Gogol gets credit here just because he’s a surrealist. As Vonnegut was a surrealist, so was Gogol. His stories are Russian, so you have to get around that part, but if you do, you’ll see that he writes with a real heavy sense of meter and rhyme, extending into sets of rhyming images. He quotes Pushkin, and sets up ideas for books like "A Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man", and "Picture of Dorian Gray" which have similar threads in Gogol. Read either author, I don’t care. One’s kind of gritty and writes about Russian Vikings, and duels, and something so bad they can only translate it as poshlost, a made up word - and the other is a queer aestheticist who wore a cape around.
Norman Mailer’s, "The Naked and the Dead":
I re-read this book awhile ago, while blindingly drunk, for the first time since I had read it sober in seventh grade. It makes more sense now. It’s a great story. Mailer never fought a war but writes a war movie that, in comparison to war movies around at the time, is excruciatingly painful. WW2 break down in fights over nothing, men killed randomly after long boring pauses full of toil, and one guy even ****s himself and then gets his head blown off while he’s changing his pantaloons. It’s full of interesting characters that aren’t at all psychopaths, and inspired both "Saving Private Ryan" and "A Thin Red Line". It’s worthy to note since you’ll probably hit up Catch-22 or Slaughterhouse at some point.
So these guys paved a pretty clear pathway in existential thought that many, like Emerson and Whitman, refused to follow, and that’s why their style is dead and now we’ve got **** like "The Da Vinci Code" doing the thinking for us. Which reminds me.
Umberto ****ing Eco, for "Foucault’s Pendulum" and virtually anything the guy has written:
Dan Brown, the commiserate author of "The
Da Vinci Code" basically stole everything he’s ever written from Umberto Eco’s big idea chest.
See, Eco is this really smart Italian, who just happens to know a ****-ton about things like The Knights Templar, The Merovingian Line of The Christ, and The Quest for the ****ing Holy Grail. He reads things like 13th century parchments found in old monasteries and quotes books that aren’t even in print, or maybe even like etchings from mother****ing sandstone tablets.
He’s a really cool guy, and if you like detective thrillers that don’t suck, and don’t star Tom Hanks, and maybe feature a guy hanging himself while trying to write a computer program to destroy all form of conspiracy in print, maybe you’d like Umberto Eco.
That's all for right now. I ruined all the endings. So sad.
Next I’m reading the Tetrabiblos and some
Ayn Rand if I can find it. Then I plan to go for Voltaire again, since I forgot most of him, and some stuff after that.
You can listen to a webcast of a month long existential lecture on "The Brothers Karamazov" on Berkley’s website. It’s pretty boring but kind of cool if you’d like to read "War and Peace’s" evil twin. Plus the webcast goes into film and some short stories too.
I ain’t payin for no college.
Right. These are some books I like and some authors that I think are cool. I don’t get how professors can talk about these like they do, because really, they suck. Some are practically unreadable if you’re not studying them outright. However, they all strike a chord for me, maybe they will for you.
Anyway I want something new to read so if you have anything to suggest that’d be sweet.
And since most of these are crazy hard to get, I summarized – poorly. Most of them are Russian too.
Russian men have beards and mustache!
I’m going to start with Fydor Dostoevsky and "The Idiot":
The Russians probably brought more development to the early thought of the European existentialist than any other culture. The man leading the pack in this racket was Dostoevsky. In order to understand the Russian existentialist, you have to understand their form of cultural trade.
Most, if not all of their literature was delivered to them via a private French or German tutor, meaning that, the intellectual Russian writer was knee deep in moody, dramatic, soap opera style prose for most of the first part of his life. By the end of his education, he’d practically be insane.
Dostoevsky obviously thought this idea was horse **** - so he wrote one ****ing book about it, and they sent him to prison for nearly 6 years.
People can go on and say, **** the Russians, their books are boring, but what the **** do you expect from people who still were living in a mother****ing feudal society well into the 1800s? More on that later.
Anyway, to truly understand Fydor, you’ve got to realize that he was writing in order to conform to a realist viewpoint, within the structure of a genera that served his to his antithesis. This makes him funny, and pretty mother****ing terrifying. "The Idiot," for example, starts with the usual soaps deal. Guy wakes up from a crippling mental retardation coma, complete with seizures, to discover that he’s a "Prince" and has a lot of cash. He needs to spend it, but first he needs a woman. Though he’s been retarded most of his life, he figures his plucky attitude can pull him through just about anything. He sees the girl he’d like to bone instantly. Turns out though, he doesn’t really want to bone her, he just believes she’s going to die in some tragic way and wants to save her. Anyway, this other girl wants to bone him. But she’s too proud of the fact that she wants to bone some dude who’s in love with an out of control whore, so she bones herself. Meanwhile, some dude is dying, and is trying to commit suicide every five seconds - and the Prince has to watch a hanging, and humanity is literally driving him nuts. He can’t think more than a minute without some sick thing breaking into his mind. His little soap opera world is dying.
So later, this ****wad, Rogozhin, jumps in and his **** don’t stink. He’s smart, and dark, and cunning, and would be a perfect foil for the Prince, if the Prince was supposed to be a hero. But Rogozhin is a little too ****ed up. See, he also loves this girl that the Prince loves-but-wants-to-save-and-definitely-not-screw-repeatedly, but he goes about everything all wrong. First, he plots against the Prince, then he tries to kill the Prince. Rip out his throat, actually. But the Prince has a epileptic fit so he stops. He imagined he’d maim the throat too badly during a fit like that. Then they also talk for awhile about a painting, Holbein’s Jesus. Rogozhin has a huge copy of it in his home. You know why? Because it’s one of the only paintings that depicts Christ’s body as a dead, decaying, rotting, and necrotic corpse. They become friends. The girl the Prince loves runs off to Rogozhin.
So the love triangle gets shattered, and here’s the best part, Rogozhin just wigs out and starts stabbing this girl to death. In the last scene, her shirt is ripped, her chest is exposed, her skin is blue, she’s lying in a puddle of blood – and both men are spooning her body while they babble insane things. The Prince even has a second retardation breakdown, with foaming at the mouth and everything. It’s almost like necrophilia with a cripple and Jeffrey Dahmer.
So here, Dostoevsky writes an absolute violent parody of what his contemporaries were doing with things like, "War and Peace". It’s supposed to sound funny. It’s supposed to sound like a weirdo British person is reading it. In the original Russian however, the jokes are much darker, and Russian is definitely a language of subtlety. Spark Notes help.
Next is Ivan "The Woman" Turgenev, who was gayer than Hemingway (but at least didn’t have sex with F. Scott Fitzgerald because he was worried about the size of his penis and Zelda was mad at Fitzgerald anyway) with "A Sportsman’s Sketches":
So, Ivan Turgenev was Ernest Hemingway before Hemingway was. Except one difference, Ivan Turgenev freed the slaves. Yeah. He mother****ing freed the mother****ing peasant class, and brought Russia into a slightly less cruel, but still czarist, dictatorship. He wrote almost exactly like Hemingway, and his prose was effective because, while everyone else was writing stories about Romantic rich people, Turgenev was out there in the field, writing about shooting birds. And if while doing so he managed to meet a lot of poor folk along the way, he’d write about them. Turns out the rich assholes who could actually afford books thought Turgenev’s Peasants were "quaint", and didn’t deserve to be slaves to their landowners like they had been for the past hundred or so years. So they were freed.
But Turgenev is often known universally to the Russian as a fag who writes stories for girls. Why? Because, to a Russian, a "girl" is a rich yuppie who goes out hunting too often, and to add insult to injury, just brings back "sketches" of the lives real Russians are living. However, some translations of his short stories are decent. They can be very poetic.
Ok! Next is Nabokov with "Glory":
Actually? You know what? **** Nabokov. You know who writes good Russian poetry? Pushkin. You know who’s the wittiest play-write I know? Chekhov. Gogol is more Prosaic, and Tolstoy has better form. Nabokov uses childish allegory and a huge Russian vocabulary to tell stupid stories about romantic nothings. They’re really special in Russian, but in English they suck. Fact: Colin Meloy of the Decemberists has said that his favorite author is Nabokov. He’s not exciting in book form, basically.
Kurt Vonnegut with "Slaughter-House Five" and "Sirens of Titan":
Kurt Vonnegut is. He’s a practical genius. He knows he can’t describe everything he wants to about the order of life in the way that he wants, so he doses it out to you with impracticable allegory. He’s great. Both of the books I mentioned take schizophrenic twists and go acid trip insane, while maintaining a constant view of the universe that is both funny and profound. He’s Groucho Marx Jesus in comparison to Ayn Rand. The Slaughter House Five movie is weird too, at least. More can be said for the people Vonnegut was inspired by, than can be said of him, but I can remember his name so he wins points.
The Beatnik revolution never really matched up to the disillusionment era in terms of existential work, and people like Vonnegut had to carry the torch in the only way they knew how. I think they succeeded. A Clockwork Orange and One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest belong in the same category. Ishmael is a special second sub-group that seems to cut the humor out of the cosmic joke completely, but maybe Vonnegut thought the big pill was too hard to swallow back then. We’ll never know.
Tolstoy, "The Death of Ivan Ilych":
Normally I don’t like Tolstoy. Like Steinbeck, he has a very proper and refined style. He refuses to break conventionality mostly, and when he does, it feels like it is forced. But in this one, Ivan Ilych dies. That’s basically this whole story. Maybe he was taking a poke at his contemporaries, or maybe he wanted something different, but really, this is just a story about a government accountant who takes a nasty fall and then dies a few months later. His life is ****, most of the stuff he thinks about is ****, and it would be boring, except we know the lame ****-eater is going to die at the end. I liked it.
To Be continued
Separate names with a comma.