Tuesday, October 7, 2008



Aspects of the Novel by E.M. Forster : It’s my secret shame, now public, that this is the first Forster I’ve ever read (save for a proto-sci-fi story I read a couple years back). Forster was no fan of criticism of the arts, and this series of lectures was considered fairly lightweight in its day, though the book has quite a reputation today. This is essentially a popular novelist of 80 years ago telling what he has learned about the novel, never pretending that the creative process and the critical process have anything to do with each other.

Other recent reads:

The Life and Adventures of Nat Love : I just turned in a lengthy paper about this book and Douglass’s autobiography, so there isn’t much more I want to say about them. There’s one great passage that I wasn’t able to include, however, because it’s not the sort of passage that one includes in a literary analysis paper. Nat Love writes about his encounters with Billie the Kid, and this part nearly made me cry, for God knows what reason:

The “Kid” showed me the little log cabin where he said he was born. I went in the cabin with him, and he showed me how it was arranged when he lived there, showing me where the bed sat and the stove and table. He then pointed out the old postoffice which he said he had been in lots of times.

Passages like this—individuals moving through the world and losing things—make me wonder if a literature class can teach me anything, since these are the sorts of moments I seek out, and they can’t be experienced or explained in an academic setting. I guess reading will always have to be a solitary act and an end in itself. This is a sad book in a lot of ways, wild and free though Nat Love may be.

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass : “Canonical” isn’t really a qualitative term, but I think it appropriately describes how crucial this book is. Just read it. It doesn’t take long.

The Street of Crocodiles
is in the end a great collection. I shouldn’t have summarized its contents too soon, because it contains many surprises, and the recollected child is usually only implicit and doesn’t limit Schulz’s subject matter. Much of this book is light years beyond my comprehension, but always gently delivered and never so dense with allusion like Rilke that it becomes unmanageable. A particular favorite (so many to choose from!) is the “Treatise on Tailors’ Dummies,” which is to say, a treatise on the nature and manipulation of matter, so deftly handled that a slight action at the end, “Pauline yawned and stretched herself,” is very sexy.

One more thing:

This is not a movie blog, and I don’t intend to make it one, but I’ve seen some great ones recently after a long dry spell, so I thought I would share. I rewatched Notorious, perhaps the dreamiest movie Hollywood ever produced, but also one full of passion and violence. Bergman and Grant seem very solid up against each other. In its approach towards conventions of espionage, it is in certain ways the opposite of North by Northwest. That film works itself into a frenzy over its manic plot machinations. This one is disgusted by its own lurid details, until the business with the wine, when Hitchcock gets caught up in the excitement and the violins start to work double time. “It isn’t fun,” says Ingrid. It isn’t, but it is. And the characters speak so very quietly! And the cameraman is obsessed with the contours of the back of Cary Grant’s head! And the Freudian mother belongs in a different movie.

The following night, Last Year at Marienbad played at Oak Street Cinema in Minneapolis, and while no sense of romance is intended, its lead actors could have stood to be replaced with Bergman and Grant, who at the very least could create some meaning out of those long meaningful glances. That said, the new print was (here’s the cinephile coming out) magnificent. A film with such an insane-making score can only ever be admired, and I did admire it. Movies like this don’t make a splash anymore, and that made me briefly nostalgic for the 60s, which I never experienced.

Finally, Lilya 4-ever is an extraordinary movie, the best I’ve seen in ages. Naturalism is usually an excuse for laziness and hyper-editing in movies today (or maybe that’s something different, a commercial mutation of naturalism that makes me want to puke). But here, in a movie with a rare first person point of view (more or less), it is, how shall we say…natural. I knew I was in the grip of something great at the moment that Lilya rushes outside and begs her mother not to leave. It is the most insane outpouring of emotion ever seen in a movie, and I can’t imagine the amount of energy it required of its young actress. I am obsessed with sad teenagers. I guess that trivializes the traumas Lilya experiences, but it’s why I love the new M83 album, and the band My Favorite, and director Moodyson indulges in that sort of thing with the title of his movie. Lilya and Volodja—the ghosts of dead teenagers!


Anonymous said...

Another great sad teenager movie: Moodysson's Show Me Love. It's pretty wonderful. Kind of like a Rachel Leigh Cook/Julia Stiles-type teen movie, but smart and good.

And happier then Lilya 4-ever.

aaron said...

idk, i thought "lilya 4-ever" was well intentioned and interesting without being particularly good. no "paranoid park" certainly. the same goes for "last year", although i did admire that one at least.