I am so incredibly excited right now, I have to share this with all of you!
I recently ordered Tom Baker's autobiography at my trusted used book-selling place, it arrived today, I opened it to examine the book’s condition and what do I see at the title page? It is signed by Tom Baker himself! TOM BAKER!
WHO would have guessed…
The amazing Ralph Steadman and his book on Freud.
[The picture does not require any analysis. The artist rather does.] Indeed.
This was tough, but, unlike the war itself, absolutely worth it.
Normally, I can take a lot of gore and cruelness in books and in movies, but there were days when I just couldn’t read more than a couple of pages, because it was too much. Especially all scenes involving animals deeply upset me, because people killing people is one thing, but people hurting innocent animals, be it horses, geese or rats, is something else entirely.
Remarque does some very straightforward storytelling and he does an amazing job in describing the madness and arbitrariness of war, as well as the ordinary soldier’s helplessness in it. WW1 brought inconceivable terrors I cannot and do not want to imagine even partly. As a text it also demonstrated in an impressive, yet very depressing scene the striking contrast between the intellectual approach to warfare and the actual fighting. While the „smart old men“ sit at home and debate over what areas should be conquered next, in reality the young soldiers are fighting endlessly over a hundred metres in senseless but brutal static battles.
The inevitable transformation that goes on in young men who are sent right from school into the war is shown in an incredibly skilful and touching way. Yet, at the same time this is linked to the only criticism I have on All Quiet on the Western Front – for me the central point of the lost generation is stressed a bit too much and too explicitly – kind of like Orwell in 1984 with his constant rambling about what it means, when the past is always altered.
And as a sidenote: is it just me or did anyone else catch some homoerotic vibes between Paul and Kat?
Moby-Dick is a huge part of my life and despite my deep love for all creatures living in our oceans – the whales, sharks, the little fish, the big fish, deepwater fish, basically all of them – I can still enjoy Melvilles fiction, because at least no animals were harmed in the making of this novel.
I can imagine, that many use this book as a sort of reading companion to Moby-Dick, but I didn’t. I don’t like using reading companions in general. This is probably the rebel inside of me speaking, but I don’t want others to impose their interpretations, understandings or visions on me, before I have made up my own mind about it. When I read, I often don’t understand some parts or I overlook connections or details, but so what? In the end, I want the freedom to create my own images and my own interpretations while reading and this book would have simply overwhelmed me and my own understanding of Moby-Dick with Kishs way of seeing each and every page.
I really like his approach to turn away from the anonymous and super clean digital art we are so much used to at this point and go back to the old way of creating with your hands, not worrying about getting them dirty in the process. The outcome may sometimes be a bit messy and not as clean-cut and perfect looking, but it’s the imperfections that make it special and that is exactly what makes his art stand out for me. The fact he mostly uses some found sheets of paper kind of reminds me of the Russian Avantgarde, where the medium, on which the art was created was seen as an essential part of the whole artwork. And since whaling is a hand-on business, this is the way to go if you want to illustrate Moby-Dick.
Talking about avantgardish art – I find it absolutely fascinating how Kish depicts the whalers and the whales alike as machines made out of steel – cold and impenetrable at the same time. I have never looked at Moby-Dick this way before.
This book includes the three basic utopian texts and a little bit of an explanatory appendix (all in German btw). After diving into some dystopian fiction in October, I was interested to see what the optimistic viewpoint of the future in an ideal state might look like.
For all of you who are interested in more detail, I am going to write a few sentences to each text separately (still trying to keep it short), but if someone simply wants a final conclusion, feel free to jump right to the last paragraph of this post right below the picture.
Thomas Morus – Utopia
This is THE utopian text, I mean it is eponymous for the whole genre and by far the longest and most elaborated one. Utopia starts out alright, but soon goes downhill, because what ideal state depends on slaves? Or what ideal state has the need to train even children for battle and actually send them into combat? What ideal state has to limit the freedom of travel for it’s citizens? And so on. The more you think about Utopia, the more of a nightmare this state becomes.
Tommaso Campanella – The City of the Sun
This is the most radical communist state I have ever read about. Everything is shared here. Everything. The funny (or creepy) thing about this text is the extend of Campanellas theory about reproduction and how men and women are matched to produce the best offspring possible. These parts were weird to read, but when I found out that Campanella was actually a monk, it started to make sense, because he obviously had only a very slight idea what he was talking about here.
Francis Bacon – New Atlantis
This is probably the worst state I can possibly imagine; it is only a fragment though, because Bacon died before he could complete his notion of the ideal society. Basically, New Atlantis worships science and this goes so far as building automats and artificial humans (whatever that exactly meant I am not sure), but the thing is, that knowledge is strictly limited to a small elitist group of people and no one else has access to it. New Atlantis has a lot of science, but a complete lack of humanities. Remember that picture from the internet?
All in all it is quite hard to imagine the perfect society in the perfect state, because it seems that for every positive quality, you have to sacrifice a part of your personal freedom. From our modern perspective, all of these three states seem absolutely inhumane and unjust (for instance talking about privilege of higher classes – why would you even need classes in an ideal state?) – and you definitely do not want to be a woman living in any of these communities (surprise).
By stripping the population of their individuality, privacy, families and every means of communication with the outside, the state basically forces them to be happy with what they’ve got. If I learned anything from reading these three texts, it is that I can now no longer clearly distinguish between an utopian and a dystopian state, because the line between those two is a very blurry one.
Alright, so far I read two out of three utopian stories in this book – The City of the Sun by Tommaso Campanella and New Atlantis by Francis Bacon and to be honest they sounded absolutely terrifying to me.
Both of these ideal states are way worse (and more sexist btw) than anything Huxley, Zamjatin or Orwell ever wrote or imagined.
Thomas Morus, I have some high hopes. Here we go.
Since October was my month for dystopian fiction, I hereby declare November as the month for early utopian writings!
Une si longue lettre (or So long a Letter) is a book hard to describe. It is basically a long letter written by the female protagonist (with a long name I cannot remember) to her best friend (who also has a long and complicated name I would have to look up).
The letter is about the mortification after her husband left her after 25 years of marriage with 12 (omg yes, 12!) children, because he married a girl who is a classmate of one of his own daughters. Polygamy was actually (and still might be, I don’t know, the book was first published in 1980) a common problem in the overall Muslim society in Senegal, because according to Muslim law a man can have four wives at the same time – and the only one who seems to bother is his (first) wife.
The letter is an expression of her struggles, her loneliness and also her feeling of being completely lost and at the same time a way of coping with everything, because she addresses it to a friend who understands her (due to a similar fate). It is a very honest account, not shying away to confront the reader with the very ugly truth concerning the ruthless treatment and unequal social status of women, yet at the same time without complaining about it. In that way, Une si longue lettre is very touching and emotional.
It is also a book about the disparity of traditional and modern life for a Muslim woman. While many women strive to be independent and try to raise their children in a more open and more tolerant way, society as a whole is still stuck in old traditions and in a very outdated lifestyle which is imposed upon those women again and again.
Reading Une si longue lettre absolutely amazed me. It was wonderful to read about a courageous woman who is above everything true to herself and I cannot think of any other book which is as severe, yet at the same time so human and brims over with so much love on every page.
Apparently, this is the most influential modern African novel and basically the 101 for African literature, but despite that, I have never heard of it before (and I have only heard about it now since I am currently attending a lecture on African literature).
Chinua Achebe writes about the beginning of British colonialism in Nigeria among the Igbo from a somewhat neutral position. There are three parts of the book which I liked in varying degrees. The first part describes the "traditional" life and the customs of an Igbo society in the fictional village of Umuofia, following the protagonist Okonkwo. This is the part I liked the least. It is very patriarchal and Okonkwo is occupied with one thing only – to "be a man", which means going Heathcliff on everybody (btw, I am not a fan of Wuthering Heights for apparent reasons).
The second part is slowly introducing the white, christian missionaries and describes the first contact of Okonkwo and his community with the "white man" and in the third part colonialism is established and well, things fall apart. I am aware of how terrible and selfish this sounds, but those were the really interesting parts of Achebes book.
I especially liked the realism and the impartiality of the narration, meaning that this is no black and white story. While the British were naturally depicted as being arrogant and bossy, at the same time some of them were shown as rather kind and having good intentions. The same goes for Okonkwo and his kinsmen – while being strong and confident, Achebe shows them as also naive and somewhat uncivilised.
In the end, Things Fall Apart is hard to get into at the beginning, but it develops into an enthralling description of the destruction caused by western civilisation in Africa.
Part 2 of 3.
This is a terrible and super stereotypical thing to say, but since the white missionaries appeared, things are starting to get interesting.
That was part 1 of 3.
Hmm, a very patriarchal society and the protagonist Okonkwo reminds me very much of Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights. Unfortunately.
I am still confusing a lot of people due to their similar names, but I cannot say whether I like it or not.
Nine pages in and I am already confusing the names and the protagonists – I mean, Okonkwo, Unoka, Okoye – who?