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October 25, 2005

Comments

Ross

The 1984 review is by someone who keeps using the same almost word for word review for dozens of classic novels on amazon. He must feel very strongly about it.

Ross

I had hoped a link would appear in the above post, but if you will see what I mean if you do a google site search of amazon for the phrase-

-The distinction is entirely illusory, because no novels are “better” than any others, and the concept of a “great novel” is an intellectual hoax.

Abiola Lapite

Hey, isn't giving even trolls the right to voice their opinions what democracy is all about? That's the beauty of the thing - this guy's thoughts about literature count for exactly as much as Michiko Kakutani's ...

Frank McGahon

Priceless stuff from that second link:

"I think about Kenny G., for instance. His rythmic session is much more regular, whereas Coltrane's session seems sometimes to loose the beat"

Abiola Lapite

A real gem there, but the following review of "Seven Samurai" must contend with it for inspiration:

"This movie seems to be a scene-by-scene copy of one of my favorite movies-"Magnificent Seven". Magnificent seven is a classic movie that has been copied many times, but I didn't know westerns were popular enough in japan to be copied. Not a bad copy but doesn't hold a candle to the original!"

This review of Hermann Hesse's "Glass Bead Game" isn't quite as stellar, but it's definitely a contender:

"Reviewer: James M. Warren from Muskegon, Mi
Joe Sixpack here. Recovering homophobe. This is the gayest book I have ever read. The hero has strong feelings for everyone and is in love with several of the handsomer men. This guy dumps on all of his buddies and evaluates his emotions like no man I have ever met. This guy analyzes way to many things. And I have been told there is no glass bead game explained. I am on page 320. I started out with fifty pages a day then 25 and am down to 10. This book has to get better. I don't know why the author of Mozart's brain and the fighter pilot recommened a game that does not exist."

And to think some people say that homophobia doesn't often spring from repressed homosexuality: where the hell does this guy get all this "in love with several of the handsomer men" stuff from, a special edition I've never laid eyes on?

Factory

"He uses too many allusions to other novels, so that if you’re not well read, this book makes no sense."
Hmm I dunno if one reads enough books that one can pick up on the allusions to them in Lolita, and then actually going out reviewing it, doesn't that sorta make one an egghead?
Blah, any person that has read a single page of these books (excluding homework assignments) qualifies as a member of the chattering classes.

Oh well here is my review of Dostoyevsky's 'Notes from the Underground':
Half a book of whining followed by a sex scene, then more whining, at which point I stopped reading and went off to play some computer games.
(Well it wasn't that bad, but it was the second 'plotless' book I've read, the first being 'Report On Probability A', which is not so much a novel as an extended description of a scene)

J.Cassian

They're not hard to come by. For instance, I just found this review of "Madame Bovary" at Amazon. Four stars, generally positive but "needs more upbeat ending and some recipes". "It contains a lot of good things but it makes depressing reading and could be considerably livened up by a different ending. I realize it started off based on a news story about a suicide but that's no reason to tack one onto a work of fiction. Writers are paid to invent... There's some great food writing. Some recipes would be useful. I'm not pretending I read it all in French but I did check out some of the stuff at the wedding breakfast. Andouilles a l'oseille is a traditional Normandy dish that involves slowly smoking the pigs gut. Maybe white Yankees wouldn't go for sausages made of chitterlings... More of M. Homais's writings about cider (which Flaubert only mentions to sneer at) would have been welcome. There's a lot of cider mentioned. The west of England has several varieties - does Normandy?"

dsquared

the review of "Seven Samurai" was, IIRC, done by one of the adequacy.org gang, so many of the others might have been too.

I certainly thought that there was at the very least a chaste homosexual subtext to The Glass Bead Game; there are a lot of relationships between men which are definitely Greek in nature. It's not exactly Tom of Finland, but the sublimated sexuality of the monastic Game-players is part of the book. If you're assuming that the relationships between Knecht and Jacobus, Knecht and the "worldly" one whose name I don't remember and Knecht and the "shy, intellectual" one whose name I also don't remember are completely unlike the kind of homosexual relationships boys have at public schools, then I think you might have a special unreleased edition of your own.

Abiola Lapite

"If you're assuming that the relationships between Knecht and Jacobus, Knecht and the "worldly" one whose name I don't remember and Knecht and the "shy, intellectual" one whose name I also don't remember are completely unlike the kind of homosexual relationships boys have at public schools, then I think you might have a special unreleased edition of your own."

Actually, that says a great deal about your own English schoolboy experiences rather than anything about my psychology: I've been perfectly capable of having close male friendships without ever complicating them with sexual longings, and I've no evidence that I'm the slightest bit unusual in that respect for those of the same background as myself.

People who go around looking up homoerotic contexts in any close same-sex friendships they see have homosexuality on the brain, and that is true whether they think it a positive or a negative thing. Anyone who looks at a friendship of the sort between Einstein and Bohr or Gödel and sees homoerotic longing in it has serious issues which need resolving as badly as Jerry Falwell's with Tinky Winky - but don't worry, old chap, around these parts we don't stand in judgement of those inclined to what used to be called the "vice anglaise", so you needn't feel awkward about owning up to your desires.

radek

Hmm, maybe I'm a philistine but Lolita bored the crap outta me too. While reading it I couldn't help thinking "if this wasn't about a pedophile no one would give a shit". I also tried reading Self-Mate by Nabakov ... and got bored again. Gimme Bulgakov in the akov-department any day.

Some other reviews I agreed with:

Great Gatsby
“It grieves me deeply that we Americans should take as our classic a book that is no more than a lengthy description of the doings of fops.”

Sound and the Fury
“This book is like an ungrateful girlfriend. You do your best to understand her and get nothing back in return.”

The Sun Also Rises
“Here’s the first half of the book: ‘We had dinner and a few drinks. We went to a cafe and talked and had some drinks. We ate dinner and had a few drinks. Dinner. Drinks. More dinner. More drinks. We took a cab here (or there) in Paris and had some drinks, and maybe we danced and flirted and talked sh*t about somebody. More dinner. More drinks. I love you, I hate you, maybe you should come up to my room, no you can’t’… I flipped through the second half of the book a day or two later and saw the words ‘dinner’ and ‘drinks’ on nearly every page and figured it wasn’t worth the risk.”

Which I guess displays my dislike for interwar American literature in general. Well, at least the "serious" stuff. The pulp writing of the period - like Ron Howard - is great.

radek

Oh yeah, and I agree with Factory's assesment of "The Notes". That's the dumbest of all Dostoyevsky's books. Everything else is good though.

Andrew

"Anyone who looks at a friendship of the sort between Einstein and Bohr or Gödel and sees homoerotic longing in it has serious issues which need resolving as badly as Jerry Falwell's with Tinky Winky - but don't worry, old chap, around these parts we don't stand in judgement of those inclined to what used to be called the "vice anglaise", so you needn't feel awkward about owning up to your desires."

Surely saying someone has serious issues counts as standing in judgment? Or is having homosexuality on the mind (and/or having homosexual desires) a blameless mental illness?

Abiola Lapite

"Surely saying someone has serious issues counts as standing in judgment?"

As does saying stuff like "I think you might have a special unreleased edition of your own"

"Or is having homosexuality on the mind (and/or having homosexual desires) a blameless mental illness?"

Don't go looking for insults where none exist: the point isn't that homosexuality is a "mental illness", the point is that seeing homosexuality in everything and anything is as pathological as seeing [insert term of choice here] in anything and everything - it's obsessive behavior. Sometimes a thing is what it is.

dsquared

I always thought that vice anglaise referred to flagellation rather than buggery, which was always identified with the Greeks (as in the polite interrogatory; "puis-je t'enculer chez les grecs, sil te plait?"). Which is kind of my point; it's silly to pretend to find a homosexual relationship between Einstein and Bohr, but silly to deny that there was one between Plato and his disciples, and the Order in Hesse's novel looks to me to be much more similar to Classical Greek society than the twentieth century.

I didn't actually go to school in England, or to a single-sex school at all, but all the evidence is that when men are denied access to women, in schools, submarines or prisons (and even in monasteries, allegedly), it doesn't take them long to realise the anatomical similarity between the male and the female mouth, hand and anus. Any port in a storm, so to speak. I think it would be downright odd if this well-known biological and sociological phenomenon (situational homosexuality) wasn't also present in the nominally celibate scholarly order in the Glass Bead Game. I think I'm on pretty solid ground here finding a Platonic subtext in this Platonic novel.

Jim

Note on erotic elements in just about any situation - there are erotic elements in any really intense relationship, even hostile realtionships. This is one of the sources of homophobia in the military. It is truly phobic, because the bonding is truly intense. This turns out to be a major redeployment issue - getting the guys to reorient their emotions on their wives (We make it so much harder in our raindrops-on-roses world where we expect married couples to be in love.) Most religions recognize this. It's called Tantra. Point out the bridegroom images in the Gospels to a Promise Keeper type and then ask him if Jesus is his husband and lover - then wait for the smoke to rise and the melted plastic to start dripping out of his ears.

Abiola Lapite

"there are erotic elements in any really intense relationship, even hostile realtionships."

This is a really popular idea nowadays, but it's one with which I strongly disagree. I for one have *never* - not once - been erotically attracted in any way to any of my good friends or close relatives, nor have I ever sensed any such attraction from them, and I know sexual attraction not only when I'm feeling it, but usually when it's directed to me as well, with the risk being far more that I'll score a false positive than a false negative.

This idea that there has to be an erotic substrate underneath any and every intense relationship is just another example of an interesting idea carried much too far - it would be more realistic to say that sexual desire usually interferes in close friendships to their detriment, while the only thing intense hatred does for the sex drive is to kill it: I don't know about you, but it's hard for me to feel horny when I'm overflowing with rage at and loathing towards someone.

Jim

"I for one have *never* - not once - been erotically attracted in any way to any of my good friends or close relatives, nor have I ever sensed any such attraction from them, and I know sexual attraction not only when I'm feeling it, "

I said erotic, not sexual. As you pointed out in a post several months ago, the brain centers that control sexual desire are different from the ones involved in falling in love. They are not the same thing, but both are forms of eros.

Jim

"while the only thing intense hatred does for the sex drive is to kill it::

Well, you're not wired to be a rapist, that's all that shows. That's not treu of lots of othr people. Aggression and sex are pretty closely linked.

But again, that's not the same thing as eros, or if it is, it is just the lower end of a spectrum of response.

Abiola Lapite

"They are not the same thing, but both are forms of eros."

If you used the term "agape" or "philia" rather than "eros" I'd be more inclined to go along. "Eros" is indissolubly connected in my mind with sexual lust.

Sebastian Holsclaw

"Note on erotic elements in just about any situation - there are erotic elements in any really intense relationship, even hostile realtionships. This is one of the sources of homophobia in the military. It is truly phobic, because the bonding is truly intense."

Now I'm actually homosexual, yet I have had a number of friendships with heterosexual men who are objectively attractive with no sexual tension past the first day or so.

We live in a highly sexualized culture where almost all other strong emotional reactions are frowned upon. Incredibly strong motivations of past ages are now looked at with confusion or distaste. Many modern readers can barely comprehend the importance of honor as expressed by many writers for example. Many intellectuals seem to be bothered by the idea of righteous anger. Sexual motivation is one of the few strong motivations that is not strongly downplayed in modern society (even an attachment to family has fallen somewhat out of favor). As such, I suspect that many people end up interpreting all strong motivations or attachments through a sexualized lens. This is not to say that there aren't sexual attractions in many different situations, there clearly are. But I don't believe that all strong attachments are well-viewed through a sexualized lens.

Abiola Lapite

Exactly! You have it exactly right - it's as if there's something so shameful about having strong emotional feelings that they have to be dressed up in sexual garb to be seen as acceptable, when in reality few things are easier (for men at least) than to feel strong sexual desire for others they have no attachment to, or harbor any other interest in.

dsquared

on the other hand, the ancient Greeks did have sex with each other and not just in the Academy. It would be a brave man who argued that there weren't any erotic relationships between the characters in the Iliad. It's just as likely that because of the ways in which our own society is different from the Greek, relationships that would have been sexual in their society aren't in ours.

I must say that I find the idea that it's not possible to be sexually attracted to someone you hate to be pretty odd too; didn't you have a post not so long ago on the popularity of "interracial" pornography among racists?

Abiola Lapite

"didn't you have a post not so long ago on the popularity of "interracial" pornography among racists?"

I don't think the black men in such movies that are themselves the attraction.

Jim

Couple of ponts of order:

1. An erotic attraction is not necessarily sexual. An aesthetic atraction can be erotic, and literature is so full of examples that I won't even begin to cite. Further there is no clear line. It is not as though these categories are clearly defined. So you get steamy erotic descriptions of roses and magnolias comparing them to female gentials, and vice versa, when in fact a better comparison would be a shucked oyster dropped in lint. For that matter you get the rose used as a metaphor for the Virgin Mary.

Sebastian, you may be able to distinguish the nuances of feelings because you have had the advantage of having years of introspection and soul-searching that very few of our straight brothers undergo. Here I might point out on a personal note that I once had erotic feelings for a woman, even though shucked oysters dropped in lint excite me not in the least.

Second point on the link between sex and violence and dominance - it is so obvious that lots of languages lexicalize it, cf. English "fuck".

Abiola Lapite

"An erotic attraction is not necessarily sexual."

Here is where we differ: I simply don't accept that the word "erotic" can be used in any other sense than to describe sexual interest or activity, even if others choose to use it in what I consider an egregiously over-expansive manner. A person who sees a woman's vagina in a rose has sex on the brain as far as I'm concerned, and I don't mean that as a compliment; it is perfectly possible to have intense aesthetic or emotional experiences without there being anything of "eros" about them, and my vocabulary isn't so poor that I have to reach for the overworked term "erotic" to do my heavy lifting under such circumstances.

"Second point on the link between sex and violence and dominance - it is so obvious that lots of languages lexicalize it, cf. English "fuck"."

This is a pecularity of the West Germanic languages and English in particular, not something universal: as far as I know, neither Japanese nor Yoruba has a term like "fuck" which can be used both in an aggressive or a sexual sense, so there's no basis for arguing that this provides proof of some inherent linkage in the mind between sex and violence (dominance isn't the same as violence, and one can be both dominant in a relationship and loving, as almost all parents and dog-owners are).

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