Posts Tagged ‘literature’

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Weschler’s Robert Irwin

February 8, 2008

Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees is a chronicling of the life and work of Southern California based artist Robert Irwin written by Lawrence Weschler. The work documents the evolution of Irwin’s early work as it congealed into Abstract Expressionism in the late 1950s on through to his later Conceptual work in the 1970s. Honed from extensive interviews with the artist, Weschler gets inside of the artists head, exploring interior motivation and contextualizing the work and evolution of ideas into the fabric of Irwin’s daily life. Weschler’s writing so fully inhabits Irwin’s work that at certain points I half expected to discover I was reading some sort of Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, where I would later discover Irwin had in fact written the biography himself as some statement on artist’s presence. Obviously this is just my fancy, but it illustrates the author’s ability to connect his prose with the ideas the artist was discussing and illuminate the process. The work glides seamlessly through the artist’s words and ideas, so that one is almost unaware of the synthesis of multiple interviews and source material taking place. It reads smooth almost like a novel, even in chapters that were more theory based.

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Hawthorne and Home

February 3, 2008

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Blithedale Romance is fictionalized account of the author’s stay at Brook Farm in 1841. It is an amazing source of information about utopian experiments, and fits nicely with my research on Home, Washington. It gives an insightful window into social attitudes and the culture of this living environment during the period. Overall the narrator in the novel is skeptical of these endeavors, but it is a great source for research on the utopian drive and a richly dramatic tale that illustrates an individual’s inability to escape the past.

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Let Us Now Praise Famous Men

November 27, 2007

Let Us Now Praise Famous Men was a collaborative project between writer James Agee and photographer Walker Evans that combined elements of essay, portrait, poem, and engaged journalism. This hybrid work grew out of a commissioned magazine article exploring conditions of poor white sharecroppers in the South, but the article was never realized in the original form and instead grew into the volume Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. The work primarily focused on the lives and living conditions of three sharecropper families: the Gudgers, Ricketts, and Woods. At play is an interesting mix of observed detail and intimate storytelling combined with outsider examinations. One section may be objective exterior overview only to be followed up with privileged interior observation concerning the intimate details of a specific day or individual’s life. The work adeptly bounces from interior to exterior vantage points to create a profound understanding of the people involved. In style it is like transcribing the soul’s sense while speaking to the hardships of a particular way of life; mirroring larger societal issues during Roosevelt’s New Deal era.

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On the Road

November 25, 2007

Kerouac’s On the Road is a fictionalized account of the writer’s exploits traveling across the country with Dean Moriarty. In this work the narrator uses the pseudonym Sal Paradise with Dean Moriarty being a pseudonym for Neal Cassady. The plot of the novel revolves around the narrator falling into Dean Moriarty’s mad and free orbit and how their paths intersect and part as they explore life on the road, meeting up with a cast of like minded characters, migrant workers, con men, and drifters. The novel is a psychological charting of the main character’s attitudes to the world around him and is framed through cross-country journeys traversing the continent.

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The Discontented Dervishes

November 2, 2007

The Discontented Dervishes is a collection of stories by the 13th century Sufi poet Sa’di as retold by author Arthur Scholey. Most of the work in this collection falls under the categories of parable or fable. The collection’s name comes from a story in which a generous king goes out disguised as an Arab and overhears two discontented dervishes complaining about the injustice of those that have wealth in this world. One dervish says, “I do believe that if our King Salih were to walk through that door I should dash his brains out with my shoe!” (4). The king proceeds back to his palace then sends a servant to escort the two dervishes to the palace where they are treated lavishly. Later the king reprimands the dervishes with “I hope you both see now that I am not the sort of king who, in his grandeur, turns away his face from the helpless – that I am not, in fact, the monarch that you abused in the mosque this morning” (6). Sa’di is famous for his line about feeling bad about not having shoes until he met a man who had no feet. The imagery in these stories is interesting, but I suspect something may be missing in this translation and in Scholey’s retelling. A lot of the stories come across as too preachy or flat. I was excited to explore this writing as I’m not overly familiar with Persian work, but I wasn’t altogether pleased with what I found here.

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Harrison’s The Kiss

October 29, 2007

Kathryn Harrison’s The Kiss is a confessional memoir of a woman’s incestuous affair with her father. The structure of the story explores the dysfunctional triangulation between the woman, her mother, and her father, complicated by her grandparents. In her early life the father is an absence, while the daughter competes for the mother’s affection in life. The father’s relationship to the mother has never been resolved, so when the daughter and father meet again when she’s in college, his desires for the mother are transferred onto her. Now he’s become a man of God, a preacher, with a new family of his own. The Kiss is the woman’s journey into a sexual affair her father initiated with bouts with mental health and anorexia along the way. The memoir is the account of a woman coming to terms with the evil betrayals of her past. Everything changes after that kiss.

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Tolstoy’s Fables and Fairy Tales

October 23, 2007

I have been interested lately in fables and fairy tales for their simplicity of image and layered beauty. In contrast to Tolstoy’s grander work like War and Peace or Anna Karenina, I am intrigued by the economy and directness of his fables. Most of the writing in Fables and Fairy Tales was originally written as part of primers he created for the school he set up on his estate for neighboring peasants. The fables teach life lessons in a simple format, and although frequently didactic or dogmatic, the clear elegance of the stories shines through. Among other things these stories are peopled with talking animals, kings, hermits, and peasants. With these fables Tolstoy sought to enlighten those around him with his humanitarian dreams and goals of social justice.

Some of the fables are deceptively straightforward showing things aren’t always as they appear. Holes are frequently poked in cleverness. They teach one must do the work if one wants to earn the outcome; one can’t simply jump to the end. In Three Rolls and a Pretzel, the faults are contagiously shown in a peasant’s false clever logic.

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