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review 2015-01-12 21:04
Birth of a National Icon: The Literary Avant-Garde and the Origins of the Intellectual in France - Venita Datta

Arguing that the “Intellectual” emerged in France in the years just prior to the Dreyfus Affair, Datta sets her study two goals: “to separate the origins of the intellectual in France from the strict confines of the Dreyfus Affair and to examine the key role played by the literary avant-garde in the emergence of this figure.” She then proposes to demonstrate that the intellectual (whom she defines as a person “involved in public affairs” who possesses an “authority to speak... derived from their cultural and intellectual titles as well as personal fame”) from is born from the clash of traditional and avant-garde ideologies over national identity.


Intellectuals, in this study, are a fairly specific group, connected by bonds of age, schooling, and family. They defined themselves against earlier generations and by their scorn for the bourgeois values of the Third Republic. Datta relies heavily on the literary journals produced by this group, quoting from the writings of various individuals as she discusses the key intellectuals of the generation.


Next Datta discusses the groups' shared ideas, especially in regards to art and politics. The main source here is the enquete, which mystifyingly she does not describe. They appear to be a sort of opinion poll. She concludes that intellectuals agreed that they ought to be involved in the public realm but “to transcend divisions of class and rise above political parties.” However, they did not favor the new state educational system and rejected the attempts of men of lesser origins (including Jews) to join their elite. They saw themselves as belonging to both a class and a vocation.


Datta finishes with somewhat less original (i.e. drawn from extant scholarship rather than her own research) discussions of contemporary debates over the new woman and manliness, and individual versus national identities.

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review 2013-10-20 06:41
Review : Ghostwritten by David Mitchell
Ghostwritten - David Mitchell
"I wonder what happened to him, I wonder what happened to all of them, this wondering is the nature of matter, each of us a loose particle, an infinity of paths through the park, probable ones, improbable ones, none of them real until observed whatever real means, and for something so solid matter contains terrible, terrible, terrible expanses of nothing, nothing, nothing..."

Ordinary human lives, sometimes crisscrossing, sometimes briefly touching, sometimes swiftly passing each other by through the fabric of space and time, creating imperceptible ripples on the surface of some invisible lake of our collective consciousness that eventually lead up to an event of cataclysmic significance....

Everything considered, Ghostwritten is an imperfect masterpiece. In the sense it makes its far-reaching ambitions of being viewed as a tour de force of its generation apparent at the onset but when one sets about to allow oneself keener examination of all its narrative intricacies, it smacks of amateurishness. If, at its best, Ghostwritten is a fascinating meditation on the hollowness of human lives, human fallacies, urban alienation, intertwined fates and our unslakable thirst for validation in the 21st century then at its worst it is a rather complicated mess of styles and themes usually identified with two masters of the craft - Calvino and Murakami. I'd, thus, refrain from calling it masterful and call it the work of a master in the making instead.

There is something so blatantly Murakami-esque about this book, that I am tempted to label Mitchell as Murakami Lite and this is supposed to serve more as a mild chiding rather than approbation of any form. It is like Murakami's ghost (excuse the unintended pun) continuously haunts Mitchell's characters and their lives, his voice reverberating in their unvoiced musings, innermost stream of thoughts, conversations and his invisible presence subtly influencing the magical-realist aspects of the book. So much so there's even a minor character who fleetingly mentions spotting his own doppelganger on the streets of London one day. I almost began anticipating the appearance of talking cats or strange sheep men after this point, although thankfully none were found in the end. 
But regrettably enough, this book failed to give me any of those goosebumps-inducing moments of pure intrigue which I have often come to categorize along with the effects produced by Murakami's surrealistic vignettes. 

It is also quite obvious Mitchell has distilled the essence of Calvino's Invisible Cities into his own deconstruction of modern day cities like Tokyo, Hong Kong, St Petersburg, London and New York in a 20th-21st century set up. The concept of islets of human existence huddled together in their own miniature niches, disparate yet suffering from similar fates, their ideas of the city they dwell in coalescing clumsily to impart the city its true identity, comes into play here but not under the guise of Calvino's beautifully rendered symbolism. 

Prior to picking up this book, I had heard so much about Mitchell and the widespread adoration he enjoys, I was expecting something life-altering and unforgettable. And despite the narrative sweep and all-encompassing nature of the subjects Mitchell touches upon here, Ghostwritten seems to be neither of the aforementioned. At least not in my opinion. And as the novelty of the interconnection among the short story length snippets wears off with the gradual progress of the narrative, the lack of finesse in Mitchell's writing becomes all the more prominent.


"God knows darn well that dabbling in realpolitik would coat his reputation with flicked boogers."

Inclusion of quite a few crude metaphors like the one above just felt jarring to the overall tone of the novel.

I am hoping Cloud Atlas is more accomplished.

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review 2013-08-07 00:00
The Avant-Garde Icon: Russian Avant-Garde Art and the Icon Painting Tradition - Andrew Spira
Just to clarify, this book is primarily about the influence of the icon tradition on Russian avant-garde art, not about icons which are themselves avant-garde.
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review 2012-10-01 00:00
Encore (Boston Avant Garde, #4)
Encore (Boston Avant Garde, #4) - Kaitlin Maitland 2.5 Stars.

Look for review on Night Owl Reviews
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review 2012-07-22 00:00
Crescendo (Boston Avant-Garde 2)
Crescendo (Boston Avant-Garde 2) - Kaitlin Maitland 2.5 stars

While the blurb I read said this was a m/m/f menage it wasn't quite what I was expecting. This is book two in a series of what is currently 3 books with book 4 due in August 2012. I was able to read it as a stand-alone without too much difficulty.

Seth and Josh have been best friends since elementary school. They are also law partners who share an apartment. They are not, however, gay. They are straight and share women.

Leslie is a musician with a secret past who dated Seth and broke up with him when he wanted something more serious and explained about he and Josh sharing women.

She goes to Seth to ask for he and Josh to represent a friend who is starting out a custody battle, offering them a portion of her earnings for her classical musical group as payment.

The story itself is okay though in reality Leslie's hidden past is not much use as a plot device. The difficulties inherent in a menage, as well as each character's emotional wounds, would have been enough of a conflict.

I was disappointed that the m/m part of the menage was actually not a romantic connection. The men were comfortable with each other and with coming in contact during intimate moments but it was not anything that either one of them were aroused by. This is a must for me when it comes to menage - that all three partners are equally in love with and aroused by the others.

Overall it was a decent book but I won't be headed back for others in the series. This ended in what I'd call a happy for now and not a happily ever after.
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