A D & Jeremy Talk about Movies: Mel Gibson’s Hamlet, all films Kenneth Branagh, Sleuth, Joseph Mankiewicz, Thor, and superhero movies (every one)

[You want to read the earlier installments, and we want to help you: Part 1, Part 2]

[Drumming our fingers on the tabletop, humming along to Debbie Gibson, we contemplated just walking out on our waitress, when Jeremy remembered a Payday he had in his pocket. Passing it back and forth, we resumed our conversation.]

Jeremy: All this work, and still no appetizers. So we might as well talk about Kenneth Branagh, as this feeling of weary emptiness reminds me so much of his films …

A D: I remember adoring his Dead Again. I saw it on VHS, not too long after it came out. I had to pause it halfway through, I got so excited. I was, I think, all of sixteen.

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Announcing the Book Club Schedule!

The votes are in, and the winner of the poll for the first book to be discussed in the Big Other Book Club is Tom McCarthy’s C.  Shortlisted for the Booker Prize, hailed by many and knocked by maybe even more, McCarthy describes the book as dealing with technology and mourning.  I’m excited to have, as our first book for discussion, a contest finalist that’s merit has been argued.  All the more fuel for our discussion. I’ll start reading quite soon, and begin posting questions, comments and death threats in January.

In the  mean time, here’s the rest of the schedule for 2011:

January: Tom McCarthy C

February: Mary Caponegro The Complexities of Intimacy

March: Manuel Puig Betrayed by Rita Hayworth

April: Stanley Elkin Searches and Seizures: 3 Novellas

May: Djuna Barnes Nightwood

June: Lyn Hejinian My Life

July: John Barth The Sotweed Factor

August: Gordon Lish Peru

September: John Gardner and John Maier translation of Gilgamesh

October: John Hawkes Travesty

November: Helen Vendler Dickinson: Selected Poems and Commentaries

December: Mo Yan Big Breasts and Wide Hips

“Fat, too, fool, hey?” – The Mind in Morning (Snow in film)

Snow: Kubrick style

Having just reread William Gass’s “The Pedersen Kid” yesterday morning, I decided to do a study of associations–what my brain does as I read, what I think of, what I take away–though right there I sally and this Heraclitus quote, used as an epigraph in W.S. Merwin’s The Lice, drips back into my consciousness:

All men are deceived by the appearances of things, even Homer himself, who was the wisest man in Greece; for he was deceived by boys catching lice: they said to him, “What we have caught and what we have killed we have left behind, but what has escaped us we bring with us.”

Is this nugget saying that which we can’t understand stays with us? Maybe. But more and more I take with me what is mysterious. The trove of Wallace Stevens poems that I’ve examined recently has somewhat sunk into me as what I write now leaks his influence. But really the conglomerate of Gass/Gaddis/Rilke/Stevens via John Madera has been instrumental in boosting the language quotient and destroying a quasi-plain style I took on after a few months with Lydia Davis. So lines or formations like, “She wouldn’t let him do what he wanted to do and this frustrated him,” become “There is a way you carry yourself, he said, quickly breaking off because evening drew on, evening and everything evening measures. Our pace, the space between canyons, this leaf living in the book on the chair.”

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What do you want to be? Who are you? Now what do you want to be?

 

Caravaggio - Narcissus

 

Anne K. Yoder recently pointed out this Susan Sontag quote to me (it’s from the opening of her review of Camus’ notebooks, written in 1963):

Great writers are either husbands or lovers. Some writers supply the solid virtues of a husband: reliability, intelligibility, generosity, decency. There are other writers in whom one prizes the gifts of a lover, gifts of temperament rather than of moral goodness. Notoriously, women tolerate qualities in a lover—moodiness, selfishness, unreliability, brutality—that they would never countenance in a husband, in return for excitement, an infusion of intense feeling. In the same way, readers put up with unintelligibility, obsessiveness, painful truths, lies, bad grammar—if, in compensation, the writer allows them to savor rare emotions and dangerous sensations.                                                       

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Coupled with this, I recently paged through a John Gardner interview and found something striking:

Samuel Beckett-surely one of the great writers of our time despite my objections-is loved by critics, but except for John Fowles, I hear no one pointing out that the tendency of all he says is wrong. He says it powerfully-with comi-tragic brilliance, and he believes it, but what he says is not quite sound. Every night Samuel Beckett goes home to his wife…he lies down in bed with her, puts his arms around her, and says, “No meaning again today…” Critics can, and do say, Well it doesn’t matter what he says, it’s how well he says it. But I think in the long run Beckett is in for it. Because great writers tell the truth exactly-and get it right.

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Two of the most influential American critics (as well as fiction writers) of the last century. They each use the term great writer.

Is there bias in what they say?

Good old Albert and Sam. Nothing like two existentialists get the morality wheel rolling.

Tiny Shocks Revisited (A Continuing Criticism of James Wood’s How Fiction Works)

Earlier today John pointed toward Nigel Beale’s cleverly-titled criticism of my post “Tiny Shocks: Uncovering the Reductive Plot of James Wood’s How Fiction Works.” I’m looking forward to Nigel’s longer criticism; in the meantime I thought I’d reply regarding the mistakes Wood makes in his readings of Viktor Shklovsky and William H. Gass, since Nigel asked specifically about them:

Does Wood ‘misunderstand’ Gass? Is his reading of Shklovsky ‘demonstrably wrong’? Are these ‘intellectual errors’ or are they mischievous ploys to argue (successfully I’d say) points which you just don’t agree with? Who’s being Ad hominem here?

(Nigel, I hope you don’t mind my calling you by your first name; since we’re Facebook friends now, and I hope you’ll call me Adam. It keeps things friendlier!)

And let me say that it’s certainly fair for Nigel to take issue with my calling Wood’s account “smug and small” etc. Those are critical words, granted. I stand by them, however, as fitting descriptions of Wood’s argument and the manner in which he makes it: Wood’s reading of fiction in How Fiction Works is reductive, and I believe that a critic of his stature is capable of far better. (He studied with Frank Kermode!)

OK, on to the formalists.

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Art’s Morality (A Reading of William H. Gass’s “The Artist and Society”)

Mike Allred's such a prankster.

Formalists are often accused of ignoring art’s morality, as well as its other social aspects. (Of course, artists are often faced with the same accusation—hence the logic by which legislators divert money toward math and the sciences. Whatever strange thing it is that the artist contributes to the culture, it is at best of secondary importance.)

In my last post, I tried to make clear that social value in fact formed the very center of the work done by Viktor Shklovsky and the other Russian Formalists:

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Tiny Shocks: Uncovering the Reductive Plot of James Wood’s How Fiction Works

A pleasant looking book.

[Update: As if this post weren’t long enough, there’s now a Part 2.]

On January 22, I read Shya Scanlon’s post “The Dull King”; on January 25 I read his second post “Cover Your Tracks.” Both were about reading James Wood’s How Fiction Works. Before that I’d heard of James Wood but hadn’t read anything by him; I knew some people liked him and some didn’t like him. I myself had no opinion about the guy. Nor did I have any real plan to read How Fiction Works. But still I posted a couple of comments on Shya’s posts, and Shya wrote back, and I wrote back, and before I knew it I’d written a very long comment that I turned into my own post, “Uncover Your Tracks.”

Then I thought what the hell and trudged through the snow to Columbia College. That was a fun trip; the library elevators weren’t working, and a security guard had to escort me up to the fifth floor. It felt like the normal world had gotten broken, and something exciting was taking place. I took that as a sign that I was on the right track. I went home right away and read the book from cover to cover….

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Uncover Your Tracks: A Preliminary Critique of James Wood’s How Fiction Works

Who knows what all is down there?

Shya posted something two days ago about James Wood’s How Fiction Works, in which Wood advocates the use of “free indirect style”:

The entire book is built around a concept he calls “free indirect style,” which essentially refers to a prose style for which Gustave Flaubert is largely responsible. One of the hallmarks of this style is that the language is most often experienced by the reader to be that of the book’s narrator or protagonist. Cases, therefore, where a description or word choice does not suit the narrator, and therefor invokes the author, are seen by James Wood as essentially a flaw. Well, at least an inferior style.

A bunch of people posted responses, and I posted a couple of responses, and Shya posted a couple of responses. And then this morning I was going to post yet another response. But then it got long-winded (a weakness of mine), and went off on a few tangents, and then I realized I wanted to embed some pictures and YouTube videos (another weakness). So I made it a post. I made it this post!

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