rushthatspeaks: (Default)
Things I did not know before today: apparently Bertrand Russell won the Nobel Prize in Literature. ... okey-dokey then. Not the field I would have guessed. (How about, I don't know, math?)

Anyway, I read part of this excerpted yesterday in Clifton Fadiman's anthology The Mathematical Magpie, and such is the power of the internet that today I could sit down and read it in its entirety, for all things out of copyright come into the demesne of Google someday. How is it?

... fascinating. (Picture me saying this with a slightly quirked eyebrow and a tone of very mild sarcasm.)

So this is an almost entirely didactic book, a series of nightmares attributed to famous people or famous classes of people; it's not satirical, because it is not necessarily trying to satirize anyone involved, but it's also not quite allegorical. Parable, I guess. Most of it has become irrelevant, because the Cold War is over and this came out in 1952, though I did like the one where Stalin has a terrible nightmare about being very politely held prisoner by a group of Quakers who feed him toast and cocoa, allow him stimulating and healthful exercise, and attempt gently to explain to him that in order to be set free he must learn to love his fellow man. The ironic humor of that has held.

The best story was in fact the mathematician's nightmare I read yesterday, but I have to say, that one is very good. The master of ceremonies who introduces the mathematician to the numbers is Pi, for instance, who goes masked, and any who look on his whole face will die. Perfect numbers go crowned. It just all works, it's a real fantasy story.

And, oddly enough, several of the others are real science fiction; while Eisenhower's nightmare reads like a bad knockoff of 1984, there's a nightmare belonging to some senator or other which reads like a runup to The Man in the High Castle. A couple of non-nightmare stories included are dystopian extrapolations based on Russell's conviction that blind faith in anything except physically provable fact will lead inexorably to atrocities. I am not entirely certain what to think of his technique of setting all of these dystopias among South American and African peoples; his point seems to be that a) they are, of course, people and that therefore b) any system of religious government, no matter its culture of origin, will be just as stupid as any other, but his portrayals bear no relation at all to the actual cultures of, say, South America. While saying that any culture is as likely to make terrible mistakes as any other is an interesting and arguable point, I am not sure that portraying only cultures making the mistakes who were already not thought terribly well of by the white, mostly male audience I suspect he was anticipating would have done much to help that audience conclude that these mistakes were ones they, personally, were engaging in, which is clearly the conclusion the reader is meant to draw by analogy. There is a novel-length story here in which no white people appear. I suspect that this was radical. It does not read that way today.

Also, the unconscious sexism, and the didacticism as of a sledgehammer. It is sad, because if he'd stopped being so ideologically pointed the man could have been a brilliant fiction writer; his language is lucid, his concepts are interesting. As it is, it was like reading an incredibly odd fusion of Isak Dinesen (bright language, brilliant figures of speech, flashes of numinous) and Ayn Rand (characters as points of engagement with sections of ideology rather than as people, grinding of plot wheels clearly audible in background, mystifying sexual politics).

I am not sorry to have read the good parts-- there is a bit with a metaphysician in Hell which is also spectacular, in which he explains that in fact Hell is a selection of improbabilities, so that the deeper into Hell you go the more improbable things become without becoming impossible. The body of Satan consists entirely of nothingness, because, against all probability, every atom that approaches the area where his mind resides collides with another atom in such a way as to be deflected. And so the devil is a constantly moving gap in the substance of all real things, shaped like an anti-matter angel, outlined in the consistently exploding armor of light caused by the continuous bombardment of particles. I mean, that is pretty awesome. As cool as that Mark Twain story where the devil's made of radium and so can wither you by touching you and glows in the dark.

But I really cannot recommend this to those of you who are not willing to wade through a lot of annoyance. If you are ever in the mood to read a bad book, for its occasional moments of interest, this will reward you a great deal more than many of them, but it is still a bad book.

You can comment here or at the Dreamwidth crosspost. There are comments over there.
rushthatspeaks: (Default)
Things I did not know before today: apparently Bertrand Russell won the Nobel Prize in Literature. ... okey-dokey then. Not the field I would have guessed. (How about, I don't know, math?)

Anyway, I read part of this excerpted yesterday in Clifton Fadiman's anthology The Mathematical Magpie, and such is the power of the internet that today I could sit down and read it in its entirety, for all things out of copyright come into the demesne of Google someday. How is it?

... fascinating. (Picture me saying this with a slightly quirked eyebrow and a tone of very mild sarcasm.)

So this is an almost entirely didactic book, a series of nightmares attributed to famous people or famous classes of people; it's not satirical, because it is not necessarily trying to satirize anyone involved, but it's also not quite allegorical. Parable, I guess. Most of it has become irrelevant, because the Cold War is over and this came out in 1952, though I did like the one where Stalin has a terrible nightmare about being very politely held prisoner by a group of Quakers who feed him toast and cocoa, allow him stimulating and healthful exercise, and attempt gently to explain to him that in order to be set free he must learn to love his fellow man. The ironic humor of that has held.

The best story was in fact the mathematician's nightmare I read yesterday, but I have to say, that one is very good. The master of ceremonies who introduces the mathematician to the numbers is Pi, for instance, who goes masked, and any who look on his whole face will die. Perfect numbers go crowned. It just all works, it's a real fantasy story.

And, oddly enough, several of the others are real science fiction; while Eisenhower's nightmare reads like a bad knockoff of 1984, there's a nightmare belonging to some senator or other which reads like a runup to The Man in the High Castle. A couple of non-nightmare stories included are dystopian extrapolations based on Russell's conviction that blind faith in anything except physically provable fact will lead inexorably to atrocities. I am not entirely certain what to think of his technique of setting all of these dystopias among South American and African peoples; his point seems to be that a) they are, of course, people and that therefore b) any system of religious government, no matter its culture of origin, will be just as stupid as any other, but his portrayals bear no relation at all to the actual cultures of, say, South America. While saying that any culture is as likely to make terrible mistakes as any other is an interesting and arguable point, I am not sure that portraying only cultures making the mistakes who were already not thought terribly well of by the white, mostly male audience I suspect he was anticipating would have done much to help that audience conclude that these mistakes were ones they, personally, were engaging in, which is clearly the conclusion the reader is meant to draw by analogy. There is a novel-length story here in which no white people appear. I suspect that this was radical. It does not read that way today.

Also, the unconscious sexism, and the didacticism as of a sledgehammer. It is sad, because if he'd stopped being so ideologically pointed the man could have been a brilliant fiction writer; his language is lucid, his concepts are interesting. As it is, it was like reading an incredibly odd fusion of Isak Dinesen (bright language, brilliant figures of speech, flashes of numinous) and Ayn Rand (characters as points of engagement with sections of ideology rather than as people, grinding of plot wheels clearly audible in background, mystifying sexual politics).

I am not sorry to have read the good parts-- there is a bit with a metaphysician in Hell which is also spectacular, in which he explains that in fact Hell is a selection of improbabilities, so that the deeper into Hell you go the more improbable things become without becoming impossible. The body of Satan consists entirely of nothingness, because, against all probability, every atom that approaches the area where his mind resides collides with another atom in such a way as to be deflected. And so the devil is a constantly moving gap in the substance of all real things, shaped like an anti-matter angel, outlined in the consistently exploding armor of light caused by the continuous bombardment of particles. I mean, that is pretty awesome. As cool as that Mark Twain story where the devil's made of radium and so can wither you by touching you and glows in the dark.

But I really cannot recommend this to those of you who are not willing to wade through a lot of annoyance. If you are ever in the mood to read a bad book, for its occasional moments of interest, this will reward you a great deal more than many of them, but it is still a bad book.
rushthatspeaks: (Default)
I read this book yesterday. For some reason, I find that I can read fairly pleasantly even with eyestrain if I take off my glasses and hold the book the requisite quarter-inch from my nose-- and it does not seem to retard the recovery process-- but the same is not true of computer screens. I therefore expect my computer time to be limited for a while, and if there is anything people put up in the way of significant announcements on LJ/DW, you probably should not expect me to see it for the next week or so, and should contact me in some other way. (Still checking email-- once a day.)

Anyway. This book is a collection of correspondence between Bernard-Henri Lévy and Michel Houellebecq, which took place between late January and mid-July of 2008, and which was kept secret at the time, though always intended for publication.

I have something of a quandary in conveying to you why it is interesting that these two men should be writing to each other, because each of them takes a firm and vehement stand in this text that biographical criticism is a terrible thing, that people take far too much interest in both the public and private lives of writers, that the degrees of celebrity they have attained come with quantities of perjury and slander attached, and that they had far rather people just read their books and talk about those. In fact, that is much of what this book is about, comparing their experiences of being controversial writers, writers who are publicly hated, and discussing why this is and what can be done to endure it.

And I haven't read any of their other books, though I had heard of both men; I picked this up both because Thrud brought it home and because it seemed a reasonable starting point for each writer. Therefore I cannot, as a critic, do what they would certainly prefer and explain the background context of this book in terms of what each of them has written about politics, literature and so on in contrast to the other. All I have is what I can gather from this book, and the sense one has of what a writer is doing from being aware of cultural life (and that sense is what I am sure they would like me to pay no attention to).

Based solely on this book, then, and what each of them says about himself: Lévy is a public figure and celebrity in France, who has written novels, criticism, and reports on various war zones around the world. He has gone to Bosnia, Burma, Chechnya, and other places in significant upheaval and tried to promote international awareness of the atrocities that happen and the issues involved, as well as serving as an advisor to various important figures in these wars and to other statesmen. He has a complex political and personal relationship to Judaism which I am clear on philosophically but not clear about how it expresses itself in his life and other writings, because he didn't talk about that much here. He was a student of Derrida and otherwise associated with what those of us outside France tend to think of as Twentieth-Century French Literature.

Houellebecq is a public figure and something of a celebrity in France who now lives in semi-reclusive exile in Ireland. He has written novels, poetry, and a book on Lovecraft I had heard of. He is regularly accused of being racist, misogynistic, sex-obsessed, pessimistic, and something of a right-wing lunatic; he cheerfully admits to the pessimistic, and does not go sufficiently into the others here for one to make a judgment. He appears to think of most human progress as futile and occasionally despairs of the human race as a whole. His principal philosophy seems to be a kind of extremely atheistic hyper-individualism, rather what you might get if you crossed Sartre with an anarcho-libertarian-- at the age when many teenagers get into heavy metal, he encountered Pascal's Pensées, which had a similarly mind-exploding effect on him (if it is possible to be an atheist Jansenist, I suspect him of being one in some ways). He gives the impression that the literary establishment sees him as something of an enfant terrible.

I repeat, this is what I gathered about them from reading this book. It may or may not have anything to do with the way the rest of the world, including their other writings, sees things.

Their letters are wide-ranging, well-phrased, charming, and unafraid to contradict each other or anything else in the world. They do not reply to one another in the ways that one would expect, but through indirection, seizing on small things that have been said and amplifying them, running off in different directions. They tell secrets, they tell funny anecdotes, they talk about their fathers and their enemies (and I noticed before either of them did that they weren't talking about their mothers). They cite pretty much every major Western philosopher in attempts to explain their worldviews to one another, and then in the next letter jettison all of that because it has been misunderstood and start over. As an example of the art of correspondence, it is quite impressive, and might also serve as an introductory course on French literature (the book is very well-footnoted). There is not a dull moment in it, from the first sentence Houellebecq leads with: "We have, as they say, nothing in common-- except for one essential trait: we are both rather contemptible individuals."

I do rather get the feeling, however, that I would find this book far more interesting and thought-provoking if I were to go out and read everything else both of them has written first, and then see how this is at being a text that deepens and contrasts their views. As a book of itself, it is very readable: as an introductory point, a place to begin either author, it succeeds, but I am not sure it was the right place. I agree, however, that I would prefer to gather information about them from their writings instead from the newspapers, so that is something. And as a conversation overheard between two people I don't know, I enjoyed this very thoroughly.

You can comment here or at the Dreamwidth crosspost. There are comments over there.
rushthatspeaks: (Default)
I read this book yesterday. For some reason, I find that I can read fairly pleasantly even with eyestrain if I take off my glasses and hold the book the requisite quarter-inch from my nose-- and it does not seem to retard the recovery process-- but the same is not true of computer screens. I therefore expect my computer time to be limited for a while, and if there is anything people put up in the way of significant announcements on LJ/DW, you probably should not expect me to see it for the next week or so, and should contact me in some other way. (Still checking email-- once a day.)

Anyway. This book is a collection of correspondence between Bernard-Henri Lévy and Michel Houellebecq, which took place between late January and mid-July of 2008, and which was kept secret at the time, though always intended for publication.

I have something of a quandary in conveying to you why it is interesting that these two men should be writing to each other, because each of them takes a firm and vehement stand in this text that biographical criticism is a terrible thing, that people take far too much interest in both the public and private lives of writers, that the degrees of celebrity they have attained come with quantities of perjury and slander attached, and that they had far rather people just read their books and talk about those. In fact, that is much of what this book is about, comparing their experiences of being controversial writers, writers who are publicly hated, and discussing why this is and what can be done to endure it.

And I haven't read any of their other books, though I had heard of both men; I picked this up both because Thrud brought it home and because it seemed a reasonable starting point for each writer. Therefore I cannot, as a critic, do what they would certainly prefer and explain the background context of this book in terms of what each of them has written about politics, literature and so on in contrast to the other. All I have is what I can gather from this book, and the sense one has of what a writer is doing from being aware of cultural life (and that sense is what I am sure they would like me to pay no attention to).

Based solely on this book, then, and what each of them says about himself: Lévy is a public figure and celebrity in France, who has written novels, criticism, and reports on various war zones around the world. He has gone to Bosnia, Burma, Chechnya, and other places in significant upheaval and tried to promote international awareness of the atrocities that happen and the issues involved, as well as serving as an advisor to various important figures in these wars and to other statesmen. He has a complex political and personal relationship to Judaism which I am clear on philosophically but not clear about how it expresses itself in his life and other writings, because he didn't talk about that much here. He was a student of Derrida and otherwise associated with what those of us outside France tend to think of as Twentieth-Century French Literature.

Houellebecq is a public figure and something of a celebrity in France who now lives in semi-reclusive exile in Ireland. He has written novels, poetry, and a book on Lovecraft I had heard of. He is regularly accused of being racist, misogynistic, sex-obsessed, pessimistic, and something of a right-wing lunatic; he cheerfully admits to the pessimistic, and does not go sufficiently into the others here for one to make a judgment. He appears to think of most human progress as futile and occasionally despairs of the human race as a whole. His principal philosophy seems to be a kind of extremely atheistic hyper-individualism, rather what you might get if you crossed Sartre with an anarcho-libertarian-- at the age when many teenagers get into heavy metal, he encountered Pascal's Pensées, which had a similarly mind-exploding effect on him (if it is possible to be an atheist Jansenist, I suspect him of being one in some ways). He gives the impression that the literary establishment sees him as something of an enfant terrible.

I repeat, this is what I gathered about them from reading this book. It may or may not have anything to do with the way the rest of the world, including their other writings, sees things.

Their letters are wide-ranging, well-phrased, charming, and unafraid to contradict each other or anything else in the world. They do not reply to one another in the ways that one would expect, but through indirection, seizing on small things that have been said and amplifying them, running off in different directions. They tell secrets, they tell funny anecdotes, they talk about their fathers and their enemies (and I noticed before either of them did that they weren't talking about their mothers). They cite pretty much every major Western philosopher in attempts to explain their worldviews to one another, and then in the next letter jettison all of that because it has been misunderstood and start over. As an example of the art of correspondence, it is quite impressive, and might also serve as an introductory course on French literature (the book is very well-footnoted). There is not a dull moment in it, from the first sentence Houellebecq leads with: "We have, as they say, nothing in common-- except for one essential trait: we are both rather contemptible individuals."

I do rather get the feeling, however, that I would find this book far more interesting and thought-provoking if I were to go out and read everything else both of them has written first, and then see how this is at being a text that deepens and contrasts their views. As a book of itself, it is very readable: as an introductory point, a place to begin either author, it succeeds, but I am not sure it was the right place. I agree, however, that I would prefer to gather information about them from their writings instead from the newspapers, so that is something. And as a conversation overheard between two people I don't know, I enjoyed this very thoroughly.
rushthatspeaks: (Default)
Borrowed from [personal profile] dorothean, with thanks.

I thought throughout most of this book that I did not like it very much, because it is a story that has been told so often. Joanna Russ talks in one of her essays about the plot arcs available to heroines in books where it is predetermined that the principal story of a woman's life is How She Got Married, which becomes old news after a while, and what a writer can do about that, the dodges and stratagems available to let your heroine do something. This book has one of the arcs that Russ suggests is a possible replacement or addition to Getting Married, which has come in fairly recently: How She Went Crazy. Specifically, in this case, how she was driven crazy, in a story that also includes how she got married, which was a significant contributor to how she was driven crazy.

In short, I thought through most of this book that it was the story of a woman as an exemplary victim, a novel in which every bad thing possible happens to the heroine so that the author can explain to you how terrible it all is. And it is terrible, in real life, really genuinely terrible things happen to women, but in a novel it is possible to make your reader overdose on misery, just say 'this is too much' and clock out. I thought this had made that mistake, and I have read that book many times and would rather read a good nonfictional work on the relevant atrocities, which would tell me, maybe, where one might start to do something about them.

Because this is a book where many terrible and quite realistic things happen to the protagonist, Firdaus, who is born into great poverty, suffers FGM without ever knowing what it is, spends a long time as a prostitute, is never loved by anyone, is betrayed by everyone she ever loves, and eventually kills a man who has become her pimp and is trying to prevent her from leaving him. She tells her life story to the narrator while on death row for the killing.

And I thought for a while that the style was too self-consciously literary, that the ways that things repeat in Firdaus' life (quite frequently word-for-word, motif following motif in the same precise order) was too intentionally symbolic.

But gradually it began to dawn on me: this is in fact a book I hadn't read before.

In Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century, Greil Marcus (who is talking about punk music, but never mind) makes a distinction between nihilistic and negationist art. Negationist art is revolutionary art which says: all this (whatever this is) has to go, get rid of it all, burn it all down with whatever violence necessary, and then we will see what comes out of the ashes when we start over. Nihilistic art is revolutionary art which says: all this has to go, get rid of it all, it all has to burn down, with extreme violence, and that violence is the only point left, because nothing can rise from the ashes anymore.

This is a genuinely nihilistic feminist novel. Firdaus achieves the total freedom of the sociopath, through many years of being pushed well beyond human endurance, and reaches that peculiar state in which there is no distinction between pain and pleasure, fear and welcome, in which nothing can touch her anymore and she kills because it is the right thing to do. (The question is asked in the book several times: "Who says murder does not require that a person be gentle?" Firdaus is very gentle.) She agrees with Ti-Grace Atkinson that heterosexual marriage is an economically exploitative form of coerced prostitution (and for her it was) and with Valeria Solanas that men are not human (and for her they were not). Once she's torn a large sum of money into shreds, no human thing can arouse her respect. The infinite circling and repetitions, the motif following motif, are because she is the one telling her life story, the marks of her first-person voice and her insanity. You can see, sometimes, things that might have been ways out for her, but only in the instants of their vanishing. Each repetition is a tighter spiral of the vortex that will end with her death as the happiest moment of her life.

And all the narrator can do-- the narrator who, the author says in the preface, is herself; this is a story she did hear from a woman awaiting execution, and fictionalized-- all the narrator can do is say, in wonder and frustration: she was braver than I am.

That book, I had not read before, no, and I am glad someone wrote it. It has the cold clarity of the point zero it claims to be. You cannot come away from it with the sort of reassurances you bring from a book which allows any rays of light inside itself. It will make you angry because it offers no answers whatsoever. The anger of unanswered questions is a useful kind of anger. Firdaus, herself, is the question.

You can comment here or at the Dreamwidth crosspost. There are comments over there.
rushthatspeaks: (Default)
Borrowed from [personal profile] dorothean, with thanks.

I thought throughout most of this book that I did not like it very much, because it is a story that has been told so often. Joanna Russ talks in one of her essays about the plot arcs available to heroines in books where it is predetermined that the principal story of a woman's life is How She Got Married, which becomes old news after a while, and what a writer can do about that, the dodges and stratagems available to let your heroine do something. This book has one of the arcs that Russ suggests is a possible replacement or addition to Getting Married, which has come in fairly recently: How She Went Crazy. Specifically, in this case, how she was driven crazy, in a story that also includes how she got married, which was a significant contributor to how she was driven crazy.

In short, I thought through most of this book that it was the story of a woman as an exemplary victim, a novel in which every bad thing possible happens to the heroine so that the author can explain to you how terrible it all is. And it is terrible, in real life, really genuinely terrible things happen to women, but in a novel it is possible to make your reader overdose on misery, just say 'this is too much' and clock out. I thought this had made that mistake, and I have read that book many times and would rather read a good nonfictional work on the relevant atrocities, which would tell me, maybe, where one might start to do something about them.

Because this is a book where many terrible and quite realistic things happen to the protagonist, Firdaus, who is born into great poverty, suffers FGM without ever knowing what it is, spends a long time as a prostitute, is never loved by anyone, is betrayed by everyone she ever loves, and eventually kills a man who has become her pimp and is trying to prevent her from leaving him. She tells her life story to the narrator while on death row for the killing.

And I thought for a while that the style was too self-consciously literary, that the ways that things repeat in Firdaus' life (quite frequently word-for-word, motif following motif in the same precise order) was too intentionally symbolic.

But gradually it began to dawn on me: this is in fact a book I hadn't read before.

In Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century, Greil Marcus (who is talking about punk music, but never mind) makes a distinction between nihilistic and negationist art. Negationist art is revolutionary art which says: all this (whatever this is) has to go, get rid of it all, burn it all down with whatever violence necessary, and then we will see what comes out of the ashes when we start over. Nihilistic art is revolutionary art which says: all this has to go, get rid of it all, it all has to burn down, with extreme violence, and that violence is the only point left, because nothing can rise from the ashes anymore.

This is a genuinely nihilistic feminist novel. Firdaus achieves the total freedom of the sociopath, through many years of being pushed well beyond human endurance, and reaches that peculiar state in which there is no distinction between pain and pleasure, fear and welcome, in which nothing can touch her anymore and she kills because it is the right thing to do. (The question is asked in the book several times: "Who says murder does not require that a person be gentle?" Firdaus is very gentle.) She agrees with Ti-Grace Atkinson that heterosexual marriage is an economically exploitative form of coerced prostitution (and for her it was) and with Valeria Solanas that men are not human (and for her they were not). Once she's torn a large sum of money into shreds, no human thing can arouse her respect. The infinite circling and repetitions, the motif following motif, are because she is the one telling her life story, the marks of her first-person voice and her insanity. You can see, sometimes, things that might have been ways out for her, but only in the instants of their vanishing. Each repetition is a tighter spiral of the vortex that will end with her death as the happiest moment of her life.

And all the narrator can do-- the narrator who, the author says in the preface, is herself; this is a story she did hear from a woman awaiting execution, and fictionalized-- all the narrator can do is say, in wonder and frustration: she was braver than I am.

That book, I had not read before, no, and I am glad someone wrote it. It has the cold clarity of the point zero it claims to be. You cannot come away from it with the sort of reassurances you bring from a book which allows any rays of light inside itself. It will make you angry because it offers no answers whatsoever. The anger of unanswered questions is a useful kind of anger. Firdaus, herself, is the question.
rushthatspeaks: (sparklepony only wants to read)
Borrowed from [personal profile] rax.

This short but incisive book is a critique of what Keshavarz calls the New Orientalism, as exemplified by Reading Lolita in Tehran: a set of narratives, purporting to be factual, by people who at least theoretically have inside knowledge of a culture due to upbringing or heredity, which use this insider status to reinscribe a stereotypical and two-dimensional view of the culture in question. Older Orientalist works tend to be the views of outsiders-- traveler's tales, exoticism and sensationalism for an audience presumed to have no familiarity with the region described. In a world connected by air travel and the internet, the audience cannot be assumed to have less familiarity with any given place than any given traveler-- but the audience can still be assumed to have less familiarity than a person who was born in that place and raised in that culture.

New Orientalist works can be very popular and very insidious, because they sound to a Western audience as though a person who ought to know is saying 'everything you surmised is true', whereas in fact they have significant blind spots and often genuine factual inaccuracies about the cultures they are describing. Part of Keshavarz' project, in this book, is to illustrate facets of Iranian culture that do not fit the vision that most Westerners have built from the media and popular memoirs.

Keshavarz describes the multiplicity and variance of Persian literature, with particular attention to the writings of women in the twentieth century, especially bestselling poets and novelists. She contrasts this with the idolization of Western literary figures the female lit students have in Reading Lolita in Tehran, mentioning a sequence in which one of the students secretly names her daughter Daisy after Daisy Miller because Daisy Miller is the first woman she's had to look up to in literature. Keshavarz points out that as a child, she herself looked up to Shirin, the lover, queen, and educator from the twelfth-century romantic epic Shirin and Khusrau. She describes the stunned grief of her entire high school class at the news of the early death of the poet Forrough Farrokhzad, a woman whose life and work were intimately familiar to every girl there, and points out that this kind of loving engagement by a large public with modern poetry pokes a serious hole in one of the main Orientalizing myths: the idea that, say, Iran has produced great works of art and culture, but that that was long ago in a glorious past, which is completely removed from the present and can never come again.

Keshavarz also attacks the Western critical myth that the novel never became a major form in Middle Eastern countries by offering a close reading of Shahrnoush Parsipur's Women Without Men (1989), a post-revolutionary and very popular work of feminist magical realism that I have to go out and read immediately.

And she goes through Reading Lolita in Tehran with a steady hand, pointing out inaccuracies, biases, rhetorical devices, emphases, hidden priorities-- it's one of the better takedowns of a book I've seen in a very long time. The ignorance of Iranian literature she proves would alone be stunning, but she also describes serious problems with the book's explanations of theology, and demonstrates via quotation that everything in the book associated with America has positive adjectives, and everything associated with genuine Islamic faith negative ones. I find her argument entirely convincing. In addition, she mentions several other works that she suggests are also part of the New Orientalist narrative, such as The Kite Runner, and hopes that other critics will go into detail about the differing ways various works fall into this pattern.

Jasmine and Stars has given me a significant list of Iranian writers, painters, filmmakers, and theologians from the post-revolutionary period to look up, and it's also provided a quite useful critical framework. Keshavarz speaks of the New Orientalism in the context of Islam, of course, but I think that either that term needs to stretch to cover work about other cultures or we need an exact equivalent. (If there is one, someone tell me! The Keshavarz is from 2007 but is still most of what I get when I Google the term; but I do not claim to be as up on theory as I might.)

Because, you remember that book by Amy Chua I reviewed the other day, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother? If that's not a New Orientalist text, nothing is. That's a person claiming to have insider knowledge about a culture using that supposed insider knowledge to reinforce hegemonic discourse, and the fact that it's about parenting rather than about an actual country obscures this a little, but the basic pattern is there, including the fact that both Chua and the author of Reading Lolita in Tehran, Azar Nafisi, are writing from an internalization of the hegemonic discourse because it is what they use to regulate their own experiences, rather than having a consciously stereotype-reinforcing agenda. Of course these books are bestsellers: they combine the appearance of presumptive authority with the reassurance of preaching to the choir.

But, as Keshavarz so beautifully explains, they're bad for you. Because, and this is starting to become my personal motto both for writing and for life in general, things are always more complex than that. Hearing the same myths over and over will not help anyone really develop empathy for people from other cultures.

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rushthatspeaks: (sparklepony only wants to read)
Borrowed from [personal profile] rax.

This short but incisive book is a critique of what Keshavarz calls the New Orientalism, as exemplified by Reading Lolita in Tehran: a set of narratives, purporting to be factual, by people who at least theoretically have inside knowledge of a culture due to upbringing or heredity, which use this insider status to reinscribe a stereotypical and two-dimensional view of the culture in question. Older Orientalist works tend to be the views of outsiders-- traveler's tales, exoticism and sensationalism for an audience presumed to have no familiarity with the region described. In a world connected by air travel and the internet, the audience cannot be assumed to have less familiarity with any given place than any given traveler-- but the audience can still be assumed to have less familiarity than a person who was born in that place and raised in that culture.

New Orientalist works can be very popular and very insidious, because they sound to a Western audience as though a person who ought to know is saying 'everything you surmised is true', whereas in fact they have significant blind spots and often genuine factual inaccuracies about the cultures they are describing. Part of Keshavarz' project, in this book, is to illustrate facets of Iranian culture that do not fit the vision that most Westerners have built from the media and popular memoirs.

Keshavarz describes the multiplicity and variance of Persian literature, with particular attention to the writings of women in the twentieth century, especially bestselling poets and novelists. She contrasts this with the idolization of Western literary figures the female lit students have in Reading Lolita in Tehran, mentioning a sequence in which one of the students secretly names her daughter Daisy after Daisy Miller because Daisy Miller is the first woman she's had to look up to in literature. Keshavarz points out that as a child, she herself looked up to Shirin, the lover, queen, and educator from the twelfth-century romantic epic Shirin and Khusrau. She describes the stunned grief of her entire high school class at the news of the early death of the poet Forrough Farrokhzad, a woman whose life and work were intimately familiar to every girl there, and points out that this kind of loving engagement by a large public with modern poetry pokes a serious hole in one of the main Orientalizing myths: the idea that, say, Iran has produced great works of art and culture, but that that was long ago in a glorious past, which is completely removed from the present and can never come again.

Keshavarz also attacks the Western critical myth that the novel never became a major form in Middle Eastern countries by offering a close reading of Shahrnoush Parsipur's Women Without Men (1989), a post-revolutionary and very popular work of feminist magical realism that I have to go out and read immediately.

And she goes through Reading Lolita in Tehran with a steady hand, pointing out inaccuracies, biases, rhetorical devices, emphases, hidden priorities-- it's one of the better takedowns of a book I've seen in a very long time. The ignorance of Iranian literature she proves would alone be stunning, but she also describes serious problems with the book's explanations of theology, and demonstrates via quotation that everything in the book associated with America has positive adjectives, and everything associated with genuine Islamic faith negative ones. I find her argument entirely convincing. In addition, she mentions several other works that she suggests are also part of the New Orientalist narrative, such as The Kite Runner, and hopes that other critics will go into detail about the differing ways various works fall into this pattern.

Jasmine and Stars has given me a significant list of Iranian writers, painters, filmmakers, and theologians from the post-revolutionary period to look up, and it's also provided a quite useful critical framework. Keshavarz speaks of the New Orientalism in the context of Islam, of course, but I think that either that term needs to stretch to cover work about other cultures or we need an exact equivalent. (If there is one, someone tell me! The Keshavarz is from 2007 but is still most of what I get when I Google the term; but I do not claim to be as up on theory as I might.)

Because, you remember that book by Amy Chua I reviewed the other day, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother? If that's not a New Orientalist text, nothing is. That's a person claiming to have insider knowledge about a culture using that supposed insider knowledge to reinforce hegemonic discourse, and the fact that it's about parenting rather than about an actual country obscures this a little, but the basic pattern is there, including the fact that both Chua and the author of Reading Lolita in Tehran, Azar Nafisi, are writing from an internalization of the hegemonic discourse because it is what they use to regulate their own experiences, rather than having a consciously stereotype-reinforcing agenda. Of course these books are bestsellers: they combine the appearance of presumptive authority with the reassurance of preaching to the choir.

But, as Keshavarz so beautifully explains, they're bad for you. Because, and this is starting to become my personal motto both for writing and for life in general, things are always more complex than that. Hearing the same myths over and over will not help anyone really develop empathy for people from other cultures.
rushthatspeaks: (Default)
Day before yesterday's review. Via [livejournal.com profile] gallian.

I wanted to like this more than I did. Mooney, having spent most of his childhood and adolescence in various forms of special-ed due to diagnoses including dyslexia and possible ADD, bought a used short school bus of the kind commonly used by special-ed programs and spent a summer driving around the U.S. meeting and interviewing people with various conditions commonly considered disabilities. He originally met most of his contacts through speaking gigs in which he discusses his dyslexia and having gone to Brown; one of the things I liked most about this book is the not-quite-humor with which he states in the first sentence that one of his life goals used to be being an after-school special. Over the course of the summer he proposes to his girlfriend, goes to Burning Man, looks at conceptual art, hits a lot of major and minor cities briefly, travels with various family members and others, and of course talks with a great many people, some with clear-cut diagnoses and some not.

If you know nothing whatsoever about the political issues surrounding disability, disability education, community integration etc., this might not be a terrible place to start, because he meets people from a lot of different communities who have a lot of different things going on, and he gives reasonable summary. He treats other people as human beings, consistently, and he admits when he has trouble doing it, which is more than many writers do, and he doesn't seem to want cookies for it. But-- hm. One of the people he spends some time with is an outsider artist in Maine, who has the label of 'town eccentric' but who also went through school being called retarded, slow, and so on in a way where there were no actual diagnoses involved but a lot of terrible bullying. And one of the things that becomes obvious is that she's a trans woman, which is orthogonal to the various mental health labels but sure as hell had something to do with the bullying. And, well. The author means well. He really does. But this is kind of the epitome of the sort of piece written by a well-meaning person who does not know much about the issues he is writing about, and the main thing I have to say to him about that entire chapter is: use the right fucking pronouns.

So this set of issues concerning the part of the book that involves something I know something about does not inspire me with confidence in the parts of the book that involve things I don't know as much about, you know? I have confidence in everything about his personal life and his issues, that he knows the truth he speaks there, because duh. But the rest of it-- given the format of this, it's inevitably going to be a quick skim over the top of a great many separate sets of things, he's traveling, he's always moving on. But it is so damn important that that skim be as accurately representative as humanly possible, and I just don't have that faith.

He also spends a lot of time talking about how the trip changed him, how much he changed and found himself, but this is a very clear-cut case of telling and not showing, because I didn't see much evidence of it. But that is what you have to say about trips like this, isn't it. I don't know, maybe he did profoundly change, but just didn't manage to communicate it?

Anyway, I might, with those very heavy caveats very clearly explained, hand this to someone as the beginning of a discussion about disability and politics. Assuming I can't find something better. There really has to be something better out there. Doesn't there? Recs accepted.

You can comment here or at the Dreamwidth crosspost. There are comment count unavailable comments over there.
rushthatspeaks: (Default)
Day before yesterday's review. Via Gallian.

I wanted to like this more than I did. Mooney, having spent most of his childhood and adolescence in various forms of special-ed due to diagnoses including dyslexia and possible ADD, bought a used short school bus of the kind commonly used by special-ed programs and spent a summer driving around the U.S. meeting and interviewing people with various conditions commonly considered disabilities. He originally met most of his contacts through speaking gigs in which he discusses his dyslexia and having gone to Brown; one of the things I liked most about this book is the not-quite-humor with which he states in the first sentence that one of his life goals used to be being an after-school special. Over the course of the summer he proposes to his girlfriend, goes to Burning Man, looks at conceptual art, hits a lot of major and minor cities briefly, travels with various family members and others, and of course talks with a great many people, some with clear-cut diagnoses and some not.

If you know nothing whatsoever about the political issues surrounding disability, disability education, community integration etc., this might not be a terrible place to start, because he meets people from a lot of different communities who have a lot of different things going on, and he gives reasonable summary. He treats other people as human beings, consistently, and he admits when he has trouble doing it, which is more than many writers do, and he doesn't seem to want cookies for it. But-- hm. One of the people he spends some time with is an outsider artist in Maine, who has the label of 'town eccentric' but who also went through school being called retarded, slow, and so on in a way where there were no actual diagnoses involved but a lot of terrible bullying. And one of the things that becomes obvious is that she's a trans woman, which is orthogonal to the various mental health labels but sure as hell had something to do with the bullying. And, well. The author means well. He really does. But this is kind of the epitome of the sort of piece written by a well-meaning person who does not know much about the issues he is writing about, and the main thing I have to say to him about that entire chapter is: use the right fucking pronouns.

So this set of issues concerning the part of the book that involves something I know something about does not inspire me with confidence in the parts of the book that involve things I don't know as much about, you know? I have confidence in everything about his personal life and his issues, that he knows the truth he speaks there, because duh. But the rest of it-- given the format of this, it's inevitably going to be a quick skim over the top of a great many separate sets of things, he's traveling, he's always moving on. But it is so damn important that that skim be as accurately representative as humanly possible, and I just don't have that faith.

He also spends a lot of time talking about how the trip changed him, how much he changed and found himself, but this is a very clear-cut case of telling and not showing, because I didn't see much evidence of it. But that is what you have to say about trips like this, isn't it. I don't know, maybe he did profoundly change, but just didn't manage to communicate it?

Anyway, I might, with those very heavy caveats very clearly explained, hand this to someone as the beginning of a discussion about disability and politics. Assuming I can't find something better. There really has to be something better out there. Doesn't there? Recs accepted.
rushthatspeaks: (Default)
The title of this book comes from a character in Audre Lorde's Zami: A New Spelling of My Name: the protagonist meets a woman called Kitty at a bar, asks what Kitty's short for, and it's Afrekete. Their love affair is short and indelible.

That particular episode, in excerpt, forms the first selection here, and the rest of the book is also run through with Lorde, bracketed at the other end by one of her late cancer poems, full of mentions, tributes, references back. In 1995 when this came out her death in 1992 was close, is a very fresh grief on these pages. I've read Zami, but not for a while, and the excerpt here is an amazing reminder of everything good about her work.

The rest of the anthology is also well worth reading. There are names I already knew-- Michelle Cliff, Sapphire, Jewelle Gomez, Jacqueline Woodson-- and names I didn't, Carolivia Herron, Jocelyn Taylor, Jackie Goldsby. There's fiction, both autobiographical and not, and poetry, and essays both memoir and otherwise; there's an interesting work of theory questioning why there weren't any theoretical responses at the time to the whole scandal surrounding Vanessa Williams when she was Miss America; there's a lot about relative skin tone here, what it means to be lighter, or darker, or to pass, and what that can do to a relationship between women. There's naturalistic work and not-quite-naturalistic work and one piece that is outright sfnal. There are looks at the interface between black gay culture and black lesbian culture, fraught or welcoming as the case may be.

My favorite piece is probably Carolivia Herron's 'The Old Lady', which anchors memory and place together in prose so perfectly wrought I want to frame it and hang it on a wall. The titular old lady walks around her town every day, and every step of it is a different recollection of a lover or a not-quite lover, and it shouldn't work and it works from start to finish.

My second favorite piece is Jocelyn Taylor's 'Testimony of a Naked Woman', a memoir about organizing a lesbian dance night with the money earned stripping at a Mafia-owned nightclub. Taylor is fascinated by the interface of politics and the body, power and empowerment, and uses theory in ways I haven't seen while never getting tangled up in jargon. (I am also made curious by one of her questions: why has the women's movement never seriously attempted political action towards the goal of allowing women to take their shirts off in public, as men can? Because it hasn't, and I would love to see some more untangling of the reasons, good and bad, why not.)

This is in some ways a very nineties anthology, a snapshot of that time: the theory is mostly second-wave, the theory of the seventies, and many of the writers here came of age during the Civil Rights Movement and are comparing political present experience with directly lived political memory in a way I don't think younger writers could. So this holds value for me in that way, too, that it's more than fifteen years old and some of the issues that get talked about a lot have changed and many haven't.

And it has also done pretty well in the recommending-writers-I-hope-to-find-more-of department, and for all these reasons I am glad of it. I should mention, mind you, that anyone who is triggered or bothered by mentions of fairly extreme violence or sexual violence should go into this braced, and tread lightly, especially with Cynthia Bond's 'Ruby', which is amazing but will jump up and down on any vulnerabilities a reader may have in that direction.

You can comment here or at the Dreamwidth crosspost. There are comment count unavailable comments over there.
rushthatspeaks: (Default)
The title of this book comes from a character in Audre Lorde's Zami: A New Spelling of My Name: the protagonist meets a woman called Kitty at a bar, asks what Kitty's short for, and it's Afrekete. Their love affair is short and indelible.

That particular episode, in excerpt, forms the first selection here, and the rest of the book is also run through with Lorde, bracketed at the other end by one of her late cancer poems, full of mentions, tributes, references back. In 1995 when this came out her death in 1992 was close, is a very fresh grief on these pages. I've read Zami, but not for a while, and the excerpt here is an amazing reminder of everything good about her work.

The rest of the anthology is also well worth reading. There are names I already knew-- Michelle Cliff, Sapphire, Jewelle Gomez, Jacqueline Woodson-- and names I didn't, Carolivia Herron, Jocelyn Taylor, Jackie Goldsby. There's fiction, both autobiographical and not, and poetry, and essays both memoir and otherwise; there's an interesting work of theory questioning why there weren't any theoretical responses at the time to the whole scandal surrounding Vanessa Williams when she was Miss America; there's a lot about relative skin tone here, what it means to be lighter, or darker, or to pass, and what that can do to a relationship between women. There's naturalistic work and not-quite-naturalistic work and one piece that is outright sfnal. There are looks at the interface between black gay culture and black lesbian culture, fraught or welcoming as the case may be.

My favorite piece is probably Carolivia Herron's 'The Old Lady', which anchors memory and place together in prose so perfectly wrought I want to frame it and hang it on a wall. The titular old lady walks around her town every day, and every step of it is a different recollection of a lover or a not-quite lover, and it shouldn't work and it works from start to finish.

My second favorite piece is Jocelyn Taylor's 'Testimony of a Naked Woman', a memoir about organizing a lesbian dance night with the money earned stripping at a Mafia-owned nightclub. Taylor is fascinated by the interface of politics and the body, power and empowerment, and uses theory in ways I haven't seen while never getting tangled up in jargon. (I am also made curious by one of her questions: why has the women's movement never seriously attempted political action towards the goal of allowing women to take their shirts off in public, as men can? Because it hasn't, and I would love to see some more untangling of the reasons, good and bad, why not.)

This is in some ways a very nineties anthology, a snapshot of that time: the theory is mostly second-wave, the theory of the seventies, and many of the writers here came of age during the Civil Rights Movement and are comparing political present experience with directly lived political memory in a way I don't think younger writers could. So this holds value for me in that way, too, that it's more than fifteen years old and some of the issues that get talked about a lot have changed and many haven't.

And it has also done pretty well in the recommending-writers-I-hope-to-find-more-of department, and for all these reasons I am glad of it. I should mention, mind you, that anyone who is triggered or bothered by mentions of fairly extreme violence or sexual violence should go into this braced, and tread lightly, especially with Cynthia Bond's 'Ruby', which is amazing but will jump up and down on any vulnerabilities a reader may have in that direction.
rushthatspeaks: (Default)
A recent collection (2009) including poems inspired by the women's movement and poems which helped inspire it; the material here was written between the late sixties and the early eighties. Moore's intent is to contextualize the position of poetry in the history of that specific time of political action and to discuss what the movement did to poetry. She discusses both the emergence of a radical new form of female poetic speech and the re-evaluation of women poets of the past in light of later political ideas-- the politics of what goes into a table of contents, what gets critically discussed, and so on.

Mostly, though, this is a poetry collection, containing work (usually one or two short poems) by Marilyn Hacker, Audre Lorde, Adrienne Rich, Sylvia Plath, Olga Broumas, Muriel Rukeyser, Judy Grahn, Carolyn Kizer, June Jordan, Michelle Cliff, Jorie Graham, and a long list of others. As a poetry collection, it's a good snapshot of the women now considered important poets from that period, but its focus means that I am not always certain the poems selected are the absolute best of each poet; they are, rather, the ones relevant to the politics, which is often some of the best work of the poet in question, but sometimes not. Marilyn Hacker, for instance, is represented here by her elegy for Janis Joplin, which is a poem I've always liked but would not place in her top tier-- for one thing, it's wildly unusual for Hacker, as it's one of the few poems I've seen from her that does not have a formalist structure in any way at all, so as a representation of what she's actually doing most of the time it's an odd pick. I think it's in here because of its nature as a rumination on mourning and the nature of female celebrity, at which it does a fine job, and that's certainly a facet of women's experience one would like to see here.

I don't think there's any substandard work in this, I don't think there's anything that's only there for content and not quality, but I also don't think this would be the book to use if you want to find out whether you like any of these poets or want to know what mode they work in generally. Which I think is a bit of a flaw, though a minor one, in a book that is trying to represent two generations of poets to its readership, with their context, all at once. Maybe if there were another couple hundred pages?

Possibly as a result of that, then, and possibly as a result of my own tastes, I find the politics here more interesting generally than the poetry. There are very definitely voices here coming into their own for the first time, women talking about work, desire for other women or for men or for nobody, about race and class and history and other topics not generally as explicit in women's poetry before this. There's a lot of pain and a lot of joy (and it's nice to see a political book including some of the joyous work, thank you). But with some exceptions I find myself reading for the content rather than the language. Honestly, it is probably because I am a formalist, and twentieth-century poetry disliked formalism; and because I continually strive for clarity of language in my poetry and twentieth-century poetry enjoyed the baroque. Every so often, too, there is something like, oh, anything at all by Adrienne Rich, or Carolyn Kizer's 'Semele Recycled', or Joan Larkin's 'Rhyme of My Inheritance', which speaks the language I enjoy in poetry as well as respect. But generally I respect this book, and find it useful as a history, much more than I enjoyed it.

And here is Carolyn Kizer's 'Semele Recycled', because it took the top of my head off. She is wonderful and more people should read her. )

You can comment here or at the Dreamwidth crosspost. There are comment count unavailable comments over there.
rushthatspeaks: (Default)
A recent collection (2009) including poems inspired by the women's movement and poems which helped inspire it; the material here was written between the late sixties and the early eighties. Moore's intent is to contextualize the position of poetry in the history of that specific time of political action and to discuss what the movement did to poetry. She discusses both the emergence of a radical new form of female poetic speech and the re-evaluation of women poets of the past in light of later political ideas-- the politics of what goes into a table of contents, what gets critically discussed, and so on.

Mostly, though, this is a poetry collection, containing work (usually one or two short poems) by Marilyn Hacker, Audre Lorde, Adrienne Rich, Sylvia Plath, Olga Broumas, Muriel Rukeyser, Judy Grahn, Carolyn Kizer, June Jordan, Michelle Cliff, Jorie Graham, and a long list of others. As a poetry collection, it's a good snapshot of the women now considered important poets from that period, but its focus means that I am not always certain the poems selected are the absolute best of each poet; they are, rather, the ones relevant to the politics, which is often some of the best work of the poet in question, but sometimes not. Marilyn Hacker, for instance, is represented here by her elegy for Janis Joplin, which is a poem I've always liked but would not place in her top tier-- for one thing, it's wildly unusual for Hacker, as it's one of the few poems I've seen from her that does not have a formalist structure in any way at all, so as a representation of what she's actually doing most of the time it's an odd pick. I think it's in here because of its nature as a rumination on mourning and the nature of female celebrity, at which it does a fine job, and that's certainly a facet of women's experience one would like to see here.

I don't think there's any substandard work in this, I don't think there's anything that's only there for content and not quality, but I also don't think this would be the book to use if you want to find out whether you like any of these poets or want to know what mode they work in generally. Which I think is a bit of a flaw, though a minor one, in a book that is trying to represent two generations of poets to its readership, with their context, all at once. Maybe if there were another couple hundred pages?

Possibly as a result of that, then, and possibly as a result of my own tastes, I find the politics here more interesting generally than the poetry. There are very definitely voices here coming into their own for the first time, women talking about work, desire for other women or for men or for nobody, about race and class and history and other topics not generally as explicit in women's poetry before this. There's a lot of pain and a lot of joy (and it's nice to see a political book including some of the joyous work, thank you). But with some exceptions I find myself reading for the content rather than the language. Honestly, it is probably because I am a formalist, and twentieth-century poetry disliked formalism; and because I continually strive for clarity of language in my poetry and twentieth-century poetry enjoyed the baroque. Every so often, too, there is something like, oh, anything at all by Adrienne Rich, or Carolyn Kizer's 'Semele Recycled', or Joan Larkin's 'Rhyme of My Inheritance', which speaks the language I enjoy in poetry as well as respect. But generally I respect this book, and find it useful as a history, much more than I enjoyed it.

And here is Carolyn Kizer's 'Semele Recycled', because it took the top of my head off. She is wonderful and more people should read her. )
rushthatspeaks: (Default)
A present from [profile] sovay. This contains the final-draft shooting script for the 1985 movie My Beautiful Laundrette, written by Kureishi and directed by Stephen Frears; note that I did not say it contains the actual script of My Beautiful Laundrette, as it was one of those films where the writer dashed frantically around the set scribbling new dialogue "before," as he says, "the cast could make it up themselves". At any rate, it's an interesting script, though I would want to have the book open and the film playing in front of me before actually comparing the two too thoroughly, as otherwise I would be bound to misquote something somewhere. The film this script would have produced is I think a good one, a resolutely non-commercial look at the tangles of class and race and money and identity among a large family mostly from Pakistan and mostly living in an English city; it's also (the reason I first heard of it) one of the first movies I can think of containing a gay romance that does not also contain massively depressing amounts of internalized homophobia leading to externalized ranting, suicide, etc. on the part of the people involved. (This couple's depressing circumstances tend to center around one of them being Pakistani and the other ex-National Front, which is a giant social problem for them in all conceivable directions, including internally.) In these elements I consider the script to match the actual film. Closer comparison I will not attempt.

The book also has several of Kureishi's essays. )

You can comment here or at the Dreamwidth crosspost. There are comment count unavailable comments over there.
rushthatspeaks: (Default)
A present from [personal profile] sovay. This contains the final-draft shooting script for the 1985 movie My Beautiful Laundrette, written by Kureishi and directed by Stephen Frears; note that I did not say it contains the actual script of My Beautiful Laundrette, as it was one of those films where the writer dashed frantically around the set scribbling new dialogue "before," as he says, "the cast could make it up themselves". At any rate, it's an interesting script, though I would want to have the book open and the film playing in front of me before actually comparing the two too thoroughly, as otherwise I would be bound to misquote something somewhere. The film this script would have produced is I think a good one, a resolutely non-commercial look at the tangles of class and race and money and identity among a large family mostly from Pakistan and mostly living in an English city; it's also (the reason I first heard of it) one of the first movies I can think of containing a gay romance that does not also contain massively depressing amounts of internalized homophobia leading to externalized ranting, suicide, etc. on the part of the people involved. (This couple's depressing circumstances tend to center around one of them being Pakistani and the other ex-National Front, which is a giant social problem for them in all conceivable directions, including internally.) In these elements I consider the script to match the actual film. Closer comparison I will not attempt.

The book also has several of Kureishi's essays. )

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