Friday, 31 January 2014

Vladimir Nabokov's lecture on Madame Bovary

1/ Nabokov says "3 forces make and mold a human being: heredity, environment, and the unknown agent X. Of these the 2nd, environment, is by far the least important, whilst the last, agent X, is by far the most influential."
"... This is why I am opposed to those who insist upon the influence of objective social conditions upon the heroine Emma Bovary. Flaubert's novel deals with the delicate calculus of human fate, not with the arithmetic of social conditioning."
Such people are mocked in "The Real Life of Sebastian Knight".  
However, I must say Nabokov's choice of the word "heroine" is incorrect. Emma Bovary is by no means a heroine. 

2/ The term bourgeois used by Flaubert for most of the characters in the book means "philistine, people preoccupied with the material side of life and believing only in conventional values. He never uses the word bourgeois with any politico-economic Marxist connotation. Flaubert's bourgeois is a state of mind, not a state of pocket." This clarity is certainly helpful- I only knew the Marxist sense. 
Funnily enough, he adds "Let me add for double clarity that Marx would have called Flaubert a bourgeois in the politico-economic sense and Flaubert would have called Marx a bourgeois in the spiritual sense; and both would have been right, since Flaubert was a well-to-do gentleman in physical life and Marx was a philistine in his attitude towards the arts."

3/ "A romantic person, mentally and emotionally living in the unreal, is profound or shallow depending on the quality of his or her mind. Emma Bovary is intelligent, sensitive, comparatively well educated, but she has a shallow mind: her charm, beauty, and refinement do not preclude a fatal streak of philistinism in her. Her exotic daydreams do not prevent her from being small-town bourgeois at heart, clinging to conventional ideas or committing this or that conventional violation of the conventional, adultery being a most conventional way to rise above the conventional; and her passion for luxury does not prevent her from revealing once or twice what Flaubert terms a peasant hardness, a strain of rustic practicality."
This is interesting. Adultery is the most conventional way to rise above the conventional. 

4/ Nabokov, as may be guessed, calls Charles Bovary a philistine, "a pathetic human being", who has "no charm, no brains, no culture, with a set of conventional notions and habits".
However, "... the love Charles almost unwittingly develops for Emma is a real feeling, deep and true, in absolute contrast to the brutal or frivolous emotions experienced by Rodolph and Léon, her smug and vulgar lovers. So here is the pleasing paradox of Flaubert's fairy tale: the dullest and most inept person in the book is the only one who is redeemed by a divine something in the all-powerful, forgiving, and unswerving love that he bears Emma, alive or dead. There is yet a 4th character in the book who is in love with Emma but that 4th is merely a Dickensian child, Justin. Nevertheless, I recommend him for sympathetic attention."
I have always seen Charles as pathetic, and the fact that he dies of grief makes him more of a laughingstock, because both Emma and he live in delusion. But perhaps Nabokov has a point.

5/ "Emma is a great reader of romances, of more or less erotic novels, of romantic verse. Some of the authors she knows are 1st-rate, such as Walter Scott or Victor Hugo; others not quite 1st-rate, such as Bernardin de Saint-Pierrre or Lamartine. But good or bad this is not the point. The point is that she is a bad reader. She reads books emotionally, in a shallow juvenile manner, putting herself in this or that female character's place."
Later, after no. 13, he says "Only children can be excused for identifying themselves with the characters in a book, or enjoying badly written adventure stories; but this is what Emma and Léon do." 
In this lecture Nabokov tackles a few things I have discussed earlier. I may not always be able to grasp a book, to recognise and analyse the beauty of a literary work, but I'm not a bad reader in the sense that I don't have to identify and sympathise with characters in a book in order to enjoy and appreciate that book.

6/ Nabokov says, Flaubert "uses the same artistic trick when listing Homais's vulgarities."
And referring to another wrong attitude in reading that I have earlier mentioned, he says: "The subject may be crude and repulsive. Its expression is artistically modulated and balanced. This is style. This is art. This is the only thing that really matters in books."

7/ Nabokov points out that the names suggested for the baby by the characters in the book actually reveal their tastes and personalities.

8/ "She is false, she is deceitful by nature: she deceives Charles from the very start before actually committing adultery."
Emma Bovary is fatalistic. This is 1 of the reasons I place "Anna Karenina" above "Madame Bovary"- Anna's life has ups and downs, brighter and darker days, whereas Emma right from the beginning is set to go straight to hell. 

9/ To describe Emma Bovary, I usually use the word "delusional" (and "idiotic"), which can also be used for Emma Woodhouse, and tend to see the similarities between Emma and Charles Bovary. Both are blind, delusional. Both are weak. Both make a fool of themselves. Then knowing Catherine Morland, I think both characters are inexperienced, ignorant readers who expect life to be like books. Nabokov sees Emma differently: "She lives among philistines, and she is a philistine herself. Her mental vulgarity is not so obvious as that of Homais. [...] one cannot help feeling that Homais and Emma not only phonetically echo each other but do have something in common- and that something is the vulgar cruelty of their natures. In Emma the vulgarity, the philistinism, is veiled by her grace, her cunning, her beauty, her meandering intelligence, her power of idolisation, her moments of tenderness and understanding, and by the fact that her brief bird life ends in human tragedy."
Later, after no.13, Nabokov analyses it further. Homais "tries to cram all his knowledge of physics and chemistry into 1 elephantine sentence; he has a good memory for odds and ends derived from newspapers and pamphlets. But that is all."
And adds "Just as Homais's speech is a jumble of pseudoscience and journalese, so in the 3rd movement the conversation between Emma and Léon is a trickle of stale poetisation. [...] It is important to mark that the Léon- Emma team is as trivial, trite, and platitudinous in their pseudoartistic emotions as the pompous and fundamentally ignorant Homais is in regard to science."
One must feel startled- what if I'm also a philistine? 

10/ I can't count how many times Nabokov uses the words "philistine" and "philistinism" in this lecture.
At 1 point he even exclaims "Oh those ignoble, treacherous, and philistine translators! One would think that Monsieur Homais, who knew a little English, was Flaubert's English translator."  
Don't you hate Nabokov for reading Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Flaubert, Proust... in the original languages? 

11/ A few impossibilities of "Madame Bovary" are mentioned, such as the ignorance of Charles Bovary and the busybody Homais. Though Nabokov says they "do not clash with the pattern of the book".

12/ "The isms go; the ist dies; art remains."
This is why the other day I wrote that it didn't matter very much whether or not Jane Austen's a feminist. 

13/ "Without Flaubert there would have been no Marcel Proust in France, no James Joyce in Ireland. Chekhov in Russian would not have been quite Chekhov. So much for Flaubert's literary influence."
It should be mentioned that Franz Kafka's also influenced by Gustave Flaubert, whom he calls 1 of his blood relatives. 

14/ "... if the official speeches are stale "journalese", the romantic conversation between Rodolph and Emma is stale "romantese". The whole beauty of the thing is that it is not good and evil interrupting each other, but 1 kind of evil intermingled with another kind of evil. As Flaubert remarked, he paints colour on colour."
Apparently Flaubert and Nabokov were more alike than I thought.
After giving extracts, examples, he says "In a way, Industry and the Fine Arts, those twin sisters, symbolise the hob breeders and the tender couple in a kind of farcical synthesis. This is a wonderful chapter. It has had an enormous influence on James Joyce; and I do not think that, despite superficial innovations, Joyce has gone any further than Flaubert."

15/ Nabokov calls "Madame Bovary" a prose poem.
Having read this lecture I see more clearly why he doesn't think highly of Dostoyevsky. Those who think it's because of incomprehension or envy and such lousy things obviously don't know Nabokov's style, temperament and attitude towards art. The point is not whether I agree with him, but I understand his viewpoint.

16/ "... Flaubert's fondness for what may be termed the unfolding method, the successive development of visual details, 1 thing after another thing, with an accumulation of this or that emotion" and "Flaubert's method of rendering emotions or states of mine through an exchange of meaningless words".

17/ "Flaubert does not use many metaphors, but when he does they render emotions in terms which are in keeping with the characters' personalities."  

18/ Nabokov quotes several times from Flaubert's letters discussing the working of the novel. He, however, doesn't discuss the sentence "Madame Bovary, c'est moi"

Vladimir Nabokov's lecture on Mansfield Park

Reading "Lectures on Literature" by Vladimir Nabokov.

1/ "Mansfield Park" is not "a violently vivid masterpiece". Nabokov is right, "novels like "Madame Bovary" or "Anna Karenina" are delightful explosions admirably controlled" and this one isn't.
Her works are never shocking, never overwhelming, never challenging, never haunting, and not always engrossing. 
Then he says ""Mansfield Park", on the other hand, is the work of a lady and the game of a child. But from that workbasket comes exquisite needlework art, and there is a streak marvelous genius in that child." 
As a woman, I found this line a bit hard to digest, let alone saw it as a some sort of praise. However, to ignore the slight streak of the sexist in Nabokov, I can see his point of view, and will come back to this at the end of the post.

2/ He says "there is in Jane Austen a slight streak of the philistine. This philistinism is obvious in her preoccupation with incomes and in her rational approach to romance and nature."
I wouldn't use this word. To me, she's rational and realistic, strictly realistic. Or maybe that's it, she's not particularly poetic.

3/ "Every sentence in these introductory pages is terse and tapered to a fine point."

4/ Nabokov analyses how the author introduces certain events to have the story move on: Mr Norris's death brings the arrival of the Grants, which in turns leads to the arrival of the young Crawfords, then Jane Austen removes Sir Thomas from Mansfield park for the young people to overindulge their freedom and brings him back "at the height of the mild orgy".
He also writes "Nobody in "Mansfield Park" dies in the arms of the author and reader, as people do in Dickens, Flaubert, Tolstoy. The deaths in "Mansfield Park" happen somewhere behind the scenes and excite little emotion. These dull deaths have, however, a curiously strong influence on the development of plot". Eg: the deaths of Mr Norris, a horse, a clergyman, Dr Grant, a dowager and Mary Price. He calls these functional deaths.
I must admit that I did not see these devices. Obviously an author sees things that may escape an ordinary reader's notice. Jane Austen is known for not dwelling on suffering and misery, but now I start to feel that the characters not only die "offstage" but most of the deaths are merely functional deaths.

5/ Nabokov does help me understand why Fanny disapproves of the play. "There is no reason to suppose that Jane Austen's sentiments do not parallel Fanny's. The point is, however, not that the play itself, as a play, is to be condemned as immoral but that it is suitable only for a professional theatre and actors and most improper for the Bertram circle to act."
He also thinks "And she is quite right. There is something obscene in Amelia's part."
This is an important point- in order to understand the characters in "Mansfield Park" one should know something about the play "Lovers' Vows" and should try to understand the mindset of the gentlefolk in Britain in the 18th, 19th centuries. Many people are too quick to call Fanny a prig. 

6/ "Henry Crawford shows a devilish cunning in steering himself and Maria into the right parts", meaning Frederick and Agatha, so they constantly stay together and embrace each other.
My thought is like no.5. 

7/ He compares Fanny to Cinderella, and notes that the figure is also found commonly in literature. 
Fanny, indeed, is not an original figure- what he doesn't see is that Jane Austen does something remarkable in creating Henry Crawford, who is used to shatter the bad boy ideal in literature and in real life, and in creating Mary Crawford, who is the author's reaction to her own heroine in the previous book.

8/ "Miss Crawford's style is superficially elegant but trite and trivial if studied closely. It is full of grateful clichés, like the hope for Fanny's "sweetest smiles", for Fanny was not that type."
Then he goes on to say that Fanny's general style "has elements of force, purity, and precision."
The key to seeing Jane Austen's talent is to keep close attention to the language and see how a character's speech reveals their personality and character. Nabokov's genius, on the other hand, is too easy to see. 

9/ "The whole scene, Sir Thomas's talk with Fanny in the East room, chapter 32, is admirable, 1 of the best in the novel".
"Mansfield Park" has lots of well-written parts, and I agree, this part is magnificent. 

10/ "Many readers, especially feminine readers, can never forgive subtle and sensitive Fanny for loving such a dull fellow as Edmund, but I can only repeat that the worst way to read a book is childishly to mix with the characters in it as if they were living people. Actually, of course, we often hear of sensitive girls faithfully in love with bores and prigs. Yet it must be said that Edmund, after all, is a good, honest, well-mannered, kind person. So much for the human interest of the thing."
What Nabokov apparently doesn't expect is that lots of readers hate Fanny and prefer Mary Crawford and, because of that, dislike "Mansfield Park". 

11/ "Here and elsewhere, there is an intimation that if Edmund had married Mary and if Henry had persevered in his tenderness and good behaviour, Fanny would have married him after all."
I disagree. It would be unconvincing if she didn't once in a while waver, but as said before, I think Fanny rejects Henry more because of his unreliability than because of her love for Edmund. 

12/ Nabokov thinks Edmund's slowness to propose to Mary "becomes something of a farce".
I don't find it unnatural. Edmund's uncertain because, even though love is blind, he does see some parts of Mary's character and feels uneasy about it. 

13/ "Miss Austen would have had to write practically another volume of 500 pages if she had wished to narrate those elopements in the same direct and detailed form as she had done in relating the games and flirtations at Mansfield park before Fanny left for Portsmouth. The epistolary form has helped to prop up the structure of the novel at this point, but there is no doubt that too much has happened behind the scenes and that this letter-writing business is a shortcut of no very great artistic merit."
This, in my opinion, is not a fault. Most of the book is seen from Fanny's perspective in spite of the 3rd-person point of view, and around this time focuses on Fanny being with her family. Jane Austen creates suspense by concealing everything from Fanny and from the readers before Mary sends the letter about a rumour about which Fanny knows nothing. Above all, through the correspondences, the true characters of some characters are exposed, the loss of which would do harm to the novel, and the coexistence of the letters with the detailed narrative would be redundant.
I have used similar arguments for the last part of "Sense and Sensibility".

14/ "It is quite a shock to come to loud-speaking, flushed, robust Dickens after meeting delicate, dainty, pale Jane."
I do not read Nabokov's lecture on "Bleak House" because I haven't read this book. The sentence gives me the impression that he prefers Dickens. I must say many of Dickens's characters are more like caricatures, not as natural and realistic as Jane Austen's, but then again, he produces some awesome characters such as Ebenezer Scrooge. 

15/ "The whole novel resembles a play".
In what sense? Dialogue, characterisation through dialogue?
Anyhow, it's not without reason that she's called "the prose Shakespeare". 

16/ "Another element is what I call the epigrammatic intonation, a certain terse rhythm is terse and tender, dry and yet musical, pithy but limpid and light.
[...] Style like this is not Austen's invention, nor is it even an English invention: I suspect it really comes from French literature where it is profusely represented in the 18th and early 19th centuries. Austen did not read French but got the epigrammatic rhythm from the pert, precise, and polished kind of style which was the fashion. Nevertheless, she handles it to perfection."
Another praise. I like that: "handles it to perfection".

The next point is from his lecture on Charles Dickens's "Bleak House":
17/ After saying that he (and his students) "did have some degree of fun with her delicate patterns, with her collection of eggshells in cotton wool", Nabokov says "the fun was forced. We had to slip into a certain mood; we had to focus our eyes in a certain way. Personally I dislike porcelain and the minor arts, but I have often forced myself to see some bit of precious translucent china through the eyes of an expert and have discovered a vicarious bliss in the process."
Then "Let us not forget that there are people who have devoted to Jane all their lives, their ivy-clad lives. I am sure that some readers have a better ear for Miss Austen than I have. However, I have tried to be very objective..."
I suppose that's what happened- the 1st time reading "Emma" and "Sense and Sensibility" I found no pleasure and later must have slipped into a certain mood to see what's hidden underneath all the tediousness and small talk and other trifles, and once having got the right mindset, no longer had any problem with the later works. 
A few months ago, having acknowledged her talent, I myself opposed a guy's claim that Jane Austen may be the greatest novelist of all time. I think, not few people feel some kind of ambivalence towards her, as on the 1 hand one sees how masterful she is within her limitations and self-imposed boundaries, how well she handles her characters and gives each of them a voice, on the other hand one cannot help seeing how little and confined her world is and that lots of topics are avoided and pushed away- Jane Austen might be called the most perfect novelist (which I'm not even sure of), not the greatest one. 
Nabokov's attitude does not surprise. I was more baffled before when thinking that the genius author of "Lolita" and "The Real Life of Sebastian Knight", the arrogant man of strong opinions, could have liked Jane Austen, though it would have been better if Nabokov had read some other of her novels, which I believe he didn't do. Her works are better seen in relation with each other.  

Update on 1/2/2014: 
The introduction by John Updike reminds me that before "Mansfield Park" Nabokov had read "Pride and Prejudice" and disliked Jane Austen.
I think, "Pride and Prejudice" should not be read 1st, especially when one has had some prejudices against Jane Austen. If you love it, chances are, you'll always love it and perhaps more than any of her novels. If you hate it, chances are, that will push you away and always make you have a very odious impression of the author. 

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Was Jane Austen a feminist?

1st of all, the question is: What is feminism? This 1 word means different things to different people. I don't know if I can be called a feminist, for instance. In some ways I am- when Stephenie Meyer creates a female character whose life revolves around her boyfriend and who cares about nothing else; when Charlotte Bronte makes her Jane Eyre return to a grumpy, irritable, deceitful, manipulative man; when Giacomo Puccini lets his Cio Cio San suffer blindly for a white man and kill herself pointlessly after she realises she has been deceived; when August Strindberg torments and mocks his Miss Julie; when "Indiana Jones and the temple of doom" uses a dumb blond woman as a foil for Indiana Jones; when a woman suffers and makes a fool of herself in the name of love; when a woman subserviently clings to a man who has no respect for her or who even abuses her physically or mentally because she can't live alone or because she has the silly hope that he will change; when a man talks of his lovers or his conquests as a way of boasting about his attractiveness and manliness; when a man, opposing abortion without exception, makes disrespectful comment on rapes and rape victims; when a rapist says their victims "ask for it"; when male singers objectify women in their music videos, etc.
But in some other ways I'm not. To me men and women are equal and should be given equal opportunities, yet it doesn't mean men and women are the same. I do not equate feminism with abolishing all differences between men and women; nor with having women do everything men do (and vice versa); nor with making women manly; nor with removing everything seen as men's gallantry (such as offering a seat or offering to help with heavy stuff); nor with standing by women in all cases, seeing women always as victims and men always as perpetrators... I do not equate feminism with sexual liberation in the sense that if men can get half naked from the waist up in public then women also can; if men can feign masturbation in live shows and music videos then women can; basically the idea that women can do whatever men can even if it appears vulgar, unfeminine, ugly. Nor do I support the women who, by standing up for themselves and living for their sexuality or freedom, neglect and leave their children (such as in "Nymphomaniac" or "A doll's house"), just because men often do so, for I see the bond between a mother and a child as different from that between a father and a child, a mother's role as unlike a father's role- don't misunderstand, I do not mean that I support the fathers in such cases, but when a mother does so, I find it more unacceptable, more condemnable.
Besides, I'm not 1 of those feminists who always want to have a certain rate of successful women in a field and, when not satisfied, unthinkingly put all the blame on men and society and gender inequality. That may or may not be true, but I do not have the same tendency, the same certainty and conviction. 
In short, that is my attitude. 

Concerning Jane Austen, for some reasons many people don't consider her a feminist and it continues to be debatable. In 1 sense it should not matter- it doesn't does a bit harm to her reputation as a great writer nor her place on the UK banknote. On the other hand, even when it's not particularly important, I find it rather naive, rather black-and-white when some people dismiss her feminism altogether or even see her as anti-feminist only because all of heroines get married at the end of her 6 novels and she does not explicitly, like Charlotte Bronte or Mary Wollstonecraft, say that women are to be equal to men.
To me, feminism means different things and has lots of different shades and aspects, and in my opinion, Jane Austen's a feminist in many ways: 

- dealing with, and criticising, the injustice of primogeniture and the entail 
- depicting the hard circumstances of poor women and their immobility as they have no transport 
- examining women's powerlessness in her time
- seeing women as rational creatures 
-  favouring sense over sensibility and attacking the idea of women as emotional, delicate creatures, especially in "Sense and sensibility" 
- creating strong-minded, independent heroines such as Elinor Dashwood, Elizabeth Bennet, Fanny Price, Emma Woodhouse, Anne Elliot... 
- comparing the governess trade to the slave trade, as in "Emma" 
- through Jane Fairfax, showing the 2 options of a distinguished, beautiful but poor woman (to get married or to become a governess) and marking the contrast between Jane Fairfax and Emma Woodhouse
- letting Charlotte Lucas marry the horrendous Mr Collins as a way of rescuing herself 
- shattering the bad boy ideal through the depiction of Henry Crawford and the decision of Fanny in "Mansfield park" 
- creating some female characters who have to be mercenary or even scheming because of their circumstances such as Lucy Steele, Isabella Thorpe...
- ridiculing the men who don't expect a no, as in "Pride and prejudice", "Mansfield park" and "Emma" 
- having the readers understand that without Captain Wentworth, Anne Elliot could still live well
- advocating marriage for love instead of money but at the same time, not without stressing duty, prudence, understanding... 
- critiquing the way the literary world is dominated by men and their stories and their perspectives, as expressed in "Northanger abbey" and "Persuasion" 
- above all, turning down an offer of marriage, choosing to be an author, and calling her works children; and as an author, staying true to herself, rejecting the themes and topics regarded by men as important 

I would even go as far as saying that Jane Austen's more like a feminist than Charlotte Bronte. I value her works, as a reader, as a human being, and as a woman.
But who knows? Many people would not even consider me a feminist.

Monday, 27 January 2014

Happy and unhappy families

"All happy families are alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." *
(1st sentence of "Anna Karenina", Tolstoy)

"All happy families are more or less dissimilar; all unhappy ones are more or less alike."
(1st sentence of "Ada or ardor: A family chronicle", Nabokov)

Here, Froma Walsh argues for Nabokov:;+all+unhappy+ones+are+more+or+less+alike&source=bl&ots=IsAsr76GKo&sig=ReOEhbYZzC8ije0xJgsMX7Iz0oE&hl=en&sa=X&ei=tZTmUvvmDvH7yAOpj4DQCw&ved=0CFMQ6AEwCQ#v=onepage&q=All%20happy%20families%20are%20more%20or%20less%20dissimilar%3B%20all%20unhappy%20ones%20are%20more%20or%20less%20alike&f=false

I disagree. Strongly disagree.
1st, Froma Walsh attempts to refute the 1st clause in Tolstoy's sentence by saying, Tolstoy contends that families must conform to 1 model, which has been challenged in the 21st century. Then she goes on to redefine the idea of a normal family, breaking it into various types. This is problematic right from the beginning because Tolstoy's talking about happy families, not normal families, and she's replacing his word with another, twisting the meaning.
2nd, let's say Froma Walsh has a point, that Tolstoy thinks of 1 model and that families have become diverse and complex over time. It's true that many different models may function well: families with same-sex couples, adopted children, single parents, multi-ethnic/ multicultural parents, unmarried couples, step families, ...; in this sense they're not alike. However, if this is true, she may refute the 1st clause without refuting the 2nd clause. There are also numerous different models of an unhappy family.
3rd, I moreover believe what Tolstoy has in mind is not a model of a happy family, but the common elements of a happy family such as love, trust, understanding, compatibility, harmony... These elements, characteristics are both causes and signs of their happiness, whatever model the family is.
On the other hand, unhappy families may be unhappy for a variety of reasons: incompatibility, cultural barrier, jealousy, paranoia, ill temper, alcoholism, addiction, lack of love, new love, infidelity, deception, gap between parents and children, spoilt children, lack of understanding between husband and wife or between parents and children, financial problems, physical abuse, sex, violence, incest... ** They also have different forms, different manifestations such as family members arguing all the time, contradicting and disagreeing with each other over trifles, not talking, not seeing each other, not sleeping in the same bed, hiding things from each other, speaking ill of each other to outsiders, doing exactly what the other hates... Once in a while, an unhappy family may very much resemble a happy one, but it's all pretence, and this bubble may pop any moment.
I do not know Nabokov's arguments, how he gives examples to back up his point and attack Tolstoy's. But according to my way of seeing it, it's Tolstoy that is right.

*: This is called the Anna Karenina principle:
**: And sometimes, because of "horrifyingly ugly children":

Sunday, 26 January 2014

100 latest films I've watched

From August 2013 to January 2014

1/ Le trou (The hole- France- 1960)
2/ A few good men (1992)- again
3/ The firm (1993)
4/ Rope (1948)
5/ The silence of the lambs (1991)- again
6/ The accused (1988)
7/ The proposal (2009)
8/ The trouble with Harry (1955)
9/ Quills (2000)
10/ The code/ Thick as thieves (2009)
11/ Behind the candelabra (2013)
12/ The illusionist (2006)- again
13/ State of play (2009)
14/ Shame (2011)
15/ Captain Corelli's Mandolin (2001)
16/ 乱 (Ran- Japan- 1985)
17/ Король Лир (King Lear- USSR- 1971)
18/ Blood simple (1985)
19/ A clockwork orange (1971)
20/ Extremely loud and incredibly close (2011)
21/ Sense and sensibility (1995)
22/ Spartacus (1960)
23/ Sense and sensibility (2008)
24/ 羅生門 (Rashomon- Japan- 1950)
25/ 2001: A space odyssey (1968)
26/ The fountain (2006)
27/ Marvin's room (1996)
28/ The butler (2013)
29/ The rainmaker (1997)
30/ Great expectations (1946)
31/ Memento (2000)
32/ ABCD: Any Body Can Dance/ Aadalam Boys Chinnatha Dance (India- 2013)
33/ 복수는 나의 것 (Sympathy for Mr Vengeance- South Korea- 2002)
34/ Mud (2012)
35/ Magnolia (1999)
36/ Great expectations (2012)
37/ 晩春 (Late spring- Japan- 1949)
38/ En kongelig affære (A royal affair- Denmark- 2012)
39/ Blowup (1966)
40/ Zodiac (2007)
41/ Punch-drunk love (2002)
42/ Pulp fiction (1994)- twice
43/ Jane Eyre (1996)
44/ The prestige (2006)- again
45/ The big Lebowski (1998)
46/ Silver linings playbook (2012)- again
47/ Miller's crossing (1990)
48/ Captain Phillips (2013)
49/ The ides of March (2011)
50/ 愛の亡霊 (Empire of passion- Japan- 1978)
51/ Vertigo (1958)
52/ Jane Eyre (2011)- again
53/ Reservoir dogs (1992)
54/ Otto e mezzo (8½- Italy- 1963)
55/ Boogie nights (1997)- again
56/ Höstsonaten (Autumn sonata- Sweden, West Germany- 1978)
57/ La dolce vita (The sweet/ good life- Italy- 1960)
58/ La strada (The road- Italy- 1954)
59/ La notte (The night- Italy- 1961)
60/ Tystnaden (The silence- Sweden- 1963)
61/ Le mépris (Contempt- France- 1963)
62/ Fast& Furious 5 (2011)- again
63/ Shadowlands (1993)
64/ Dr Strangelove (1964)- again
65/ The French lieutenant's woman (1981)- twice
66/ Detektiv Downs (Norway- 2013)
67/ Philomena (2013)
68/ The counselor (2013)
69/ The virgin suicides (1999)
70/ Jane Eyre (2006)
71/ The lord of the rings 1: The fellowship of the ring (2001)- again
72/ The lord of the rings 2: The 2 towers (2002)- again
73/ The lord of the rings 3: The return of the king (2003)- again
74/ The quick and the dead (1995)- again
75/ Falling down (1993)
76/ The hobbit 2: The dosolation of Smaug (2013)
77/ Lord of the flies (1990)- again
78/ Harry Potter and the half-blood prince- Harry Potter 6 (2009)- again
79/ The king's speech (2010)- again
80/ Harry Potter and the prisoner of Azkaban- Harry Potter 3 (2004)- again
81/ Harry Potter and the goblet of fire- Harry Potter 4 (2005)- again
82/ Home alone 3 (1997)- again
83/ The bodyguard (1992)- again
84/ Home alone 4 (2002)- again
85/ Home alone 2: Lost in New York (1992)- again
86/ Harry Potter and the chamber of secrets- Harry Potter 2 (2002)- again
87/ Harry Potter and the order of phoenix- Harry Potter 5 (2007)- again
88/ Harry Potter and the deathly hallows- Harry Potter 7 part 1 (2010)- again
89/ Gravity (2013)
90/ Pretty woman (1990)- again
91/ Pather Panchali (India- 1955)
92/ What's eating Gilbert Grape (1993)
93/ Rain man (1988)- again
94/ Play the game (2009)
95/ Clueless (1995)
96/ LOL: Laughing out loud (2012)
97/ Harry Potter and the philosopher's stone- Harry Potter 1 (2001)- again
98/ Harry Potter and the deathly hallows- Harry Potter 7 part 2 (2011)- again
99/ The last stand (2013)  
100/ Nymphomaniac (2013)

In bold: films which I like and/ or consider good.

On "Invisible man" (Ralph Ellison)

Does anybody now like to read about the black-white conflict? Slavery? Segregation? Civil rights movement? Does anybody now like to read about how badly whites treated blacks? Enslaved? Humiliated? Oppressed? Held down?
Well I don't. And it's not because of political reasons, the only reason is that this topic has been utilised, and exploited, so many times, which I have read in books and seen in films and TV shows and documentaries, that it no longer interests me. The well-done film "The butler" did not. The upcoming "12 years a slave" does not (though I'll watch it). The subject matter bores me to death.
Anyone who has read Toni Morrison understands; those who haven't must wonder why, in spite of what's written above, 1 of my top favourite writers is black. I read and revere Toni Morrison for her rhythm, for her lyrical language, for her magical metaphors, for her deep understanding of human beings, for the sympathy she has for all of her characters by letting us see their perspectives... Above all, she writes about black people as a people, independent and interesting on its own with its lives and culture and customs and habits and such, not an oppressed people, not a people in relation to another people (whites). Even when her novel deals with slavery, such as in "Beloved", it's more about her people, how they live, what they do with their lives and how they interact with each other, than about the black-white conflict. Nor is she afraid of making others think badly about black people, when creating some bad black characters, because propagandist literature is not literature, and her world is diverse and real with all its light and shade, good and bad.
Likewise, "Invisible man" by Ralph Ellison has intrigued and engrossed me, after some initial tediousness of the subject matter. The most fascinating aspect is that the book presents a mindset among African Americans, a determination to strive and succeed and prove themselves, a resolution to uplift the black people and better the image of black people, thus, a tendency to hide from white Americans everything negative about blacks, and thus, a tendency to dislike and destroy all the black people who contribute to the negative stereotypes, disdain and contempt against their own group. I haven't known about such thinking. The narrator is expelled by the black schoolmaster, not by 1 of the white trustees. And of course, "Invisible man" deals with some other mindsets as well- some people think in terms of race, some in terms of ideology; some in terms of individuals, some in terms of larger interests, the bigger picture. 
(The conflict between the narrator and the Brotherhood, in my opinion, is not that between blacks and whites, but more like that between a person who cares about individuals and an organisation that puts more stress on the bigger picture. That is, I have tried replacing in my mind the race of the Brotherhood members and it doesn't make much difference what race they belong to).  
I, too, start developing a theory whilst reading this book, but will write about it later, if possible. 
With respect to aesthetic value, the book is well-written. Heavy, but not dull, it's vivid, realistic, complex and thought-provoking.
I recommend.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

On "Lolita" and the obligation of literature

On 16/8/2013 I wrote an entry called "3 wrong attitudes in reading novels" (avoid depressing books; like books with happy endings; have to like and sympathise with the main characters in order to appreciate the book).
These days going around the internet and reading several blogs, I realise that I forgot something else: the tendency, when looking at a book, to ask "What is the purpose of this book?" "What does the author want to say?" "What is the message?" "What is the moral lesson?" Well, why? Why does literature have to be moral and didactic? Why does literature have to carry the duty, the responsibility of creating good, sympathetic characters, i.e role models, and if depicting immoral ones, must criticise them and punish them? Cannot literature simply reflect reality and/ or be a case study in psychology? Cannot literature be enjoyed and appreciated for aesthetic value? Are books with moral lessons more worthy than those without explicit ones? What are immoral books (but those that show the world its own shame)? Why must the so-called immoral books be deemed worthless, or even disgusting, irrespective of their aesthetic value and the authors' genius? Why must novels be described, summed up in a couple of words about morality? Why are writers supposed to say something, teach something, make people learn something specific? Because otherwise people find no reason for reading fiction? Or because of the illusion that literature makes us better persons?
I am appalled by the people who refuse to read "Lolita" because it's wrong and, according to them, revolting. I am appalled by the people who read it and fail to see its beauty and wonder, or see it and then have a bad conscience for liking 'such a book'. There are 2 types of people who approach "Lolita" the wrong way- those in the 1st group mean to find steamy sex scenes and get disappointed; the others expect some explicit moral lessons and also get disappointed. Having such ideas and expectations in mind, they can't fully appreciate the humour, double entendres, word play, puns, anagrams, coinages, vivid descriptions, beautiful, poetic language and Nabokov's incredible ability to get into a paedophile's mind.
The more prigs I encounter, the more I admire Nabokov for writing and publishing "Lolita", for not stooping, for disregarding philistines, for contributing such a wondrous, magnificent work of art to American literature in particular and literature in general. 
Here is his afterword "On a book entitled 'Lolita'":
And here is his "Playboy" interview, in which he discusses "Lolita" and literature:
Each time I see someone attack Nabokov on moral grounds, I picture him laughing. Think about it. Nobody calls "Lolita" a badly written book. Just 'immoral'.

Rant on an abhorrent "Indiana Jones" film

I've just watched (a part of) "Indiana Jones and the temple of doom". 
Not trying to be politically correct or anything, I find it intolerably offensive, for 2 reasons: 
1st, the Indian characters, portrayed by actors who don't have Indian accent and don't even look very Indian to me, eat beetles, baby snakes, eyeball soup and monkey brains. Seriously?
2nd, the film features a dumb blond woman, who screams from the beginning to the end, and when not screaming, asks stupid questions. Seriously? Especially when placed beside the leading character, the charismatic, clever, courageous, calm Indiana Jones, she looks like a foil, marking the contrast between herself and him and making Indiana Jones appear more glorious. 
It should be said too, that this film came out in 1984, which was not a long time ago. The comic character in "Breakfast at Tiffany's", played by a white American actor, exploiting the stereotype of the Japanese to make people laugh, is offensive, but less repugnant than the ones mentioned above, and also more forgiveable because the film came out in 1961. But 1984!

Well I'm going to sleep.

Friday, 24 January 2014

Fanny Price and Jane Austen's philosophy of the virtues

1/ "Fanny's quiet, modest, stiff intellect is reminiscent of typical 18th century heroines a la Fanny Burney/Maria Edgeworth. But unlike her predecessors Austen recasts Fanny as a convincing character. She is not a mere goody-goody model of perfection: she is sensitive and delicate, and almost nobody admires her (even Edmund is somewhat patronising to her). She is a creature of habit, though like everyone else she likes a novelty off and on. It is startlingly similar to Susan Cain's book on introverts in today's world, and Fanny is one of them. Introverts can be creatures of habit, and need less excitement to be happy. I admit I was annoyed with her refusing to join the play, because I didn't think plays were immoral. But I now see that flirting onstage would be improper by Victorian standards, and the more severe Regency ladies. Fanny is uncomfortable with this. Fanny's love for novelty is from within, not from exciting activity. She seems to be more influenced by intellectual excitement than plays, because it shapes her way of thinking and feeling, and she is a dull moron with acting silly plays. And she is not totally averse to plays, because she admires Shakespeare. There is a reason Austen mentions Shakespeare as well as Kotzebue's silly play. Fanny's taste is high and selective. The others are selective for high society, she is selective for literary taste. I call Fanny a new Romantic, because she prefers the grand and noble, the emotional and the pastoral to the humorous and socially-elevated. She has more affinity with Cowper and Walter Scott than the 18th century wits. Her longing for nature and the good old days seems backward, and therefore casts doubt on her romanticism (because we thinking of romantics as radicals) but that is not true. The Romantics yearned for the days before industrialism and false taste, for inward bliss rather than mean gratifications. Ironically this makes her more progressive than the others, she has more soul than the other well-born characters. Shakespeare lost some reputation in the 17th century and the early 18th century, but in the latter half of the 18th century and the early 19th century he became king of drama, and the Romantics responded to him in kind. Fanny is an individual, never a member of a set, and I wonder if Austen was thinking of a literary bluestocking when she wrote MP. The character is so unusual and yet so convincing I suspect she had a friend with a similar character. If you look at Dorothy Wordsworth there are some similarities with Fanny Price."
(Caroline Helstone)


3/ On the book "Jane Austen's philosophy of the virtues":


Is she not over the Jane Austen mania yet? I know what you're thinking. Well, no. Not really. 
But I am reading "Invisible man" by Ralph Ellison at the moment, and will soon write about it, if possible.