Saturday, May 30, 2009

The Kindly Ones Roundup

This one seems like a corker: a new novel, written in French by an American, outlining in first-person the 1,000-page odyssey of a Nazi as he murders his parents and has sex with his twin sister.

Everybody's got something to say about it:

Paul La Farge, in the Believer:

When you’re talking about novels, the word for a completely worked-out world in which the characters act according to a grand design is escapist; when you’re talking about life, the word for a world like that is totalitarian.

Michiko Kakutani, in the New York Times:

The novel’s gushing fans seem to have mistaken perversity for daring, pretension for ambition, an odious stunt for contrarian cleverness.

Michael Korda, formerly of Simon & Schuster:

I guarantee you, if you read this book to the end, and if you have any kind of taste at all, you won’t be able to put it down for a moment — lay in snacks and drinks! — you will be upset, disturbed, revolted and deeply challenged.

Samuel Moyn, in the Nation:

Toward the end of the novel, [protagonist] Aue follows the death marches in the winter of 1945, the catastrophic months of the regime's collapse. And in the book's closing pages, he encounters Adolf Hitler in his bunker. Aue is a Nazi Zelig.

Claude Lanzmann, director of Shoah:

This man who doesn't know what a memory is somehow remembers everything.

Not exactly summertime beach-blanket reading, but worth a look.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Making Georgia Howl

The Eurovision Song Contest has bowed to pressure from the Kremlin to oust the Georgian entry, a dance-pop ditty titled "We Don't Wanna Put In." Eurovision apparently has rules against political statements.

Georgia has responded in an inspiring way -- they have declared their own Alter/Vision, a protest song contest that will flout the "bureaucratic control and censorship" of Eurovision. You simply can't divorce political statements from pop music, no matter how high-minded the goal of European unity may seem. In other words, no one wants to be part of a neutered, apolitical Euroculture.

Another World is Possible!

Monday, May 4, 2009

Go Rimbaud!

My review of Edmund White's Rimbaud is up on the Rain Taxi website. (The print version of the Spring 2009 issue features a review I did of Mike Marqusee's If I Am Not For Myself: Journey of an Anti-Zionist Jew).

White is a poet, critic and novelist who balances an account of Rimbaud's misadventures with an appreciation for the poet's genius. He recontextualizes Rimbaud's sexuality and backgrounds the boy's artistic awakening with the failed utopia of the Paris Commune.

Arthur Rimbaud offers readers the conviction that the fate of the world is in the hands of the artists, and the stakes could not be higher. His career trajectory also disproves a common trope about artists--that they must create at all costs, because it is "in their blood." After turning literature upside down, Rimbaud abandoned his poetry completely to become a frustrated gun runner in Africa.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Iced In

The best thing I've read about Tough Times '09 is this Vanity Fair profile by Michael Lewis, money analyst and sportswriter. In a visit to the economically devastated nation of Iceland, Lewis goes beyond faulty strategies and the facile blame game. The entire culture of finance is revealed as a confederation of deluded machismo, on thin ice that finally broke.

It's not Lewis' first probe of the hypocrisy of money. His first book Liar's Poker called bluff on the big-swinging-dick world of 1980s Wall Street.

An intriguing aspect of Iceland's buffoonery is the image of cultural superiority, or at least underratedness, that the isolated country has long engendered. Sumarlioi Isliefsson examines the platitudes that the overinvestors told themselves, some of which have a creepy racial component.

I admit to harboring a foolish fascination with Iceland. Empowered women. Hot springs (Reykjavik means "bay of steam"). At least one literary titan. I even irrationally entered a sweepstakes for a free trip.