Showing posts with label aesthetics. Show all posts
Showing posts with label aesthetics. Show all posts

27 May 2014

For The Years

Hogarth Press first edition, cover by Vanessa Bell
Published in 1937, The Years was the last of her novels that Virginia Woolf lived to see released. Coming more than five years after the release of the poetic and, to many people, opaquely experimental The Waves, The Years seemed like the work of a totally different writer — it looked like a family novel, something along the lines of Galsworthy's Forsyte Saga, the sort of book a younger Woolf had scorned.  

The Years became a bestseller in both the UK and the US, and garnered some good reviews — in the New York Times, Peter Monro Jack declared it "Virginia Woolf's Richest Novel". Its fame quickly faded, however. After Woolf's death, her husband Leonard claimed he didn't think it was among her best work, though he'd been afraid, he said, to tell her that, given how long she had worked on it and how hard that work had been for her. As Woolf's reputation increased in the 1970s and 1980s, particularly among feminist academics, The Years tended to get shuffled aside in favor of the other novels and essays. Despite some advocacy from scholars and an extraordinary edition as part of the Cambridge Woolf, The Years remains relatively neglected. This is unfortunate, as it is a magnificent book.

14 September 2013

The Popular and the Good and the Doomed

As I was writing a comment over at Adam Roberts's blog (about which more in a moment), I realized I had various items of the last few days swirling through my head, and it all needed a bit of an outlet that wasn't a muddled comment on Adam's blog, but rather a potentially-even-more-muddled post here.

I don't have a whole lot to say about these things, and I certainly have no coherent argument to make, but they've congealed together in my mind, so here they are, with a few lines of annotation from me. Most of these things have gotten a lot of notice, but they haven't gotten a lot of notice together.

08 July 2012

Re: Your Stephen King Problem

Dear Dwight Allen:

Thank you for letting me know about your Stephen King problem (henceforth, SKP). Many people let these problems go, thinking they're not particularly important or, ultimately, relevant to anyone other than themselves, but  the science shows that letting these problems linger encourages them to fester, and once they fester they can then lead to all sorts of complications and an endless array of other problems (most commonly, J.K. Rowling problems and J.R.R. Tolkien problems, which themselves can lead to entire textbooks of other problems.) Such suffering becomes an infinite sprawl of frustration, guilt, pain, and, often, anti-social behavior and anal warts.

To assess your treatment needs, let's analyze some of your history and symptoms.

13 June 2012


Yesterday, I posted a mocking attack on Prometheus that also linked to other attacks. I hated the movie, and so did plenty of other people.

But I don't want to give the impression that it is Friday the 13th Part XXVI: Jason vs. Maximus Prime. (Actually, that movie could be awesome!) Plenty of perfectly intelligent moviegoers have not merely enjoyed Prometheus, but embraced it. Adored it. Gone to see it more than once.

So, for some balance, here are four quotes from reviews and comments on the film that view it more positively than I or the people I quoted yesterday:

Roger Ebert:
Ridley Scott's "Prometheus" is a magnificent science-fiction film, all the more intriguing because it raises questions about the origin of human life and doesn't have the answers. It's in the classic tradition of golden age sci-fi, echoing Scott's "Alien" (1979), but creating a world of its own. I'm a pushover for material like this; it's a seamless blend of story, special effects and pitch-perfect casting, filmed in sane, effective 3-D that doesn't distract.

Andrew O'Hehir:
...“Prometheus” damn near lives up to the unsustainable hype, at least at the level of cinematography, production design, special effects and pure wow factor. This tale of a deep-space mission late in the 21st century, several decades before Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley and the crew of the Nostromo will discover an abandoned alien spacecraft and its sinister cargo, is a sleek, shimmering, gorgeous and often haunting visual mood piece. No other recent science-fiction film, with the sole exception of “Avatar,” has created such a textured, detailed and colorful vision of the human space-traveling future, and indeed it’s reasonable to assume that Scott conceives of “Prometheus” as a pessimistic counter-argument to James Cameron’s eco-parable on various levels.

Caitlín R. Kiernan:
And, lest charges of sexism arise, Kane is the first of the crew "raped" – a man – then Brett – also male – and then the ship's captain, Dallas – also male. Now, turning to charges of sexism in Prometheus (which I am seeing) as regards "rape" by the alien: What? The first person infected is Holloway, who unintentionally impregnates Shaw through consensual sex. Then we see Milburn mouth-fucked by a proto-facehugger. That's two men impregnated (though you might argue Holloway is, rather, infected) to one woman (the presumably male "engineers" not included). So, charges of a sexual bias towards women are simply baseless.

Glenn Kenny:
I've said before that I tend to measure certain genre pictures by the number, and quality, of what I call (if you'll excuse the phrase) Holy Crap! Moments. (I don't call them that, exactly, but what I actually call them can't be printed here.) In any event, in the notes I took for this film, on one page, in big block letters taking up pretty much two thirds of the page, I indeed wrote that phrase in the middle of one particular scene. You'll know it when you see it, and it is insane, one of the most perfectly perverse and beautifully executed pieces of shock cinema I've seen in years, an absolutely breathtaking and staggering and exhilarating set piece that kind of reminds you of every sick thing that cinema is good for. And that scene is more or less bracketed by sequences that, while not of equal impact (they couldn't possibly be), serve to buttress the truly insane sequence with whiplash-inducing excitement.

So far, Prometheus does not seem to be as epically polarizing a picture as, for instance, Tree of Life or 2001. Viewers' reactions vary, certainly, but I found it much harder to collect substantive quotes for this post than for the previous one, and far fewer people with a passion for the film that matched the passion of those of us who hated the film. There are certainly plenty of people who like the movie, or at least have mixed feelings that tend toward the positive, but the sort of writing about it that I've been able to find is mostly less specific on the positive side than on the negative, and most of the positive writings so far focus on the visuals, on Michael Fassbender's performance, and on the thrill/horror of the surgery scene. That may change with time, especially once the movie is available for home viewing, or once enough lovers of the movie get fed up with us haters and start firing back.

28 November 2009

Let's Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste by Carl Wilson

I must admit some surprise that the best book I've read about judgement, taste, and aesthetics is a book about Céline Dion. Carl Wilson's Let's Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste is not only thoughtful and well-informed, it is also compelling in every sense of the word. (It's part of the ever-surprising and wonderfully odd 33 1/3 series from Continuum Books.)

I don't know where I first heard about Wilson's book -- probably via Bookforum -- but it's gotten plenty of press, including a mention by James Franco at the Oscars and an interview of Wilson by Stephen Colbert. The concept of the book is seductive: Wilson, a Canadian music critic and avowed Céline-hater, spends a year trying to figure out why she is so popular and what his hatred of her says about himself. I kept away from the book for a little while because I thought it couldn't possibly live up to its premise, and that in all likelihood it was more stunt than analysis. Nonetheless, the premise kept attracting me, because I am fascinated by the concept of taste and I, too, find Dion's music to be the sonic equivalent of a Thomas Kinkade painting.

What makes Wilson's approach so effective and insightful is that it avoids the fanboy defensiveness marring everything from internet discussions to scholarly studies such as Peter Swirski's From Lowbrow to Nobrow. Wilson isn't grinding axes or settling scores; he's more interested in exploration than proclamation, more inclined toward maps than manifestos. The result is one of the few books I know that is as likely to expand its readers' view of the world as it is to provide the choir with an appealing sermon.