Literary odds and ends

Some observations from my readings new and old. I think I’m moving away from straight reviews as I don’t really like feeling compelled to appreciate everything about a book the first time I read it, especially as I’ve gotten more time to read. Murakami essay is coming along well enough. The first part should be up later today.

Blood Meridian: Denis Donoghue says that McCarthy “refuses to bring in a moral verdict on the characters or actors” of the novel, and therefore that any reading which suggests it is a sort of Holocaust novel done for Native Americans is insupportable (“Reading Blood Meridian,” The Sewanee Review 105/3.) Fair enough. His implication that politics cannot be brought into a proper reading of the text could not be more wrong however. There is something about the American frontier, with its attending imposition of the white man’s law that makes a character such as Judge Holden conceivable, as man or god or demon or whatever he is supposed to be. You could imagine the judge perhaps on the Eastern Front of World War II, in King Leopold’s Congo, etc., but it is rather harder to imagine him during the New Deal era, just to pick an example which people generally have a more rosy picture of than the Wild West.

The Unbearable Lightness of Being: Sabrina feels that “behind Communism, Fascism, behind all invasions and occupations lurks a more basic and pervasive evil and the image of that evil was a parade of people marching by with raised fists and shouting identical syllables in unison” (100). So resistance to a totalitarian system is itself totalitarian, merely because it involves united action. Completely vomit inducing. At the same time I found something noble and even beautiful in the life of Tomas after he rejects politics. Compare to Vonnegut’s Sirens of Titan, Murakami’s novels, etc. It is a beautiful work at points precisely because (not despite that) it offers no alternative.

The Glass Palace (Amitav Ghosh): Very successful at evoking the era. I’m very intrigued by Ghosh as the implied author, he’s a sort of researcher who is able to spend long paragraphs describing historical context and get away with it, without breaking the illusion of fiction. On the downside the ending was very precious- everyone who dies in the war between Britain and Japan (with colonized peoples on the latter side) dies an honorable death, no matter what side they fought on. The man clearly has absolutely no sense of politics or even of basic humanity at some times.

The Thing on the Doorstep (H.P. Lovecraft): I like this so far. Reading it chronologically (on his longest work, “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward” right now) so I’m getting a good sense of his development as a writer. Of course in practically every story we have the vicious racism which I find it impossible to overlook. With that out of the way, I hope that all this suspense he builds up actually leads to something or I will be terribly disappointed. His act as the historian has so much reality effect in it I think Barthes would probably have an aneurysm.

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