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Arms and the Man (Dover Thrift Editions)
Arms and the Man (Dover Thrift Editions)

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2.0 von 5 Sternen Too much social 'comment', not enough comedy., 5. Juli 2000
Shaw, who more than any of his contemporaries dealt provocatively with the crucial issues of his day, has not worn well. In a 1971 encyclopaedia I had as a child, the entry on GBS called him the greatest dramatist since Shakespeare. That's better than Moliere, Sheridan, Strindberg, Ibsen, Wilde, Jarry, Chekhov, Brecht, Ionesco, Beckett! Such a laughable proposition is untenable today, and we can now see Shaw for what he is - a superficially amusing farceur, who squandered this modest gift on deadly social comment, deadly because he reduced issues that effected real people to theorems, and reduced those people to mere mouthpieces. There is no subtext in Shaw - everything is expounded tediously and teeth-grindingly on the surface. ARMS AND THE MAN is one of his better efforts, and, after an uncertain start, settles into some nice old-style farce - hidden identities, buffoonish heroes, scheming servants, crusty old majors; when, though, the puppets start lecturing us on war, idealism, class, gender etc., one's heart sinks, not because what Shaw says isn't true, but because a letter to the Times would have been a better place to say it. While Wilde's plays grow with the years, seeming richer, more meaningful, brutally satiric, bursting with complex and fluid themes, Shaw's work, in their steadfast refusal of mystery and ambiguity, seem chilly and remote.


Maldoror and Poems
Maldoror and Poems
von Comte Lautreamont
  Taschenbuch
Preis: EUR 12,42

4.0 von 5 Sternen Perversely pleasurable for a while., 3. Juli 2000
Rezension bezieht sich auf: Maldoror and Poems (Taschenbuch)
Although MALDOROR's most immediate pleasure is its naked nastiness - rape, murder, torture, paedophilia, bestiality, blasphemy etc. - the truly unsettling nature of the book is its textual instability, the violence of its language, the horrible, concrete, surgical beauty of its images, the haunting effect of its descriptions, its foregrounding and destabilising of slowly compelling narrative, its clashing of tones, moods, viewpoints, narrators, targets, sympathies. French literature produces a lot of books like this, wherein a madman shouts the reader out of his complacency (e.g. Rimbaud, Corbiere, the Gide of FRUITS OF THE EARTH). This is better than most because its disgust is funny and a thrill. After book three, though, it all becomes a little wearing and monotonous, as Lautreamont's assault is more tediously preoccupied with language. The same fault can be levelled at the underrated, protean, difficult POEMS, where intellectual engagement wins out over sensual overspill. Book Six of MALDOROR, though, is a masterpiece of narrative subversion, simultaneously asserting the power of stories and running riot through their conventions, looking forward to, amongst others, Borges and Nabokov. Knight's introduction is rewarding, if a little dated, but the translation is one of the best I've ever read, capturing Maldoror's rhythmic logorrhea to horrible perfection.


Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (BFI Film Classics)
Life and Death of Colonel Blimp (BFI Film Classics)
von A. L. Kennedy
  Taschenbuch

3.0 von 5 Sternen The Archers deserve better., 29. Juni 2000
This is a disappointing and frustrating monograph. Disappointing in that it concerns one of the staggering masterpieces of the greatest filmmakers of all time, the team of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, and manages to capture only their sadness and intelligence, with little of their madness or danger. This is because, as an author-screenwriter, Kennedy concentrates on Pressburger, the screenwriter. Now, Pressburger is a too often marginalised figure, and a crucial component of the Archers' magic, providing the bass-line spirit, wit and humanity of the films, but to reduce Powell's overwhelming contribution to a couple of patronising lines is to miss the essence and tensions of BLIMP (and surely, as a Scot, she might have found his Celtic roots interesting). A screenplay is not even a tenth of a film, it is the bricks with which the director builds a house. Kennedy's book is an analysis of the script, not the film; she betrays little meaningful knowledge of cinema, and so cannot explain the film as a visual experience, beyond a few platitudes. BLIMP contains arguably the greatest shot in all cinema - as Pressburger pulls back from the duelling scene - but Kennedy is unable to respond to it satisfactorily. Powell and Pressburger films are such an emotional experience that it is difficult to discuss them analytically. Kennedy offers a very personal, autobiographical response to the film which chimes very much with my own, but sometimes you want to shake her, and ask for something a lttle less comforting and vague. The book is frustrating, not only in its narrow focus, but in its nagging, repeated inaccuracies (Jack Cardiff did not photograph the film, he was a mere Technicolour cameraman - Powell liked his work, and asked him to shoot later Archers' films; the nurse and Barbara Wynne are the same character etc.), its lack of cinematic context or original research, its evasion of whole sequences at the expesne of those that fit the thesis. It is extraordinary, though, that in a piece that discusses various nations of 'Home', Kennedy doesn't mention the play Clive attends, 'Ulysses'. So why three stars? Because just reading about one of my favourite films is such a pleasure. Because Kennedy is so nice, clear and familiar, and we share quite a lot in common. Because in between the reassuring padding, she comes up with the odd unique insight that startles you into rethinking old assumptions.


Death at the President's Lodging (Classic Crime)
Death at the President's Lodging (Classic Crime)
von Michael Innes
  Taschenbuch

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3.0 von 5 Sternen Pushing at the limits of Golden Age detective fiction., 12. Juni 2000
Had Borges ever read this classic detective novel? I'm not suggesting Innes bursts the boundaries of his form like Borges or Chesterton. On its most obvious level, this is a typical product of Golden Age detective fiction - conservative, obviously ideological, a puzzle-like mystery solved by a socially and intellectually superior detective, archly written, set in a socially acceptable milieu (an Oxbridge college) full of the right people, with amusing instances of outright snobbery. But if he doesn't burst his genre's limits, Innes certainly seems to nag at them. Because, in his almost complete abstraction of plot to the exclusion of meaningful character or locale ; in his filtering of third person objective narration with the voices of the narrated; in his continual self-referentiality; in his meaningful allusinism which both focuses on the genre, but also well away from it; in, most importantly, casting doubt on his detective hero and offering a very unsatisfactory solution, Innes seems to be edging towards a position that would allow Borges to launch his metaphysical fantasies, thus undermining the very fundamentals of the genre he's working in.


The Tailor of Panama (Roman)
The Tailor of Panama (Roman)
von John Le Carre
  Taschenbuch
Preis: EUR 6,00

4.0 von 5 Sternen Flawed, maybe, but literally fantastic., 12. April 2000
Rezension bezieht sich auf: The Tailor of Panama (Roman) (Taschenbuch)
THE TAILOR OF PANAMA is considered second league le Carre, and maybe on one level it is. The novel is a fantasy about fantasists, about sinister powers fabricating a pretext for invading a Central American country. The novel is futuristic (set in 1997 and after, published in 1996), and ends in terrifying apocalypse.
The problem is that the move from character comedy to political fabulation is implausible. The first is incredibly rich, detailed and convincing, the latter is rushed and vague, especially when you consider that le Carre's best novels compel on account of their seeming, almost penantic, authenticity. I just didn't believe that five men having dinner could contrive a war, not because it isn't possible, but because it wasn't made believable as literature. Ironically, some of the book's best writing is in this section, as Pendel's guilt takes on a hallucinatory and oneiric texture.
Otherwise, this is another deceptively lovely le Carre novel. The first 2/3 give us two wonderful characters, Harry Pendel, the endearingly waffling East End convict turned tailor to the mighty, who, through bad financial decisions, and a badly concealed past, is forced into intelligence work, with deadly results; and Andrew Osnard, his spymaster, a callous, unloveable, fat Lothario, determined to amass the fortune that is his by right, with a dodgy history of his own.
The mixture of sunny farce and jolting horror is realised with unfailing mastery; the potentially unwieldly series of revelations is beautifully orchestrated; and the sublime gallery of supporting players, all verging on caricature, probably confirm the frequent comparisons between le Carre and Dickens. Only the romanticised portrait of Marta grates.
When we think of great writing, it is often in terms of expertly constructed, poetic, elegant sentences, such as Nabokov or Proust. Compared to these masters, le Carre might seem a little ordinary. This is a novel stuffed with words, indeed it might seem overwritten.
But just as in the cinema, Bunuel's 'plain' style masks a profound elegance of form, le Carre's excellence is as an ironist, and if we pay too much attention to what is being said, if we lose critical distance, we founder, because every important character is a liar, for whatever reason, and their lies make us distrust everything that's said, as the novel is told teasingly through (very faulty) point of view.
Eventually, we cannot credit anything we read, as we might expect in a world where moral values simply do not exist (and Panama is still corrupt, Pendel or not), or if they do (in the case of Marta) they pay an intolerable price.
Traditional literature, be it generic of 'Victorian', the very book we're reading, is co-opted as unreliable, and we are left with a whole lot of nothing, where the pressure to make and remake one's self (Pendel is the classic European who comes to America to begin a new life) only obliterates that self.


The Penguin Book of French Poetry: 1820-1950 (Penguin Classics)
The Penguin Book of French Poetry: 1820-1950 (Penguin Classics)
von none
  Taschenbuch
Preis: EUR 16,40

5.0 von 5 Sternen Essential, boundless and life-enhancing, 22. März 2000
One of the great books of the last century, one that never leaves my bedside. Covering the period 1820-1950, this is a canon of extraordinary, varied richness in all culture, never mind French poetry, from the Romantic movement (Lamartine, Huge) to 'Negritude' (Cesaire), and encompassing Surrealism, Symbolism, Lyricism, Cubism, Metropolitanism and Modernity, the Parnassian movement etc. All the giants are well-represented - Baudelaire, Mallarme, Verlaine, Rimbaud, Laforgue, Cendrars, Michaux etc - but the collection's real joy is its recuperating journey of poetry's byways, finding forgotten figures, curiosities, one-offs, such as Tristan Corbiere, Anna de Nouilles, or Charles Cros. Dip in at any page, and you will be treated to poetry of unmatched beauty, strangeness and invention.
After a brief introduction explaining his selection process, and an invaluable technical note on the 'alexandrine', the dominant metre of French poetry, editor/translator William Rees divides his material into historically discrete sections, prefacing each movement and poet. These essays are an accessible mine of invaluable historical, biographical and cultural information. His prose translations, although 'poetic' in themselves, are much preferable in their more literal accuracy, to those translators who abandon faithfulness for some vague notion of 'spirit' which usually only leads ot silliness. A gem of an anthology that deserves a prominent, beloved, dog-eared place on the bedside of any lover of literature.


How Proust Can Change Your Life (Vintage International)
How Proust Can Change Your Life (Vintage International)
von Alain De Botton
  Taschenbuch

5.0 von 5 Sternen Roll uproll up, tickets for the great Proust adventure here, 16. März 2000
This book has been ludicrously dismissed as 'facile' by sniffy snobs. The dismaying fact remains that in this age of overcrowding media vying for our attention, you have to be pretty convincing to make people want to give a large chunk of their lives to a 4000 page novel about sponge cakes, silly aristocrats and sickly fops.
De Botton manages this with ease. His book is an excellent precis of Proustian concerns - time, love, friendship, literature - told in deceptively simple language masking thoroughness and complexity. His aren't the last words on these subjects, they are starting points which allow the virgin reader a map when starting on the vast terrain of A La Recherche.
His own prose is elegant, suggestive and sometimes very funny, while his emphasis on the personal is at the same time endearing, a way into the book, and true to Proust. He fills in his narrative with much biographical, historical and anecdotal matter, drawing on letters, newspapers, memoires, which are both illuminating and entertaining.
His own method is seemingly the opposite of Proust's, immediately lucid and precise, but the form of his book follows the Proustian pattern, whereby the book heading in one direction turns in on itself, becomes a book about itself, its own creation, even negating itself as it tells us to abandon Proust if we want to be true to the spirit of Proust.
The book isn't perfect - sometimes the prose is a little TOO easy; both Proust and De Botton come across as near-saintly figures, full of understanding and kindness, when the truth (with Proust at any rate) is much messier; and the last two chapters are a little rushed. But few books outside the thriller genre have delighted me and kept me reading feverishly to the end like this little trinket.


Complete Poems
Complete Poems
von Blaise Cendrars
  Taschenbuch
Preis: EUR 25,05

3.0 von 5 Sternen Brilliant verse, not sure about the translation., 24. Februar 2000
Rezension bezieht sich auf: Complete Poems (Taschenbuch)
Blaise Cendrars is often considered the great poet of modernity and metropolitanism, and the opening long poem here, 'Easter In New York', certainly grapples with the present, as the starving, despairing narrator wanders through the Big Apple by night, confronted with prostitutes, beggars, deformed musicians, thieves; stared at with hostility by strangers, afraid of his own shadows. The trash-filled seediness of New York, the tense ethnic melting-pot, the spiritual banality of capitalism (in the form of Banks and skyscrapers), the jostling mechanisation of the mob, the roaring subways are all vividly captured. This is largely achieved by the insertion into Cendrars' famously plain style of unfamiliar or violent words that create a sense of wrenching alienation.
What is bizarre is that Cendrars frames this modern narrative with a monologue addressed to Jesus on Good Friday. At first when he bemoans the lack of spirituality under modern capitalism, his visits to dank libraries to look up famous artistic representations of the Passion , as well as books and hymns, we may feel a conservative impulse.
But the more the poet ruminates on representations - rather than manifestations - of Christ, the more we notice that it is Good Friday, the day Jesus died, all the year round; that there is no redemptive resurrecton in this living hell where even suicide is too expensive.
This again mirrors the language's development. The poem's form is a series of steady, regular, rhymed, Latinate couplets, but as the language, images, sentiments become more violent, despairing, urgent, this form begins to burst until the final hallucinatory denial suggest escape. Some of the verses, such as the narrator accompanying God down a nameless street, His side gashed, the houses filling with blood, the occupants withering with sin, have a Wildean savour (I'm thinking of his stories and prose poems) as if to bridge the gap between the ancient and modern.
There is an excellent introduction, by Jay Bochner, to Cendrars' life and art in this book, and the translations (by a practicising poet, Ron Padgett) have been acclaimed by prestigious worthies like the great John Ashbery, but they seem problematic to me. Padgett's attempt to translate the poems as verse results in many distorting omissions and cmpromises, and reduces Cendrars's methodical rhythms to singsong. It's okay for the likes of me, I have enough French to struggle with the original, but English readers might lose something. In one case he translates the word 'aube', clearly meant in the context as 'alb' (the priest's vestment), as 'dawn', its other meaning, used punningly throughout. This makes me fear for the rest of the text's accuracy.


LaForgue: Selected Poems (Penguin Classics)
LaForgue: Selected Poems (Penguin Classics)
von Jules LaForgue
  Taschenbuch

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4.0 von 5 Sternen Thrilling verse from the father of modern poetry., 23. Februar 2000
Jules LaForgue, for so long underrecognised in his own country, is now seen as the father of modern poetry, especially influential on the work of Eliot and Pound in terms of persona, language, reaction to modernity, and the violent incongruity of his metaphors and images.
This edition boasts excellent prose translations of the poems by Graham Dunstan Martin. These may be insufficient for the non-French speaker, but the problem with translations that try to catch the spirit of the original rather than the detail, such as Ron Padgett's translations of Blaise Cendrars, is that necessary omissions can lead to dilution and distortion. So, I suppose, this book is best recommended for those, like myself, who have a smidgeon of mediocre French, and can compare their own efforts against Martin's grammatically correct translations.
His introduction is refreshingly free of jargon, and with great simplicity, he details LaForgue's tragically early life, his intellectual precusors, his cultural milieu, his themes and his methods. LaForgue's poetic skill often has to transcend the essential banality of his philosophy, and Martin's discussion of LaForgue's pervasive irony seems to suggest that his work is often about nothing at all if every comment, even if it's 'ironic' is ironically cancelled out by irony (oh yes).
The first selection of which I've just read is largely juvenelia entitled 'The Grief Of the Earth'. Martin warns of the young LaForgue's vulnerablility to Hugo's influence, based on considerable rhetorical bombast, and these poems aren't free of railing against God, the weather, 'ordinary' people, the world, the Unconscious.
But even this early in his oeuvre, LaForgue shows remarkable brilliance. He uses conventional forms, such as the sonnet or lyric, but rends their frames with the exciting violence of his vocabulary, the unnerving juxtapositional clashes he achieves. His poems often start out as one thing, offering a certain set of emotions, which, through irony, and exagerration, become something totally different, more disturbing. The 'Lament of the Notre-Dame organist' is a case in point. The hero begins grieving movingly for his dying lover, but he gets so carried away by his grand sentiments, that he thinks her already dead, and savours the lashing he'll give to the Almighty, and the eternal doleful Bach fugues he'll play. A pitiable, Romantic, lover has become something much more modern and disturbing.
It's not all violence though. There is a lovely debate between a clown and Jesus over the paradox of free-will and God's omniscience; a strange lament by lonely Parisians for the superficial, but gay and alive, high society that has abandoned them during winter; a danse macabre by a grotesque infant whose mother calls him beyond the grave; and a mellow, despairing tribute to poetry, cigarettes and dreams as escapes from the living death that is our existence. I can't wait to try LaForgue's more mature work.


LaForgue: Selected Poems (Penguin Classics)
LaForgue: Selected Poems (Penguin Classics)
von Jules LaForgue
  Taschenbuch

4.0 von 5 Sternen Heady magic from the founder of modern poetry., 17. Februar 2000
My last review was not accepted, possibly because I mentioned a LaForgue poem in which the poet smokes a 'cigarette' to escape existence as living death to dream, among other things, of mating elephants engaged in ritual dances. Of course, in no way was I condoning such escapism, and I'm not entirely sure that LaForgue was either, rather bemoaning the need for passive actions to retaliate against stagnant modernity.
LaForgue is most notable as the forerunner of Pound and Eliot, and there are startling similarities between his work and Prufrock and Other Poems, namely the persona adopted, the grappling with and alienation in modernity, the perverse wistfulness, the scalpel-clear language, and the violent non-conventional juxtapositions of images and metaphors.
Dunstan Martin gives an accessible, thorough, jargon-free introduction to LaForgue's tragically brief life, his cultural context, his themes and his methods. Sometimes his connections are a little simplistic, and his defence of LaForgue's 'irony' seems to self-cancel everything he wrote, but generally the introduction is a model of clarity.
I have just read LaForgue's early work, 'Le Sanglot De La Terre' (the grief of the earth). Martin warns that much of this juvenelia is negatively influenced by the bombastic rhetoric of Victor Hugo, and there's a lot of chestthumping, browbeating and wailing at Fate, the skies, the Unconscious etc.
There are, also, however, some remarkable things. The poems themselves are fairly conventional formally, sonnets, lyrics, ballads etc., but LaForgue reefs them to bursting point with the violence of his language, the startling imagery, and the mocking exageration. One masterpiece is a lament by a church organist for his dying lover; so carried away does he get by his grief, that he thinks of her as already dead, and talks about how he is going to spectacularly rail against the heavens, and play eternal Bach fugues for the rest of his life. What had been a moving and despairing elegy becomes something much more complex and troubling in the emotions it provokes.
The variety of his subject matter is remarkable, and not always so aggressive. There is a lovely poem framing a debate between a street clown and Jesus over free will and God's omniscience, which the latter fudges; and a childlike lyric of heartbreaking, melancholic, wistful beauty about, perversely, the dreariness of Paris in the Winter when the bright, gay social world moves to the country. This is so good for juvenelia I cannot wait to move on to his more mature work.


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