Monday, March 27, 2006

Apparently, I Am The Bell Jar

I ran two photos of myself through the works, doing that Find The Celebrity In You thing over at MyHeritage and these are the names, in order, of the great ones I am supposed to resemble: Oscar Wilde, Alexandre Dumas, Henry Mancini, George Harrison, Brigham Young, Felix Mendelsohn, Annette Bening, Guillermo Coria, Maurice Maeterlinck, Paul Klee, J. M. Coetzee, Andie MacDowell, Gabriel Byrne, Mel Gibson, Mira Sorvino, Michael Douglas, and Sylvia Plath.

Never mind MacDowell and Sorvino—or, godsake, Annette Bening! I'm talking about Sylvia Effing Plath here. Are you people absolutely kidding me? Right, so, if I'm a guy, I'm the fattest-faced furbie to ever ponderously grace the earth, while, if I'm a girl, one out of four chances means I miss my bee-loving dad so much I'm going to kill myself. This internet, my desperadoes, is oh-so-cruel.

More words later. Books, today; music, manana.

Why Read The Classics? + Italo Calvino These are not your father's classics. Well, no—actually, a great deal of these thiry-six essays focus on your father's classics, and rightly so, but still, even when the accent is on traditional, it's not all traditional. Essays like "Nezzami's Seven Princesses", or, "The Structure Of The Orlando Furioso" (an obvious easy favourite for me), or "The Book Of Nature In Galileo", or, "The World Is An Artichoke" focus on the more baroque aspects of second-thought classics, and are absolute delights. And these essays are just the right size, too, back to something more Montaigne-intentioned; not neccessarily long, but complete thoughts upon carefully considered pleasures, and not obscure dissertations and erudite showmanship. Calvino does not venture far into modern waters, here—his subject, of course, somewhat hinders him—but does travel downstream as far as Hemingway, Pavese, Francis Ponge, and Raymond Queneau. Listen, academic essays are mostly boring—anything by C.S. Lewis proving the exception—but these are not academic essays, and these are not academic subjects. This book has for its subject the same theme as Casanova writing on women, Jane Grigson on food, Charles Mackay on gullibility, Twain on hypocrisy, or Jane Jacobs on suburbia: the author of the text is concerned, invested, interested, consumed—pick your own damn adjective!—by his or her subject. Laughter is catching, and sad people are not popular; strong emotion is like influenza, travelling from subject to subject, and the only way to avoid it is to bundle up and leave the room. If the author is interested, the reader will probably be interested, too. The subject of Calvino's essay's, like the subject of all good essays, is enjoyment. Calvino enjoys certain books and poems, and tells us why he enjoys them and why we should enjoy them. I don't know how much pleasure I would derive from a close reading of Pliny's Natural History, but I know that I certainly enjoyed Calvino reading it! A good essay, I believe, should fully express the particular state of the heart of its writer toward this or that object. These essays read like reports of appreciative discovery fom some explorer in exotic lands, each essay an expanded "Ozymandias" written for both the author's pleasure and his eagerness to hook others on his enjoyment, a mixtape of essays, if you will. And, as a mixtape, this book certainly succeeds.

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