October 5, 2008

Laughing with Kafka

Filed under: Literature — duncan @ 4:00 pm

No wonder they cannot appreciate the really central Kafka joke — that the horrific struggle to establish a human self results in a self whose humanity is inseparable from that horrific struggle. That our endless and impossible journey toward home is in fact our home.


(“On Aug. 18, Wallace’s parents came to Claremont to stay with their son. Wallace’s wife of four years, Karen Green, had been called away on an urgent family matter, and Wallace did not want to be left alone. He had canceled previous visits with his parents over the past year, telling them that he couldn’t bear to have people in the house, even those he loved, so the invitation came as a welcome surprise to them.

When Mr. and Mrs. Wallace arrived, they found their son exhausted and gaunt. “He was very, very thin,” says his mother. “He weighed about 140 pounds, so I immediately started to try to put 40 or 50 pounds on him, the way mothers will.” She cooked and cleaned. Wallace couldn’t eat, he told his sister later, but he liked the way the house smelled, and how clean everything was.

Mornings were spent walking Wallace’s two dogs, Werner and Bella. Wallace and his parents strolled the streets of Claremont, talking of small things. In the afternoons, they spoke some more, and helped their son deal with the paperwork and insurance issues that had been piling up. “He was very glad we were there,” says his mother. “And he was very emotional. He was just terrified of so much.””)

September 15, 2008

David Foster Wallace

Filed under: Literature — duncan @ 12:19 am

1962 – 2008

Rest in Peace

April 2, 2008

A Crowd Flowed Over London Bridge

Filed under: Anecdote, Literature, Self indulgence — duncan @ 4:57 pm

I’ve been feeling in need of a wealthy, dissolute patron, lately. Somebody whose character I can assassinate in London taverns at three am, amid a crowd of literary winos, before writing grovelling letters of apology in the grisly-faced morning. Instead I have to work for a living – and it’s a bit of a struggle. You try mastering the fundamentals of economics while holding down a bank job; it’s fun, but it’s neither cake nor ale. So my conscious mind has recently shrunk to a single infinitesimal point, with just enough agency to move limbs and bowels, but without the wherewithal to talk or operate machinery.

Which is to say, I’ve been shirking my duties, and reading Macaulay on Johnson.

“Johnson grown old, Johnson in the fullness of his fame and in the enjoyment of a competent fortune, is better known to us than any other man in history. Every thing about him, his coat, his wig, his figure, his face, his scrofula, his St Vitus’s dance, his rolling walk, his blinking eye, the outward signs which too clearly marked his approbation of his dinner, his insatiable appetite for fish-sauce and veal-pie with plum, his inexhaustible thirst for tea, his trick of touching the posts as he walked, his mysterious practice of treasuring up scraps of orange peel, his morning slumbers, his midnight disputations, his contortions, his mutterings, his gruntings, his puffings, his vigorous, acute, and ready eloquence, his sarcastic wit, his vehemence, his insolence, his fits of tempestuous rage, his queer inmates, old Mr Levett and blind Mrs Williams, the cat Hodge and the negro Frank, all are as familiar to us as the objects by which we have been surrounded from childhood. But we have no minute information respecting those years of Johnson’s life during which his character and his manners became immutably fixed.”

And in case Macaulay seems a bit too Victorian, a bit too complacently outgoing, let me balance the scales with Beckett’s take on Cham.

“It isn’t Boswell’s wit and wisdom machine that means anything to me, but the miseries he never talked of, being unwilling or unable to do so. The horror of annihilation, the horror of madness, the horrified love of Mrs Thrale, the whole mental monster ridden swamp that after hours of silence could only give some ghastly bubble like ‘Lord have mercy upon us’, the background of the ‘Prayers and Meditations’, the opium eating, dreading-to-go to bed, prayers-for-the dead, past living, terrified of dying, terrified of deadness, panting on to 75 bag of water, with a hydracele on his right testis. How jolly.”

A crowd flowed over London Bridge. It flowed into the station, and through the stationers. Three years ago I worked there, selling cigarettes and chocolate to the crowd, before it flowed, millipedal, onto the trains and out into the suburbs, down towards Croydon. Now I work in a bank – offering loans and credit cards to people struggling to repay mortgage debts.

Q: Why is ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ Eliot’s best poem?
A: ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ is Eliot’s best poem because he’s candid there about the repressions, evasions and weaknesses that provide the foundation for his later ethereal art.

We summon an ocean of liquidity, with rites and dances. Then human voices wake us, and we find there is no water, but only dry sterile thunder without rain.

Proper posts to follow, hopefully.

March 23, 2008

Nabokov’s Terror

Filed under: Literature, Nabokov, Philosophy, Self indulgence, Unreadable — duncan @ 2:57 pm

Nabokov famously hated both Freud and Sartre. In the screenplay to ‘Lolita’, if I remember right, Humbert is transplanted to L.A., where he has been hired to work on a film about existentialism. That’s meant to convey, I think, both Nabokov’s low regard for an intellectual movement so cheerfully adopted by the fashionable and the philistine – and an unease about his own writing. Nabokov doesn’t so much hate existentialism as feel that it isn’t being done properly; it’s a Hollywood philosophy, rather than a real (an authentic?) one. In the afterword to his collection ‘Tyrants Destroyed’, Nabokov writes of his story ‘Terror’: “It preceded Sartre’s La Nausee, with which it shares certain shades of thought, and none of that novel’s fatal defects, by at least a dozen years.” [And let me say right away that I, too, know almost nothing about Sartre – though I share Nabokov’s dislike of ‘Nausea’.]

Anyway, here’s a passage from ‘Terror’. The narrator, the usual chilly Nabokovian writer, is visiting a strange city when he experiences a feeling of ‘supreme terror’. He finds himself unable to express it using the normal resources of his art. “I wish the part of my story to which I am coming now could be set in italics; no, not even italics would do: I need some new, unique kind of type.” But then he says that he believes he has found the right words. “When I came out on the street, I suddenly saw the world such as it really is. You see, we find comfort in telling ourselves that the world could not exist without us, that it exists only inasmuch as we ourselves exist, inasmuch as we can represent it to ourselves… [It’s not exactly clear to me who the ‘we’ in this sentence is meant to encompass; a fairly select bunch of philosophical idealists and/or solipsists, it would seem. Be that as it may…] Well – on that terrible day when, devastated by a sleepless night, I stepped out into the center of an incidental city, and saw houses, trees, automobiles, people, my mind abruptly refused to accept them as ‘houses,’ ‘trees,’ and so forth… My line of communication with the world snapped”. Significantly, Nabokov’s narrator compares this with the sensation one experiences “after one has repeated sufficiently long the commonest word without heeding its meaning: house, howss, whowss. It was the same with trees, the same with people.” And then comes the passage I want to emphasise. Here we find bound together, extremely efficiently, a number of key Nabokovian themes. And it’s almost embarrassingly easy to read this passage psychoanalytically. (A quick aside – it’s not entirely clear to me how seriously we’re meant to take Nabokov’s contempt for Freud – for the most part it seems totally on the level (and hysterical); but on occasion Nabokov seems to be almost asking us to ignore his ‘manifest’ views. Take his lectures on ‘Anna Karenin’, where, if I remember right, he launches into his usual attack on the psychoanalytic view of literary symbolism, before discussing, in great detail, Anna’s red bag, and its metaphoric function in the novel. It’s almost as if he’s asking us to make the connection that a salaried professor of Russian literature couldn’t, in the fifties, express in polite company. But I suppose Nabokov’s ‘intentions’ (whatever sense we choose to make of that concept) aren’t necessarily the issue here: what matters, in the first place at least, is how his work functions… and a clearer example of a hysterical sexual nightmare you’d be hard-pushed to find than this passage from his story ‘Terror’.)

“I understood the horror of a human face. Anatomy, sexual distinctions, the notion of ‘legs,’ ‘arms,’ ‘clothes’ – all that was abolished, and there remained in front of me a mere something – not even a creature, for that too is a human concept, but merely something moving past. In vain did I try to master my terror by recalling how once in my childhood, on waking up, I raised my still sleepy eyes while pressing the back of my neck to my low pillow and saw, leaning toward me over the bed head, an incomprehensible face, noseless, with a hussar’s black mustache just below its octopus eyes, and with teeth set in its forehead. I sat up with a shriek and immediately the mustache became eyebrows and the entire face was transformed into that of my mother, which I had glimpsed at first in an unwonted upside-down aspect.” (‘Terror’, in Nabokov, ‘Collected Stories’, p. 177)

Several moves in the passages from ‘Terror’ I’ve quoted.

1) A vision of the world as it “is” rather than as it (usually) appears – a vision of the world unfiltered through the conceptual and experiential categories we use to understand existence. The world thus perceived is meaningless, because it is only our understanding of the world that gives it meaning. “I am convinced that nobody ever saw the world the way I saw it during those moments, in all its terrifying nakedness and terrifying absurdity.” A form of perception devoid of all conceptual scheme, and thus devoid of all sense.

2) But, of course, in describing the world as it really “is”, without the apparatus of our concepts or the categories of ordinary experience, Nabokov, or his narrator, has to use language, concepts, analogies, metaphor, all the resources of literary expression. In the passage I’m highlighting, he uses a comparison with an in-some-ways-similar experience of ‘absurdity’ from the narrator’s childhood. But, of necessity, the description of this experience cannot convey bare existence (here, the bare existence of the human face), but must rather convey a particular kind of experience, by comparing the face in question to something else, using the resources of metaphor: “an incomprehensible face, noseless, with a hussar’s black mustache just below its octopus eyes, and with teeth set in its forehead.”

3) I don’t think you need to be a complete Freud fanatic to see this as a primal scene of sexual nightmare – an expression of male revulsion at a certain fantasised vision of female sexuality (complete with castration anxiety and vagina dentata). What Nabokov, or his narrator, wants to present as horror at sheer existence, is rerouted, by the story’s metaphorics, towards horror at female sexuality. At this level of the story, existence itself is equated with female sexuality; and female sexuality is understood as specifically maternal.

A full reading of this story would place this analysis within the context of Nabokov’s art as a whole. But I don’t want to do that. I just want to use this story, and this quote, as an occasion to talk, in a massively underinformed way, about the general literary-philosophical-psychoanalytic situation we encounter here.

So. This story, and particularly this passage in the story, is a perfect example of that much maligned neologism ‘phallogocentrism’: the connection, at some deep conceptual/emotional level, between ‘logocentrism’ – the understanding of Being as dominated by or derived from Logos (form, word, reason) – and ‘phallocentrism’: the social, sexual, and conceptual prioritising of the male over the female, with all the ambiguities and misogynies that this implies.

Obviously my take here is Derridean – though it’s also hugely influenced by the Derridean literary critic and philosopher Henry Staten, and the psychoanalytic literary critic Janet Adelman. The (‘Statenian’) argument would run something like this. Western philosophy, since forever, has understood both existence and thought as grounded in the ‘Logos’. This assimilation can be understood in terms of the philosophical privileging of form over matter. Thought and existence can be linked together – the connection between our thoughts and their apparently non-conceptual content can be guaranteed – because thought and existence share something: form. My thoughts may be made of different stuff from the world they represent – but the form of my thoughts is identical with the form of their content, and this explains how thought can have content.

This form of philosophical explanation is fundamentally incoherent – because it has an overriding tendency not just to privilege form over matter, but to utterly abolish matter in favour of understanding everything, including Being itself, in terms of form. For if form is the principle of intelligibility, then that which is not form – i.e. matter – is, strictly speaking, unthinkable, and unknowable. When we say ‘matter’ we cannot mean matter, on this theory – we must mean the form of matter. Thus – there is no matter; or, at least, matter drops altogether out of any coherent logocentric thought, becoming the pure noumenon, about which nothing can be said.

And yet, of course, we still do talk about matter; and indeed matter remains as the dark shadow to any philosophical theory of being as form. This dark shadow is the space within which Nabokov situates his story of ‘terror’. And it has two aspects – the failure of a representation to fully correspond to its object (as in the repetition of a word until it appears to lose its meaning); and a material existence that cannot be encompassed by form. There are thus two threats to ‘logocentrism’: materiality on the one hand, and the failure of language to fully convey meaning, on the other. This latter threat, to be simple about it, is the threat of poetry – because poetry, or literature, depends upon a use of language that emphasises language’s ‘material’ properties, rather than its transparency to the objects of reference. And this is the threat that Derrida presses in his emphasis on ‘the materiality of the signifier’. But this threat is in fact a special case of the more general threat of materiality – or (rather) the threat of the utterly incoherent concept of materiality that is both invented and suppressed by logocentric thought.

As I say, this entire network of philosophical concepts is incoherent; it is not sustained by its own logic or necessity, but by other forces. And – this is the claim of those who emphasise the importance of ‘phallogocentrism’ – one of the most significant of these forces is a phallocentric sexual politics. The ‘Freudian’ level of Nabokov’s story ‘Terror’ is more important than its ‘existentialist’ level. Logocentrism creates an entirely incoherent concept of matter – which is then forcibly suppressed from the surface of philosophical systematicity. But this concept of matter has already been equated with a fantasised idea of female sexuality – and it is this equation that drives philosophy’s suppression.

Nabokov is, in a way, being very candid in this passage (whether deliberately or not…). His metaphysics, or the metaphysics his authorial persona advocates, is fundamentally idealist: Nabokov apparently believes in the persistence of the soul after death, and in the constitution of the empirical world by those persisting souls. He believes, like Pnin, not in an autocratic god, but in “a democracy of ghosts”. [All these remarks are hopefully going to tie in eventually to hauntology and ‘Specters of Marx’. I’m baffled that no one I’ve come across has written on ‘Nabokov’s Hauntology’.] But in this short story (as elsewhere) Nabokov reveals this philosophical inclination as driven by a fantasised fear of female sexuality, and of maternity – which are nonetheless implicitly equated with being in general. No doubt this equation is part of a still more general heterosexism. But I want to emphasise how important this equation/suppression is to Nabokov’s work (and, in passing, how symptomatic it is of more pervasive literary/ideological trends. Eventually, with a bit of luck, we’ll work our way round to ‘Hamlet’). To take only the most obvious example: in ‘Lolita’, Lolita’s escape from Humbert is represented and embodied by her pregnancy. But the entire story of her capture/escape occurs in the space between the death of two mothers, both mentioned almost in passing. Humbert’s mother: “My very photogenic mother died in a freak accident (picnic, lightning) when I was three”; and Lolita herself: “Mrs. ‘Richard F. Schiller’ died in childbed, giving birth to a stillborn girl, on Christmas Day, 1952, in Gray Star, a settlement in the remotest Northwest.” These are among the most chilling sentences in the book – not just because of the brutal indifference of the narrators. This description of Lolita’s death recuperates her escape from Humbert’s supernatural fantasies (of nymphet love), (and, incidentally, from the name ‘Lolita’), while simulataneously evoking Nabokov’s own fantasies of grace and (Christian?) immortality. Lolita and her child are dead before the book begins – and it is as if Nabokov can only bear to write about (or to imagine) her if she has no children. In this respect, Nabokov fails the test that Humbert, for all his monstrousness, passes in chapter 29. Humbert doesn’t kill Lolita. (But then perhaps he knows, in some corner of his soul, that his creator will.)

I’ll try to carry on along these lines in a while. Destination: Hamlet.

March 5, 2008

Sympathy with the Dead 2

Filed under: Literature, Philosophy — duncan @ 8:32 pm

[More quotes, no comments yet. Smith; Shaxper; Schopenhauer; Shaxper; Schopenhauer; Shaxper; Smith; Shaxper.]

If the injured should perish in the quarrel, we not only sympathise with the real resentment of his friends and relations, but with the imaginary resentment which in fancy we lend to the dead, who is no longer capable of feeling that or any other human sentiment. But as we put ourselves in his situation, as we enter, as it were, into his body, and in our imaginations, in some measure, animate anew the deformed and mangled carcass of the slain, when we bring home in this manner his case to our own bosoms, we feel upon this, as upon many other occasions, an emotion which the person principally concerned is incapable of feeling, and which yet we feel by an illusive sympathy with him…. We feel that resentment which we imagine he ought to feel, and which he would feel, if in his cold and lifeless body there remained any consciousness of what passes upon earth. His blood, we think, calls aloud for vengeance.

HAMLET: Alas, poor ghost!
GHOST: Pity me not, but lend thy serious hearing
To what I shall unfold.
HAMLET: Speak. I am bound to hear.
GHOST: So art thou to revenge, when thou shalt hear.
GHOST: I am thy father’s spirit.

In the first place, of course, he weeps over the fate of the deceased; yet he weeps also when for the deceased death was a desirable deliverance after long, grave, incurable sufferings. In the main, therefore, he is seized with sympathy over the lot of the whole of mankind that is given over to finiteness. In consequence of this, every life, however ambitious and often rich in deeds, must become extinct and nothing.

HAMLET: To what base uses we may return, Horatio! Why may not imagination trace the noble dust of Alexander till ‘a find it stopping a bunghole?
HORATIO: ‘Twere to consider it too curiously to consider so.
HAMLET: No, faith, not a jot. But to follow him thither with modesty enough, and likelihood to lead it; as thus: Alexander died, Alexander was buried, Alexander returneth to dust; the dust is earth; or earth we make loam; and why of that loam whereto he was converted might they not stop a beer barrel?

In this lot of mankind, however, the mourner sees first of all his own lot, and this the more, the more closely he was related to the deceased, and most of all therefore when the deceased was his father.

GHOST: .… If thou didst ever thy dear father love –
GHOST: Revenge his foul and most unnatural murder.
HAMLET: Murder?
GHOST: Murder most foul.

The very ashes of the dead seem to be disturbed at the thought that his injuries are to pass unrevenged. The horrors which are supposed to haunt the bed of the murderer, the ghosts which, superstition imagines, rise from their graves to demand vengeance upon those who brought them to an untimely end, all take their origin from this natural sympathy with the imaginary resentment of the slain. And with regard, at least, to this most dreadful of crimes, Nature, antecedent to all reflections upon the utility of punishment, has in this manner stamped upon the human heart, in the strongest and most indelible characters, an immediate and instinctive approbation of the sacred and necessary law of retaliation.

GHOST: Swear.

February 25, 2008

Wittgenstein at War

Filed under: History, Literature, Philosophy — duncan @ 9:19 pm

On the outbreak of the First World War, Wittgenstein was in Vienna. He was studying in England, and living in Norway (where he’d built himself a hut on a fjord – you can’t make this stuff up). But at the start of August 1914 he was back in Austria and, unable to get out, he decided to volunteer. Suicidal Wittgenstein felt that war would be the ultimate test of his character – his chance to prove himself to himself, to overcome his weakness and cowardice, and to live cheerfully in the face of death. He wanted to be sent to the front – which he was; he participated in the disastrous Galician campaign, and was lucky to survive. But because he was a trained engineer (before he became interested in philosophy, he studied aeronautical engineering in Manchester) he was then assigned to an artillery workshop in Krakow. As the Austrian forces chaotically retreated, outnumbered and outmanoeuvred, Wittgenstein read Tolstoy’s ‘Gospel in Brief’. He prayed that God release him from the misery of his surroundings.

“To bear life in the workshop, it seems, required no divine assistance. Apart from the fact that he had very little time to himself to work on philosophy, life was almost pleasant, at least by comparison with the previous four months. In any case, it was preferable to life in Vienna.” (Ray Monk, ‘Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius’, p. 123). Vienna was where Wittgenstein’s family lived – and it was also the home of the fin de siecle culture he both admired and distrusted. Even when living in solitude in Norway, Wittgenstein had received Karl Kraus’s Die Fackel. There he read an article by Kraus about Der Brenner, an avant-garde literary journal, published in Innsbruck. Wittgenstein had returned to Austria in July because he wanted to meet Ludwig von Ficker, Der Brenner’s editor – they met on the very weekend of the ultimatum to Serbia. Wittgenstein had decided to give 100,000 crowns to Austrian artists without means, and he wanted Ficker to distribute it. One beneficiary would be Rilke – and Georg Trakl, a regular contributor to Der Brenner, also received a considerable sum. Wittgenstein’s comment on Trakl’s poems: “I do not understand them, but their tone makes me happy. It is the tone of pure genius.”

By August 1914 Trakl was also on the Eastern front. In September he participated in the battle of Groduk; and after the battle he suffered a complete mental breakdown. As the Austrian army headed back towards Krakow, Trakl was in a Krakow psychiatric hospital. He wrote to Wittgenstein: “I would be greatly obliged if you would do me the honour of paying me a visit… I will possibly be able to leave the hospital in the next few days to return to the field. Before a decision is reached, I would greatly like to speak with you.” Wittgenstein was delighted. He wrote in his diary: “How happy I would be to get to know him!” On the day he arrived in Krakow he wrote that he was “thrilled with the anticipation and hope of meeting Trakl.” “It is already too late to visit Trakl today.” Trakl committed suicide on November 3rd. Wittgenstein arrived at the hospital on the morning of November 6th. Monk: “’Wie traurig, wie traurig!!!’ (‘What unhappiness, what unhappiness!!!’) was all he [Wittgenstein] could find to say on the matter.” (p. 119). It was Wittgenstein who broke the news to Ficker; who in turn informed Trakl’s family.

Curse you, dark poisons,
White sleep!
This weirdest garden
Of trees wrapped in twilight
Filled with snakes, nocturnal moths,
Spiders, bats.
Stranger! Your lost shadow
In the sunset’s red,
A gloomy corsair
On the salt sea of misery.
White birds rise at the hem of night
Over collapsing cities
Of steel.

[The meme, from N. Pepperell:
1. Pick up the nearest book (of at least 123 pages).
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag five people.
Nominees: Flashboy, Comte, Roger, IT, Robert Vienneau.
(There’s no obligation to play the game…)]

February 16, 2008

The Original of BORER, more like.

Filed under: Literature, Media — duncan @ 9:04 pm

Right, sorry to be a part pooper, and I realise there’s a degree of… hypocrisy involved here – but would everyone please shut the fuck up about ‘The Original of Laura’ already?

Here’s the deal:

1) It’s a fragment. I’m not sure how many words 50 index cards of Nabokov’s scrawl amounts to, but pretty clearly nowhere near a novel, or even a novella. We’re not talking ‘needs a few finishing touches’; we’re talking ‘basically not written yet’.
2) It’s probably not very good. I’m about as fervent a Nabokovophile as you’ll find; but his last few novels are, in even my opinion, weak. I won’t be re-reading ‘Look at the Harlequins!’ in a hurry, and I wish people wouldn’t pretend that ‘Laura’ is just a few well-placed semi-colons away from ‘The Castle’ or ‘The Aeneid’.
3) Even if it were worth talking about, it’s not worth talking about at incredible length every six months, in a fresh flurry of speculative, contentless punditry. Unless the thing’s been either burnt or published, I don’t want to hear about it.
4) And yet: the front page of ‘The Times’ this week. WTF?!

I know it’s unreasonable of me to complain about the media spending too much time on literary marginalia. I should be grateful. But I feel obliged to read this stuff – I spend precious minutes pouring over dull remarks by Tom Stoppard and John Banville – and I’m pissed off. So, rather than exercising self-control, I’m asking the world’s journalists: please: shut the fuck up about ‘The Original of Laura’.

Thank you.

[In an attempt to give this post some actual content, here’s Nabokov on the fate of the sequel to ‘Dead Souls’. Contrarian as ever, he refuses to see Gogol’s destruction of the manuscript as a victory of religious philistinism over artistic instinct. Rather, Nabokov sees Gogol’s decision as the death-bed resurgence of his better nature, revolting against the pieties to which he had subordinated his muse. (Notice, however, that Nabokov’s contemptuous dismissal of religious values is phrased, as so often, in somewhat religious terms – the chapel may be false, in this passage, but the blue flames of hell are real…)

“…and if Chichikov was fated to end his days as an emaciated monk in a remote monastery, then no wonder that the artist, in a last blinding flash of artistic truth, burnt the end of Dead Souls. Father Matthew [Gogol’s priest] could be satisfied that Gogol shortly before dying had renounced literature; but the brief blaze that might be deemed a proof and symbol of this renunciation happened to be exactly the opposite thing: as he crouched and sobbed in front of that stove (“Where?” queries my publisher. In Moscow.), an artist was destroying the labor of long years because he finally realized that the completed book was untrue to his genius; so Chichikov, instead of piously petering out in a wooden chapel among ascetic fir trees on the shores of a legendary lake, was restored to his native element; the little blue flames of a humble hell.” (‘Gogol’, pgs. 137-8)]

February 3, 2008

A New Writing Blog You All Should Read

Filed under: Literature — duncan @ 2:32 pm

A quick advert for a new fiction blog by my good friend the Comte de Rotherhithe. I’ll try to write a bit more about it once there’s more on line (he’s publishing a novel in instalments). In the meantime, anyone interested in contemporary English literature should, in my opinion, check it out.

Some Thoughts on Romeo and Juliet

Filed under: Literature — duncan @ 2:27 pm

This is a revised and shortened version of a thing I wrote for a friend (as it happens, the Comte) a couple of years ago (before I got into economics). If I remember right, we were discussing sexuality in Shakespeare. The thing I wrote, and reproduce (most of) below, was an attempt to clarify some of my drunken claims.

It still bears the marks of conversation – it sort of starts in the middle of an ongoing discussion, and ends without much notice. There’s loads that should be said and isn’t, especially towards the end. Also, it refers to Frank Kermode’s book ‘Shakespeare’s Language’, and Peter Ackroyd’s recent biography, ‘Shakespeare’, way more often than’s reasonable. That’s because we’d both just read them. Anyway, if anyone’s interested, here are some remarks.  (Warning: this is fucking long.)


January 12, 2008

The Silence of the Lambs 1

Filed under: Literature — duncan @ 9:37 pm

A while ago, for reasons best know to my subconscious, I became fascinated by Thomas Harris’s novel ‘The Silence of the Lambs’. (In my defense, this fascination is clearly fairly widespread; the book was a bestseller, after all. But still, it can’t be altogether healthy.) I spent a bit of time reading academic essays on ‘Silence…’ (of which there are, believe you me, plenty), with the vague idea of working my thoughts up into some sort of essay. That never happened, partly due to general inertia, and partly because I found it very difficult to get my thoughts into an intelligible shape. The book’s extremely dense, and I found it difficult to structure my comments in such a way that they a) weren’t unbelievably repetitive and b) didn’t presuppose ideas that I hadn’t yet got round to formulating. Anyway, for whatever reason, the essay died the death.

Now I’ve got this lovely blog, I thought I’d take the opportunity to post up some ‘Silence…’ comments. This is the first in a very occasional series. I’ll put up thoughts when I get sick of writing about economics, or whenever the infrequent mood strikes me. These posts are probably going to be even more rambling and disastrous than my usual ones. But you don’t have to read them. And, you know, maybe they’ll be fun. (Not much chance of that… ) (more…)

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