Politics and Society

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A Review of The Assault, by Harry Mulisch

   Harry Mulisch, who died only last year at about this time, was one of the most revered and beloved authors of fiction in post-war Holland. Among many critics (in Holland and abroad) he was considered, even by himself, to be a front-runner for a future Nobel Prize. It was said, he was one of
                               . . . a generation of writers who explored the complex
                               aftermath of a war in which good and evil were not as
                               simple as black and white.
              ---from NYT obituary, October, 2010
His 1982 novel, The Assault, was made into an academy award-winning movie (of the same name) in 1986, which doubtlessly advanced in the States an already burgeoning European reputation.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Atonement Revisited

Some books justify themselves and even their flaws in every line. Some books only justify themselves in the end. Ian McEwan gambles that a story which cannot be justified, even in the end, can still make a great novel. I think he may be right! While I have some reservations about the new aesthetic, in general, I think McEwan’s Atonement (2001) is a truly remarkable book. Even if you know the basic - simple - plot, it is a book you will have to read to the end to fathom. The quality of the prose, generally, makes this easy enough. But the quality and cleverness of its design makes this a surprising, even an amazing, book. It is also a book very difficult to describe or say much about without spoiling the experience for new readers, but (confining myself to its deserving matters of style) I will try. Unfortunately, for me, mentioning some of the most impressive aspects of the book would ruin it for others; so this review is necessarily incomplete.

Friday, September 16, 2011

A Review: Pfitz (1995), by Andrew Crumey

   Andrew Crumey’s second novel, Pfitz, was a summertime diversion that paid off in spades. Not only did I snag this little 164-page gem for just a buck at my favorite local second-hand shop (Myopic Books); I also found my self thoroughly entertained throughout and wishing at the end that there were more of the same to be had. Having never heard of Crumey before this extravagant and purely speculative financial adventure – yes, I guess that makes me a risk taker – I was not aware of his other works, e.g. Music, in a Foreign Language and the later D’Alambert’s Principle, which comprise with Mr. Mee a now completed trilogy. And there are others.* This is a treat I will probably avail myself of next summer, if not before.
    Crumey has a PhD. in Theoretical Physics and Mathematics from Cambridge. After a post-doctoral stint at Imperial College and Leeds University, and four years as a schoolteacher he became a book reviewer and literary editor for Scotland on Sunday, until an award for his first novel, Music, in a Foreign Language, freed him to write full time. Then came Pfitz (1995) – a NYT Notable book of the year.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Atonement (2001), by Ian McEwan: A Consideration of Narrative Integrity

   Ian McEwan has become a great literary icon in Great Britain; somewhat less so, but still widely respected, here in the States. There is some disagreement about his overall merit, but most agree, more and less, that his works are not all of equal greatness—some perhaps failing greatness altogether. As I am new to his writings I won’t be taking a stand on the general view, but will content myself with some very tentative first  impressions.
    The opening chapters of McEwan’s Atonement present me with a bewildering perplexity: I had to ask myself, repeatedly, Just who is telling this story, and at what remove? The perplexity concerns the narrative voice. The narration of the novel seems to start out as a straightforward omniscient viewpoint, telling the tale of a 13 year old literary ingénue named Briony, who is eager – frantic really – to stage a play she wrote herself in celebration of her older brother’s return to the family estate from Cambridge for summer holidays. She is determined to enlist the aid, as cast members, of her three cousins (two younger, one older) who have also just arrived to spend time with her family and to escape the domestic squabbles of their parent’s divorce. So far, so good --one would think.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Yates’s The Easter Parade and the Vision of the Artist

    In this, Part II of my essay in aesthetics, I am going to try to apply the principles I espoused in Part I to an analysis of Richard Yates’s The Easter Parade in an attempt to more fully articulate the approach I favor in the appreciation of literary artworks. It will involve some sniping at various other approaches, which I take to be current – even pervasive – in the field of modern literary criticism. This is a habit I will not indulge in normally – unless provoked – but one which, I hope, will make clear to myself and to my readers, just where I stand in these debates. More importantly, I hope my position will clear a theoretical space in which writers like Richard Yates, and their efforts, might be taken more fully at face value, i.e. as they actually intend their works to be taken, as Art, and less as examples of the way we “consumers” can amuse ourselves.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A Brief Foray into the Minefield of Modern Aesthetics

    This essay - in which I make no claims to any  profound originality, but only to the more or less orderly collation of various active ideas which guide my thinking about Literature and Art, and which I whole heartedly hold to be correct -  is intended as both a general statement of aesthetic principles, and as a prelude to the immediately following discussion of Richard Yates's The Easter Parade.
   It will be seen that I am still 'solid' with the New Criticism' school of thought, generally, and for that reason have made no great effort to reference the obvious sources. (I will be more intent on reference and rebuttal when it comes time to refute the foolishness of the newer schools of thought, such as 'de-constuctionism', and 'reception theory'--all Post-Modernist philosophies which I abhor.)

Saturday, September 10, 2011

A Review: A Fearful Joy, by Joyce Cary

   Maybe it is time for a Joyce Cary revue. From the look of things, such as the surprising current lack of critical praise or, seemingly, even an awareness of his work, it seems such hullabaloo may be necessary, replete with songs and scores and pantomimes, just to stir some interest – an approach I think the author himself would approve. For the moment, however, an introduction, at least, must be in order.
   Joyce Cary (born Arthur Joyce Lunel Cary, December 7, 1888 – March 29, 1957) was an Anglo-Irish novelist. Though he was never as well known or widely read as William Golding, or Graham Greene, he was a respected modernist writer of mid century, whose early short works were finally deemed too “literary”, by the Saturday Evening Post in America. Thereafter, he turned to novels, of which he wrote and published 17.