For the record Austrians don’t much like Elfriede Jelinek

December 13th, 2004 § 2

Guardian Unlimited | Guardian Weekly | Austria, I hate you:

Her 1984 play Burgtheater caused a huge scandal. It attacked two sacred monsters of the Austrian theatre, the actors Paula Wessely and Karl Hörbiger, who picked up their careers again after the second world war despite having acted in Third Reich propaganda films. As Jelinek puts it: “I’m a little baroque cherub of revenge, and every day I carefully hone my hatred for this country.”

Her membership of the tiny Communist party from 1974-91, her flaunted feminism and her commitment to the fight against xenophobia have been lambasted by the FPO for the past decade. Haider has described her as “a deeply frustrated woman”, and some newspapers caricature her as a virago or a dominatrix….

The more Jelinek writes, the more she seems tied down to her source of inspiration, which oscillates between Munich and Vienna. It is hard to believe that she has never set foot in Britain, the United States or Russia, where she has an enthusiastic following. Austria remains her stamping ground – and her prison.

This is true. Despite her recent honours, Austrians a group do not like Jelinek. Her dark and unpleasant view of human nature is inimical to their good-natured existence. Even the drunks are harmless in Vienna, asking kindly for change or for you to buy their newspaper, rather than snarling.

I can’t judge the writing, but most do not even like her language. Confusing, unpleasant.

Strange that the Nobel committee couldn’t find an Austrian writer that Austrians actually like. Apparently there are three or four of them of high merit.

Sparrow Nights | David Gilmour | Book Review

December 13th, 2004 § 0

One of the best descriptions of a passionate woman I’ve read.

A première vue
, she seemed so immaculate, her body anyway, like a Chinese reed, slim, green-eyed, with that mop of straight blonde hair. But if you looked longer you noticed her slightly stooped posture, a button missing from her shirt cuff, here red sweater pulled up at the back; she was a woman who could leave a wet towel on a bed, so to speak. It must have been from her mother (we never got on) that she inherited a sensuality the like of which I’d never really encountered before. Not in so extreme a form anyway. Her lovemaking–and don’t worry, I’m not going embarrass either of us here—was a sort of schizophrenic experience. An authentically transforming event. Really, she carried on like a madwoman. She whispered, she swore, she blasphemed, she made demonic requests in a voice that was not her own. "Do you want to see my cunt?"…. Sometimes, after going to bed with Emma Carpenter, I wanted to call for an exorcist.

To be honest, it could make her somewhat exhausting, this capacity to be so taken over, this substitution of personalities, as if in the process of revealing herself, she was exposing to the sunlight an organ so delicate that it seemed still moist from its sheer internalness. And while she claimed to have been the one to terminate all her previous romances, I have always harboured the private suspicion that at least some of those men may have been rather relieved to see her go. One couldn’t have a comforting little screw with Emma just before one’s afternooon nap. No, it was the full spinning head and pea soup, so to speak.

But you quickly became addicted to it. You didn’t want her carrying on like that with anyone else.

Space for another quotation.

It struck me that my time with Emma had been a kind of gorgeous treading water but that her absence (follow me here) provided, in itself, a kind of happiness because it gave me a precise object of desire, without actually giving me the thing itself, the ultimate possession of which could only diminish the pleasure that came from wanting it so unequivocally. It was a pensée so exhausting that I had to take a taxi into town immediately.

Ribald anecdotes are delightful:

There were oddballs too, a hippied girl who followed me home from a lawn sale and after only the barest preliminaries asked me to spank her.

"How old are you?" I asked

"Twenty-eight," she said.

"Don’t you think this is, well, a little much for a first date?" She looked baffled. I went on. "Perhaps this is more like fifth- or sixth- date stuff."

Details of the spanking and absent Emma.

When my little hippie left the house, massaging her smouldering pink fanny, she gave her hair a toss like a pony and asked if I’d buy a dog collar and a doormat for next time. "I have a fantasy," she began, standing in the doorway. "I want to lie by your front door just like abig dog, an Afghan maybe, and wait for you to come home."….
"When I hear something at the door," she went on (it was all quite worked out), "I’ll jump up, like this"—now raising her hands to her chest and flopping them over like paws–"and if it’s justt the mailman, I’ll be so disappointed! I’ll just have to go back to my mat and lie down and wait some more."

I looked at her carefully. She didn’t seem insane. In fact, in her yellow summer dress, she was quite pretty, with a long face and freckles on her cheekbones. Perhaps it was a generational thing. Perhaps this was how young people got to know each other these days.

"I think you’re out of my league," I said softly, and touched her gently on the elbow.

"Oh," she said. "Goodbye then," and she offered me her cheek to kiss.

Raskolnikov/Humbert Humbert the narrator from Notes from Underground. Disconnection between love story and subsequent events.

Unbelievable that the protagonist wouldn’t just have the police intervene immediately after the burglary or at least after he was menaced by the Massage Parlor manager. The protagonist had nothing to fear with no wife and without a corporate job to protect. A tenured professor is free to see massage parlor hostesses or prostitutes as long as they are not students.

Which is another issue. Gilmour’s professors seem to sleep with students like it was the sixties and seventies. In my time at the University of Toronto, I knew only one woman sleeping with her professors. It was already verboten.

But that imaginary land is not such a problem. The inconsistencies in the protagonist’s character do wear however.l

After promising so much in the beginning, Sparrow Nights delivers so little. Sadly, the best of the novel is in this review. Better writing than in a detective story. One would expect the prose of a professor of French literature to be more refined, sentence structure more elaborate. Particularly as he mentions that he had been reading and appreciating Proust shortly narrating this story.

He reads more like a student of Hemingway.

Self-censorship: the inner voice and the artist in society

December 7th, 2004 § 0

John Cassavetes on creativity:

you have to fight every day to stop censoring yourself. and you never have anyone else to blame when you do. what happens to artists is that it’s not that somebody’s standing in their way, it’s that their own selves are standing in their way. the compromise really isn’t how or what you do, the techniques you use, or even the content, but really the compromise is beginning to feel a lack of confidence in your innermost thoughts. and if you don’t put these innermost thoughts on the screen then you are looking down on not only your audience but the people you work with, and that’s what makes so many people working out there unhappy. these innermost thoughts become less and less a part of you and once you lose them then you don’t have anything else.

Internal censorship. The deadliest kind. I catch my self at it every day. Making the thing as we wish. In my case, it would probably be a lot more licentious and funny and a lot less serious. Decadent as it were.

Just be oneself, is the contemporary mantra. An impossibility. The civilised man or woman is never him or herself, but a projection of a conceptualised self. Ask someone about their sexual fantasies. Expect a real answer. Usually not.

The conceptualisation of self can happen at a higher or lower level depending on self-awareness and sense of society’s own filters and behavioural models.

So how much of that interior world do we share with others, how much of it do we allow to flow through ourselves? Ultimately, that may be the question that Cassavates may be asking. Something to note is the difficulty many great artists have with socialisation.

To take some a surprising and Christian one, Soren Kierkegard – despite private fortune and connections – was a terrible social anomoly and unable to live a normal sentimental life. Lev Tolstoi was a total outrage until his great fame, running around mowing fields with peasants and running crackpot peasant literacy programs. And that’s not to discuss, individuals like French poet Rimbaud who stopped writing at 19 to adventure through Africa, followed later by the articulate and dangeourous prince of clouds, Céline. (At least unlike Rimbaud, Céline managed to come back on his own two feet and not in a box.)

On the other hand, there are men like Henri de Stendhal and Pierre de Ronsard who lived civilised and mondain lives as diplomats, while beginning the oeuvre which will live on forever.

These latter two are an argument to make the battleground internal. Not external.

Compromise with the forms and appearances of society and make war on its corruption and hypocrisy from within.

But how then not to mute the internal voice under the damping of convention?

More Casanova – Betty | Intellectual Charms of Women | Jealousy | Restraint in Passion

October 15th, 2004 § 0

The Intellectual Charms of Women

The older I grew the more I became attached to the intellectual charms of women. With the sensualist, the contrary takes place; he becomes more material in his old age: requires women well taught in Venus’s shrines, and flies from all mention of philosophy.


In accordance with the plot I had laid against the count, I began by shewing myself demonstratively fond of Betty, envying the fortunate lover, praising his heroic behaviour in leaving her to me, and so forth.

The silly fellow proceeded to back me up in my extravagant admiration. He boasted that jealousy was utterly foreign to his character, and maintained that the true lover would accustom himself to see his mistress inspire desires in other men.

He proceeded to make a long dissertation on this theme, and I let him go on, for I was waiting till after supper to come to the conclusive point.

Place of Restraint in Passion

“I believe you, and I see that I must make haste to leave Naples, if I would not be the most unhappy of men.”

“What do you mean?”

“I should love you without the hope of possessing you, and thus I should be most unhappy.”

“Love me then, and stay. Try and make me love you. Only you must moderate your ecstacies, for I cannot love a man who cannot exercise self-restraint.”

“As just now, for instance?”

“Yes. If you calm yourself I shall think you do so for my sake, and thus love will tread close on the heels of gratitude.”

Hey Northern Europeans – You’re Irrelevant! Warm Congratulations from San Francisco for Elfriede Jelinek

October 14th, 2004 § 0

Big news in Austria over the last week has been the awarding of the Nobel Prize for literature to their citizen Elfriede

Jelinek. A controversial writer even in Austria, this is a brave and forward-looking decision from the Stockholm-based jury.

Jelinek is no New York Times bestselling author. But not content with their president’s failed commandeering of the United Nations, many Americans would like to put the Nobel prize jurors in their place and assure a more level playing field for American writers.

VIEW / What’s a Nobel in literature really worth?:
the literature prize, since it was first awarded in 1901, is irrelevant when it comes to ensuring a writer’s immortality, let alone in assuring that an author will be recognized as “great” — both qualities we are supposed to associate with the prize bestowment, but which it doesn’t deliver.

Take the first part. Even the most erudite among us will have a hard time naming a single book by a great chunk of past laureates. How about that Sigrid Undset (1928)? Who could ever forget her, right? Or how about Par Lagerkvist (1951)? Or Jaroslav Seifert (1984)? Got those names tattooed on the brain, don’t you? And if you do, it’s because you’ve boned up on all the past winners for trivia night at the pub.

So what is the point of the Nobel Prize in literature? Maybe there isn’t one. Maybe it’s just as it appears to be: the hefty $1.3 million cash award given out by a civilized, knowledgeable group of Northern Europeans to authors they really, really like for completely subjective, sometimes political, reasons.

Who do they have in mind? Philip Roth, for instance. A foul mouthed man obsessed with his own genitals and with a vile writing style to boot.

Oscar Villalon is the name of the dullwit whom I quoted above.

romans and us | publilius servus

December 5th, 2003 § 0

If you refuse where you have always granted you invite to theft.

some days you just look up from your book and find that the world is rich in reflection and sense. for me such a day was when i discovered one of the maxims of publilius servus, the first great author of mimes (circa 80 BC).

very little of his writing survives apart from his maxims. but they are as applicable today as when he wrote them. the roman world was perhaps the most similar of all the ancient ones to our own. what makes us so similar? good highways and the almost uninhibited traffic of commerce.

i do not praise these similarities, i only note them. the romans were also among the vilest and most cruel of men.

enough politics, ancient and modern.

here is a list of some of servus’s maxims which i found most interesting. i have divided them into two categories, most pithy and most profound. the epigraph belongs to the latter.

most pithy

Admonish thy friends in secret, praise them openly.

Ready tears are a sign of treachery, not of grief.

A good reputation is more valuable than money.

Better be ignorant of a matter than half know it.

I have often regretted my speech, never my silence.

Prosperity makes friends, adversity tries them.

To do two things at once is to do neither.

There are no shortcuts to any place worth going.

Familiarity breeds contempt.

Money alone sets all the world in motion.

most profound

Depend not on fortune, but on conduct.

Look to be treated by others as you have treated others.

Never promise more than you can perform.

It is no profit to have learned well, if you neglect to do well.

Treat your friend as if he might become an enemy.

The gods never let us love and be wise at the same time.

not enough? more can be found at michael moran’s quotation page.