cutting on the action

photography and film – facts, ideas, values

Virginia Woolf, At Intersection Of Science And Art

Author of Proust was a Neuroscientist Jonah Lehrer discusses in a NPR programme how novelist such as Virginia Woolf anticipated what neuroscientists discovered decades later. A summary article.

There is an extract from the book at the bottom of the page.

Advertisements

August 7, 2008 Posted by | neuroscience, Novel, Novelist, Proust, Virginia Woolf | , , , | Leave a comment

On Wood on How Fiction Works



James Wood article: A Life of their own

From Jane Eyre to Jean Brodie, David Copperfield to David Brent, whether solidly realised or lightly sketched, fictional figures can be as vivid to us as real people. But just what, exactly, is a character, asks James Wood

Guardian 26 January 2008

Reviews of :

Frank Kermode’s The New Republic review

Peter Conrad Guardian 17 February 2008

D J Taylor The Independent 3 February 2008

Gideon Lewis-Kraus Los Angeles Times 20 July 2008

Mark Thwaite Ready Steady Book blog 12 March 2008

Wisdom of the West blog

He does it chapter by chapter and there is a lot of it.



July 21, 2008 Posted by | criticism, fiction, Literature, narratology, Novel, Novelist, Writing | | Leave a comment

Benjamin: 1940 Survey of French Literature


Completed in Paris six months before his death, Walter Benjamin’s final report to Max Horkheimer on the literary situation in France is published here for the first time in English. It was the third ‘literature letter’ that Benjamin had drafted for the Institute for Social Research in New York; the earlier two (3 November 1937, 24 January 1939) can be found in the Gesammelte Briefe. Almost twice as long as these, the Survey of 23 March 1940—Hitler’s troops would take Holland six weeks later—was composed during the same months as ‘On the Concept of History’. Benjamin’s personal situation was precarious: his health had not recovered from his internment as an enemy alien in Autumn 1939; back in his tiny Paris apartment, he worked in bed because of the cold.

Walter Benjamin : 1940 Survey of French Literature

July 15, 2008 Posted by | French literature, Literature, Novelist | Leave a comment

More Naipaul: the art and the Life



A 21 May 2008 Times Literary Supplement article/essay by novelist A. N. Wilson, V.S. Naipaul, Master and Monster, makes me – again- think of Koestler. Is this not a species of pathological narcissism? In the jargon: Narcissistic Personality Disorder. There is also Borderline Personality Disorder, which has a slight overlap with the former syndrome. But maybe Schizoid Personality Disorder fits the bill better, with its elements of narcissism. By the way the last has a table comparing over and covert aspects of SPD.

For some reason the phrase master and monster evokes rather, Master and Commander, from the nautical novels, with the image of the captain having to be in tight charge of the ship in order for things not to fall apart: clear objectives, setting the right course, navigating the difficulties, the rest.

Does it matter if the writer is a complete four letter word? I am on the side which says it does, partly because, once known, a fact about a writer cannot escape the works themselves; psychology pure and simple. It is possible to epoche (accent on the final e but I can’t get hold of the character set right now) the writer from the work, but it is a conscious decision to assess the quality of the writing despite the character and personality of the author.

Stalin was a monster: he had people killed; Lenin was, too, though not many people tend to think that. Naipaul is more what one might call an utter bastard – he is welcome to sue: I ain’t got a su, or a reputation to uphold. A cursory reading (even of the outdated Shub) demonstrates Lenin’s methods pre-power, as a exiled emigre, essentially terroristic and anarchistic. When he ruled he became totally totalitarian eschewing the anarchistic, opportunistic methods he partly used to achieve power, coming down hard bureaucratically on those he suspected : but he was always of a terroristic, psychopathic disposition from the beginning. It might be argued – it always is; he claimed it himself – that he had to be that ruthless to achieve the task he set himself. Lenin, once a hero of the Left, is now less revered as it becomes known what a gangster he was: Stalin is taken to be the gangster, while Lenin the Robespierre. Lenin, while having certain political principles – one questions the psychological roots of his modus in knowledge of the state execution of his elder brother for terrorist activity when Lenin was a young boy – was totally unethical in most of his political life. The image of the London conferences where he removed the best brains of the wider movement to achieve his objectives, shows this. So does the way the movement was financed: mostly by bank robbery inside Russia, not unlike the IRA with robbery and drug dealing in its time, with a bit of ad hoc assassination here and there, home and abroad, thrown in. His left-hand man in the emigre years, whose name now escapes me, was an out and out psychopath.

A great many writers have been equally tough-minded and ruthless — within their paradigm, or milieu — as these political monsters in creating their works and in defending their reputations even if they haven’t stooped to killing to do so: character assassination being of a different category from straight old physical elimination.

::

In the literature: Othello.

Narcissistic characteristics that either Othello or Iago show include high self-esteem, selfishness, underestimating the abilities of others, greed and envy, lack of empathy, and emotional coldness.

::

As if by default, this always leads back to Nabokov. In literary monstership terms, how do Naipaul and Nabokov compare? Lolita is said to be autobiographical: the correspondences tight: Nabokov’s relationship with his uncle, who despite abusing him a child, left him his fortune. In the most simplistic psychobabblish terms: Naipaul was just born a bit nasty (he adored his father) while Nabokov (we have to examine what he said did in his life) lost his parents early and was sexually abused so had a perfectly good reason to have a jaundiced view of the world.



May 25, 2008 Posted by | A N Wilson, fiction, general, Lenin, Literature, Nabokov, Novel, Novelist, Stalin, V S Naipaul, writers and works, Writing | | 2 Comments

John Fowles, book and film.



Litlove (Tales from the Reading Room) has written an exemplary post on The French Lieutenant’s Woman. However, if you are curious, if you haven’t read the book, it has the spoiler built in, so beware.

One thing she hasn’t tackled is book vs. film, which I have always been obsessed by, partly because I believed it told me so much about film writing.

Karl Reisz directed. Harold Pinter wrote the screenplay {1}. Having later heard in the BBC radio version what he did with Proust in The Pinter Proust Play, {2} which itself is an object lesson in screenwriting, though never used, I can now turn back again, being reminded of the FLW , to the way he ended up doing Fowles:

wiki: The French Lieutenant’s Woman

Screenplay of The French Lieutenant’s Woman

(Not sure if these are Pinter’s ‘stage directions’ – just a few- or if they have been created afresh in lieu of the real thing, but the dialogue seems true to the film)

There is a long essay by Mary Lynn Dodson, which was originally published in Literature Film Quarterly, in 1998, which takes the book vs. film discussion in its full context, including Fowles’s other books, his own attempt to adapt the book, and his attitude to filming The French Lieutenant’s Woman.

The French Lieutenant’s Woman: Pinter and Reisz’s adaptation of John Fowles’s adaptation


{ SEE Moleskine Modality post Petit pan de mur jaune for a soupçon of Pinter’s Proust.}



November 15, 2007 Posted by | fiction, film directors, film [its techniques], John Fowles, Karel Reisz, Literature, Moleskine Modality, movies, Novel, Novelist, Proust, screenplay, screenwriting, Writing | 1 Comment

Showcase: DailyLit

Stephanie at So many Books has been using DailyLit, which I only heard of through her. Several of her readers say they prefer a book in the hand, mostly because the instalment was too short: they just couldn’t wait!

I decided to go for Anna Karenina. But when the confirmatory email came through, I got the option to order the first episode straight away, which I felt compelled to do. Though the intro to AK is so often quoted

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way

I forgot how funny the first few paragraphs were.

Experiencing such a small dose of Tolstoy it is obviously not going to suit many ardent readers. But there is something to be said for having to wait. Let the small, enjoyable dollop stew for 24 hours. Build up the anticipation for the next part. Spend some time reading around the book and author while waiting. In any case you read so much about so many things, the next episode will be there before you know it. (Actually, in advanced settings you can chose from three size settings to get more per email or even get the next episode straight away…). Let’s face it, this is for people who are meant to be working, trawling through the emails first thing in the morning.

::

For an inexperienced writer puzzling over which narrative voice to use, the first part of Anna Karenina could be as a reminder to how an intimate tone can created from the limited omniscient point of view. No need to be Tolstoy to see setting off in the first person can end up with too much of the author in the narrator.

I mentioned alter ego in the last post. There has been a study of avatars and their authors in gaming, called Alter Ego, which may have something to offer to the perennial questions about the author insinuating himself/herself in his/her own fiction.

Here are two over-views of Philip Roth’s oeuvre from on alter ego {1} {2}.

November 6, 2007 Posted by | alter ego, fiction, First lines, literary persona, Literature, narrative style, Novel, Novelist, Openings, Writing | , , | 3 Comments

The persona in literature



This short NPR interview with Dr. Wayne Flynt, retired professor of history, on whether Truman Capote wrote Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, presents as evidence a letter by Capote about the book (he was his friend of Lee’s) but also asserts ‘writers simply do not assume other literary personas’. Which is another way of saying it is possible to identify someone as the author of a set of books. To avoid muddle, this is not about a character being identified as an alter ego of the author, but what features of the text on the page makes someone say this is by a certain writer.

It’s not that they can’t, but don’t in the main, write in a way that might make you think the books were written by different people. This begs the question whether the voice of the author is just there, like a finger print, or whether it is a conscious effort to maintain consistency. Academic analyses abound. Winifred Gérin’s biography of Charlotte Bronte, illustrates how a writer develops to a mature style. This doesn’t mean to say some don’t write from the beginning as if how they write was built in.

W hat I am interested in is the authorial voice set against the narratorial voice.
A nub is in the wiki: The persona in Literature, where it writes of the mens auctoris.

There is the question of upfront parody. Most book saturated readers with above average writing skill can throw together a reasonable Jane Austin. What are they doing to make it seem pretty close if recognisably an imitation?

If it were possible to epoché the detailed knowledge of the author’s works – all the passages they know by heart which identify it – how easy would it be for the professional literary analyst to say they were the work of one author? If Jane Austin wrote a novel about the immigrant community in East London in 21 century London, would it be immediately recognisable as a Jane Austin novel?

The answer to all this might be not in any fingerprint of the author detectable in the works but that superior writers are consistently superior in their writing (when they get to it, so to speak).

When unknown score by a long dead composer appears some bright spark always pops up to say it can’t be by {insert a famous composer}.

This all reminds me of the Andre Previn Morecambe and Wise Show. This is the straight one on YouTube {1}. But in another version with commentary {2}. A certain jjo2 comments in the shorter version:

One beautifully subtle joke in the sketch – Eric is in fact playing the right notes, in the right order, but in the wrong rhythm.

Which might be the point in the business of the authorial voice in a novel.

November 6, 2007 Posted by | fiction, literary persona, Novel, Novelist, Writing | , , | Leave a comment

Beyond Mann


A blog author names herself Claudia Chauchat in honour of the main female character in Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain:

Origins of a name

Origins of a name part deux

A snippet from a Google abstract:

A Gorgon’s Mask: The Mother in Thomas Mann’s Fiction by Lewis A. Lawson

Recalling her stay at Waldsanatorium in Davos in 1912 (during which her husband conceived the idea for the Magic Mountain), Katja Mann said that there actually “was a Madame Chauchat, who always slammed the door. At first she really did get on her husband’s nerves a great deal, but later he became very sensitive to her charm”. Her name “hot cat”, is a happy accident if it is remembered that, according to Feldman, one of the original attributes of Medusa was a “menacing, shaggy, feline head”.

Polish novelist, Pawel Huelle { 1 }, { 2 } has written a novel called Castorp. This interview explains the origins of Castorp.

Independent review

Extract from Castorp (pdf) :

Sarmatian Review, September 2006:

Modern Polish LiteratureThrough a Postcolonial Lens: The Case of Paweł Huelle’s Castorp

Dariusz Skórczewski

Professional Elites in “Classless” Societies (from Marx to Debord) by Slawomir J. Magala:

{1} pdf {2} plain text

This young German engineer from a middle-class family receives a crash course in the European humanist tradition from an Italian inmate of the sanatorium, Mr Settembrini. According to some critics, an Italian philosopher, sociologist and historian, Benedetto Croce, became a model for this character(1). He is also receiving an equally brief introduction to the totalitarian temptation from a Galician Jewish Jesuit, a Mr Naphta. Again, according to some critics, this character was based on a figure of a Hungarian Marxist philosopher writing in German, a sociologist, a literary scholar and a communist leader, Gyorgy Lukacs(2).

(1) Mann became acquainted with Croce, when the latter published a critical article about Mann’s — Reflections of an Apolitical Man inCritica (a periodical Croce filled mostly with his own texts) in 1920.

They maintained contact ever since. After WWII, Croce‘s daughtermarried a Polish writer, Gustaw Herling-Grudziński , who escaped Stalin‘s Gulag and wrote one of the first first-hand accounts of it Another World.

(2) Mann met Lukacs in 1922 in Vienna and has been influenced by the latter‘s study —The Soul and Its Forms, while Lukacs has subsequently written on Mann‘s oeuvre. Lukacs, who had been acultural commissar in a short-lived Hungarian communist government of Bela Kun, went on to become one of the most important Marxist philosophers, especially as the author of an influential — History and Class Consciousness.




October 23, 2007 Posted by | fiction, Literature, Novel, Novelist, Thomas Mann | , , , | Leave a comment

Openings


Compiled by Philip Norman, novelist and journalist

 

THE BEST

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen….”

1984, George Orwell

“It was the afternoon of my 81st. birthday, and I was in bed with my catamite when Ali announced that the archbishop had come to see me.”

Earthly Powers, Anthony Burgess

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times….”

A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man, in possession of a large fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austin

“Call me Ishmael…”

Moby Dick, Herman Melville

“The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there…”

The Go-Between, L P Hartley

“Scarlett o’Hara was not beautiful, but men seldom realised it when caught by her charm as the Tarlaton twins were….”

Gone with the Wind Who wrote that?


THE WORST

“It was a feature peculiar to the colonial wars of North America, that the toils and dangers of the wilderness were to be encountered before the adverse hosts could meet.”

The Last of the Mohicans, Fenomore Cooper

“By the end of the alley the fine hairs in my nostrils were starting to twitch.”

Shadows in Bronze, Lindsey Davis

“It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they eleoctrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t
even know what I was doing in New York.”

The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath

” 124 was spiteful.”

Beloved, Toni Morrison




Philip Norman journalist and novelist who in 1968 was assigned to cover the Beatles’ own business utopia, Apple Corps, from the inside. He is the author of Rave On: The Biography of Buddy Holly and many other books.



October 22, 2007 Posted by | fiction, First lines, Novel, Novelist, Openings | , , | Leave a comment

Doris’ onions



Well there was a large artichoke as well. Why it should matter what was in the taxi behind her rather than the interview about the award she had just been given, goes part of the way to explain the way my mind works. I guess I saw a story there. Who was the man, where had they been? Had she been writing today? Was she tetchy with the journalist because she wanted to write and not shop? That kind of thing.

The Guardian (Friday 12 Oct 07) carries a story which mentions her first words, which most of the initial pieces did not. It also embedded an edited version of the TV footage of Doris getting out of her taxi. There, as I was sure I saw the first time, were the two vegetables, or rather, the one artichoke and the net of onions. You see the artichoke first, then as she has just finished saying, Oh, Christ!”, the string of onions and the artichoke in the hands of a bewildered looking man with arm a a sling.





I did attend carefully to her response to the news of her award, loving her truculence, but my eyes were on the veg. and wondering who the man was carrying them, who turned out to be not a journalist doing Doris a favour, as was reported elsewhere, but her son Peter, who is not well.

Matt Cowan tells us it was him who did the first interview and that it was a member of his crew who opened the cab door.

Alan Taylor in the Scottish Sunday Herald under the byline, Nobel turnips wait till Lessing couldn’t care less, after a turn on Swedes being turnips, turns to the plight of the serious novel:

When I met her in London earlier this year she was as perky and feisty as usual, railing against the dumbing down of the book trade and the degenerate taste of readers. Where once her books sold in the tens of thousands, she said, they now sold in dribs and drabs.

Two other good pieces on Doris, (sorry not disrespectful, just love the sound of the name) The Sunday Times, today, Grandma has a knuckleduster beside her literary pen, and the New Zealand Dominion Post, wondering what she might say in her acceptance speech, who got the Literature prize before her.



October 14, 2007 Posted by | Doris Lessing, Literature, Novel, Novelist | , , | Leave a comment

Doris Lessing – Nobel Prize for Literature 2007



Common knowledge already – news travels fast in the digital age. On British TV this evening we see Doris disembarking from a black cab outside her house in London, to be given the news by what sounded like an American TV man. A younger, large man behind her inside the cab – holding a large artichoke in one hand and what looks like a long string of onions in the other – who, it appears from other reports, was a journo on the scene doing a good turn.

‘I couldn’t care less’ about Nobel Prize: Lessing

CTV.ca from Associated Press

The Daily Express accurately reported the next bit:

As she got out of a taxi at her north London home, Lessing told reporters: “This has been going on for 30 years. I’ve won all the prizes in Europe, every bloody one, so I’m delighted to win them all. It’s a royal flush.”

Harold Bloom thinks it’s political correctness: Reason.com

….pure political correctness. Although Ms. Lessing at the beginning of her writing career had a few admirable qualities, I find her work for the past 15 years quite unreadable … fourth-rate science fiction.

There’s a longish biography in Dorislessing.org

Appreciate some advice on the best starter Lessing.

I have posted somewhere in Moleskine Modality about her and her brother re-visiting the old haunts in Zimbabwe which is retold in this 1999 academic article, similarities Between Virginia Woolf and Doris Lessing.

Also, African Childhoods: indentity, race and autobiography

by

Tony Simoes da Silva, School of English, University of Exeter.



October 12, 2007 Posted by | Doris Lessing, Fame, fiction, Literature, Novel, Novelist, Writing | , , , | Leave a comment