Friday, December 30, 2005

William Taubman spent 20 years researching Khrushchev: The Man and His Era. It seems a marvel to me how all that effort, sustained over so many years, now weighs so lightly on my hands!

Taubman is clearly an unsympathetic biographer. He gives his subject credit where it's due, but doesn't hesitate to be critical where necessary (which is most of the time). It's clear that Khrushchev was no moral exemplar, no great strategist or thinker -- not even a good father. As a national leader, he was a blunderer. The more he tried to show how capable or strong he was, the less people thought of him.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

I was very disappointed by Peter Kuper's comic adaptation of Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis. I don't have a problem with the style, resembling caricaturish woodcut prints, but the art and overall treatment is flippant. Kuper doesn't seem to have bothered capturing any deeper meaning behind Gregor's horror, choosing instead to let his own cleverness run riot. For instance, on one page the text follows Gregor haphazardly around the page, mirroring his ascent up the wall.

To cap it all off, Kuper thanks Kafka for being "kind enough to put pen to paper in the first place", as if Kafka's tortured work came from some kind of charity dinner altruism. Oh, we'd like to thank Mr. So-and-So who was kind enough to donate a halibut. Infuriating.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

"I almost think that if I'd gotten the Nobel Prize when The Recognitions was published I wouldn't have been terribly surprised," Gaddis told The Paris Review in 1986, adding that the book's reception had been "sobering" and "humbling." Maybe if the novel had met with greater acclaim Gaddis would have relaxed a little; maybe Wyatt's "what is it they want" tirade, like his other puritanisms, would have been revealed as a skinny-young-man attitude to be outgrown. I doubt it, though. The book is about the everyday world's indifference to the superior reality of art. Its last line ("with high regard, though seldom played") unmistakably prefigure its own reception. Nurturing the hope that your marginal novel will be celebrated by the mainstream - the Cassandra-like wish that people will thank you for telling them unwelcome truths - is a ritual way of ensuring disappointment, of reaffirming your own world-denying status, of mortifying the flesh, of remaining, at heart, an angry young man. In the four decades following the publication of The Recognitions, Gaddis's work grew angrier and angrier. It's a signature paradox of literary postmodernism: the writer whose least angry work was written first.

--- Jonathan Franzen, "Mr Difficult" in How To Be Alone