Tag: Criticism

Couple Amazon Reviews

Not my opinions…

The Clown – Heinrich Boll

This used to be my favorite book in college. Now that I’m 60 I revisited it and it seems I must have been damn depressed in college.

Sylvia – Leonard Michaels

Read this if you’re into two thoroughly unlikable people ruining each others’ lives and having sex. I bought it because I read that it was the inspiration for The Antlers’ phenomenal Hospice album, but I find it hard to believe something so beautiful and moving could have come from this. Worth reading for the part where Sylvia throws spaghetti at Leonard and he cries about it, however.

Lot’s Wife – Some Interpretations

Genesis Chapter 19
17. And it came to pass, when they had brought them forth abroad, that he said, Escape for thy life; look not behind thee, neither stay thou in all the plain; escape to the mountain, lest thou be consumed.

26.  But his wife looked back from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt.

The Old Testament
Everyman’s Library

In Judaism, one common view of Lot’s wife turning to salt was as punishment for disobeying the angels’ warning. By looking back at the “evil cities,” she betrayed her secret longing for that way of life. She was deemed unworthy to be saved and thus was turned to a pillar of salt.

Another view in the Jewish exegesis of Genesis 19:26, is that when Lot’s wife looked back, she turned to a pillar of salt upon the “sight of God,” who was descending down to rain destruction upon Sodom and Gomorrah. One reason that is given in the tradition is that she turned back to look in order to see if her daughters, who were married to men of Sodom, were coming or not.

Another Jewish legend says that because Lot’s wife sinned with salt, she was punished with salt. On the night the two angels visited Lot, he requested that his wife prepare a feast for them. Not having any salt, Lot’s wife asked her neighbors for salt, which alerted them to the presence of their guests, resulting in the mob action that endangered Lot’s family.

Lot’s wife

The Bible tells a story that should remind us of the dangers of being unable to change with changing circumstances. When God determines to destroy the irredeemably wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah Gomorrah (whose unforgivable sin, by the way, was not homosexuality but cruelty to strangers; see Ezekiel 16:49), He advises Abraham’s nephew Lot and his family, the only decent people in the city, to flee Sodom and not look back (Genesis 19:17). But unlike Abraham, who marched willingly into an unknown future, Lot is hesitant to leave his familiar surroundings. He knows how depraved a community Sodom is, but it has been his home. He is used to it and does not know what life will be like outside it. He may feel he is too old to learn new ways and start over somewhere else. He virtually has to be dragged out of his house. Though God has warned the family to flee and not look back, Lot’s wife cannot tear herself away and turns around for one last look, at which point, the Bible tells us, she is turned into a pillar of salt. Tourist guides at the Dead Sea today will point out the column of salt that was once, thousands of years ago, Mrs. Lot.

Why salt? There were so many other punishments that might have befallen her. I like to think that she turned to salt because salt is a preservative. In the premodern world, salt was used not so much to flavor food as to preserve it, to keep it from changing and spoiling. To live preserved in salt is the fate of people who are so bound to the past or so unsure of their ability to cope with the future that they continue to do what they have always done, even when it no longer fits the new circumstances in which they live.

Conquering Fear
Harold S Kushner

When a Scholar Acknowledges All His Sources, He Brings the Day of Redemption a Little Closer – Talmud Quote

His voice is so weightily authoritative that he hardly ever bothers to cite a source or quote a fellow critic. There is, so the sociologist Michael Walzer tells us, ‘a saying in the Talmud that when a scholar acknowledges all his sources, he brings the day of redemption a little closer’, in which case Williams has managed to postpone the Messiah’s arrival indefinitely. Not that he always had that many sources to quote. There were many significant thinkers whom he never read; and while this reflects something of his originality and independence of mind, the way he draws so deeply on his own resources, it also betrays a certain pride and aloofness, a refusal to be beholden to his fellow intellectuals, which is not easy to square with his politics.

Critical Revolutionaries: Five Critics Who Changed the Way We Read
Terry Eagleton
(from the section on Raymond Williams. )

Realism Is but One of the 57 Varieties of Decoration

Robert Bresson’s Les Dames du Bois de Boulogne deserves a few explanatory notes, if only because this brilliant work has been so widely and wildly vilified by so-called realistic criticism. Realism, as Harold Rosenberg has so sagely remarked, is but one of the 57 varieties of decoration. Yet, particularly where movies are concerned, the absurdly limited realism of the script girl and the shop girl is too often invoked at the expense of the artist’s meaning. Why, oh why, whines one local reviewer, does Maria wear long dresses in the afternoon? (This same reviewer is unperturbed by the transparent contrivance through which East German nuns are dumped pathetically in Arizona, where they can be saved with topical miraculousness by a Negro deus-ex-machina machinist out of Robinson Crusoe via Going My Way—but that is another story.)

Confessions of a Cultist: On the Cinema, 1955-1969
Andrew Sarris

Charles Dickens’ Urban Way of Seeing

In any case, what counts as realism is a contentious matter. We generally think of realistic characters as complex, substantial, well-rounded figures who evolve over time, like Shakespeare’s Lear or George Eliot’s Maggie Tulliver. Yet some of Dickens’s characters are realistic precisely by being none of these things. Far from being well rounded, they are grotesque, two-dimensional caricatures of human beings. They are men and women reduced to a few offbeat features or eye-catching physical details. As one critic has pointed out, however, this is just the way we tend to perceive people on busy thoroughfares or crowded street corners. It is a typically urban way of seeing, one which belongs to the city street rather than the village green. It is as though characters loom up out of the crowd, allow us a quick, vivid impression of themselves, then disappear for ever into the throng.

In Dickens’s world, this serves only to heighten their mysteriousness. Many of his characters appear secretive and inscrutable. They have a cryptic quality about them, as though their inner lives are impenetrable to others. Perhaps they have no inner life at all, being nothing but a set of surfaces. Sometimes they seem more like pieces of furniture than living beings. Or perhaps their true selves are locked away behind their appearances, beyond reach of an observer. Once again, this mode of characterisation reflects life in the city. In the anonymity of the great metropolis, individuals seem shut up in their solitary lives, with little continuous knowledge of or involvement with one another. Human contacts are fleeting and sporadic. People appear as enigmas to each other. So in portraying urban men and women as he does, Dickens is arguably more realistic than showing them in the round.

How to Read Literature
Terry Eagleton

You Can Like What You Actually Like

This love can’t be faked, not inside your own soul. Yet among those who are merely trying to impress, it is of course faked all the time. At my university, we foolishly used to ask applicants for a list of the writers and books that had “influenced” them. This is not an entirely fair question to ask any writer, but for a board of academics to spring it on a bunch of young, inexperienced, aspiring writers was madness. Of course the answers we got were mainly intended to impress. The question became the single most insincere item in the entire application—bypassing the mendaciousness even of professorial letters of recommendation. The lists we got were almost always very grand, academically impeccable, and exactly the same: that year’s higher-than-highbrow list of what every applicant assumed a bunch of professors wanted to see. We should have been ashamed. We were doing people damage by inducing them to lie about their real tastes and their real identities, leading them into a form of self-betrayal that at worst can be a symptom of self-contempt. Dishonesty about what really pleases your imagination is outright dangerous to you as a writer.

The Modern Library Writer’s Workshop: A Guide to the Craft of Fiction
Stephen Koch

In My Day People Weren’t So Nostalgic All the Time – The Paradox of Nostalgia

In fact, I think that the alt-country and Americana scenes can be too precious in their efforts to resist the polluting influence of the country industry, and in their attempts to evoke a simpler world through archaic slang and ostentatious hats. Maybe this judgment is simply a kind of reverse snobbery, a way for me to feel superior to the kind of people who feel superior to the kind of people who love “commercial” country music. (Snobbery, I’ve learned, is hard to define, and even harder to avoid; there is virtually no way to judge popular music without making some judgment about the people who listen to it.) This judgment surely reflects, too, my general allergy to any music that strains to be “retro,” even though I realize that a current of nostalgia runs through all popular culture. (It sometimes seems that popular music is more nostalgic than it used to be, which could mean that my distaste for nostalgia is itself a form of nostalgia for a pre-nostalgic past.)

Major Labels: A History of Popular Music in Seven Genres
Kelefa Sanneh

Liking *Low* Culture – Jersey Shore, example of

King’s favorite chapter in Tacky is the one following how the reality TV show Jersey Shore helped her bond with her father. She recalls coming home from college for winter break, and stumbling upon her dad transfixed by the show. When King went back to college, her dad would call her every Thursday at 11 p.m. for recaps of the latest episode.

“I was having a really hard time at college, just really depressed and felt really adrift and untethered. And those phone calls were a real lifeline to me, I mean, my dad kept me tethered to the Earth.”

Ever since her father died, King remembers those phone calls even more fondly. She hopes her family’s love for Jersey Shore proves that culture’s purpose isn’t only to be be “good,” but also to bring people together.

“Like yeah, Jersey Shore was silly and loud… But it was also really important to us in its way. I think that one big part of being able to engage with any piece of culture joyfully, regardless of what it is, is having somebody to do it with.”


Discussion with author Rax King regarding her book,
Tacky: Love Letters to the Worst Culture We Have to Offer

KISS and the Arbiters of Cool

I asked Gene if he remembered that line and he said, “Yes. The rock press was always attracted to the Talking Heads, Television, the Ramones, the New York Dolls, the Sex Pistols—bands who couldn’t sell out a stadium or even an arena. There is a side to that media completely devoid of connection to the people who make up most of the rock audience, a holier-than-thou Jon Landau disease, as if they are telling kids that they and they alone know what’s important. We are still not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but there are three thousand licensed Kiss products, a Kiss toothbrush that plays ‘(I Want to) Rock and Roll All Nite’ when you put it in your mouth, and everything from Kiss caskets to Kiss condoms. There are no Radiohead condoms.”

Bumping Into Geniuses
Danny Goldberg

Nanny Barron – Emerson’s Tortured Neighbor

And surely this journal entry should refute Henry James’s view that Emerson possessed no awareness of “the dark, the foul, the base”: “Now for near five years I have been indulged by the gracious Heaven in my long holiday in this goodly house of mine, entertaining and entertained by so many worthy and gifted friends, and all this time poor Nanny Barron, the mad-woman, has been screaming herself hoarse at the Poorhouse across the brook and I still hear her whenever I open my window.”

Bound to Please: An Extraordinary One-Volume Literary Education
Michael Dirda
from a review of:
Emerson: The Mind on Fire
by Robert D. Richardson, Jr.