tolstoy , joyce , ezra , & others

Tolstoy , at least , I can understand . He didn’t like Shakespeare much , I guess , and that gives him a few points  in my book . Shakespeare I can understand , too , mostly . It’s not his fault that he lived so long ago . That is  , before the world spoke American . Shakespeare’s  not as bad as that guy  G . Chaucer , who wrote great stuff albeit indecipherably . He calls , after all , a daisy a ‘day’s eye’ , for Pete’s sake !

James Joyce ! Now there was a writer’s  writers’  writer !  There’s a guy who knows his letters . And his  words . His words , for sure , made up and designed for intellectual impact ,  I guess . And he’s Irish , too . That gives him a few extra points in my book . But Joyce is worse than Chaucer. Worse stuff than ‘day’s eye’ .

I tried Ulysses  two or three or four times . I read a commentary or two on Ulysses . I gave it a shot and I’m not going to try it again . I even listened to part of Ulysses on Books On Tape  once . Like reading the first chapter of my chemistry textbook over and over again in tenth grade , I just couldn’t get it .

I know people who can quote Ulysses and expound upon the characters , explain the puns and parodies , and review the themes . Are there themes ? But not me .

Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man and  Dubliners  were okey . I particularly liked  the story The Dead . I’ve read and re-read it , trying desperately to soak up the genius , to understand the use of the color brown , for example , to get the significance of the goose , to see in it the Joycian attitude toward his homeland …………..

The written story was okey . The film done by John Huston , however , I think was wonderful . I have a copy of it . It’s on that old technology  called a VCR . I watch The Dead  every year , at Christmas , although it takes place on Epiphany, I think  .

I was just lent a couple of collected works of Dashiell Hammett by a friend of mine , Rod , who has an extensive personal library . He reads his books but he keeps them in like-new spotless condition . I am already reading a collection of Raymond Chandler stories and early novels that I checked out from the Sierra Madre Library , so I am a little swamped with hard-boiled detectives right now .

Chandler’s detective Phil Marlowe says : ” There was a desert wind blowing that night . It was one of those Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch . On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight . Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husband’s necks. Anything can happen . You can get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge . ”

Now , that’s writing !

Or Hammett , whose character in Red Harvest  says : ” He felt like somebody had taken the lid off life and let him see the works . ”

Roll over , Ezra Pound , and all you literary wonders ! I’ve got a ton of mundane mysteries to read . I’ll  never  figure out the Cantos anyway .

Two literature teachers were over at the house recently . They both agreed between themselves that American literature is crap . I thought that an odd attitude for teachers of  literature to hold . The husband of one of them asked if even Mark Twain was crap .

” He’s European -influenced ” , one said . ” Like Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court “, the other one said .

Faulkner laughed . ” To understand the world you must first understand a place like Mississippi .” he said .

I asked the two teachers  ,” Can you quote Ulysses ? ” , as a joke , but they were too busy bashing Hemingway to answer .

Dashiell Hammett was hidden there in a corner . He said : ” I’ve been as bad an influence on American literature as anyone I can think of .”

Tolstoy I can understand . He said : ” To say that a work of art is good but incomprehensible to the majority of men , is the same as saying of some kind of food that it is very good but that most people can’t eat it . ”  That gets Tolstoy a couple of points in my book .

5 Comments

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5 responses to “tolstoy , joyce , ezra , & others

  1. Pat

    Love the Tolstoy quote at the end. I have not read so many great works–I just don’t have the patience (Moby Dick, Brothers Karamazov, El Cid, etc.) But I seem to almost always have a ton of great reading available.

  2. What’s this the English teachers are up to now? Haven’t they done enough damage to the reader’s psyche already? Are they lit. teachers, or geography teachers? Of course I don’t know what they mean by “American Literature.” Do they mean South American? Central American? Mexican? US? Surely they don’t simply mean “gringo lit.” So, what do they mean? (as for Hemingway, was he an American writer when he lived and wrote in Paris, London, Spain, Cuba?).
    But if you want to know something about American (US) lit. classics, yes, go to Europe, go to England, and talk to D. H. Lawrence, who wrote, in his forward to “Studies in Classic American Literature” (1923), “Well, it’s high time now that someone came to lift out the swaddled infant of truth that America spawned some time back. The child must be getting pretty thin, from neglect.”
    Edmund Wilson said of Lawrence’s book: “To an American, American literature is a part of his native landscape, and so veiled with associations that he cannot always see what the author is really saying. D. H. Lawrence has here tried to do what it would be difficult for an American to do: read our books for their meaning in the life of the western world as a whole.” And this only as far as Walt Whitman!
    But are the English teachers reading anything at all these days, other than stacks of papers, and probably just skimming those. I met an English teacher years ago, he was teaching in Lake Oswego, great potential there, for readers, and I asked what they were reading in class. Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar,” he said, and he hated it. “What?” He was in his 12th year teaching, and every year he taught the same thing, Julius Caesar (who apparently also suffered from asymmetrical hearing). Here Caesar is now, and he might have been talking of English teachers:
    “He reads much;
    He is a great observer and he looks
    Quite through the deeds of men: he loves no plays,
    As thou dost, Antony; he hears no music;
    Seldom he smiles, and smiles in such a sort
    As if he mock’d himself and scorn’d his spirit
    That could be moved to smile at any thing.
    Such men as he be never at heart’s ease
    Whiles they behold a greater than themselves,
    And therefore are they very dangerous.
    I rather tell thee what is to be fear’d
    Than what I fear; for always I am Caesar.
    Come on my right hand, for this ear is deaf,
    And tell me truly what thou think’st of him.”
    As for the “majority of men,” why should we ever care what the majority of men think about anything? This sounds like the tyranny of a crowd. As for Tolstoi, he freed his serfs to do what, read?
    But if you want to know how reading can kill a man, see Jack London’s “Martin Eden.”
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Eden
    Yet, as for quoting Ulysses, it’s easy, just say: “Yes.”
    “…yes I said yes I will Yes.” http://www9.georgetown.edu/faculty/jod/ulysses/ulys18dr.txt
    Of course, it’s not American, for that would be “no,” thanks to the English teachers.

    • Wow ! I guess I hit a nerve , or a switch in mentioning English teachers . The conversation actually took place right where I am now writing . I don’t know what specific courses they teach . I can only hope not American lit . Two possibly relevant factors : 1. They were both a little tipsy . 2. No one defined ‘American literature’ . Very erudite comment , Joe . Thanks .

  3. Yes, well, a tip of the lit hat to the lit lasses, for it takes one to know one.
    http://www4.ncsu.edu/unity/lockers/users/f/felder/public/Columns/Peer-rev.html

    • I know one when I see one . Are good teachers always good teachers , consistently ? Or , does the student group factor in and other factors too ? Is it still good teaching if the ‘rapport’ doesn’t work on this day or with that group ? Do the results need to show up instantly ? Or do some effects of good teaching not show up for years , sometimes, or for decades ? Are the PhD’s the best determiners of what the aspects of a good teacher are ? Does it all matter anyway ? Must every teacher be superior ? It’s just a business , isn’t it ? For $1000 dollars I’ll come talk to your class , if you buy me lunch . Dr. Smart , PhD.

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