Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Before the Books All Disappear...


The Street of Crocodiles by Bruno Schulz :
I had some spare moments with no required reading, so I seized them with desperation and started perusing this slim volume of poetic childhood recollection pieces by 1930s Polish writer Schulz, who comes highly recommended by the great filmmaker Guy Maddin. These are sublime and meticulously described bits of Polish life, from a man who is described in the translator’s introduction as gnarled and lonely. Of course he had to be. I’m not surprised Maddin is a fan, since both men seem to exist at the whim of their memories. Maddin though has a style modeled on the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, while Schulz’s recollections are firmly located in space and time, even though the way of life they describe has long since disappeared.

David Walker’s Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World : The outrage we’ve been waiting for in my African American literature class. Multiple exclamation points abound. Walker maintains throughout that God is just, but I want him to say even once that God is not just, or that God has abandoned us. I suppose the reason he doesn’t is because his intended audience is after all not slaves but white “Christian Americans,” and he needs to prime his warning of eternal damnation. In that way he is like Jonathan Edwards, just not so unbearable.

African American Women Confront the West 1600-2000
and Seeking El Dorado: African Americans in California : Two anthologies of essays about the Black West, more or less informative and more or less well written, as anthologies tend to go. My own prof’s article about the 19th century San Francisco millionaire Mary Ellen Pleasant is the most interesting so far. I wouldn’t say she lived a charmed life, but she is one of those people whose history is an accumulation of the life of an era. If you go searching out any interesting aspect of life in San Francisco in the 1800s, she’ll be hovering in the margins.

Other recent reads:

Slouching Towards Bethlehem
by Joan Didion :
The title comes from a Yeats poem, the same poem I heard quoted last night as my roommate watched Heroes in the next room. That goes to show once again the way that a lot of these hip new TV shows tend to embody the finer points of a liberal arts education. As for Didion, she’s quite the dude. She admits that writing amounts to selling out your subjects, and the portraits here range from weirdly admiring (Joan Baez) to downright unflattering (Haight-Ashbury). I didn’t know anyone was writing with such clarity about the 1960s while they were happening. And there is a line, about California being a place where a belief in the Bible imperceptibly gave way to a belief in Double Indemnity, that made my heart leap.

The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano
It should be called The Halfway Interesting Narrative, because the naval battle digressions and religious conversion chapter are distinctly uninteresting. Even Equiano admits, with the expected humility of an 18th century writer, that his work may be altogether without merit. This book confounds the ethics of non-fiction writing. I don’t want to spoil the controversy surrounding this narrative, but I suppose I will by saying the following: I have to suppose that Equiano’s reasons for lying are strategic ones, and that his protection of his true identity and his false narrative says as much for the relevance of his writing as his actually having lived this narrative would.


My sister in Helena, Montana alerted me to this article. I don’t want to give the impression that my hometown is unenlightened, but there is always some fool complaining about some book or play or other (to name a few: Cabaret, Grease, some Joyce Carol Oates teen novel, Fools Crow) and the debate that should never have been never dies. Feel free to send a written comment to my public library, and remember that if you don’t, I will have to live with the consequences. They may even keep me from rereading Watchmen, because Dr. Manhattan appears naked.

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