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Berlin, Frankfurt, Paris, Chapel Hill, Boston, Istanbul, Calgary, Washington DC, Austin, Tunis, Warszawa and counting

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

The Armies of the Night

Norman Mailer is one of these numerous figures whom I have heard more about than I actually know or have read (if that makes sense). Noam Chomsky, who appears in this book, is another. I did read The Naked and the Dead is the, seemingly, dark ages, when I was too young and read too fast (I have virtually no recollection of the book anymore). So, I had no idea what to expect of The Armies of the Night, yet Mailer still managed to surprise me.

History as a novel, the novel as history. The book is split in two parts, the first one consisting of Mailer's experiences (recounted in a third person narrative, quite disconcerting throughout the book I found) attending an anti-Vietnam protest (the March on the Pentagon) in the fall of 1967. While the content of this part is quite factual, he lived all of it after all, Mailer tells it like a novel. The second part of the book is a recount of what happened in the lead up to the March and during the following 48 hours, while Mailer was in jail. It is the journalistic or historical part, but really the novel since Mailer wasn't actually present. This made for a very intriguing concept and split I found.

What is fascinating besides the story which is amusing, captivating and informative at once is to see Mailer portray himself as egocentric and selfish at the same time that he goes to jail for a cause and pokes fun at his persona's need to be the center of attention. He manages to step away from himself and provide the reader with an objective description of himself even while it remains clear that Mailer considers himself no slough.

It might be argued that the book today is more interesting because of its stylistic audacity as well as the author himself than the very journalistic and micro-orientated coverage of one demonstration against the Vietnam War, but I felt that the book is worth it out of all three counts. One not necessarily overwhelming the other and a glimpse into the war's opposition at the same time proved instructive as well.

Europe's Socialists Suffering Even in Downturn

In response to a really bad NY Times article:

To be blunt, this was just bad reporting, leading to an article containing factual errors as well as analytical ones. This starts out with the article's headline equating the SPD with European socialist parties. Actually, the Social Democratic Party as it is correctly named within the text itself is not a socialist party anymore in rhetoric either (it wasn't in fact long before that) since the publication of its Godesberger Program in 1959.

The author then claims that the 'Socialists [...] [are] fighting to preserve systems that voters think need to be improved.' That might well be true in some cases, in Germany the SPD lost voters precisely because they tried to reform the system in government with a red-green coalition from 1998 to 2005. The SPD is being punished not because it refuses to adapt, but because it tried to reform. The Left which refuses the need for social reforms and is the real socialist party in Germany, against the odds has succeeded to establish itself on the national scene. Steven Erlanger's claim cited above is simply not true then, the reverse is true for Germany.

Finally, it is of course not true, that the left (Greens, SPD, Die Linke) has a structural majority in parliament, that is exactly what changed on Sunday.

There are additional analytical mistakes concerning the relation between The Left and the SPD, but these issues are, to some extent, up to debate while the aforementioned three points are simply wrong.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Une mort très douce

Simone de Beauvoir et son Deuxième Sexe est sur ma liste des lectures depuis longtemps. Au lieu de cela je viens de finir un bouquin d'elle plutôt essayiste et très personnel, Une mort très douce sur la démise de sa mère. J'avais beaucoup aimé les trois romans par Sartre que j'ai lu et j'ai été un peu surpris d'apprécier l'écriture de Beauvoir autant que celle de celui. Le livre n'est pas captivant comme soi, la fin est claire dès le début, mais les réflexions philosophique de l'auteure sont d'une puissance frappante. Je n'ai pas été capable de les suivre d'une façon très personnelle, mes parents sont vivants encore et je crois (et pense et espère) que cela ne changera pas pour les années qui viennent, mais Beauvoir est une monstre intellectuelle et la regarder réfléchir est un plaisir. Je ne veux pas constaté qu'elle n'aurait pas de sentiment, elle souffre de la maladie de sa mère comme tout le monde le ferait, mais elle a une capacité de s'éloigner de soi-même et d'analyser ses pensées qui est fascinante et crée de la jalousie. Ayant dit tout cela son œuvre est écrit très simple et il n'est pas un grand travail de la littérature, il montre juste que l'auteure est impressionnante et donne envie de lire plus d'elle.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Das Gut Stepantschikowo und seine Bewohner

Dostojewski ist leider einer dieser Autoren, welche ich viel zu jung und schnell gelesen habe. Ich werde Schuld und Suehne sicherlich noch einmal lesen, doch fuers erste beendete ich gestern Das Gut Stepantschikowo und seine Bewohner. Ein furchtbares Buch, ganz ernsthaft. Basierend auf einer Geschichte von Molière dessen Titel ich mich nicht mehr entsinne, erzaehlt Dostojewski die Geschichte eines Mannes, welcher selber zu oft getreten wurde und nun als Tyrann ueber einen Haushalt herrscht in welchem er eigentlich nur zu Gast ist. Die Art und Weise wie dieser Foma Fomitsch seinen Gastherren misshandelt und quaelt ist furchtbar erniedrigend. Der Geist des Lesers straeubt sich noch staerker gegen die Selbstgeisselung des nominellen Hausherren, welcher den ihm moralisch, staendisch sowie nach Vermoegen unterlegen Foma, wegen einer leicht intellektuellen Ueberlegenheit, welche dieser in eine staendige moralische Dominanz verwandelt, richtiggehend verehrt und jeden Fehl und Tadel nur bei sich selbst sucht (und findet).

Das Buch ist also grausam und furchtbar zu Lesen, ja fast nur mit Widerstand, aber dies liegt daran, dass Dostojewski unglaublich erfolgreich ist darin diese abstossende menschliche Konstellation darzustellen. Ich weiss deswegen wirklich nicht, was ich von diesem Buch halten soll. Es war sehr, sehr unangenehm es zu lesen, aber kann ich Dostojewski vorwerfen, dass es ihm gelingt den Menschen von seiner schlimmsten bzw naivsten und deswegen mitleiderregendsten Seite zu beschreiben?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Nick Adams Stories

Hemingway's The Nick Adams Stories was published post-posthumously with some of the stories being mere sketches of what Hemingway had planned to write. Nick Adams to some extent mirrors the author's life. He is not Hemingway of course, but their lives revolve around some of the same experiences. The stories in this collection show Nick growing up in rural Michigan, hunting in violation of the law and fishing, always fishing. He fights in the war, he is injured, he goes back home and has a hard time adjusting, finally he marries and has a son.

I usually have a hard time getting into short stories, the themes they explore are seemingly over right when one started to understand them. This collection is different, not only is Hemingway's court writing well-suited for short stories, these also circle around and detail one person, meaning that a far more well-rounded picture of the character is given.

What I find fascinating with Hemingway per se, and this is true with other writers as well, but less so, is how much his writing is inspired by his own life. Every single book or story I have read by him can be traced back to an event in his life that inspired it. This is not supposed to detract from his writing genius of course, I think he is amazing quite honestly, but it is striking nonetheless.


I've grown to rather like James Joyce. I liked A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Dubliners as well proved very enjoyable. I guess that means I will have to give the Ulysseus I have standing in Berlin another shot at some point. We'll see. Time will surely take care of that.

Dubliners is made up of fifteen stories taking a closer look at variety of characters living in the Irish capital. The protagonists populating these stories, this town, are nothing special. They are pious and crooks. Young and old, satisfied with having left Dublin unhappy at having stayed; married, faithful and abstinent. They are neither heroic nor afraid. They are you and me, some more reflective some less. Joyce paints all of them in extremely humane colors, makes them accessible to the reader and allows him to easily relate to them. There is grand scheme hidden behind their description and I am not even sure one knows much more about Dublin after having read these stories apart from some mention of Irish nationalism these stories could take place anywhere and anytime. Joyce is great in giving character studies without divulging every little piece of information to the reader. If only Ulysseus weren't so hard and difficult to follow, I would hold him in even higher esteem.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Notre-Dame de Paris

"Un livre génial [...] Quasimodo est la personnification du peuple français du Moyen Age, opprimé et méprisé, sourd et difforme, mais en qui s'éveille la conscience de son bon droit et de ses forces infinies, encore inentamées."

C'est ça l'interprétation de Dostoïesvski du chef-œuvre de Victor Hugo. Je ne crois pas que j'aie arrivé à cette conclusion moi-même. Mais qui suis-je de ne pas être d'accord avec Dostoïesvski(de qui je suis en train de commencer un bouquin d'ailleurs, drôle de hasard)? Et du coup, on est bien d'accord que le livre est génial. L'histoire du bossu monstrueux qui tombe amoureux de la belle gitane, Quasimodo et Esméralda, est connu mondiale et a été adapté pour le film à plusieurs reprises. Mais même avec les grandes lignes des événements peu surprenant, Notre-Dame de Paris fascine par les personnages et leur description détaillée (dont celles des personnages de la deuxième ou troisième plan) mais aussi par l'aventure soi-même. La mort et la misère qui sont toujours présents. Plus difficile c'est le Paris du 14ème décrit du point de vue du Paris du 18ème, peu compréhensible pour quelqu'un connaissant le Paris d'aujourd'hui superficiellement.