Thursday, June 29, 2006

A New Low

Ok, I've put up with a lot this summer with this reading list. I've dealt with:

-A bunch of Modernist poets who all seem to claim the same things and work in the same way, but who all seem to disagree with each other. As far as I can tell, the impetus to "make it new" involves writing incomprehensible drek that only a few people can understand, and even then only if you're a walking annotation. Still don't see why they disagree so much. (Though it was refreshing to see William Carlos Williams openly ripping into Pound and Eliot, as opposed to the passive-agressive junk most of the others indulged in.)

-Every minority in America feeling entitled to write fiction about a character trapped between two worlds. Yes, your plight is tragic, all you Hispanics, Jews, African-Americans, Native Americans, Eastern European Immigrants, etc. But for the love of God, have some consciousness of the works around you, and find a new trope to use for your pain.

-Three entries of Toni Morrison. Yes, she's good. But she doesn't deserve three novels on my list. Pick one or two, folks, and go with it.

-Eudora Welty. 'Nuff said.

But today was a new low. Today, I read The Magician of Lublin, by Isaac "Look at Me, I'm Jewish" Singer. Now, I may seem to bash the Hebrews a bit much in this blog, but I don't actively dislike their art. Henry Roth, quite cool. Saul Bellow, I'm growing to like. Bernard Malamund's The Assistant was refreshingly good. But Mr. Singer has no place on this list of mine. His text, The Magician, is not an American text. Yes, he was an American immigrant. But the text is about Poland. About Polish people in the 1800s. There are no Americans in it. No American themes. Very little mention of America at all, except as a far off place. And it was written in Yiddish, and translated to English by other people. I'm willing to put up with novels in Europe, because the ones on the list largely deal with American exiles or tourists. And I can put up with novels written by immigrants, dealing with American themes (Pale Fire, written by Nabokov, is perhaps my new favorite on the list). But there's no justification for The Magician of Freakin Lublin in any way, shape, or form. And it's not even a good novel. So I'm lodging a protest. Let it be noted. And then I'm finishing the book, because one of my committee members has written an article on it, so it'll most likely be on the test.

But on the plus side, it's still better than Nightwood.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

This may be one of my lucid periods

Who knew Ezra Pound was such a funny guy?

On America: "We get from every village the most ruthless and the most energetic. The merely discontented stop in England."

"As every living writer either has written, or is writng, on sex, sex, sex, till there is no end of x's..."

After complaining about and critiquing flawed architecture in New York, we get this simple paragraph: "I found it impossible to make a younger member of the architect's firm understand any of this.... But he will die, and Allah the all merciful will send us another generation." (I just love the image of an irate Pound pedantically yelling at some secretary that he doesn't like the building this guy didn't even design.)

On "literary" magazines in the early 1900s:

"It is well known that in the year of grace 1870 Jehovah appeared to Messrs Harper and Co. and to the editors of 'The Century', 'The Atlantic', and certain others, and spake thus: 'The style of 1870 is the final and divine revelation. Keep things always just as they are now'. And they, being earnest, God-fearing men, did abide by the words of the Almighty, and great credit and honour accrued unto them, for had they not divine warrant! And if you do not believe me, open a number of 'Harpers' for 1888 and one for 1908. And I defy you to find any difference, save on the page where the date is."

It's shocking how much I'm liking Pound. While I'll admit I haven't started the Cantos yet, his early poetry is quite stirring, and his essays are really amusing. Who knows, maybe it'll keep through the rest?

Or I may go insane trying to figure the rest of it out. Stay tuned.

(In other news, I took five hours off on Monday to read the new Star Wars novel. It was truly glorious.)

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Deja view?

Haven't posted in a while, not much new to say. The reading continues, though I am quickly coming to the realization that I will eventually run out of novels and plays to read, and will have to read some more poetry. This week, Ezra Pound and The Cantos, plus various other poems. Looking through them last night, Nittany Lion and I discovered sections in Chinese, and sections with Egyptian Hieroglyphics. Should be fun.

Today was a bit startling for me. I finished All the King's Men, beat Knights of the Old Republic again (I believe this is the sixth time, now. I have a problem.), and went to the library to get more books. I then proceeded to read Paula Vogel's The Baltimore Waltz, a delightful short play (50 pages, bless it) about fantasy and dying of AIDS.

The odd thing is, apparently I've seen this play before. As soon as I started it, I knew how it would end. I knew the things that were happening as they happened. And I could hear specific lines in my head, as if I'd heard them spoken before. Now, I have no memory of ever seeing this play or reading it, or listening to it on tape for that matter. But I did see quite a bit of pretentious student theatre in college. It's one of the downfalls of living in an arts dorm and hanging out with a bunch of theatre majors. And quite often, we'd go see these plays after having a few drinks, which might explain why I don't remember it. Or, conversely, I may have read parts of it aloud in a class that I can't remember. Or heard people using parts of it as audition pieces. Or for acting finals. I just don't know.

I've mentioned before the problems I have with my memory, and this particular occasion is slightly unsettling for me. It helped a lot with my retention and comprehension of the play this time around, so I'm not complaining, but I would like to know how I know this piece. So if any of my NU friends have any recollection of seeing this play with me, or taking a class with me where we discussed this play, or anything like that, feel free to chime in.

Recent Lessons of Prelim Summer:
-Black people didn't have the best places to live in urban areas in the 1900s.
-A play about lesbians is always amusing.
-Gertrude Stein is incomprehensible. And ugly.
-There's just something amusing about Freud and Jung riding together in the Coney Island Tunnel of Love.
-Starting a movie just to pass the time while you eat lunch is a bad idea, because you'll watch the entire movie rather than go back to work.
-Unlike many of my peers, reading for prelims has not affected my eyesight in the slightest. Because I have super eyes.
-When you're reading a book that you've already written on, and the professor you wrote the paper for is the head of the committee grading you, the fun part is remembering which parts of your paper he liked and which he didn't, so you can shamelessly reuse them later.