Monday, 3 August 2015

Blaugust 4/31: Make a devastation and call it "peace"

This post represents step 4 of my 31-step plan to conquer Blaugust.

If you're not a seasoned Leaflocker reader, if such a thing exists, you may not be aware that we're five weeks into a seven year project to read the great books of the Western World, an undertaking that we persist in pretentiously calling "taking part in the Great Conversation". We unashamedly spoil works of literature, but it doesn't count because the audience is totally reading along with us, right?

Well, it seems like...a year since last week's readings. If every week in this seven-year project takes as long as this last one, then when I'm finally finished I shall be about as old as Harvard is now...better step it up a bit.

Week 5 in Review

Last week: 110 pages
So far: 532 pages

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
#not_gbww #copyrighted #fiction #english
Part One, Ch. 24 - 27 (22 pages)

So, Lolita languished on a hidden shelf along with Hard Times and Les Mis√©rables
 for a long time, but I find on my return that she's still as challenging a book as I was finding her prior to the break. The anticipation is the worst thing, and these chapters, with their deliberately unsettling disparate lengths and distasteful monologues, aren't helping. 

Humbert prepares a big lie to trap Lolita with him in case any other potential guardians come along, which means not telling her about her mother's death, while Lolita has a little secret of her own... To top it all off, we close with Humbert having drugged the girl, having planned to have his way with her, so yeah, I'm really looking forward to that...

It really is the work of a master, to make me dislike the book so badly and yet still want to keep reading to the end. In AVCon parlance, this is a beautiful trainwreck of a novel.

Hard Times by Charles Dickens
#not_gbww #fiction #english
Book the Second, Ch. 5 - 6 (21 pages)

Unsurprisingly, Stephen Blackpool, the hero of the working class, gets screwed over in these chapters by that Bounder, and also entwined in whatever nonsense young Tom is plotting. Not even intervention from the lovely and innocent Louisa can save him, so he's off into the distance just like the mystery woman (hint, hint, she's SOMEBODY'S mother).

Dickens, via Blackpool, gets pretty preachy here, it's easy to see where he's going with this: Deed we are in a muddle, sir. Look round town — so rich as 'tis — and see the numbers o' people as has been broughten into bein heer, fur to weave, an to card, an to piece out a livin', aw the same one way, somehows, twixt their cradles and their graves. Look how we live, and wheer we live, an in what numbers, an by what chances, and wi' what sameness; and look how the mills is awlus a goin, and how they never works us no nigher to ony dis'ant object — ceptin awlus, Death."

Discovery of Radium by Eve Curie
#new #oneshot #ggb #biography #english
(11 pages)

The first half of this reading gives a fascinating (if somewhat idyllic) view of the discovery of Curie's discovery of Radium and Polonium. Marie Curie discovered a new element by noting a strange characteristic and then testing each and every then-known element to see if they replicated her results. The things people will do for a Ph.D...

Particularly poignant, given the eventual painful end of her life caused in part by her long exposure to radioactivity, was this, written years earlier: "Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that? We must have perseverance and, above all, confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something, and that this thing, at whatever cost, must be attained."

Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare
#new #ggww #oneshot #play #english
(17 pages)

I didn't get to finishing Shrew we'll bump it to next...week. I tried...but then I fell asleep. Sorry, Bardy-boy.

Life of Gnaeus Julius Agricola by Cornelius Tacitus
#new #ggb #oneshot #biography #latin
(25 pages)

So, I think I could grow to like Tacitus. He's a pretty relatable guy, and while it's pretty clear that we have another example of trying to talk up one's relative to increase one's own social standing (is this going to become a common theme), there's some pretty interesting stuff here, I look forward to his other writings appearing in the list. Not only do we get a condensed history of Roman Britain here, we also see Boadicea (notable to many of my generation for her appearances in Civ II) for a few seconds, and hear the probably-fictional speech of the probably-fictional first Scotsman named in history. You know the one: "To robbery, slaughter, plunder, they give the lying name of empire; they make a devastation and call it peace."

There's a quote that has a portentous ring to someone growing up in the far reaches of an old empire, too... "He likewise provided a liberal education for the sons of the chiefs, and showed such a preference for the natural powers of the Britons over the industry of the Gauls that they who lately disdained the tongue of Rome now coveted its eloquence. Hence, too, a liking sprang up for our style of dress, and the “toga” became fashionable. Step by step they were led to things which dispose to vice, the lounge, the bath, the elegant banquet. All this in their ignorance they called civilisation, when it was but a part of their servitude."

But just to show that the Romans didn't have everything worked out, here's a rather puzzling description of the geography of the area:   "In that part of Britain which looks toward Ireland, he posted some troops, hoping for fresh conquests rather than fearing attack, inasmuch as Ireland, being between Britain and Spain and conveniently situated for the seas round Gaul, might have been the means of connecting with great mutual benefit the most powerful parts of the empire."

Again, this is an interesting work, but I think it only makes the canon because I suspect that it makes for a good student-level read in Latin.

On Friendship by Marcus Tullius Cicero
#new #ggb #oneshot #philosophy #latin
(31 pages)

This was really boring. Cicero might have been a great rhetorician, but in comparison to Tacitus I found him to be sorely lacking. I think there's an interesting idea here, that true friendship can only be had between good people and equals, but I'm sure there was a better way to express the idea. Better luck next time, Marcus Tullius, and work or your sexytimes, OK?

Week 6 Readings

The mandatory reading from Dr. J next week is Plato's Apology, about which I have heard good things, but since I'm not a crazy person that means that there's no way I'm shoving Plutarch into the same week. I'm going to wimp out and just pick up the Kipling as extra reading, which should leave us plenty of room to both pick up the Shakespeare that we didn't quite get finished this week and make some progress on our ongoing novel readings.

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
#not_gbww #copyrighted #fiction #english
Part One, Ch. 28 - 33 (22 pages)

Hard Times by Charles Dickens
#not_gbww #fiction #english
Book the Second, Ch. 7 - 9 (32 pages)

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo
#not_gbww #fiction #french
Volume i, Book Three (24 pages)

Mowgli's Brothers from The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling
#new #excerpt #ggb #fiction #english
(16 pages)

Apology by Plato
#new #oneshot #gbww #philosophy # greek
(13 pages)

Taming of the Shrew by William Shakespeare
#new #ggww #oneshot #play #english
(17 pages)

Happy reading to you all.


Michael5000 said...

So, as someone who has to take steps to keep myself from reading Lolita too often, because I don't want to dilute its power in the time I will get to spend with it between now and my death, I would be remiss in not coming out to challenge you at least a little on this. After all, you want Great Conversation, right?

My chosen line of attack shall draw on our shared historical mothercountry heritage: Othello, by that one guy! When Iago comes out and gloats about how he's going to destroy the lives of Desdamona and Othello, just because it will amuse him to do so, do you feel unsettled, or do you find him deliciously evil and, as we say, "love to hate" him? I won't answer for you, but for most people he represents a villain to be booed and hissed in an entertaining fashion. Or, let us consider James Bond; do we not judge the excitement of the film by the awfulness of the villain? What, indeed, is Star Wars, if there were not Darth Vader?

Why is it, then, that you are so uncomfortable with Humbert Humbert?

This is very secondary, but it is probably significant that Lolita is played out in very, very closely observed and specifically American settings. The sublime experience of driving aimlessly across the vast network of pre-interstate American highways -- the "Great American Road Trip" -- is invoked really powerfully... plus or minus a wildly inappropriate underage sidekick, naturally.

In conclusion, I think that (A) represents the Cataphanate of the Byzantines, and that (B) are the nominal holdings of the Holy Roman Empire.

UnwiseOwl said...

I wondered how long it would take you to leap to Lolita's defence! :)

Don't get me wrong, I think Lolita is a great book. I'm reveling in the emotional response that it causes in my revulsion, which is evidence of great artistry indeed. My time and training as a youth worker makes me very, very uncomfortable around predators of children, and Lolita hits ALL of those buttons. I'm confident that it does for you, too, which is undoubtedly why you're such a fan, but I'm finding it hard on a first reading to pull myself out of the sitation the characters find themselves in enough to evaluate the book on anything other than the sheer raw emotional response it's dragging out of me.

I feel exactly like Humbert Humbert as I do with Iago. I love to hate him, but he's the villain in this piece and I desperately want him to get his comeuppance just before he obtains the object of his desire. I have a sense that this IS coming in some ways, but that it's not happened yet, and the tension is killing me. Of course, to keep challenging me, Nabokov should give me exactly the opposite of what I want, and there's a lot of book to go...

As to its status as a road movie, I'm pretty confident that we're about to enter into that segment of the story, but we're not there yet. Australians have that same Road Trip mentality that the yanks do (though perhaps less developed, as we have a much smaller pool of writers and particularly film-makers), and I've often found stories that invoke that idea work for me too, so we'll see. I think Usonians like to think that the road movie is a specifically American experience, but I've never bought that.

UnwiseOwl said...

PS: Thanks a whole bunch for engaging in this process. This is a big project and it's very encouraging to know there's people out there egging me on, even if they're just bashing their heads against the wall wondering why I don't get it.