Subscribe via RSS Feed Connect on Google Plus Connect on Flickr

Writing

Herman Wouk: Who wanted to unite Europe?

Saturday, 18 May, 2019

The author and screenwriter Herman Wouk has died at the age of 103. He was born in the Bronx on 27 May 1915 and passed away yesterday in Palm Springs. Wouk won the Pulitzer prize for fiction in 1951 with The Caine Mutiny and he topped the bestseller lists twenty years later with The Winds of War, which was made into a popular TV series in 1983. The novel begins six months before Germany’s invasion of Poland in September 1939 and ends shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. Here, the character Natalie Jastrow speaks:

“I’m sorry. I’m impressed with Hitler’s ability to use socialist prattle when necessary, and then discard it. He uses doctrines as he uses money, to get things done. They’re expendable. He uses racism because that’s the pure distillate of German romantic egotism, just as Lenin used utopian Marxism because it appealed to Russia’s messianic streak. Hitler means to hammer out a united Europe… He understands them, and he may just succeed. A unified Europe must come. The medieval jigsaw of nations is obsolete. The balance of power is dangerous foolishness in the industrial age. It must all be thrown out. Somebody has to be ruthless enough to do it, since the peoples with their ancient hatreds will never do it themselves. It’s only Napoleon’s original vision, but he was a century ahead of his time.”

The Caine Mutiny was made into a hit film in 1954 and Humphrey Bogart gave one of his finest performances as the paranoid Captain Queeg. The author knew whereof he spoke. He enlisted in the US naval reserve in 1942 and served in the Pacific aboard destroyer-minesweepers.

Herman Wouk Apart from epic historical novels of family and war, Herman Wouk’s literary output was devoted to an understanding of Judaism, especially the American Jewish experience. His religion was central to his work.

“Religious people tend to encounter, among those who are not, a cemented certainty that belief in God is a crutch for the weak and fearful. It would be just as silly to assert that disbelief in God is a crutch for the immoral and the ill-read.” — Herman Wouk, This is My God: A Guidebook to Judaism


White V

Friday, 10 May, 2019

Here we are at the end of our in-depth look at White, the latest work by Bret Easton Ellis. No reviews of the book were read before we began posting on Monday and none has been read since. Given that the author is less than admiring of what he terms “legacy media”, one expects that the mainstream reviews have not been flattering. But Ellis has taken a lot of criticism in his time and, no doubt, more of it won’t deter him from creating his art or expressing his opinions.

The final chapter is titled “these days” and it serves as the crescendo for what’s been building since the very first page with its dig at helicopter parents and their snowflake offspring. In “these days”, Ellis shines a bright light on the derangement that began in the USA and Europe on 9 November 2016 when the candidate of the liberal elites was not elected president. He learns that a friend of his has been shunned because he’d talked positively about President Trump on social media and this prompts the question: “Was this really all it took?” The chapter is filled with quotable paragraphs. Here’s one:

“Like me, my friend accepted all ideologies and opinions, even those diametrically opposed to his own, and we noted how many of our friends were living in a bubble, still reeling over the ‘unfairness’ of the election and the perceived evil of the Trump administration, and couldn’t bear to consider a different view — that is, to stand in someone else’s shoes. This was why it seemed to many of us in that summer that the Left was morphing into something it had never been in my lifetime: a morally superior, intolerant and authoritarian party that was out of touch and lacked any coherent ideology beyond its blanket refusal to credit an election in which someone they didn’t approve of had, at least legally, technically, won the White House. The Left had become a rage machine burning itself up: a melting blue bubble dissolving in on itself.”

We’ll return to White another day because Bret Easton Ellis’ views on “the toxic dead-end of identity politics” deserve a post or more. White is a timely book and a welcome antidote to the madness that has gripped the elites and their sycophantic transcriptionists in the media.

White


White IV

Thursday, 9 May, 2019

The way Bret Easton Ellis sees it, what “Generation Wuss” really wants is to be admired. White Only positive feedback, please. No negativity, please. But what’s going to happen to conversation and culture if this becomes the norm? Generation Wuss, by the way, comprises the hyper-sensitive Millennials who have grown up with the internet. As soon as they’re criticized, “they seem to collapse into a shame spiral and the person criticizing them is automatically labelled a hater, a contrarian, a troll.” Because their parents have tried to shield them from the dark side of life, they’ve created a generation “that appears to be super confident and positive about things but when the least bit of darkness enters into their realm they become paralyzed and unable to process it.” In White, Ellis claims that all this has led to an epidemic of self-victimization. Snippet:

“If you’re a Caucasian adult who can’t read Shakespeare or Melville or Toni Morrison because it might trigger something harmful and such texts could damage your hope to define yourself through your victimization, then you need to see a doctor, get into immersion therapy or take some meds. If you feel you’re experiencing ‘micro-aggressions’ when someone asks you where you are from or ‘Can you help me with my math?’ or offers a ‘God bless you’ after a sneeze, or a drunken guy tries to grope you at a Christmas party, or some douche purposefully brushes against you at a valet stand in order to cop a feel, or someone merely insulted you, or the candidate you voted for wasn’t elected, or someone correctly identifies you by your gender, and you consider this a missive societal dis, and it’s triggering you and you need a safe space, then you need to seek professional help. If you’re afflicted by these traumas that occurred years ago, and that is still a part of you years later, then you probably are still sick and in need of treatment. But victimizing oneself is like a drug — it feels so delicious, you get so much attention from people, it does in fact define you, making you feel alive and even important while showing off your supposed wounds, no matter how minor, so people can lick them. Don’t they taste so good?”

Tomorrow, here, our final post about White. It’s all about the hangover psychosis of the liberal identity-obsessed elites. Guess what triggered them? Hint: 8 November 2016.


White III

Wednesday, 8 May, 2019

“I’ve been involved with actors since I was a child, in close proximity from elementary school and high school into adulthood, both professionally and a few times romantically.” Thus begins Bret Easton Ellis his analysis of the acting trade in White, his latest book. Acting is a hard life, says Ellis, because actors want us to want them. That’s why they live in fear because if we don’t like them they won’t get roles and this fear of rejection is at the heart of their neuroses. None of us likes criticism but actors dread it because criticism “means the next job, the next flirtation, maybe the career-changing payday might not happen.” Then social media came along.

White “A long time ago in the faraway era of Empire, actors could protect their carefully designed and enigmatic selves more easily and completely than is possible now, when we all live in the digital land of social media where our phones candidly capture moments that used to be private and our unbidden thoughts can be typed up in a line or two on Twitter. Some actors have become more hidden, less likely to go public with their opinions, likes and dislikes — because who knows where the next job’s coming from? Others have become more vocal, stridently voicing their righteousness, but signalling one’s social-justice virtue isn’t necessarily the same as being honest — it can also be a pose…

… But most of us now lead lives on social media that are more performance based than we ever could have imagined even a decade ago, and thanks to this burgeoning cult of likability, in a sense, we’ve all become actors. We’ve had to rethink the means with which to express our feelings and thoughts and ideas and opinions in the void created by a corporate culture that is forever trying to silence us by sucking up everything human and contradictory and real with its assigned rule book on how to behave. We seem to have entered precariously into a kind of totalitarianism that actually abhors free speech and punishes people for revealing their true selves. In other words: the actor’s dream.”

Tomorrow here, Generation Wuss and the widespread epidemic of self-victimization.


White II

Tuesday, 7 May, 2019

“As a 1970s kid there were no helicopter parents: you navigated the world more or less on your own, an exploration unaided by parental authority.” So writes Bret Easton Ellis about growing up in California’s San Fernando Valley in his latest book, White. It was a different place and a different time. The children and their parents were different, too, and “not at all like parents today who document their children’s every move on Facebook and pose them on Instagram and urge them into safe spaces and demand only positivity while apparently trying to shelter them from everything. If you came of age in the 1970s this was most definitely not your childhood. The world wasn’t about kids yet.”

White The young Ellis roamed the Californian streets, sometimes with friends, sometimes on his own, and he spent a lot of time in cinemas watching movies that had not been made for children. Horror films fascinated him, and he quickly became acquainted with fear, blood, sex, death, pain and loss. Nobody held his hand and he felt quite educated and entertained thanks to Brian De Palma, Diana Rigg and Vincent Price. The directors, the actors and their films said this is how the world works: “you win some, you lose some, this is life.” It was all part of growing up.

“The movies reflected the overall disappointment of adulthood and life itself — disappointments I had already witnessed in my parents’ failing marriage, my father’s alcoholism and my own youthful unhappiness and alienation, which I dealt with and kept processing on my own. The horror movies made in the ’70s didn’t have rules and often lacked the reassuring backstory that explained the evil away or turned it into a postmodern meta-joke. Why did the killer stalk the sorority girls in Black Christmas? Why was Regan possessed in The Exorcist? Why was the shark cruising around Amity? Where did Carrie White’s powers come from? There were no answers, just as there were no concrete connect-the-dots justifications of daily life’s randomness: shit happens, deal with it, stop whining, take your medicine, grow the fuck up. If I often wished the world were a different place, I also knew — the horror movies helped reinforce this — that it never would be, a realization that in turn led me to a mode of acceptance. Horror smoothed the transition from the supposed innocence of childhood to the unsurprising disillusionment of adulthood, and it also served to refine my sense of irony.”

Tomorrow, here, Ellis looks at what happens when actors, with their hunger to seduce and control and be liked, are exposed to criticism on social media.


White I

Monday, 6 May, 2019

Our posts this week will be devoted to White, the latest book by Bret Easton Ellis, the author of Less Than Zero, American Psycho and Lunar Park, to mention just three of his best-selling novels. Talking about the act of writing was something he always avoided, Ellis says in White, “because part of the process was still mysterious to readers, with a kind of secret glamour that added to the excitement with which books were once received, whether negatively or positively.” White is not a novel, however, “because novels don’t engage with the public on that level anymore.”

Ellis says he’d “wistfully noted the overall lack of enthusiasm for the big American literary novels” back in the autumn of 2012, but he felt it wasn’t worth worrying about. “It’s only a fact, just as the notion of the great American studio movie or the great American band had become a smaller, narrower idea.” Then, he hits his stride. Snippet:

“Everything has been degraded by what the sensory overload and the supposed freedom-of-choice-technology has brought to us, and, in short, by the democratization of the arts. I started feeling the need to work my way through this transition — to move from the analog world in which I used to write and publish novels into the digital world we live in now (through podcasting, creating a web series, engaging on social media) even though I never thought there was any correlation between the two.”

Tomorrow, here, Ellis on the value of growing up in world where there were no helicopter parents versus today’s world where children refuse “to grow the fuck up.”

White


Hemingway: Getting the words right

Thursday, 2 May, 2019

The backdrop for A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway is the Italian campaign of World War I. Published in 1929, it is a first-person account of an American, Frederic Henry, serving as a lieutenant in the ambulance corps of the Italian Army. The book became Hemingway’s first best-seller and made him financially independent. The unnamed priest in the novel was based on Don Giuseppe Bianchi, the chaplain of the 69th and 70th regiments of the Brigata Ancona, which fought on the Dolomite Front.

Here, the wounded Frederic Henry is visited in the field hospital by the priest, who comes from Abruzzo, “a place where the roads were frozen and hard as iron, where it was clear and cold and dry and the snow was dry and powdery…” The priest’s soporific talk turns to hunting:

“The peasants all called you ‘Don’ and when you met them they took off their hats. His father hunted every day and stopped to eat at the houses of the peasants. They were always honoured. For a foreigner to hunt he must present a certificate that he had never been arrested. There were bears on the Gran Sasso D’Italia but that was a long way. Aquila was a fine town. It was cool in the summer at night and spring in Abruzzo was the most beautiful in Italy. But what was lovely was the fall to go hunting through the chestnut woods. The birds were all good because they fed on grapes and you never took a lunch because the peasants were always honoured if you would eat with them at their houses. After a while I went to sleep.”

INTERVIEWER: How much rewriting do you do?

HEMINGWAY: It depends. I rewrote the ending to Farewell to Arms, the last page of it, thirty-nine times before I was satisfied.

INTERVIEWER: Was there some technical problem there? What was it that had stumped you?

HEMINGWAY: Getting the words right.

A Farewell to Arms


The violence of a peaceful demonstration

Sunday, 31 March, 2019

News from the real world: “Channel 4 News has apologised after its presenter Jon Snow said he had ‘never seen so many white people in one place’, referring to the pro-Brexit protesters who flooded the centre of London on Friday.”

Ballard What a pity J. G. Ballard is not alive at this hour as his take on Brexit take would be very entertaining, no doubt. Acidic observations dripped from the pen of the late British author: “Nothing brings out violence like a peaceful demonstration,” is a classic and here’s another good one: “My brief stay at the hospital had already convinced me that the medical profession was an open door to anyone nursing a grudge against the human race.”

The writer of Empire of the Sun, Crash, Cocaine Nights and Super-Cannes could turn a memorable phrase and many of the best can be found in J.G. Ballard: Quotes, a 400-page volume drawn from 40 years of writing. Seven gems:

  • “Sex times technology equals the future.”
  • “Sooner or later all science fiction comes true.”
  • “The only definition of real happiness: to find yourself and be who you are.”
  • “A general rule: if enough people predict something, it won’t happen.”
  • “The advanced societies of the future will not be governed by reason. They will be driven by irrationality, by competing systems of psychopathology.”
  • “A widespread taste for pornography means that nature is alerting us to some threat of extinction.”
  • “Learn the rules, and you can get away with anything.”

Ballard isn’t for everyone. He tended towards the dark, so if you’re feeling down, wait until the clouds have cleared before opening any of his works. Still, he gets it right a lot of the time, especially about the “new totalitarianism”, which is what he called the emerging mix of bland architecture, pervasive computing, docile citizenry and cultural relativism. He sums it up brilliantly here: “The New Totalitarians come forward smiling obsequiously like head waiters in third-rate Indian restaurants, and assuring us that everything is for our benefit.” J. G. Ballard warned us, quotably.


Diarist of the day

Wednesday, 13 March, 2019

Virginia Woolf, 13 March 1921 — “[T.S.] Eliot dines here tonight, alone, since his wife is in a nursing home, not much to our regret. But what about Eliot? Will he become ‘Tom’? What happens with friendships undertaken at the age of forty? Do they flourish and live long? I suppose a good mind endures, and one is drawn to it, owning to having a good mind myself. Not that Tom admires my writing, damn him.”


The ideal adjectives

Sunday, 10 February, 2019

Observe how waxworks, chagrined and awakened are used here:

1. “From that year on, Martin developed a passion for trains, travels, distant lights, the heartrending wails of locomotives in the dark of night and the waxworks vividness of local stations passing by.”

2. “…the country coolness of the rooms, so keenly perceptible after the outdoor heat; a fat bumblebee knocking against the ceiling with a chagrined droning; the paws of the fir trees against the blue of the sky…”

3. “A wave would swell, boil with foam, and topple rotundly, spreading and running up on the shingle. Then, unable to hold fast, it would slip back to the grumbling of awakened pebbles.”

And the writer? He lost everything he had, not once, but twice when he was forced to flee from two of the 20th century’s most wicked tyrants. And although the magical sentences above were written in English, it was not his first language.

The author was Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov and the sentences are from Glory.


Harold Brodkey: endless kvetch

Saturday, 26 January, 2019

On this day in 1996, the short-story writer and novelist Harold Brodkey died. His greatest claim to fame was the 32 years he took to write his first novel, during which time a legend grew about the much-awaited book. When it was finally published in 1991 as The Runaway Soul, it was not well received and caused bewilderment as to whether it was really the same masterpiece he had been promising for decades.

Harold Brodkey’s career began auspiciously with the short-story collection First Love and Other Sorrows, which received widespread critical praise at the time of its 1958 publication. Six years later he signed a book contract with Random House for his first novel, provisionally titled “A Party of Animals” and sometimes referred to as “The Animal Corner”. The unfinished novel was subsequently resold to Farrar, Straus & Giroux in 1970, then to Knopf in 1979. As the Paris Review interview linked to above noted, “The work became something of an object of desire for editors; it was moved among publishing houses for what were rumored to be ever-increasing advances, advertised as a forthcoming title (Party of Animals) in book catalogs, expanded and ceaselessly revised, until its publication seemed an event longer awaited than anything without theological implications.” In 1983, The Saturday Review referred to “A Party of Animals” as “now reportedly comprising 4,000 pages and announced as forthcoming ‘next year’ every year since 1973.”

In 1993, Brodkey announced that he was suffering from AIDS, and this prompted the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Richard Howard to write in The New Republic that the disclosure was “a matter of manipulative hucksterism, of mendacious self-propaganda and cruel assertion of artistic privilege, whereby death is made a matter of public relations.” In posthumously reviewing Brodkey’s essay collection Sea Battles on Dry Land for The New York Observer, Susie Linfield wrote, “When Brodkey is bad, he is very, very bad, and he is very, very bad quite often. Sea Battles is filled with whoppers: misstatements, overstatements, nonstatements and statements that are silly, false or incomprehensible.” This is classic Brodkey:

“I distrust summaries, any kind of gliding through time, any too great a claim that one is in control of what one recounts; I think someone who claims to understand but who is obviously calm, someone who claims to write with emotion recollected in tranquility, is a fool and a liar. To understand is to tremble. To recollect is to reenter and be riven. An acrobat after spinning through the air in a mockery of flight stands erect on his perch and mockingly takes his bow as if what he is being applauded for was easy for him and cost him nothing, although meanwhile he is covered with sweat and his smile is edged with a relief chilling to think about; he is indulging in a show-business style; he is pretending to be superhuman. I am bored with that and with where it has brought us. I admire the authority of being on one’s knees in front of the event.” — Harold Brodkey (1930 – 1996)