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Discussion in 'The Philosopher' started by derbeder, Dec 24, 2006.
'The Virtue of Selfishness' Ayn Rand
Plato - Theaetetus, and Sophist
I am reading:
The Recognitions, by William Gaddis.
Petersburg, by Andrei Bely
Of Grammatology, by Jacques Derrida.
I hope to start a book review thread in the near future.
Bely--the greatest modernist writer in my humble opinion.
Anyhoo, just finished the following last month:
Goncharov's Oblomov--already an absolute favorite of mine.
Bukowski's Ham on Rye--an easy to read biography of self-loathing and destruction I wasnt terribly impressed with.
Balzac's Lost Illusions--excellent look at the struggles of creative people in society.
Foucault's Essays on Power--not terribly impressed actually.
Alain Robbet-Grillet--Recollections of a Golden Triangle--interesting narration, but perhaps the most perverse book Ive ever read.
T E Lawrence's The Seven Pillars of Wisdom--an amazing account which provides an excellent understanding of the arab people.
-Joris-Karl Huysmans: Deep down (or whatever it is in english)
-Churchill: The second world war
-a collection of "shadowrun" fantasy novels
Usually, "The Damned." I love Huysmans. I think he is the ultimate decadent novelist. Most of his heroes have a rather punished, Schopenhauerian countenance, no? The parts on Gilles de Rais and the description of the black mass stick in my mind from La Bas both very radical for the mainstream newspaper in which he was serialised.
Huysmans was a pedant and his work often dramatises a conflict between the educated elite and the masses (I am reminded of him likening the transferral of Latin literature to the churches following the decline of Rome as holding (the language) aloft above barbarian hordes), so the symbolism of all these impossibly educated eccentric guys discussing Satanism from the bell (ivory) tower in The Damned is not lost on me.
You probably know, the Durtal saga continues in later books (where he converts to Christianity), but I think Huysmans greatest work is A Rebours (Against Nature). I know Speed shares a love for this book. For those who don't know, it follows the life of anti-hero Des Essenties, an eccentric who retires from society to live in isolation, gorging himself on classic literature, poetry, art, wines, jewellery and smelling scents. I always feel vaguely unclean after reading it. It is morbidly fascinating that such extremes of specialisation might occur. I recommend it.
I would be interested to hear your thoughts on it so far, or when you finish.
Speaking of Huysmans, I recently learned that the artwork for the Penguin edition of A Rebours is a painting of an extremely bored, sour-faced Baudelaire, which is a nice touch.
He is certainly an excellent writer, and I thank you for the recommendation. It's a cliche thing to say but I'm startled he is not more well known. It is strange: I did a two year M.A. on Modernist lit. as well as about a third of my degree and never once did I find mention of him.
I need to read T.E. Lawrence myself. I will try and track down a copy of The Seven Pillars.
Today I just started de Tocqueville's Democracy in America, which will keep me busy for some time.
As I believe you are familiar with Bataille, Mirbeau, de Sade, Borroughs and Nin - indeed, as a I believe you are the best-read person I have ever known - that is quite a claim! I shall investigate.
True, 120 Days of Sodom (which I stopped reading around page 120, hehe), was much more perverse. However, De Sade had other broader aims with its pornography and excess, whereas besides structure of narration (which Robbet--Grillet had mastered in previous books) there is no real other purpose to Robbet-Grillet's book. But yes, I was a bit hasty. Perhaps one of the most perverse books Ive read is a better statement.
Have you read any Raymond Queneau? I highly recommend Exercises in Style. A short, funny, and highly interesting read for any writer or devotee of literature. Essentially Queneau retells the same banal everyday story of small conflict about a man on a bus in every possible writing style and form possible. Its highly amusing and never really pedantic. Genius really.
Talk to any Russian. Most know him, and consider him the hardest and most complex novelist ever. In fact, the national book award of Russia is named in his honor. Bely had the great misfortune to print his great book in early 1917 I believe. He also had the great misfortune of not having his book translated into English (clearly, the Soviets were not big fans) until the 1970's, when the newly famous Nabokov proclaimed it was as good, or better than Ulysses.
Even then, his Dramatic Symphony printed before Petersburg, is truly interesting despite its Steiner/Nietszchean pretense. Essentially, he attempted to write a symphony in prose. In the later 2 parts, it works wonderfully well--the same themes and colors return like a symphony.
The structure of Petersburg is amazing. And despite an obvious eccentric pedanticism, the book is a pleasure to read and quite funny.
And Kotik Lateav is another highly interesting book. Its so modernist, its amazing. Essentially telling the story of a young christlike (or Steiner-Christ like--Bely was realy into Rudolf Steiner) child in a totally unique form of stream of consciousness written as if Bely was the child, developing with each chapter. Its slighly pedantic, but still, what an innovator!
My girlfriend tells me the same thing. I have very few abilities, and one of them happens to be speed-reading (seriously), excellent comprehension, and an encyclopedic memory when it comes to literature (many around here have it with metal). I would have preferred abilities in the math and sciences, so I'd at least make a very comfortable living.
Ah its all worthless anyway. I am concerned that there are so many great novels, and so many more forms of media, that essentially, it really doesnt matter anymore. How many Americans have ever heard of Huysmans? Do any care? Really, most are hard pressed to place very famous American authors with their books---why just last week I had a conversation with a very intelligent young woman who mentioned she had read Slaughterhouse Five and Catcher in the Rye (her serious reading sometime in the past), but she couldnt remember who wrote them. It reminds me of the book Mao II by Don DeLillo, in which a reclusive Salinger-esque author despairs of the new Maoist like world which no longer values individual creativity, which novels are of course, amongst the most egoistic individual things one can do.
Or maybe the novel form is dying, and being replaced? I dont know by what yet. Diffuse forms of media and entertainment possibly? One could say with movies when Bergman and Fellini were making films, but its impossible to take really anything timeless since these greats died from even the top filmmakers of today. T.V. is incredibly banal, but has offerred some classics--Honeymooners, Simpsons, Mr. Bean, etc. I really dont know. But apart from the Simpsons and a couple of movies, I really dont see humanity, society, and the human existance portrayed or satirized all that convincingly anywhere as was common with literature and drama. And I really dont read anything all that wonderful in novel form. No one seems to tackle the big issues of life and society anymore, and when they do, I think it falls pretty flat and overtly technical, forced, and obvious --Coetzee in Disgrace for example.
Just finished An Unquiet Mind by Kay Redfield Jamison, so starting on Nietzsche's The Birth of Tragedy.
The Possibility of an Island - Michel Houllebecq
Probably the best novelist I've encountered recently. I think Joyce sucks, except for Dubliners, because that's when he wrote about real life. A good book isn't its form. It is how much of life it captures and motivates. In contrast to speed, I think there are few good novels, and many that have aesthetic factors to recommend them and not much else.
Leopold Bloom is the most fully-realised, "life-like" character in all of literature since Shakespeare and Cervantes. Indeed, Ulysses is - among many other things - noted for opening up areas of mundane "real-life"TM (shitting, farting, grilling kidneys) to literature. Finnegans Wake is the masterpiece of all modern art precisely because it moves towards a new way of thinking; one that is being-historical, or "transcendental" in a full sense of the word. HCE (man & mountain) and ALP (woman & water) are together in the World.
I share your love of Dubliners. Don't care much for Crichton et al. Couldn't squeeze a line of poetry out of them.
I thought you would have enjoyed Portrait of the Artist.
couldn't believe none of the libraries in my city had that book (they have her fuckin fiction works, but not the one book I wanted to see)
Well, of course there are some good novels; its the impact of these novels on society that worries me. As we become more specialized, and there are so many more forms of entertainment and media, literature seems to be losing its power of shared cultural understanding and meaning as few bother to read anything other than James Patterson and JK Rowling. Thats my concern. Not to mention the Wiki-pediazation of the internet and blogs, and I suppose of literature next.
In regards to Joyce, there are to my mind, a number of types of literature fans and writers. American writing, and a great deal of British writing, are concerned or about realism, honesty, simplicity, characterization, and putting the authors soul on paper. Generally (apart from Faulkner), these writers do not concern themselves so with innovative form and an intricate plot, as they do emotional honesty. Then there are other types of writers who are concerned quite a bit about form, perhaps are a bit over-the-top, symbolic, humorous, etc. In the case of Joyce, such a writer can put all of the realism and honesty on paper (without perhaps the simplicity), and do so in a totally innovative form. Thats called genius, and something very very few even famous writers ever accomplish. Even then, Joyce was drawing from the Rabelais/Sterne/Moore. I suppose its all a matter of taste. I clearly give Joyce more credit and respect than I would any American realist writer (Wolfe, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, etc). But I can see why many dont like his somewhat difficult form and style.
Ludwig Wittgenstain - Remarks on the Foundations of Mathematics (Revised Edition)
Edmund Husserl - The Idea of Phenomenology
(5 Lectures at the University of Göttingen from 1907)
I actually read "Against Nature" before "The Damned".
I always thought that it was much like "Der Steppenwolf" by Hermann Hesse, because it also shows the (self-)destruction of intelligent/"artistic" people in the modern world. The difference is, that Huysmanns does not glorify his protagonist, as Hesse does.
I was on vacation and had no opportunity to read in between so i have not proceeded much in "The Damned".
I just recall so far that i liked the introductory discussion about naturalism in literature in the beginning.
In general the figures in this novel seem to have the same half-decadent, half-romantic views as in "Against Nature", but without or with less of the sickness (so far).