Archive for November, 2009
“Written with an urgency and clarity that makes it hard to stop reading and re-reading it. It should be studied by all who wish to understand the forces at work in the West that make an Islamic ‘House of Peace’ a brewing nightmare.”
- Ayaan Hirsi Ali
"Bawer is unquestionably correct, and that fact is quite simply terrifying."
- Stephen Pollard, New York Times Book Review
I talk with Bruce Bawer here about his most recent book Surrender: Appeasing Islam, Sacrificing Freedom (Doubleday, 2009); about Norway, Sharia laws’ intolerance toward women and hatred of gays, the Western media’s hypocritical reluctance to criticize Islamism; and the ‘Islamophobe’ label. I found Bawer to be sincere, passionate and genuinely concerned about the serious threat certain elements in the Islamic world pose to the free expression of ideas.
Listen here to his important message:
Kenneth Clark in the foreword to Stephen Calloway’s Charles Ricketts: Subtle and Fantastic Decorator.
Just as Oak Knoll Books is the place to go for all who love Books on Books, The Kelmscott Book Shop is a must for those who adore the art and ambiance of England in the 1890s. Listen here to my interview with proprietor Fran Durako.
the greatest painter of the late nineteenth century.
architectural photos, when this great big honkin’
duck, shows up
or is it a loon? Anyways, the first thing it does, of course, is high tail it in
direction; but damned if that bird didn’t end up
lookin’ artsier than that buildin’ ever could.
(last night at Art Matters)
Kate Pullinger is a novelist who also writes for film and various digital platforms. Born in Cranbrook British Columbia she went to high school on Vancouver Island, dropped out of McGill University, worked for a year in a copper mine in the Yukon, traveled, and eventually settled in London. Pullinger has written two short story collections; her novels include When the Monster Dies (1989), Where Does Kissing End? (1992), A Little Stranger and most recently The Mistress of Nothing which has just won Canada’s GG Literary Award for best English Fiction (to be awarded this evening).
She has lectured and taught at, among other institutions: the Battersea Arts Centre, the University of Reading, and Cambridge University, as well as in various prisons. She currently teaches Creative Writing and New Media at De Montfort University, Leicester.
The Mistress of Nothing (2009), takes its inspiration from the life of Lucie, Lady Duff Gordon, and is set in nineteenth-century Egypt. I met with Kate yesterday afternoon. Among other things we talk about what it’s like to win the GG, class structures, and the future of the book (check out her website here). Please listen here
The poetic use of words in unusual, appealing ways:
an intellectual, lives monkishly, coddling a loss—a deceased or divorced wife, dead children, a missing brother. Violent accidents perforate the narratives, both as a means of insisting on the contingency of existence and as a means of keeping the reader reading—
The entertaining animation of simile and metaphor
A visiting text—Chateaubriand, Rousseau, Hawthorne, Poe, Beckett—is elegantly slid into the host book
At the end of the story, the hints that have been scattered like mouse droppings lead us to the postmodern hole in the book where the rodent got in: the revelation that some or all of what we have been reading has probably been imagined by the protagonist.
This is the kind of balsa-wood backstory that is knocked into Hollywood plots every day.
The entertaining animation of simile and metaphor combined with specific comparative, contextual background and observation about technique:
Charles Bovary’s conversation is likened to a pavement, over which many people have walked; twentieth-century literature, violently conscious of mass culture, extends this idea of the self as a kind of borrowed tissue, full of other people’s germs. Among modern and postmodern writers, Beckett, Nabokov, Richard Yates, Thomas Bernhard, Muriel Spark, Don DeLillo, Martin Amis, and David Foster Wallace have all employed and impaled cliché in their work. Paul Auster is probably America’s best-known postmodern novelist; his “New York Trilogy” must have been read by thousands who do not usually read avant-garde fiction. Auster clearly shares this engagement with mediation and borrowedness—hence, his cinematic plots and rather bogus…
…dialogue—and yet he does nothing with cliché except use it.
he wants both the emotional credibility of conventional realism and a frisson of postmodern wordplay (a single vowel separates the names, and Tod is German for “death”).
Followed by rational argument and unalloyed judgment:
Clear statement of shortcomings, use of comparison, and explanation of what separates good from bad:
Presence fails to turn into significant absence, because presence was not present enough. This is the crevasse that divides Auster from novelists like José Saramago, or the Philip Roth of “The Ghost Writer.” Saramago’s realism is braced with skepticism, so his skepticism feels real. Roth’s narrative games emerge naturally from his consideration of ordinary human ironies and comedies; they do not start life as allegories about the relativity of mimesis, though they may become them. Saramago and Roth both assemble and disassemble their stories in ways that seem fundamentally grave. Auster, despite all the games, is the least ironic of contemporary writers.
Theoretical context, and concluding assessment:
The classic formulations of postmodernism, by philosophers and theorists like Maurice Blanchot and Ihab Hassan, emphasize the way that contemporary language abuts silence. For Blanchot, as indeed for Beckett, language is always announcing its invalidity. Texts stutter and fragment, shred themselves around a void. Perhaps the strangest element of Auster’s reputation as an American postmodernist is that his language never registers this kind of absence at the level of the sentence. The void is all too speakable in Auster’s work. The pleasing, slightly facile books come out almost every year, as tidy and punctual as postage stamps, and the applauding reviewers line up like eager stamp collectors to get the latest issue.
Researching ‘literary’ Portland (Maine) before trekking down there, I came across mention of Rabelais Book shop. What an interesting concept it’s built upon: the vertical integration of new titles on food, wine, gardening and farming with rare out-of-print books. Patrons therefore inhabit several distinct categories: Book lovers and collectors from around the globe, food lovers and cooks from around the block. Situated in Portland’s East End next door to Hugo’s (chef Rob Evans won the 2009 James Beard award for Best Chef Northeast) and within walking distance of half a dozen other great restaurants, including Bresca, Duckfat and Fore Street, the store, in several short years, has become the go-to place for New England’s foodies. Hosting author readings, art exhibits, film showings/dinners and Slow Food meetings, the shop is a jointly owned by Samantha Hoyt Lindgren, a former photo editor and pastry chef, and her husband Don, an antiquarian book dealer. I met with Don at Hugo’s – we thought it would be quieter there than in the store – to talk food and books…listen for the names of titles you might want to start collecting here:
Like all readers, I want my limits to be drawn by my own sensibilities, not by my melanin count. These forms of criticism that make black women the privileged readers of a black woman writer go against Hurston’s own grain."
At fourteen I couldn’t find words (or words I liked) for the marvelous feeling of recognition that came with these characters who had my hari, my eyes, my skin, even the ancestors of the rhythm of my speech.
…after I read this novel…the word soulful took on new weight…The culturally black meaning adds several more shades of color. First shade: soulfulness is sorrowful feeling transformed into something beautiful, creative and self-renewing…Another shade…to follow and fall in line with a feeling…Hurston…makes "culture" that slow and particular and artificial accretion of habit and circumstance – seem as natural and organic and beautiful as the sunrise…
…when I’m reading this book, I believe it with my whole soul. It allows me to say things I wouldn’t normally. Things like : She is my sister and I love her."
Check out her recent thoughts on ‘the essay’ here in the Guardian