ArtSunday: LIterature

Love, art, mystery: Lawrence Durrell’s Justine

Durrell raises a question we are most afraid to answer: whether, as his character Clea asserts, “Lovers are never equally matched….” Is that, he asks, the source of the pain so many experience in love…?

Justine by Lawrence Durrell (image courtesy Goodreads)

We come now to another novelist who, like Paul Bowles, skirts the edge of wide acceptance as a major literary figure. Lawrence Durrell’s reputation rests on a group of novels called The Alexandria Quartet. The first of these is called Justine after the main character, a reluctant siren whose mystique pervades the work. It’s the latest from my 2014 reading list, and it’s a work that offers one the challenge of deciding whether to focus one’s discussion on the quality of the writing, the themes the novel explores, or the complexity of the  story.

To treat Justine fairly, it’s probably best to talk at least a bit about each. This is a novel in which writing, story, and themes are intricately woven. Durrell came under consideration for (and close to winning in 1962) the Nobel Prize on at least two occasions based on this work (and the others in the tetralogy). Justine offers a good example of why. Continue reading

Politics: Democrats vs Republicans

House Intel Committee: new report exposes lies while pushing more

Next up: Issa to investigate House Intel Committee?

Associated Press reports, as seen here at Time, that the House Intelligence Committee has released a new report on the Benghazi tragedy. Or, as AP put it, “The House Intelligence Committee report was released with little fanfare on the Friday before Thanksgiving week.” Why might that be? What could possibly be in a Republican-led Intelligence Committee report about Benghazi that the GOP wouldn’t want plastered all over the place for everyone to see? Read on. Then get the report straight from the horse’s mouth.

Debunking a series of persistent allegations hinting at dark conspiracies, the investigation of the politically charged incident determined that there was no intelligence failure, no delay in sending a CIA rescue team, no missed opportunity for a military rescue, and no evidence the CIA was covertly shipping arms from Libya to Syria.

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WordsDay: Literature

Louis Hemon’s Maria Chapdelaine: Il se souvient

Like other classics of of what might be called pioneer literature, Louis Hémon’s classic of Quebecois literature Maria Chapdelaine conveys the love of a people for the land in a way that is beautifully simple and simply beautiful.

Maria Chapdelaine by Louis Hemon (image courtesy Goodreads)

Maria Chapdelaine belongs to a noble tradition of what we can call pioneer literature. (It might also be called agrarian literature, but that term has come to be associated with the Fugitive Movement in Southern literature that began at Vanderbilt University in the 1920’s.)  Most readers have some experience with such books, especially in young adult literature – many have read at least one of the Little House books of Laura Ingalls Wilder or Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne Shirley series.

More mature – and sophisticated – readers may be familiar with works such as Sergei Aksakov’s The Family Chronicle or any of several novels by Willa Cather, particularly O Pioneers! or My Antonia. These are works that celebrate the difficult but rewarding lives of settlers, lives that are quietly heroic and which are tied to the rhythms of the land whether that land is on the Russian steppes or the American plains.

Maria Chapdelaine stands slightly apart from these other examples of pioneer literature for a couple of reasons. Continue reading

Tokyo Freedom

Stopping in for a drink in a small, beautiful Tokyo dive…

The tiny neighborhood bars and watering holes distributed throughout Tokyo are probably as numerous as the stars on a clear night in the Himalayas. Perversely, they’re often the kinds of places that are easy to miss, at least in the daytime, even if a given joint is open when one happens to walk by.

But sometimes one can pass a Tokyo bar, even a run-down looking place, and feel strangely drawn to it somehow. Something about it catches the eye, perhaps the way it’s painted or how the bar’s name is displayed on the street. And suddenly one finds oneself walking into the joint even if one wasn’t originally in the mood for a drink.

Freedom in Nakano 5-chome is that kind of place, an unassuming little neighborhood bar that doesn’t look like much on the outside, but had an allure that made going inside an unexpected but rich Tokyo experience…

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Arts & Literature

Peter Handke, the Nobel Prize, and the Weight of the World…

Handke, Austria’s (arguably the world’s) greatest living writer, will probably never get the Nobel…and maybe he shouldn’t…or should…

Peter Handke (image courtesy Wikimedia)

For some readers of this piece, the name Peter Handke will probably suggest only controversy. Handke has spent the last two decades of his life under attack for his association with – and inexplicable defense of – the Serbian government of Slobodan Milosevic. No less a personage than fellow Nobelist-in-waiting Salman Rushdie has called Handke a propagandist for the Milosevic government’s genocidal policies. When Handke received the International Ibsen Award earlier this year, Pen Norway called for the selection jury’s resignation and one scholar called giving Handke the award the equivalent of giving the Immanuel Kant Prize to Joseph Goebbels. Other important literary figures have defended Handke stating that he deserves the Nobel Prize – one claiming that she received the prize when Handke was the more worthy recipient.

All this comes as no surprise – troubling though it is – to me. I’ve been an admirer of Handke’s work since I was introduced to him in undergraduate school. What grabbed me initially was his “anti-play” Offending the Audience. Continue reading

Long live rock (plus bonus track)

Odd thing about Tokyo: it’s more rock and roll than where you live…

American ghosts

do a rag time in Tokyo

smashing the feedback

of a million wartime guitars…

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Scotland

Erm, hi, England here. I get it. I’m sorry.

I’ve been the problem all along

This is really awkward for me, what with being a country and all. I don’t usually speak, and I certainly never imagined I’d speak from a position of humility. That’s just never been my style. I’ve always been more of a see it, seize it, dominate it sort of country. Short on words, big on colonies. But ya know what? I do read the papers. There’s lots of talk about Scotland, well, about half the Scots, wanting out of this little forced arrangement that’s worked out so well for us, well, for me, sort of, for so long. But then there was this sore little reminder run by The Guardian, mapping out every one of my little imperialist failures.

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Book-Review

Book Review: St. Nic, Inc. by S.R. Staley

It’s not Santa Claus vs. the Martians – it’s Santa Claus (sorta) vs. the DEA – which is, come to think of it, almost as nuts…

St. Nic, Inc by S.R. Staley

Sam Staley’s latest book is a Christmas story. It’s not, however, the sort of Christmas story ones hears in homes on Christmas Eve. There are no shepherds “keeping watch over their flocks by night” or flying reindeer jockeyed by a “right jolly old elf.” Staley’s book is a Christmas story with all the 21st century twists: the North Pole is home to NP Enterprises, a slickly run distribution company with billions in revenues and a 26 year old MIT trained computer geek CEO named Nicole who employs large numbers of talented, intelligent people who happen to have the condition known as – you guessed it – dwarfism; its ability to operate is based on economic funding from a 21st century source – a computer operating system superior to others on the market; and its problems within the narrative come from overzealousness on the part of a government official.

NP Enterprises is a family owned business founded by Nicole’s great grandfather, a Dutchman named Nicholas Klaas, who moved to the Far North and began making toys which he sold to trappers and hunters for their children. Continue reading

Scotland

Scotland votes, and however it goes, expect bitterness to follow

Scottish voters, as the whole world probably knows by now, will be voting on their potential independence from the United Kingdom on Thursday. Actually, that’s not what they were initially going to be voting on—that would have been whether Scotland should enter negotiations for independence, but this question got changed somewhere along the line—it’s now “Should Scotland be an independent country?” Which is a pity, because the former question is actually a more sensible one. As it is, Scottish voters will be voting on whether Scotland should be an independent country without having much idea what that country would look like—how it would fund itself, what its domestic and foreign policies might look like, whether it will be in the EU or not, ditto NATO, all the mundane stuff that turns out to be the business of government. But these issues, much to the surprise of many outside of Scotland, seem to be of little concern to many in Scotland, or at least to those who support independence. There seems to be a lot of magical thinking involved.
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Lucky 13

A 9/11 observance for the disenchanted…

It’s a sunny flag day here in USA Land,

a day when we think that our moments of silence say

that we honor the blood and flame clouds

which were human beings before the towers went the way

of the dodo, and Pan-Am Airways.

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ArtSunday

Tove Jansson’s Summer Book: imagining reality

Jansson’s brilliance is her understanding that the world of childhood and the world of adulthood are separated by the thinnest of distances – sort of an “It’s just a jump to the left” thing….

The Summer Book by Tove Jansson (image courtesy Goodreads)

Once again my fellow “mad for reading” sort Wufnik got to me.

Wuf wrote an intriguing piece about the Finnish writer Tove Jansson, she of “Moomins” fame, who also had a significant career as a writer of works for adults. I was vaguely familiar with the Moomin books (terrific stuff for children and adults smart enough to realize that kids like the best stuff), but I had no experience with – actually, knowledge of – her work for adults. So after reading Wufink’s essay on the dreamlike, magical memoir Sculptor’s Daughter, I expanded my 2014 reading list yet again (I have got to do a post to share the added works I’ve been reading) to add one of Jansson’s works. My choice was one of Jansson’s earliest forays into adult fiction, the in-its-own-right dreamlike and magical (magical and dreamlike aren’t fair terms to use for Jansson, for she has those qualities in ways that make other writers see uncomfortably pedestrian – in fact, what she does probably should have resulted in the coinage of its own term – Janssonesque) work, The Summer Book.

The Summer Book is a work of fiction – to call it a novel would not be accurate, nor would calling it a short story collection be correct in any strict sense. The term vignette is most apropos, probably, but that implies a fleeting quality to each of the 22 brief  – tales. Tales is a good term, one that links Jansson to the writer I know most akin to her in storytelling – Isak Dinesen (Karen Blixen), the great Danish tale teller. While their subject matter is radically different, the spellbinding charm of the two writers as storytellers is such that reading one will remind one of the other. Continue reading

CATEGORY: BusinessFinance2

What do Nestle and Zyklon B have in common?

Nestle sells you chocolate farmed by child slaves and is okay with that, because profit

As San Francisco Chronicle reports: U.S. court rules OK to sue chocolate firms over child slave labor

The companies, which also included Archer Daniels Midland and Cargill, were well aware – from their own frequent visits and independent studies – that they were selling the products of child slavery, but insisted on “finding the cheapest sources of cocoa,” said the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

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Scholars and Rogues Nonfiction: The Price of Ignorance by Fred Skolnik

Americans do not know very much about the world. Historically this is partly a result of distance and isolation and partly a result of arrogance. The arrogance comes into play when Americans consider the importance or relevance of what other people are doing, since it goes without saying that Americans do everything better than everyone else. Why individual Americans find it necessary to identify with the idea of America’s greatness may be sought in their need to bolster their self-esteem in the absence of personal distinction and in their feelings of insignificance in the shadow of the American Dream. The consequence of this arrogance and the ignorance it engenders may be found in the results of America’s involvement in armed conflicts around the world. Continue reading

Open letter to the United States Department of State

Post-Citizens United, if money is speech, then where does the Hedges v Obama case lead?

And by device, I mean government.

Sent via web form this date, August 12, 2014 (san links)

Dear Sir or Madam,

As concerned citizens are prone to do, we discuss matters of world import. Occasionally we come up with ideas, sometimes even good ones. To the extent that a proposal has arisen from one of those conversations, I would like to offer it for your consideration. Pending your response, I’ll postpone contact with the office of the President of the State of Palestine, Mahmoud Abbas, pertaining to the same proposal.

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CATEGORY: LitJournalFiction

Scholars and Rogues Nonfiction: “Exit Wounds” by Travis Slusser

The exit wound is always larger than the entrance. Well, not always- bullets don’t obey rules but in my case this isn’t a bullet we’re talking about. This is tens of thousands of bullets. This is tons of ordnance dropped from the sky and buried along roadsides waiting mute and blind and seething for a convoy to roll past. My wound is a tiny white crescent moon on the web of my right hand. The white crescent of Islam, a symbol more powerful and holy and frightening than anything I could wrap my homogenized and X-Boxed American head around. It was a hot shell casing from the breech of the man’s rifle next to me. A Major assigned to train the Afghan police; he emptied all 7 of his magazines within minutes of the engagement beginning. That’s how I came to be out of the truck and in the midst of the dust and chaos of my first firefight. The Major and our squad leader next to him had gotten trigger-happy and were now calling out for fresh mags. I grabbed a bandolier off the back of the seat in front of me and ducked out the armored door of the humvee, hustling the ammo one truck length ahead to them, “exposing myself repeatedly to intense small-arms fire” as the report would later word so eloquently. I joined these two and gave them some covering fire as they reloaded, popping off about 20 rounds. At this point the searing hot brass landed right in the web of my firing hand and I yelled and shook it violently, dislodging the cursed thing, then went back to shooting up the hillside across the narrow valley. Continue reading

CATEGORY: WarSecurity

For your consideration: Jimmy Carter on ending the war in Gaza

An article from Foreign Policy

Ending this war in Gaza begins with recognizing Hamas as a legitimate political actor

I know. Right off the bat, even the idea of recognizing Hamas rankles. Here’s the thing, though. In 2006, as a result of a thoroughly monitored election, the people put Hamas in power. That is the definition of self determination. That is the definition of legitimate political actor. The hazard of democracy, especially when it works, is that we won’t like who the people put in charge. If we can’t live with those outcomes, then we just need to accept that we really don’t care for democracy at all. Further, that what we do believe in is hegemony of one people, one culture, over others. Naturally, that would mean ours and not theirs. This, in spite of the fact that anyone would be hard pressed to seriously and legitimately make the case that we are one people, one culture, and that our chosen version of that should be the one that calls the shots.

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Old news: the more one looks at the Israel/Gaza conflict, the older the news gets.

As a part-time blogger, it can be difficult to keep up with the vast amount of news out there, especially when some events move so quickly. That doesn’t mean I don’t try. Mainly it means I open more new tabs in my browser than my computer likes, and keep them open for days until I can finally get around to reading them. Today I have two articles that leave me shaking my head in dismay, both from The Guardian.

First, we hear from Dennis Kucinich with Crimes against humanity in Gaza: is it really a ‘buffer zone’ — or a bigger plan?

Look at the region’s maps from recent history. Look at the steady erosion of Palestinian land and the acquisition of land by Israel, and you can understand that the present attack on Gaza is not about solely about Hamas. It’s about land. It isn’t just about Hamas’s rockets. It’s about land. It isn’t just about Hamas’s tunnels. It’s about land. It isn’t about kidnappings. It is about land. It isn’t even about meeting a housing crisis in Israel. It is about grabbing land from the Palestinians in Gaza and the natural resources that go with the land, upon the occasion of Israel’s military invasion of Gaza.

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Book-Review

The Dragon Tattoo dilemma: What is good? Bad?

Stieg Larsson’s crime novel The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is really an examination of moral and ethical ambiguity…

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson (image courtesyGoodreads)

The next novel from my 2014 reading list is the first in a trilogy (yet again with the trilogies – sheesh) that has swept to great success. The late Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a solid enough crime novel, and its foreign setting, for many readers, (it’s set in Sweden, for those who don’t know) is, I’m sure, an element of allure. Add to this the familial, financial/corporate, technological, and journalistic threads that are the material of the novel’s fabric and it’s easy to understand why the novel has been a runaway bestseller.

While I have proclaimed loud and long that I am not much of a genre fan, (unless one considers classic literature a genre – which I suppose it is, though the classification would then come from its historical significance rather than its subject matter – and that, of course, then begs the question “What do we mean by ‘genre’?” – and here I’ll stop since I now begin to sound like Jacques Derrida), if pressed, I will admit to a fondness for mystery/crime fiction. Given the hoopla that’s surrounded these novels, since I’ve promised to stretch myself by reading more genre work (see my comments at the 2014 reading list link), choosing one of these books seemed an obvious decision.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a long book (the English translation clocks in at almost 650 pages). Pacing is sometimes an issue, and Larsson has an annoying tendency to offer longish explanations about various areas of Swedish life, economics, and  jurisprudence that are sometimes helpful but at other times simply drag down what was a crisp pace in the narrative. He’s not as annoying as, say, Tom Clancy or James Michener about this “need to explain,” but it does make reading the novel a chore from time to time. I am not sure if this is the translator’s or Larsson’s fault. My estimation, though, based on the regularity with which this behavior annoyed me, is that Larsson must be held accountable. Continue reading