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Showing posts from January, 2014

Philip und Johnny und Franz

It's my birthday today. It's also the birthday of Johnny Rotten from 70s British punk band, The Sex Pistols. And Franz Schubert was born on this day, too. It's a measure of how old I am, or am becoming, that I saw Mr. Rotten and his fellow musical scamps performing in a filthy club in Newcastle upon Tyne, England, in 1977, when I was 15 years old. They were on the same bill as The Damned and another group whose name I can't remember. I was thrilled at the time by the loudness of the music, the absolute magnetism of Johnny Rotten, the pogo-ing throng occupying most of the dance floor (I was too timid to join in, and stood pressed against one of the side walls). I also remember that people were spitting so much at the performers -- considered a form of applause -- that they stopped the gig at one point to allow time for the guitarist to kick a few people in the front row, very hard, almost like a karate kick. This didn't seem to diminish the kicked people's enjo…

W. B. Yeats on John Everett Millais' "Ophelia"

The second in a series of excerpts from writers talking about painters. This is from an essay called "Art and Ideas" (1913). It's drenched in Symbolist era nostalgic Romanticism, but then, it is Yeats, after all:
Two days ago I was at the Tate Gallery to see the early Millais's, and before his Ophelia...I recovered an old emotion. I saw these pictures as I had seen pictures in my childhood. I forgot the art criticism of friends and saw wonderful, sad, happy people, moving through the scenery of my dreams. The painting of the hair, the way it was smoothed from its central parting, something in the oval of the peaceful faces, called up memories of sketches of my father's on the margins of the first Shelley I had read, while the strong colours made me half remember studio conversations, words of Wilson, or of Potter, perhaps, praise of the primary colours, heard, as it may be, as I sat over my toys or a child's story-book.
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I have had like admiration…

What I Read Over Christmas

The Christmas and New year period seems to be one of the few times nowadays when I get the chance to read books from beginning to end, one after another. In the last two weeks, I read: a book of short stories by Rob Davidson, The Farther Shore; two novels by Paul Auster, "The Book of Illusions" and "Leviathan"; a novel by Haruki Murakami, "Kafka by the Shore"; and I'm nearly finished a short story collection by Junot Diaz, "This Is How You Lose Her." They are all realist fiction, apart from the Murakami, and they would probably all be considered literary fiction, too, though on reflection I'm not sure if that applies to Paul Auster's novels.

I read a beautiful memoir by Auster last summer, "Winter Journal," and I enjoyed the voice so much that it reminded me I had never read any of his fiction and that I should take steps to rectify the situation. Two novels duly appeared in my Christmas stocking. A slight disappointment f…

Why "12 Years A Slave" is like "Schindler's List," but in a crucial way Isn't

It's been three weeks since I saw "12 Years A Slave" by British director Steve McQueen. It's taken me this long to muster the strength to write about my response to it.

Whether you've seen it or heard about it, you've probably got an opinion about the story, and possibly about the way the story is told. I'm going to assume that most people reading this accept the truth of the story. But I also suspect that even people of a liberal persuasion (not the sort of people who call the Civil War "the War of Northern Aggression") might hesitate about seeing this film, because of the extremely upsetting depiction of the racial violence. To wit: the kidnapping of a free man, a real person called Solomon Northup, upon whose memoir the film is based; a savage beating on his first night of captivity; a transported slave being knifed to death and tossed into the ocean; grown men, women, and boys routinely being slapped and kicked; families being split up; a l…