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review 2017-05-01 17:19
Bouvard and Pecuchet / The Dictionary of Accepted Ideas - Gustave Flaubert,A.J. Krailsheimer

Alors Pécuchet le tournant vers la Grande-Ourse, lui montra l'étoile polaire, puis Cassiopée dont la constellation forme un Y, Véga de la Lyre toute scintillante, et au bas de l'horizon, le rouge Aldebaran.

Ils ne furent pas plus heureux sur la communication qui existait entre une citerne de Falaise et le faubourg de Caen. Des canards qu'on y avait introduits reparurent à Vaucelles, en grognant: -
"Can can can" d'où est venu le nom de la ville.

 

Parfois, ils sentaient un frisson et comme le vent d'une idée; au moment de la saisir, elle avait disparu.

Le sujet s'accorde toujours avec le verbe, sauf les occasions où le sujet ne s'accorde pas.

Ils en conclurent que la syntaxe est une fantaisie et la grammaire une illusion.

En regardant brûler la chandelle, ils se demandaient si la lumière est dans l'objet ou dans notre œil. Puisque les étoiles peuvent avoir disparu quand leur éclat nous arrive, nous admirons, peut-être, des choses qui n'existent pas.

 

- "La vie est un passage, mais la mort est éternelle!"

Et Pécuchet survenant, ajouta que les animaux avaient aussi leurs droits, car ils ont une âme, comme nous, - si toutefois la nôtre existe?

Mais bientôt ils s'ennuyèrent, leur esprit ayant besoin d'un travail, leur existence d'un but!

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review 2016-12-29 08:59
Diary of a Loner
Nausea - Jean-Paul Sartre,Robert Baldick

I was originally going to read this book when I was in Paris, however I had only just finished reading a collection of Satre's plays and there were a couple of other books that had caught my attention beforehand (such as [author:Hemmingway]), so I decided to put it down for a while. Mind you, considering that it is set in a seaside town that is fictional, though technically supposed to be La Havre, I could have read it when I was in Rouen, though of course I didn't know anything about the book until I actually started reading it. Anyway, since I have no idea when I will get back to France (particularly La Havre as there is supposed to be an Impressionist Museum there which happened to have the famous Renoir paintings on display in an exhibition, which meant they weren't in the D'Orsay when I was there), I decided that I should read it sooner rather than later.

 

 

Well, I have to admit that I am glad I did because this book is nothing short of awesome, even if it is somewhat hard to follow up times. Mind you, I would start praising Satre's writing style but that would probably make me look like a complete idiot because the version that I read was in English and Satre wrote in French, and my French is simply not at a level where I can actually read a novel, let alone determine whether the writing is any good (my German isn't that good either, but at least I can read a Tintin book, though I usually only get past the first couple of pages before I put it down and go and start doing something else, though reading a Tintin book in German is sort of cheating since I am quite familiar with the books anyway).

 

I probably should start talking about the book as opposed to rabbiting on about anything but the book, but then again I am one of those people that does get distracted quite often, and I do sort of write stream of consciousness style, in the sense that I simply dump onto the word processor the first thing that comes to mind as opposed to actually planning out my review in the way that I would do an essay. Well, this book is stream of consciousness, but it does not necessarily mean that Satre didn't plan it, namely because writing stream of consciousness doesn't necessarily mean that the story wasn't planned, but rather it is writing in a style as if we were looking directly into the mind of the author. Actually, Nausea (or La Nausée as it is in French) is written as a diary of the protagonist who basically puts his thoughts down on paper as he basically drifts through life, and drift he certainly seems to do.

 

 

Nausea is about an historian named Antoine who basically is trying to come to terms with who he is. He is financially secure, which means that he doesn't have to work, and basically spends his time researching and writing about an obscure French politician. He is also a bit of a loner, though he does interact with the Autodidact, who is basically reading every book in the library in alphabetical order (something which I probably wouldn't do, not so much reading every book in the library, but reading them in Alphabetical order, though I would probably skip books like Fifty Shades of Grey and the sequels). There are also a couple of other characters in the book, including Antoine's long lost love Anny, whom he tries to get back in touch with only to discover that she has moved on.

 

 

Funny thing this, and I guess it goes to show the type of person that he is, clinging onto a past that has long gone. This does happen, especially when one is a loner, that the only people that we know are the people that we have known, so when we decide to start looking for love the loner always looks backwards to the people that he (or she) has known as opposed to the people that he (or she) will know. Then again I guess this is the nature of the future – it is a big unknown, whereas the past is a known, and as such when we look back into the past we only encounter people that we have known, and people that we have known tend to be more comforting because there are no nasty surprises, where as people that we do not know, though we might have met them, are a blank slate, which means the potential for some really nasty surprises.

 

 

Yet, as Antoine has discovered, things are not static – they change, as is the case with Anny. She has moved on and simply doesn't want to go back, where as Antoine simply wants to cling to a past that has now long gone. I guess this is why he is an historian since he does not want to let go of the past. However, does that mean that Ford was correct when he said that 'history is bunk'? I don't think so – there are two ways to approaching history: the academic way and the conservative way. The academic seeks to learn from the past to be able to understand why things are the way they are, and to look for patterns to assist us in ascertaining the future. This is the same with the stock market analyst – they analyse historical data in an attempt to look for patterns which might make them, and their client's, money. Then we have the conservative view that doesn't look at the past academically, but rather looks at the past as a form of comfort – in a way the past comforts them because it is familiar, while the future is a vast unknown, and thus the conservative wishes to cling to the familiar rather than take the risk for entering the unknown, which is why, in many cases, we have this war against the future. Then again, it really isn't the immigrants that are taking our jobs, they are just taking the jobs that we really don't want to do – no, the robots are taking our jobs.

 

Finally, there is the question of existence and identity, but then again this is one of the core ideas of existentialism – who we are. Mind you, this type of query has been going on since time immemorial (or at least as far back as people discovered that they had time to sit down and think about thinking as opposed to working in the fields tilling crops and going out into the forest to hunt animals), even before Decartes famously said je pense, donc je suis (I think, therefore I am). However, what is coming out of this book is the suggestion that our identity, our existence, is defined by our environment. This is evident as Antoine comes to realise that the inanimate objects around him are beginning to define his existence, which is starting to make him sick – ergo the title of the book.

 

 

Yet isn't it true that in our modern society we are defined by our job, our house, our upbringing, even the phone that we have: oh, you have a Samsug that is three years old, well I'm better because I have a new one (says the cocky individual before the phone blows up). I guess it is one of the reasons why BMWs are suddenly becoming so popular, and why the urban sprawl is pretty much destroying Australia's market gardens – we need to have an identity and that identity comes from the house you live in and the car you drive. In fact it has even been suggested that some people have had their job applications rejected based upon the suburb in which they live.

 

 

Okay, that is a very materialistic look at the book because there is a much more philosophical look as well, and that is our environment. Sure, there is our definition based on our phone and our car, but there is also the definition based on our family, where we grow up, the language that we speak, and the people whom we associate with – many of these things we have no control over. For instance my Dad was an electronic engineer when has resulted in me having a much stronger affinity with computers than the guy next door whose dad is a motor mechanic. Mind you, I ended up doing and arts/law degree, but a lot of that had to do with the post-modern idea of defining ourselves as opposed to letting the world define us. This, in a way, works because there are a lot of toxic people out there who try to define who we are against our will, however there are other aspects to our environment, to our definition, and to our existence, that we should embrace.

 

In the end embrace that which is good about us and reject that toxic individual who scorns you because you vote for a different political party, don't own a car, and tries to provide an explanation to your life out of their own ignorance, but rather accept those who accept you for who you are, and seek to let the past be the past and see the future as an exciting adventure that needs to be lived as opposed to a terrifying unknown that needs to be stopped. If anything, the one thing about our coming robot overlords is that they aren't going to discriminate.

 

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/1844003877
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review 2016-12-03 03:47
Conned by a Charlatan
Tartuffe - Molière,Martin Sorrell

Isn't it interesting that there are some sectors of society that get really upset if you poke fun at them, or even criticise them in anyway. Normally this happens because these particular people are well aware that what they are doing is wrong and that they are simply playing on people's stupidity to get away with what is little more than fraud. Much of the offence that is generated is not so much offence at the fun, but rather that what the person are doing is ripping the veil off of their fraud and exposing it for the world to see.

 

This is what happened to Moliere when he wrote this play, and the thing was that he was not actually poking fun at the church but rather at certain fraudsters that go around scamming people out of their hard earned savings for their own personal benefit. There have been people like this this throughout the ages and many writers have laid into these types of people particularly hard. However the church itself ended up being quite offended at Moliere's play (which actually says something about the church of the day) and put enormous pressure on the king to pretty much ban it.

 

Tartuffe is about this religious guru who becomes involved with a family and many of the family members see him as this wonderful person who is bringing wisdom and salvation to the house. However, there are some who see right through his lies, though through his silvered tongue Tartuffe is able to alienate these people. However, when pretty much everybody wakes up to the fraudster that Tartuffe is, he pulls another trick, which involves confiscating all of the family's property.

 

As I have mentioned, there have been fraudsters like this throughout the ages, and the church knows very well they exist. However it seems that the church really does not appreciate criticism in any form. In a way it seems to be offensive to turn religion into a joke, even if they joke doesn't actually involve them. The thing is that people like Moliere are not turning religion into a joke but rather exposing how certain people use religion to entrap segments of society and pretty much enslave them. Religion is, and always has been, about control, and the problem is that when certain people get into positions of power, and they do not necessarily need to be single fraudsters like Tartuffe, they could be members of an orthodox Christian denomination, they use this power to feather their own nest. However, the idea of salvation and life after death is something that concerns us all, and due to the veil that has fallen down between God and ourselves, many of us believe that salvation is not certain. It is when we let that belief creep in that certain people are then able to hold our salvation for ransom.

 

The thing about Christianity is that salvation is assured, which means that people cannot actually hold the threat of excommunication over you with regards to your actions. Granted, there is a moral code, but the idea is that genuine Christians will live by that moral code rather than having that code forced upon them. It simply comes down to loving your neighbour as yourself, and loving the Lord your God. However, people don't seem to necessarily understand this, and many people, with good intentions (and we all know where good intentions lead us to) try to pass judgement on other's actions. Okay, there is always accountability, and with us being fallen human beings, we are always going to be led astray (I know I have), however we must always remember that Jesus said that we should look to ourselves and examine our actions before we go off an pass judgement on other people. Further, accountability should always be a two way street. Being accountable to somebody while that person is not being accountable to you is a fast way of becoming enslaved to that person.

 

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/563019862
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review 2016-10-06 11:00
The Decomposition of a Musical Brain: Ravel by Jean Echenoz
Ravel - Jean Echenoz,Linda Coverdale
Ravel - Jean Echenoz
Ravel - Jean Echenoz

There are melodies so unique that it’s enough to hear their first notes to know what is coming. Without doubt the Boléro by Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) is such a memorable piece of music. Although it’s a classical orchestra tune and not actually new – it premiered as a ballet in November 1928 –, virtually everybody knows it at least partly; most people will even remember the name of its French composer notwithstanding that they may never have heard any other work of his. After all, Ravel was celebrated already during his lifetime and his fame hasn’t faded since his tragic death following the desperate attempt to stop or even reverse his mental decline with brain surgery. But what kind of a man was Maurice Ravel apart from his compositions? In his short critically acclaimed biographical novel Ravel, which first appeared early in 2006, the French author Jean Echenoz evokes the last decade in the life of the musical genius starting with his 1928 grand tour of America.

 

Actually, Jean Echenoz set his unusual as well as comical opening scene of Ravel in the world-famous composer’s house in Montfort-l’Amaury that inspired him to write this almost completely fact-based biography in the first place. More precisely he shows the celebrated star in his bathtub on the morning of his departure for the USA on one of the last days of 1927 musing whether he should venture out of the warm water. It quickly becomes clear that Ravel is a bachelor who attaches such great importance to his appearance that it’s almost an obsession… and that it’s difficult for him to ever get ready on time. Moreover, his behaviour marks him as eccentric and inconsiderate. On this particular morning, for instance, he leaves his friend Hélène Jourdan-Morhange waiting for him outside in her cold car for almost an hour and it doesn’t once occur to him that he could invite her in to warm up. When he finally emerges from the house, he is neat like a pin, the spit image of a – rather short and slightly old-fashioned – dandy in his early fifties on his way to the racecourse. Hélène takes him to Paris to make sure that the always-confused musical genius catches the special train to Le Havre where the steamer SS France is waiting to take him along with about two thousand others to New York. He is tired and grumpy because as so often insomnia has plagued him during the night, but he hopes that the six-week passage will be as good as a holiday for his strained nerves. Unfortunately, people recognise him, ask him for autographs or to play something. And insomnia doesn’t spare him, either. In New York begins an exhausting four-month concert tour crisscross America that Jean Echenoz skilfully traces without deviating unnecessarily from known facts. By the middle of the novel it’s late in April 1928 and the composer returns to France and his life continues as ever. He travels, attends concerts and mundane parties, smokes without end, but most importantly he writes the Boléro and the Piano Concerto for the Left Hand in D Major. All the while, Ravel struggles with insomnia, boredom and indolence as the author shows at length and with the sly wit characteristic of him. After a car accident in October 1937, however, the humorous tone of the novel changes from major to minor key. Although the composer isn’t very seriously hurt, it’s from this moment that his mind increasingly fails him until he no longer knows how to write or to read and he not even recognises his own music. Doctors recommend a craniotomy as last treatment option. Ten days later the musical genius is gone.

 

Having read only a German edition of Ravel, it would be preposterous of me to comment on Jean Echenoz’s language and style although I think that unusually much of the original wit shines through in the translation by Hinrich Schmidt-Henkel at my hand. Certainly, it’s a succeeded biography that makes skilful use of dry facts from the composer’s life setting them against the backdrop of his time to show the unique character of Maurice Ravel as his contemporaries have known and loved him. Moreover, the gifted narrator doesn’t depend on dialogue or extensive stream-of-consciousness to make the celebrated star appear as a human being with odd edges like everybody else instead of some kind of unearthly genius. It’s definitely a worthwhile read – not just for lovers of classical music.

 

 

Ravel - Jean Echenoz,Linda Coverdale 

Ravel - Jean Echenoz  

Ravel - Jean Echenoz  

 

 

If you’d like to read a work of fiction from the pen of Jean Echenoz, I recommend his 1999 novel Je m’en vais available under the English title I’m Off, but also brought out as I’m Gone. Click here to read my review on Edith’s Miscellany.

 

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review 2016-09-01 21:48
Beware the Flies Orestes! Beware the flies
Les Mouches - Jean-Paul Sartre

I have seem some recent adaptations of Greek myths in the cinemas of late and to say that they were rubbish was an absolute understatement. Mind you, that is Hollywood and Satre is anything but, and when I discovered that the last play in the book that I had picked up at a second-hand bookshop was based on the myth of Orestes my immediate thought was 'this is going to be good'. As it turned out it was good – really, really good. In fact I would love to see it performed. Actually I would so love to see it performed that I want to join an amateur theatre company and force them to stage it (though I know for a fact that that is not going to happen – having a full time job makes it really difficult to become involved in the arts, unless of course you devote your entire time to the project, which I simply cannot do).

 

The problem with writing a review of this play, in the way that I write reviews, is that I cannot do it without actually spoiling the play, especially since there is one enormous twist in it that reveals what is actually going on – and it all has to do with the flies. So, I will try to say as much as possible about the play without revealing the twist, and when I do I will put up a spoiler alert. Anyway, like the said Hollywood movies, what is happening is that Satre is putting his own interpretation on the myth, however unlike the aforementioned movies he does a much better job at it. The major themes with the modern interpretation of the ancient Greek myths is the rejection of the supernatural.

 

The thing with our modern interpretation is that we see these myths as a story of how humanity rejects the gods and takes control of their own lives. Unfortunately Hollywood simply dresses it up with great special effects and huge battles, and then finishes off by saying that humanity no longer has any need for the gods so bugger off and leave us alone. What Satre does is that he goes much deeper into it explaining why humanity, as represented by Orestes, has rejected the gods, and it all has to do with free will. Zeus gave Orestes free will to obey him, and Orestes uses that free will to reject Zeus (which is an interesting analogy to Christianity). However, as I will explain, while Orestes takes on a figure of Christ, this play isn't a Christian allegory (Satre was an atheist), but rather uses the play to create a new interpretation of Christ.

 

So, first, I should mention the background, though those who have been following my reviews probably already know the story of how when Agamemnon returned from Troy he discovered that his wife Clytemnestra was having an affair with Aegisthus, and they both murder him and Aegisthus takes the throne. Orestes flees as he is the heir to the throne, and for Aegisthus to become king he needs to get rid of the heir apparent. Anyway, the city becomes infested with flies, and these flies remain for over fifteen years. Aegisthus knows what these flies are about, however nobody else does. In a way they are the result of Aegisthus' sin – the murder of the true king, and his adulterous affair with Clytemnestra. The city of Argos, through their acts, has become tainted. However, it goes much further than that, which I have decided that I won't actually reveal.

 

Anyway, along comes Orestes, and the first part of the play, much like the Ancient Greek versions, has Orestes trying to find out who he can trust and who he can't. He approaches Electra and spends time testing her to see if she will support him or betray him. However, as it turns out it isn't Electra who betrays him, but Zeus. Yet despite Zeus' warning of his impending doom, Aegisthus chooses to do nothing – his crime, his guilt, and his sin has so worn him out that he simply has no desire to hold onto the throne anymore. In a way his claim to the throne is a Phyric victory – sure, he is king, but the guilt that has come upon him has so worn him down that it no longer seems worth it.

 

It is interesting that we see similar themes pop up in other plays – Hamlet has the usurper who kills the king and marries the queen, while Macbeth as the usurper whose guilt so wears him out that he simply become too exhausted to continue (though he does fight until the bitter end). Yet Shakespeare had a purpose in writing against usurpers, but I'm not entirely sure if Satre was writing in a similar vein – the play was published during World War II while France was occupied by the Nazis. In a way this could almost be a subtle dig at the Vichy government who, after capitulating to the Germans, pretty much became collaborators.

 

Yet there is also this idea of somebody coming along and taking away a nation's sin. At the end of the play Orestes rejects Zeus, claiming that because he has free will, he has the free will to reject Zeus and go his own way. However, he also acknowledges his crime (killing his mother) – something that Aegisthus (and the city) refused to do. In a way Aegisthus believed that he was in the right, and the fact that the city did not rise up against Aegisthus because he had a hand in murdering Agamemnon, were cursed to be tormented by the flies. However Orestes, while avenging the death of his father, takes ownership of his crime, and leaves the city, and takes the flies with him – in a way a form of Christ figure.

 

Yet it is interesting how, when he kills his mother, the city rises up against him in revolt – sure, they did nothing when Agamemnon was murdered, but then again he had been away for ten years, and ten years is an awful long time – long enough for the population to become accepting of a new king. Yet Orestes does not take the title – well he does, but he takes the title of a king without a country. In the original version he is driven out of Argos and flees to Athens when he faces trial, and is acquitted, for his crime. No such thing happens here, but he accepts his crime, and he accepts his punishment, and in doing so redeems the city from the curse of the flies.

 

Yes, Orestes sounds as if he is some sort of Christ figure, and in a way he is, yet there is a twist – Christ came as God in the flesh, while Orestes, through his free will, rejects Zeus. In a way what Orestes is doing is giving the people of Argos their freedom. He takes ownership of the crime and frees them from the curse of the flies, but in rejecting Zeus he shows them that they do not need to be beholden to the gods, but they have their own free will to make their own decisions and decide their own destiny. However, for the people to realise that, they needed a Christ figure to come along and show them – the problem is that people don't actually want to do that, they want to be led, which is why people like Jim Jones are always able to attract so many followers.

 

1 September 2016 - Paris

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