSE THEY'RE KIDS.  We talk about stuff appealing to both kids AND adults, and that's the ideal, but it's the rare exception, and there's a reason for that.  Anyway, here's a "baseball card" that I made when I was...well, I have no idea how old, really.  But a child:

I've got to admit, though, even from my current perspective, the idea of a professional baseball player being relegated to Little League is pretty funny to me.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Manuel Puig, Kiss of the Spider Woman (1976)

This book was significant for me, because I was meant to read it for a college writing workshop, and...I didn't. Lazy, half-assed me. I read I think the first chapter and a half, maybe. I mean, I suppose you develop at the pace you develop, but if I could go back and tell twenty-year-old me one thing, it would be DO YOUR WORK, DAMMIT. DON'T BE SO USELESS.
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Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Severo Sarduy, Cobra (1972) and Maitreya (1978)

Sarduy (1936-1993) was a Cuban writer. Here we have a Dalkey Archive volume that collects two short novels, according to the back cover copy "his two finest creations." According to that same copy, he was "the most outrageous and baroque of the Latin American boom writers of the sixties and seventies," so that's cool.
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Sunday, July 08, 2018

José Donoso, The Obscene Bird of Night (1970)

A Chilean writer (1924-1996). Everyone is going to tell you that this book is about the last male heir of an aristocratic name who is born horribly deformed and whose father, therefore, determines to wall him off and surround him with only freaks for his entire life, so he thinks he's normal. Very gothic, eh?
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Saturday, July 07, 2018

Oxenfree (2016)

It was inevitable that I should play this game, given how much I loved Night in the Woods: they're both talky story-games about young people growing up featuring ambiguously supernatural elements (okay, not so ambiguous here, but that's what I initially thought). And in both of them, you play as a girl with blue hair. How about that? It's extremely difficult not to compare the two, but in a sense, it's unfair: Night in the Woods is thematically resonant in a way that Oxenfree isn't really trying to be. It just wants to be a li'l ghost story.
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Thursday, July 05, 2018

Super Daryl Deluxe (2018)

I put a lot of time into this game, and I feel like it hasn't gotten the exposure that it probably deserves, so here we go. This is Super Daryl Deluxe. It has limited Metroidvania elements, but mainly, it's an example of that relatively obscure genre of which I have nonetheless always been a fan, the Side-scrolling Action RPG--Zelda II, Wanderers from Ys, Popful Mail, et al.
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Tuesday, July 03, 2018

The poker's in the fire and the locusts take the sky

Ah, scott pruitt: almost certainly the worst person in trump's cabinet, and THAT is a horrifyingly impressive achievement. His unwavering determination to destroy the environment in any and every way he can is one thing, but the massive personal corruption and the hysterical paranoid terror at the idea of ever being confronted by anyone about his awfulness are really the fecal cherries on top. It's a rhetorical problem, because "he's a fucking Captain Planet villain" sounds like so much hyperbole, and in most cases it almost certainly is, but boy, leave it to know, with most corrupt dictatorships (and I mean really, even if we're not there yet, you know damn well it's how they think of themselves and what they aspire to, so I feel comfortable using the word), you get horrible people because they're there to do horrible things. You don't specifically think: hmmm, who are the worst people I can find? They need to have failings above, beyond, and unrelated to what's needed for the job; really be the absolute worst conceivable. Don't get me wrong: if pruitt tried for one minute to do his fucking job, he'd be out on his ass. The environmental destruction is the main thing. But don't fool yourself: the corruption is a huge bonus. Any other president would have gotten rid of pruitt long ago; even a super anti-environmental one would've thought "eh, I can find someone who's just as bad in that regard but who's at least housebroken; I don't need the PR hassle." But for trump and his fans, the sure knowledge that pruitt's corruption is further pissing off The Libz is a huge bonus. Resentment and malicious schadenfreude is all they've got, but trump certainly knows how to give it to them in spades. I'll give him that.

Any President is going to alienate a large portion of the country. That's just inevitable, in these fox-news-inflected times (and BOY are the architects of that structure going to burn in the deepest recesses of hell). But we've never had a President who so explicitly considers himself the President of his base and no one else. Who can't even make the most feeble bromides to the contrary. He wants to dominate and humiliate us, yes--he's nothing if not a sadist--but that's as far as it goes. He certainly doesn't feel any responsibility to us. Of course, he doesn't feel any responsibility to his base, either, or anything outside his head, but as long as they're willing to feed his bloated, cancerous ego, he's willing to feed them the right kind of bluster, like the lab monkey who obsessively pushes the button for cocaine to the exclusion of the button for food even when starving to death.

He's like a bully who lets you hang out with him and spares you the worst of his depredations as long as you're willing to toady to him sufficiently. He doesn't like you, and if he even momentarily perceives it to be in his best interests (or even just on a whim), he'll smash you like a bug. But you amuse and gratify him, so he'll more or less tolerate you and accept your sycophancy. And in return, you get the thrill of existing in the shadow of his power and reveling as he hurts the people you hate.

Boy, that's not a pretty picture. Is it any comfort to realize that none of his supporters are actually coming out ahead here? I mean, obviously, he implements policies that hurt the non-mega-rich, but even the mega-rich, would they acknowledge it or not, would fundamentally benefit from living in a non-evil society, in ways tangible and not. I know it's not exactly viscerally satisfying to know that the koch brothers--say--are spiritually dead (they'd have to know it, and if they did, they'd be self-aware enough to not have died in the first place). But there it is. A thing.

I don't really have a point. Left political commentary these days seems to have devolved to the extent that it's basically just trying to find novel ways to illuminate the fact that we're in Hell, but, well, that fun fact does tend to dominate the mind.