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K. R. Donnan "Kieran Donnan" (Scotland)

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The Castle (Penguin Modern Classics)
The Castle (Penguin Modern Classics)
by Edwin Muir
Edition: Paperback
Price: £6.99

5.0 out of 5 stars The Castle, 17 Feb. 2014
If the reader gives this novel due attention it becomes hugely labyrinthine, and as a point of circumspect habit, every novel I approach I will sit with as long as it deems possible that there is nothing I have missed. With Kafka, there are so many points of slippage and narrow crevices between meanings, so many missed connections, slopes of consciousness, that it is impossible not to become absurdly lost in its intratextual landscape. Whilst the world of The Castle is in so many respects similar to the works of Mervyn Peake, the language is almost entirely bureaucratic, all neatly compartmentalised, even between the spaces of dreams does Kafka explore occurences and their effects. Contact becomes minimal as effect grows larger, the ripples of one event slighter but so frequent and noticeable that they occupy a greater space.

It is with this novel that Kafka introduces his own interior panoramic vision of human emotion and empathy as a layered and not straight forward process. It is with this novel that transport through trainlines and thoroughfares became more neurotic for this reader, the contours and angular postures of passengers and streetwalkers becomes highly significant and loaded with pressure points. Bristled texture of evening’s stubble and the jarring scrape of heels on the pavement outside of curling streets. To put it to Kafka that his novel is fundamentally opaque would be of no use; he was very much aware of it and professed it. He was pencilling the sketches of his own interior thoughts, and as the footsteps in the snow outside his castle vanished in the night, the traces of intentions and statements became also transparent, as thin as the air itself. Kafka stresses the opacity of people, their similarity in masking intentions with abstract form, with procedure and habit.

With The Castle the world of bureaucracy and the virtual becomes highly apparent, and in protagonist K.’s honest attempts to discern human characterists inside of its labyrinthine nature becomes torturously improbable, every character acting out of subtle self interest and imploring him to stay, to remain for their own vested interest. His lack of title, authority, and visible habits are controversial in this landscape of habit and routine, and his very erratic behaviour becomes a statement of flux, of opportunity which the more desperate latch upon. In that world of the virtual, in which there is not a single real aspect, no visible acts of honest character, one must hide intention within the language of bureacrats, even in daily interaction. It is a dystopic vision of financial relations, of class types, and a cutting statement on how profoundly alone one might feel for maintaining integrity and staying honest, inviting through this the outcasts, victims, and oppressed.

Throughout the novel K. begins even to enter into this vivid virtual world made by closed representations which act to enclose rather than create. The language of bureacrats and factual people, who have groomed and preened themselves towards their particular objectives. It is the language of the modern, and the implication here is that in this fundamentally sterile language there exists the root of an extreme and unknowable violence, a violence and death of the inner voice, colliding with the voice of restraint and authority. Kafka’s distinctively emotive patterning and his understanding of inner spaces within human relationships certainly indicates no shortage of empathy but there is the admission part way through that even he is falling into the clutches of disguised meaning and the ultimate razing of evocative language.

What J.G. Ballard found in Kafka is unknown but certainly there must be something of the dystopic and crippling indictment that the modern and bureaucratic must be destroyed in order for human identity and feeling to emerge triumphant and in all of its variety and individuality. The world here is an oblique place, guaged on a variety of closed symbols and the aesthetics, certainly, of austerity and controlled decorum. And while we are at it, what does Kafka offer by means of an escape or retreat from this space? Nothing, it appears, excepts this grand architecture of virtual control and repression, which does not even establish itself through any vocalisation but rather the distinct echo of a rumour. Kafka may have lived a neurotic life, but it may rather have been a life intimately aware of the gulf that lay between the visible and the unexpressed, and how reality might be confusion with a labyrinth in which all the avenues looked similar but slightly different, evoked certain meanings but not quite. It is a cartography of a possible permanent reality, a permanent imprisonment of the soul in which the void between one and another will become greater and so much so it shall never be crossed.

From Up On Poppy Hill [DVD]
From Up On Poppy Hill [DVD]
Dvd ~ Goro Miyazaki
Price: £11.50

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars From Up on Poppy Hill, 16 Dec. 2013
This review is from: From Up On Poppy Hill [DVD] (DVD)
Since watching Goro Miyazaki's initial effort at directing with Studio Ghibli it has not seemed as though it has dated, though the effort made was such a sprawl of visual ideas that they represented a miasma of the Greek kind, consuming, becoming formless and unrecognisable. It would have been difficult for such a serene animation studio to weave Goro Miyazaki's visions together and what was left was something fleeting of what was meant, so unlike the reflective portrayals of Hayao Miyazaki, whether the overwhelming castle with a life of its own or the character without a face in Spirited Away. Yet there were details, tiny correspondences of director with studio back then, so it was almost expected that the younger Miyazaki would soften these visual ambitions so well in the future.

As always the stories of Studio Ghibli are part of concerted effort to harmonize, create magic in sequence, and having a keen visionary to steer the lush settings of the studio is vital, much like the raised flags of this film, routinely drawn up to drawn attention, create rhythm and a sense of permanence and flow in the film. These subtle little motifs are drawn through the film, soundtracked with light yet upbeat music and the film has a softer texture, seems to glow and carry the animators' and artists works with a wonderful finesse which allows for the film to continue colourfully, vibrantly, despite that there may be not very much happening at all. Just as in other Ghibli productions, the beauty is in the minutae and details and, following the depth of landscape in Ponyo and Howl's Moving Castle, there is so much more focus on what in real life is unnoticeable, reproduced and interpreted with youth and vivid imagination.

As a second film by Goro Miyazaki, there is little story to tell but in the minor details, and the film directs itself rather towards celebration or images, tastes, textures and the abilities and senses of the studio's artists themselves. By straying so far from the grand and mythical ideas of Tales of Earthsea, Miyazaki has found his way home, into the sublime celebrations of hand drawings, eyes lit up at the celebration even of the art within the film, bringing senses of taste in depictions of food, dinner parties outside in the overhanging leaves outside. For his second production, Miyazaki has seemed to realise that it is just as powerful to do very little but see much as it is to do much and see nothing at all.

Price: £10.90

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tallahassee, 24 Jan. 2013
This review is from: Tallahassee (Audio CD)
"We came into town under cover of night, because we were pretty sure the people here were going to hate us once they really got to know us. It was summer. It's always summer with us. In our lives together, which are sweet in the way of rotting things, it is somehow permanently summer."

It was several years ago that I first introduced myself to the music of John Darnielle, songwriter from North Carolina in the United States, and since then it has receded into many of my memories, redefining my past in ways that I can no longer describe. There are several reviews of his work that I have written on The Sunset Tree and The Life of the World to Come which, looking back, were honest at the time. These later releases are different to the previous releases of the Mountain Goats, which was Darnielle's moniker for both solo and accompanied performances; they are articulations of himself and his memories and doubtless drew many towards his music.

The Sunset Tree was an album dedicated to survival and persistence, and the efficacy of the self amidst whatever violence of upbringing, and The Life of the World to Come was a dedication to people struggling between life and death between the pages of the Bible, though articulated through a sense of real suffering and no doubt conveying Darnielle's sympathies for the many suicides, terminally ill and bedridden, but bringing the listener to this familiar sentiment of wide open spaces, of clearness and the importance of being inside the moment and knowing there and then that like all things it will either pass or be overcome, by something. The amount of times that I have read someone comment that Darnielle is always heading towards darkness and dread, drawing shadows where it seems like there are none but not seeing what he is doing there is difficult to pin down, but people who have been there know that down at that depth there are beautiful things that would otherwise never be seen, deep understandings and empathy that can only be seen in the twilight of consciousness.

Tallahassee is a desolate album mirroring the darkest places that people will go to find this meaning in their lives, like liquor poured down the throat of the "alpha couple", a stark image of love found in Darnielle's songwriting. The opening song describes the "moon stuttering in the sky like film stuck in a projector, and you" and the listener is drawn into the thoughts of a narrator who has found himself in a barren home where his only remaining hope is "you", and there is nowhere else, only the prayers of destruction, of being taking away from this empty place. Darnielle's portrait of an American life in decline because of inane game shows on television, alcohol, cheap white gold jewellery and the mistake of falling in love with a co-dependent alcoholic rather than someone who might take the alpha male some where beyond the dust-ridden house he has come to reminds me of the narrative of the film Candy (2006) which is a journey from heaven to hell through the eyes of a co-dependent couple, though it is Darnielle's bleak outlook for the couple in unadorned songwriting that really gives the album its effect on the listener.

Though the couple are obviously headed towards oblivion in the opening lines, the moon refusing to move as if foreboding the oncoming collapse of their relationship, Darnielle manages to create a sense of empathy between the alpha male and the listener, which makes his music so significant for a generation that sees alcoholism and addiction from a deeply uninformed point of view, as if the story was in the bottle rather than in the time before the bottle was taken from the shelf and slipped into quivering and fearful hands. First Few Desperate Hours shows that the narrator means only to be alone, but the world is drawing in around them, the "sun peaks in like a killer through the curtain". The moon will not move from the sky and the sun takes the form of a harmful killer; the house that contains this doomed couple is met with the first signs of spring and light rain, the flecks of sun at the window, but they are met with an old doubt and it becomes a serious omen. Castigations of friends and old disappointments follow and through the sound of alcoholism and regret, the anger of friends who have destroyed one another, television buzzes but the sound of the landscape carries through this fractured narrative.

The point of reviewing an album is always unclear; the very essence of music is that it cannot be quite contained within writing, and writing itself does not have that fleet sense about it. In literature and in words it is possible to slow down time itself and live within a moment, but music is as if there is a vanishing point and the listener is always disappearing into it, without option or choice. Tallahassee is endlessly reaching out towards the dawn of its reckoning but always slides, without any means of crawling back out, into abyssal depths. No Children is a song crafted out of abortive purpose, a self-destructive piece of lyrical rage directed at all relationships that have eventually bred resentment and after appearing on this album became a vessel for all listeners to escape their corrupted and regrettable life decisions. It dances in the midst of the steadily collapsing narrative arch of Tallahassee like a derisive yet ecstatic moment of clearness as the alcoholism fades and the reality peers in through narrow folds and blurred edges.

But even yet the alpha male stumbles forward into See America Right and the moment is gone, perking during Peacocks and Old College Try but for the most part the ecstatic feeling has vanished and the vapour trails of a love that ones meant something disappear under apocalyptic metaphor and pitiless reality seeping in. Lyrically Tallahassee is supposed to be the voice of a couple whose anger and frustration really has no words, and so visual symbols of peacocks in front yards and depictions where "the eyes I've always loved illuminate this place, like a trashcan fire in a prison cell, like the searchlights in the parking lots of hell" in Old College Try let the listener remember that Darnielle is not trying here to describe a couple who could ever communicate what they are feeling, but is rather trying to communicate this as an outsider looking in, offering the best glimpse into the sort of nightmare that they have become a part of. It seems like it was his purpose to give a voice to the voiceless, and to break the surface of that alpha couple, that co-dependent alcoholism that finally shattered the relationship and the stability of two lives, so that it would have more reality that that which people would usually accept.

Irreversible [DVD] [2003]
Irreversible [DVD] [2003]
Dvd ~ Monica Bellucci
Offered by Software 4U
Price: £14.99

2 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Irreversible, 23 Jan. 2013
This review is from: Irreversible [DVD] [2003] (DVD)
"The very meaninglessness of life forces man to create his own meaning. Children, of course, begin life with an untarnished sense of wonder, a capacity to experience total joy at something as simple as the greenness of a leaf; but as they grow older, the awareness of death and decay begins to impinge on their consciousness and subtly erode their joie de vivre, their idealism - and their assumption of immortality. As a child matures, he sees death and pain everywhere about him, and begins to lose faith in the ultimate goodness of man. But, if he's reasonably strong - and lucky - he can emerge from this twilight of the soul into a rebirth of life's elan. Both because of and in spite of his awareness of the meaninglessness of life, he can forge a fresh sense of purpose and affirmation. He may not recapture the same pure sense of wonder he was born with, but he can shape something far more enduring and sustaining. The most terrifying fact about the universe is not that it is hostile but that it is indifferent; but if we can come to terms with this indifference and accept the challenges of life within the boundaries of death - however mutable man may be able to make them - our existence as a species can have genuine meaning and fulfillment. However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light."
- Stanley Kubrick

It had been a long time since I had intended to watch this, though I felt discouraged by the way in which it had been discussed by the public, critic Roger Ebert describing it as "a movie so violent and cruel that most people will find it unwatchable." It is not often that the public is offered in earnest a film that is imbued with meaning but that they are forced to sacrifice a certain state of calm to be communicated with. It was with Stanley Kubrick that cinema found a voice for the darker realities to be conveyed, and it seems no coincidence that a poster of his 2001: A Space Odyssey appears in Gaspar Noe's frightening non-linear narrative in which it would be hard to believe the audience did not feel the consequences of a society which is anonymous, non-linear, and more unpredictable that it seems. Kubrick's fashioning of realism with dystopian fiction is left behind here and the focus turns upon reality itself and what extremities the audience might find possible within it, though it has to be admitted that the film reaches a brutal realism which it is important that film produces.

Vincent Cassel plays the role of the unwitting protagonist in a film which reveals it meaning in reverse order, reveals its narrative in the way that it is usually experienced. It is important to note his previous role in La Haine (1995) as the audience tries to understand his role in what seems to be a film without clear purpose or moral integrity except to express an event as it happened, in realistic terms. La Haine was a film about anger, isolation and resentment and Cassel appeared in a light that was not obvious one of integrity, and that was important. The obscured nature of his performance as an actor is one that reminds me of Jack Nicholson in Kubrick's The Shining (1980) and he steps further than Nicholson by offering an extreme version of his performance; severely realistic to the extent that it mirrors closely what someone might witness as a passing spectator in the event. So it is with Cassel that this film by Gaspar Noe really offers its important perspective in modern society; a crime that takes place has its origins in many places and is not understood from beginning to end. In fact, the clearness of an event diminishes as it comes closer, due to the lapses of control and the way in which events are not entirely within our grasp.

Irreversible is an extreme example but it needs to be, just as La Haine needed to be: it demonstrates an irrational event from end to beginning, and with incredible cinematic skill shows that the event could not have been reversed, not could the audience have known what to anticipate. As the event diminishes, the characters behave in a more restrained manner; the relationships hold together closer, and the starkness and instability of the camera fades. The realism that is not inherent in modern cinema needs its reaction, its counterbalance, and cinema in the vein of David Lynch, of Michael Haneke, though disturbing, is a resetting of the values of cinema, not as producing an idea of narrative, or accepting a moral order that is pre-existent, but demonstrating clearly that these ideas are part of a cinematic order itself, that in reality there are many threads woven into the events that take place, and that the characters themselves are not in control of their situations.

There is something about the anonymous camera work, the long takes and the seamless way that scenes in a reverse order merge with one another that demonstrates that there are not neat lines after an event has taken place, and that a story can take place in any order and does not have to be told through the perspective of an audience that can anticipate what will happen. The idea of Irreversible is to make the audience complicit, to unnerve and antagonize the audience to the extent that the film has to find its centre in the audience's sympathies. The film does not direct the audience to feel, does not align whoever is watching with an expectation of justice, but instead offers the event as it is and asks the audience to make its own judgment. The film is about experience and involving the spectator who is now complicit in the event in deciding to accept the event and make his own light, as the Kubrick quote I opened with suggests: "However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light."

The film does something that can be considered irresponsible by offering a sequence of events and dark visions where the only footnote is "Le temps détruit tout" (time destroys everything), uttered by an old and unconvicted sexual criminal in the opening scene. It is important to recognize that the film does reverse the events by ending the film with hope and expectation, but the irreversible order of the film has already been registered within the audience. The film does not offer a solution, but offers perspective, and this seems to be the most responsible course of action in an age of cinema wherein the moral code is already accepted, the register of meaning not developed within the audience. Though it is very difficult to watch Irreversible it is important that people see it, that people pay attention to the work of Vincent Cassel and his involvement with realistic French cinema; his collaboration with Gaspar Noe has brought back to the forefront the frightening but significant works of Michael Haneke whose Benny's Video (1992) and Funny Games (1997) deal primarily with the relationship of modern people with video or cinematic image.

This delving into the complicity of the viewer in their voyeuristic witnessing of events, the handing over of control of the moral decision-making process to the writer or director is profoundly important and points in a direction we ought to be looking at very seriously: that is, how events are portrayed in the media, and how we might open up a means of cinematic art that did not attempt to revoke the ability of the viewer to choose. I am reminded of descriptions of David Foster Wallace's writings on entertainments being a very dangerous and possibly destructive force in mass culture, and would like to insist here that as far as cinema can become descriptive and not a device for dictating meaning or voicing ulterior motives, and giving reality as entertainment, it is extremely valuable for meaning forming in a mass culture that is saturated with the assumptions of moral integrity, direct narrative etc. Though it is not easy to watch films that alter the current of the cinematic image, it is important that they are created, as so that integrity and honesty can be restored in cinema.

Local Business
Local Business
Price: £21.12

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Local Business, 23 Jan. 2013
This review is from: Local Business (Audio CD)
"Lots of people have been asking me about why our new record is called "Local Business." There are many reasons, but first among them is the most obvious - that Titus Andronicus likes to support local business. It is easy enough at home, where all of our favorite local businesses are well known and easily accessible, but out here on the road, it can be hard, and we are often forced to succumb to the corporate ogre to get necessities like, say, food."
- Patrick Stickles

Upon first listening to Titus Andronicus' latest I remembered all the time that had passed since hearing their last album The Monitor, and how much longer it had been since I heard the first demo releases of songs like Albert Camus which was later released on The Airing of Grievances. Between these releases there have been new events, and life has taken its toll in unexpected places. Health deteriorates and then snaps back into something more forthright, these self-destructive patterns and needs for escape creep back in like a devil inside, and when first hearing the new album having felt some parts of my body recovering and then others caving in I felt the old love breaking through like some retrovirus that has been welcomed in. The first time I heard Albert Camus I was eighteen and between conversations about the literary punks and renegades, and if reading meant nothing to me at all at that time at least there was Patrick Stickles sounding distant but furious between over-amplified instrumentation which lost them on so many critics in the past.

Something struck me with this new release. It's articulate, and not in ways that The Monitor was articulate with themes and over-arching narrative. What I mean is this is cathartic, to the point that it shows the emotional indifference that characterized the earliest renditions of Albert Camus. I listened to The Monitor with heart but it was songs like Escape From No Future pt. 3 that meant the most because they meant nothing at all. Civil war soldiers were trampled between blue, red and brown, that indistinct reservoir of blood, linen and soil. The way that it was all tied together was just dishonest, and Titus Andronicus probably knew it. This explains Local Business. Titus Andronicus want to promote local business and they want to play out the feelings that they have, whether about the economy, about internal suffering that is as real as it is painful; Stickles singing about damaging eating disorders and utter disappointment with the concept of overall purpose in Ecce Homo.

Reading the articles on Pitchfork these days we're dealt a disappointing hand. Music should be able to die its death whenever it needs to, and the past is lacerating us from behind when we objectify or characterize nuances. The world needs what it needs at that time; the ratings are over and exist in strange monuments or edifices with their yearly festivals that are like yearly sacrifices to the God of post- Q Magazine readers. It's over, and though it's true that Titus Andronicus have crept through all of this like bar crawlers looking for another place to voice grievances, they are one of the few bands who are occult, and who are looking for an escape from no future. No expectations here. I'm reminded of a Les Savy Fav show I went to and suddenly it's as if there's the great void between the Pitchfork- approved and the genuine performers. The ratings website, of course, handles some good artists but art placed into categories or positions of ranking is barely seen as art. This is why I like bands like Titus Andronicus or the recent collaborations between The Flaming Lips and Lightning Bolt; they are messy but honest, and between the catharsis there is some great music being played.

Ecce homo: behold the man. This is The Battle of Hampton Roads without the theme being played out. I recall the last article I wrote on Becomings and what was written about blazing life lines, lines of flight out of the way things are, and realize that Titus Andronicus are always becoming something, always moving out of one hole to the next, surviving on their talent, their empathy and the fact that they have always been genuine:

"We're breaking out of our bodies now,
time to see what's underneath them.
I heard about my authentic self,
what would I say would I ever meet him?
I guess "you're guilty of a terrible crime
and I know it was my birth."
Doing twenty-six to life now on planet earth."

It could be claimed that this sort of re-reading of human destiny, this callused understanding of this self, is deeply negative, but anger at ourselves is more healthy than anger at other people. Titus Andronicus know it; their re-telling of the American civil war as an event where many people go in and barely anyone comes out is retold in songs like Faded Coat of Blue on Jolie Holland's Escondida and The Monitor on Bishop Allen's The Broken String. This sort of weariness articulates history into art but as this brutal, seemingly endless pattern of self-destructive behavior. This blood and rust that escapes the unreality of ideologies and centers back on what people actually feel when all this bloodshed is happening. Titus Andronicus' mean to retell history as violence with possible redemption, but they are at odds with concepts such as "existential angst" which is a result of boredom and unseen violence, conditions of existence that are a result of a certain blindness. Ecce Homo is a song that, unlike The Battle of Hampton Roads, turns the listener's attention inwards and not on any sort of blame or angst. It's as though Stickles has understood that he has survived this world by inventing himself, but that he is left with a black hole he will never be rid of; it is a far more important concept than "existential angst".

It doesn't make sense making a full run down of an album. I have a book sitting on my desk and a half-finished cup of coffee to polish off, and writing about music can be endless and inevitably pointless. Titus Andronicus' latest includes In a Big City, and is also released as a single with clear-eyed Stickles walking through hometown New Jersey to New York. Walking through the streets where he would eventually write down what he saw, he heads towards the big city through streets and subways, through places overgrown and unpopulated and places where people push past him. It's staged, but it works. It was a massive filming process and he involved who he could to act as though they were getting in his path. It's a song about knowing what you are and knowing that whatever it is that creeps up on you, whether it's the fact that you have read Charles Bukowksi and think that you're somehow alone in the universe, it's not true, and that the responsibility that you feel for fixing the problems of a big city that spends more than it makes, that's not true either. The resistance and the responsibility for the problem are both the same, after all. It's a song about how unreasonable it is to rely on a big city to fix what's going on, and how feeling bad about it doesn't mean anything either. The point is, that we all feel the same way, but we're also experiencing things differently, and how that's important to consider.

Local Business is not a reader on Jean-Paul Sartre and it's not offering any sort of answer other than: make your life line and hold on to your ego. It's not that selfishness is a dazzling ray of hope in an otherwise becoming- desolate culture that needs musicians, local businesses, people taking responsibility for themselves; it's just realistic. The rest of the album is the sort of music that is played when there is no closing time, no need for finale or grand statement. The black hole has opened up wide and Titus Andronicus step in to populate bars and venues with a kind of music that plays to no particular genre, but rather a state of change and articulated catharsis which the world probably could use some more of.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 25, 2014 1:32 PM GMT

Infinite Jest
Infinite Jest
by David Foster Wallace
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.09

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Infinite Thought, 21 Nov. 2012
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Infinite Jest (Paperback)
I began reading Infinite Jest on a suggestion of a friend who I had asked to recommend me not something long or in any terms a classic in conventional literature terms, but a challenge. My hardest experience reading a novel was with Marcel Proust's "In Search of Lost Time", mostly because of the complex nature of the book and the sheer emotional involvement it required. Since then I had not been confronted with something so deeply personal on the part of what the author meant to convey, and what had been rendered into art with such patience and obvious empathy. Whilst it is sometimes difficult to empathise with Proust the man, Foster Wallace reminds me more or less of a latter- day Dostoesvky who he immensely involved in his writing and is not overwhelmingly concerned with the presentation.

The density of language in Wallace is set in the background of street terms and abstract acronyms and symbols which Wallace himself has coined but it is barely the point. Wallace means to be artistic by confronting language with experience, or trauma against language, and his intention is made clear by opposing conventional language. The reflections of Proust worked well because of their involuntary nature and this is popularly known in neuroscience and literature. Proust's mirror of society is a detailed and involved personal perspective, and is meaning-forming within the reader because of its honesty. The reminiscing is obviously restrained and comes through despite the author's initial impressions of the nature of other people. But both authors write from experience, and both try to penetrate the veil that lies between integrity and veneer. This is why it was difficult to absorb this novel without taking it personally; it is honest, and hugely self-sacrificing.

Both authors use their lives as the sketches with which to recall and artistically weave their significant genre-passing thoughts into a narrative which is not a narrative. I reading of Proust as not being a novelist at all, and the same seems to carry through with David Foster Wallace, though this seems to be the point. The novel, of course, is invention and artifice and in terms of honest rendition it is difficult to introduce all the realistic elements of daily life into a proper focus with the novel's tendency towards familiarity and conscious recognition. Both Proust and Wallace look at the unconscious, the unseen, and their narratives are highly inaccessible because what they mean to evoke is latent feeling and get closer to universal values or a certain truth politics.

There are clear reasons for Wallace's highly complex and symbolic text here, with most references coming from within Wallace's earlier work and his experiences in alcoholics anonymous, weaving in ideas from science fiction, classic authors such as Dostoevsky and even theories of complexity from within mathematics, literature and philosophy: they are all part of a personal and, therefore, nonlinear communication which taken place at conscious and subconscious levels. This acts as a bridge between the perception of reality and the reality itself which can often take individuals by surprise. If we long to be entertained by a text we might choose to read a novel which might communicate a set of morals or ideas without quite reaching into unfamiliar depths.

However, if we choose to take the offering of an intense personal experience on Wallace's part rendered into strangely positive light, we are of course experiencing what he intended (or what I recognise he did). The trouble is that it is a strange and formidable claim on the author's part that everything makes a certain sense and that in order to see that we must render all possible events out of their likeliest trajectories. That it might be possible to render a world possible where guilt was not established as cause, but rather another, less expected root, is what Wallace communicates here. Like Proust he renders into a torn yet complete canvas the many sketches of his life which serve to establish that life might be understood, given that understanding was the objective of life.

Wallace's morality is a sort of overwhelmed and tattered morality which reveals the less shimmering and desirable explanations for suffering and seeks a compromise away from being enamoured of the power of control, responsibility only for the self, or of the infallibility of intellect or already garnered knowledge. Wallace simply took the time to write this down and hopefully the reader might take the time to pick it up and understand some of the devastating yet ultimately profound things that Wallace so determinedly sought not to be washed out at sea or, in the words of the philosopher Michel Foucault, not simply written for himself as if on sand before the tide comes in.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 23, 2014 11:08 AM BST

The Order of Things: Archaeology of the Human Sciences (Routledge Classics)
The Order of Things: Archaeology of the Human Sciences (Routledge Classics)
by Michel Foucault
Edition: Paperback
Price: £13.99

15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enlightenment Excavated, 30 Aug. 2012
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Though a difficult text to manage and ridden with complexity, points of internal anxiety, and even requiring some knowledge derived from elsewhere, Foucault's text is an excavation on the order of symbols and the categories of thought which the Classical era brought, especially to Western Europe. Rather than a direct, localised understanding of human history, Foucault's text serves to abstract and dissolve certain concrete concepts which are established within social convention and structure. By looking at several means of symbolism including the meaning implied by Miguel de Cervantes' "Don Quixote", Foucault gives his archaeology of thought a certain cultural relevance, and a certain sense of humanity trying to reach beyond itself, into new symbols which defy the physical restrictions before it. His impetus, a certain undisclosed work by Jorge Luis Borges, is also very curious. A Spanish poet and novelist inspired by latent depth and complexity, and the work of the earliest and most pivotal philosopher of the enlightenment, Benedict de Spinoza, the intention running beneath the challenging text is quite clear: Foucault seeks like one of his several inspirations, Friedrich Nietzsche (the champion of freethinking in the nineteenth century), to uncover certain latent potentials underlying the rigid organisation of human thought.

The text does not represent hypothesis as much as it does represent discovery, and Foucault keeps a consistent academic tone within his writing. His purpose is clear: to create a set of instruments and precise tools of criticism and thought for certain modes of thinking about knowledge as containment, knowledge as something quite distinct from actual human thought and understanding. Though Foucault's book is academic in tone, it's focus and aim are clearly social and in the interests of releasing certain folds of thought which are currently hidden by the apparent limitations of knowledge. As Foucault says, knowledge isn't for knowing, it is for cutting. The suggestion of the book is clear: that knowledge itself is not the relevant objective, or the categorisation or ordering of knowledge. Rather, Foucault desires to point to the origin of human thought, and the hidden areas of perspective, which he highlights in the field of psycho-analysis and ethnography. This book is of incredible value for people interested in understanding the underpinnings of knowledge and the way in which it is structured, and a good complement would perhaps be the work of Jorge Luis Borges, or even Gilles Deleuze who was a friend with similar objectives to Michel Foucault. Deleuze's texts, written with Felix Guattari, "Capitalism and Schizophrenia" are further insights into problems in scholarship, knowledge structuring, etc.

The Life Of The World To Come
The Life Of The World To Come
Price: £9.40

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Life of the World to Come by the Mountain Goats, 7 Mar. 2011
There is always catharsis with John Darnielle's songwriting. He expresses this well indirectly through the narrator's expression in "Master of Reality", an installment he wrote in the 33&1/3 series about Black Sabbath's album:

"People always talk about good time rock and roll, Chuck Berry or whatever, like this liberating force for feeling good. But what I need in my life is to be liberated into feeling bad. Not sad. I have plenty of sad. What I need is a place where I can spray anger in sparks like a gnarled piece of electrical cable. Just be mad at stuff and soak in the helplessness. "

The songwriter has gained a true and reliable following and it is at the stage in his prolific career in which he can express what is deep in his spirit. Though this review is much delayed, especially coming from somebody who has taken a lot of inspiration in life from Darnielle. It is something that must be done though; for someone who has been inspired following listening to an album to actually empty his pockets for a dense King James Version Bible to understand it better... well, it's a priority to give it its due.

The reading of the Bible did not come until a few weeks following buying The Life of the World to Come but it was certainly influenced by it. After hearing emotionally complex pieces life Genesis 30:3 that can only really be understood in context. I appreciate that Darnielle almost forces the listener to reach to the literature he is certainly inspired by. For instance, earlier in his career you can feel the energy taken from Richard Yates and William Faulkner. You can sense that the songwriter is intensely influenced by literature, and if you love the Mountain Goats you will appreciate them all the more with reading into the lyrics more.

Anyway, to begin with: Genesis 30:3. It took me until I heard a bootlegged version of this song to appreciate it. It was a live performace late in 2009 and Darnielle's expression, the intimacy with which he introduces and then proceeds to sing the piece: it is a very, very meaningful song. It is a song based on the story of how Jacob, son of Abraham, has to conceive with his maidservant Bilhah instead of with his wife Rachel. And Rachel will bear the child because Jacob must have an heir;

"And she said, Behold my maid Bilhah, go in unto her; and she shall bear upon my knees, that I may also have children by her."

The interpretation is so human, so filled with pathos that though Darnielle is an aposticized Christian that is by no means a reason to assume he does not understand the meaning of the words. The gentleness and stripped bare nature of instrumentation is stunning and given cadence to the voice and the words that are the centre of the piece. This is why Darnielle's music will only ever improve with age: insight and an unbelievable expressive ability.

It's only ever appropriate to write about moments that are understood; the latter are obviously to come later. So it'll be best to write about certain songs, especially Romans 10:9 which is a song more or less about persecution and suffering, and moving forward despite painful realities;

"Everything looks burned up; I'm too scared to look around. Don't feel like going on but, come on, make a joyful sound. But if you believe in your heart and confess with your lips, surely you will be saved one day..."

The song releases a sense of human suffering from the extract which is not singularly Christian or gentile; it is universal. And therein lies the point; Darnielle presents the Bible as a source of inspiration and irrational human endeavour against unbelievable odds. The underlying theme of this album is hope and sense of self-purpose. The energy is there, whether God is or isn't, and that is what matters. Darnielle understands his characters and in this and not the characters does the listener reach an understanding of the overall purpose: humans are alike and share the same hopes and fears of what the future holds. Darnielle exposes the meaning of Romans 10:9 and approaches it with diligence and thoughtfulness. He does not corrupt the meaning but seeks to understand it.

Isaiah 45:23 is an extract from what may be the most intellectually challenging part of the Bible; it is acceptance of fate and a belief in the infinite or eternal. Having been quite close to death or the thought of death it is an unbelievable expression of loneliness, helplessness but, above all, an expression of fearlessness. This song one of those perfect pieces that Darnielle has composed which has quite likely saved or at least helped the listeners through a difficult time in their lives. There's something about being able to express a thought, whether objectively or through a second fictional character, in a piece of music, a thought which encapsulates that exact feeling.

To be lonely but fearless is a terrible thing. Especially when pain no longer offends; only the experience of being out of touch with all neighbours and friends. seems to deny the joy of living. Darnielle sums up the isolated hospital patient, the terminally ill, the suicides, the death sentences, and even the people who just fear dying without any true friends or understanding. Belief in something true, undeniably pure and infinite; that is the answer in those sorts of situation;

"If my prayer goes unanswered that's alright. If my path fills with darkness and there is no sign of light, let me praise you for the good times, let me hold your banner high, until the hills are flattened and the rivers all run dry. And I won't get better, but some day I'll be free, 'cause I am not this body that imprisons me..."

John Darnielle, a wonderful insight and expression, and unbiased interpretation of a difficult subject. I would be content to take cues from him in my own writing, as it has done a lot of good to a lot of people. I warmly anticipate the new album which is released in March this year, All Eternals Deck. Perhaps after The Life of The World to Come the songwriter can take a few liberties and dabble in other less weighty subject matter.

Absalom, Absalom! (Vintage Classics)
Absalom, Absalom! (Vintage Classics)
by William Faulkner
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: £7.19

5.0 out of 5 stars Absalom, Absalom! by William Faulkner, 7 Mar. 2011
This being the first of Faulkner's works that I have read, I have understood from it a lot more than I have from other works of literature; not only does the variation in style and perspective give it an added dimension of character but so does the liberal use of language and the patchwork style of narrative. It is an unusual book, mostly as a result of an absent narrator, a free-flow nature in which the characters themselves unfold the events through their own perspective.

The story seems irrelevant with Faulkner. It is characters and how they interact with each other, and the shifting of nature and events that make their lives tumble forward quicker and with less control. The narrative style is loose and uninhibited by convention, and the author seems a deity much like the one that exists outwith literature; never to me met, never an outstretched arm for guidance or reassurance. The author observes and conveys with great eloquence and gravity the story through an understanding of his characters and the way they react to situations.

The novel is referred to as a gothic piece and this is unsurprising; much like Notre-Dame de Paris by Victor Hugo the characters are made to submit to their own particular fate and the harshness of reality is never played down. There are rough edges and hard truths, and once the story of Thomas Sutpen and his failed plan to make a success of his life (an honest, truthful success, even) unfolds it becomes painfully obvious that this author will not spin things out for the better; the author will allow for events and characters to destroy one another. And the author even lets characters like Thomas Sutpen ruin themselves with stubbornness, with a lack of faith in other people. The characters need not be liked or approved of because they are who they are, and that is how you write with realism. The strange twists of fate in actual life are played out with remarkable honesty and clarity in this patched-together, overcast piece of literature.

Particularly evocative is how Faulkner describes the event of the American Civil War, an event which occurs during the course of the novel and serves to precipitate actions and decisions which may have been postponed. This quote demonstrates the level of suffering and moral confusion that leads to the crisis:

"'It won't be much longer now and then there won't be anything left: we wont even have anything to do left, not even the privilege of walking backward slowly for a reason, for the sake of honor and what's left of pride. Not God; evidently we have done without him for four years, only He just didn't think to notify us; and not only not shoes and clothing but not even any need for them, and not only no land nor any way to make food, but no need for the food since we have learned to live without that too; and so if you dont have God and you dont need food and clothes and shelter, there isn't anything for honor and pride to climb on and hold to and flourish. And if you haven't got honor and pride, then nothing matters. Only there is something in you that doesn't care about honor and pride yet that lives, that even walks backward for a whole year just to live; that probably even when this is over and there is not even defeat left, will still decline to sit still in the sun and die, but will be out in the woods, moving and seeking where just will and endurance could not move it, grubbing for roots and such- the old mindless sentient undreaming meat that doesn't even know any difference between despair and victory...'"
- William Faulkner, "Absalom, Absalom!" (Random House, 1951), p349

It isn't healthy to reveal plots, and is more or less the best thing to offer a little understanding and insight. To reveal a plot would be to reveal a story that should unravel of its own volition and not that of a writer whom has nothing to do with the original author. Best maybe to offer one of the penultimate moments of gothic detail in the novel, which would be understood in context but appreciated only slightly outwith it.

Faulkner weaves Absalom, Absalom! together with honest realism, the kind of writing that I am sure characterized his career as an author. His recognition of failure is not the point; it is the fact that man won't admit to failure, will destroy himself to makes his dreams appear and become a part of actual life. Thomas Sutpen regrettably trusts no-one around him and tries to fashion his own destiny. In setting himself apart and putting himself far from blame for anything he might be held accountable for he casts a lasting shadow over his family and future. A lonesome shadow, which leaves the outside world to paint him as a monster and a devil. In short Faulkner tells the reader with his indirect deity involvement in presenting the story: to hide from mistakes and to hold neighbours in contempt without seeking to understand them is how fools behave. If anything, this is a gothic parable to make that point clear.

I am beginning to appreciate that Faulkner must have sprung into motion generations of songwriters and authors with this appreciative view of human nature. This particular novel has set me on a path with the words "old time" written on it. I set out from here to discover the language of the past and forgotten styles of writing which are capable of bringing to life forgotten generations and events. Faulkner is a very special author and type of philosopher and I am very pleased to be able to appreciate and seek to understand that.

As I Lay Dying
As I Lay Dying
by William Faulkner
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: £6.29

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner, 7 Mar. 2011
It's been some time since reading a novel that struck me so, what with the characters so varied in age and perspective but ultimately cursed with the same limited empathy for those around them. William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying is a story about a woman, Addie Bundren, who is dying and is told through the thoughts of those that surround her; her husband, her children, her neighbours, people who liver further off and those whom meet the Bundren family as they carry the dead body of the mother and wife to its destination in Jefferson.

The story is not a savage indictment of the selfishness of people, it isn't an indictment at all. Much like previously reviewed Absalom, Absalom! the characters present the faults but they cannot be condemned for them because it's a fact that everyone has them. Perfect, then, to take a quote from that novel and place it here:

"You get born and you try this and you don't know why only you keep on trying it and you are born at the same time with a lot of other people, all mixed up with them, like trying to, having to, move your arms and legs with strings only the same strings are hitched to all the other arms and legs and the others all trying and they don't know why either except that the strings are all in one another's way like five or six people all trying to make a rug on the same loom only each one wants to weave his own pattern into the rug; and it can't matter, you know that, or the Ones that set up the loom would have arranged things a little better, and yet it must matter because you keep on trying or having to keep on trying and then all of a sudden it's all over."

Faulkner succeeds in As I Lay Dying to create a patchwork narrative through the voices and thoughts of quickly changing characters, regardless of their moral substance or their practical influence in the novel. The idea is not to tell the story in vivid detail, plant it with imagery and stick to an overall objective; the idea is to have a look at how the characters in the story respond to death. Some respond with self pity, especially Anse Bundren, the husband of the dead wife:

"I have heard men cuss their luck, and right, for they were sinful men. But I do not say it's a curse on me, because I have done no wrong to be cussed by. I am not religious, I reckon. But peace is my heart: I know it is. I have done things but neither better nor worse than them that pretend otherlike, and I know that Old Marster will care for me as for ere a sparrow that falls. But is seems hard that a man in his need could be so flouted by a road."
- Anse Bundren

This is a darkly comical insight into the conceited manner in which the husband thinks only of himself, then makes a reference to something altogether unrelated- a new road built through his village which offends his sensibilities. Anse is concerned with his own relation to the divine and doesn't seem concerned for his wife; his only concern seems to be fulfilling a promise to bury her in Jefferson, her home town. Principles rather than genuine feeling or devotion; the allegation of an undevoted husband stands tall without even needed to be stated in fact.

Other characters regard the situation from what they view as superior ground, from their own faithfulness in God which is superior because it is more humble. Strangely enough, Cora Tull, the Bundrens' neighbour and friend insists upon her moral high ground without realising that in so declaring herself in closer reach of the divine, she demonstrates her own vanity and lack of humility:

"Because it is not us that can judge our sins or know what is sin in the Lord's eyes. She has had a hard life, but so does every woman. But you'd think from the way she talked that she knew more about sin and salvation than the Lord God Himself, than them who have strove and labored with the sin in this human world."
- Cora Tull

The children in the story are all growing at their own pace and the event of Addie Bundren's death precipitates events in their lives which may not have happened or which could have been avoided. Anse Bundren's blindness and his vacuous intentions to have his wife buried in Jefferson plunge his family into varying levels of despair and suffering, the troubled journey of their carriage darkly comic in overall effect. What is the overall effect of the journey? Overall, one might confidently say, the family is split and the father only secures his role as the head of the family, regardless of his stupidity and blindness, by stubbornness and vanity.

The story is tragic, yet comic in style. It depends whether the reader wishes to treat the superstition, flawed nature and selfishness of each character as merely tragic or amusing insights into human behaviour. It is certainly a dark story but its purpose is really a lesson of insight and understanding; perhaps the father of the family is more flawed that the rest of them; perhaps the wife wasn't as she was perceived; perhaps people shouldn't be trusted at their word. Really, simply lessons and no mistake. But in the context and in the way that the conequences of vanity, stubbornness and superstition are portrayed the effect is a wonderful landscape of insight.It makes one wish that in every day life one could perceive the thoughts of others.

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