Friday, May 21, 2010

Clip Show

In March this blog completed its fourth year, and just a few weeks ago was my 600th post. While things have been very slow lately, for various reasons I won't bore you with again, I do have several things in the works. But meanwhile, like a sitcom with half the cast away filming bad movies, or no money in the budget for the desperate episode with the gang in London or Hawaii, it seems like time for the Clip Show, if you'll forgive me the indulgence. (Also, I seem to have the knack for going into extreme slowdown at the very moment some bigger blogger kindly sends people my way. And not everyone digs deep into blog archives like I do, or used to—who has the time? So this is for you. Though I do notice when you do, and I thank you.)

Some favorite bloggers have been writing about Christopher Hitchens' latest blather, so I'll start off with my review of his utterly shitty God is not Great. Hot damn that's a bad book. Which leads easily into other posts on faith and atheism and reason: one about a "debate" between overrated atheist writer Sam Harris and overrated blogger/commentator Andrew Sullivan, and an early Dawkins-related post, pursuing the point that these atheist writers efface politics in their rush to blame everything on religion. Of course in Hitchens' case, he sees politics to some extent, he just gets the politics wrong.

In a post from 2007 that I'm especially proud of, "Becoming Human", I wrote about Chris Knight's brilliant Blood Relations: Menstruation and the Origins of Culture; I still maintain it's an important book and that more people should read it. A bit earlier in the same year, there was my review of Rebecca Goldstein's excellent Betraying Spinoza. Much more recently, in a post I hope to expand on, I asked "Who do you trust?"

Two years ago, I wrote a lengthy entry on Nicholson Baker's much-misread book Human Smoke. Nearly a year later, I posted a follow-up, as the book continued to be misread upon its appearance in the UK (well, at least by one idiot in particular; I can't say I kept close tabs on the wider UK reviewing). In "Myth Rushes in to Fill the Gap", I used some remarks made by Marilynne Robinson and a very fine book about the American Revolution, Taming Democracy by Aimée's former professor Terry Bouton, to consider the declining conception of democracy. Here's a more recent one on Nader and progressivism.

I've written quite a bit about capitalism, as I've been working to understand its history and processes. In the context of the crisis of the last few years, I wrote several borderline-apocalyptic posts, culminating in "Terminal Crisis?", which served in part as a mini-review of sorts of David Harvey's The Limits to Capital. A little earlier, responding in part to some remarks from Noam Chomsky, I posted the popular Google-hit, "Basic Capitalist Principles". I always wonder if people are getting what they think they're looking for when they end up there. And there was my review of Alexander Berkman's Prison Memoirs of an Anarchist.

"Love is an object kept in an empty box" is a line from a Smog song, but also the name of a meditative post on art and aesthetics and literary tradition. "The haiku is not for me" was a surprisingly popular post (relatively speaking, of course). Another meditation of sorts, this time on the term "novel"; it didn't quite get at what I meant it to, but it was a decent start.

Which brings us to literature. IOZ has graciously linked to two of my better recent-ish literary posts. First, to this one on J.M. Coetzee's Diary of a Bad Year; then this one on Roberto Bolaño and his much-hyped novel 2666. (An example of what I mentioned above, IOZ's link to the first resulted in a massive spike in traffic here, which increase I, naturally, immediately squandered. Readers seemed to have wised up with the second and failed to take the bait.)

More literature:

My notes on Jacques Roubaud's marvelous novel The Great Fire of London. "First Furrows of Care" was a meditation on Kafka's short story, "First Sorrow". Going back further, two posts (one, two) on the work of Israeli novelist Aharon Appelfeld, with some attention paid to political matters. Still further, two posts on Proust and his great work, In Search of Lost Time. The first is on "Proust and the Problems of Writing"; the second considers the fifth volume, The Captive, as it relates to love and trust and suspicion. (Inspired by Proust was this more personal post on an awakened memory, arguably marred by the unnecessary appending of an excerpt from Proust himself.)

More novels: A long somewhat rambling take on Richard Ford's Frank Bascombe trilogy (that is, the novels The Sportswriter, Independence Day, and The Lay of the Land). A reconsideration of Philip Roth's once-notorious Portnoy's Complaint. An early post looking at Richard Powers' novel Prisoner's Dilemma: "What if the world were already lost". Powers used to my favorite writer. No offense to him, but I can't imagine thinking anything like that anymore. A very early, very meandering post on my re-reading of Nabokov's Despair.

Wait, how is that I haven't yet mentioned Thomas Bernhard? Doesn't this blog's pretentious name come from one of his books? (Yes, yes it does; The Loser.) A Bernhard post that seems to attract a lot of Google visits is "Cerebral Pulse", on the novel Frost. There's also my review, of the much greater novel, Old Masters. And there have been several posts about Peter Handke: This one on his novel Across was perhaps the first entry where I felt I had an idea what I was doing here.

A defense of the then-still-living David Foster Wallace, who another blogger had called "washed up". And one about my disenchantment with the increasingly odious Martin Amis, another one of my formerly favorite writers.

Another popular one, this time a personal reading history of sorts. "We lack jouissance" was one of many posts touching on reading anxiety, this time from the perspective of translation and the kinds of writing we, as Anglo-Americans, might have trouble with. And, yes, alas, it's true: Literature is not innocent.

Finally, I would be remiss if I put up a post like this without strong representation from Gabriel Josipovici. He's been such an important part of my reading life in the last few years that it's impossible to explain. Here, then, are five posts about his work:

My review of In a Hotel Garden, the first Josipovici book I read; I had no idea the role he would later play. "Smoothness of Surface" and "A world about to be lost" deal at length with Josipovici's beautiful book, On Trust. I'm pretty happy with those posts, I have to admit. Then last year, I wrote about his marvelous essay "The Bible Open and Closed". At last, most recently, I, along with several others, reviewed his great short novel, Everything Passes.

Well, I think that's plenty. Thanks to everyone for reading. If you're new, stick around; I'll be back soon. I promise.


Ethan said...

You and I seem to have had a similar trajectory on the atheism issue. Part of what got me out of my overzealous rationalism was noticing that many aspects of religion and mysticism, while not personally appealing exactly, are too interesting to dismiss out of hand. But the biggest part was my (embarrassingly gradual) moving away from liberalism. As I finally began to recognize the flaws in my liberal worldview, and as I became more aware of what actually goes on on this planet, Harris-style antagonistic atheism became more and more untenable, both in its quickness to dismiss the actual lived experiences of real human beings with whom we should be forming ties of empathy and it its tendency to, as you say, efface politics.

My religious beliefs themselves haven't changed, exactly, though just recently I'm drawn fairly strongly to a view of science, influenced heavily by Bohm's writings on the "implicate order," that does give rise to a somewhat mystical view of the wholeness and unity of existence. Attempting as I do to feel this unity, I can no longer find it in myself to dismiss the experiences and feelings of others.

What I do feel comfortable dismissing are the utterly ludicrous statements of atheists who think that religion all on its own is the root of all the bad things in the world, where they make all these assertions about, on the one hand, how the human race would be better off if religion had never existed (I'd like to see the experiment that can provide evidence to support that theory), and on the other, that people like the 9/11 hijackers and those who resist our imperial adventures in places like Iraq and Afghanistan can only be motivated by religious extremism (ignoring the empirical evidence that suggests otherwise).

Thanks for the clip show--I've only had time as of now to go through the first set of links (hence my response focusing on religion), but I plan to go through the rest. I love posts like these, especially on blogs like yours that have been around for a long time and built up a huge archive, but which I have come across only recently.

Ethan said...

Also, I posted that comment by accident before proofing it. I hope it's at least semi-coherent and not overly pretentious.

Richard said...

Thanks Ethan. Your comment was plenty coherent and not pretentious at all...

Jacob Russell said...

The atheist brigade perceive religion as a mirror image of themselves: another form of facile pseudo-rationalism. All about statements and misstatements of 'belief.' "Beliefs"are defense reactions directed to outsiders which replace what they purport to defend... like fundamentalism... a kind of cognitive auto-immune disease where the organism destroys itself by replicating that which it attacks

Richard said...

Well put, Jacob. Thanks.

Also, Jacob, sorry I didn't reply to your comment to my May Day post. Time got away from me. It turned out that I didn't get to participate much, because I was on baby-duty, but Aimée was very much involved. Mirah & I were there in the beginning and end. I saw several people in your group; I'm glad you guys were able to make it down.

J.R. Boyd said...

Thanks for pointing us to all this great stuff.

I really appreciate the breadth of your pursuits, and how you arrive at your social commentary through literature. It's unique among the blogs I read, and I'm sure I'm not alone in saying that I look forward to more in the coming years.

I think it's fair to say that if Montag take a sabbatical, then you can take all the time you need to write what you want. That is all that matters.

Richard said...

Thanks, J.R.; I appreciate it.

Andy W said...

Phew! I think it'll take me a while to get through the various posts you linked to (let alone read all the books you mention in them!). But thank you anyway for giving your new readers a 'greatest hits'. More bloggers should do that.

Keep up the marvellous work.