Friday, April 16, 2010

The Best Painted Pictures of Birds and Men

Twitter Sonnet #132

I bought a big box of broken metal.
Steel tabs flutter within like a snow globe.
There's nowhere for a hard drive to settle.
Now I want to drill through my frontal lobe.
Dinner dully screams hours from midnight.
Beans rapidly fill Tortilla Ravine.
Styrofoam oozes from a big bronze bite.
Fake lizard meat from metal bones licked clean.
Cranes eat manmade thunder like silly string.
Chicken yeti hybrids leave an egg husk.
Indiscreet feathered valkyries can't sing.
Police question beer drinking birds at dusk.
Reason retreats from the organism.
Rag dolls form a sewage embolism.

I just read a cool Onion opinion article--"Most Men are Too Intimidated to Date a Successful, Educated Gorgon". Kakeshya ought to read it.

As you can imagine, I find dating to be a real drag. Here we are in 2010, and their precious little male egos are still so fragile that they can't stand to sit across a dinner table from an independent, unspeakably horrifying gorgon who makes more money than they do.

I've long felt relationship issues with gorgons is a magnificent, untapped vein of drama.

Last night I finished reading War and Peace. The back of my paperback copy has a quote from Virginia Woolf, "The greatest of all novelists . . . what else can we call the author of War and Peace?" It's a fair assertion, even though I think I still like Dostoevsky better. As a personal preference, I like the psychological depths Dostoevsky reveals, but in terms of the actual construction of a novel, War and Peace, for the most part, is breathtaking in its marriage of large scale descriptions of social environments, plot, and insight into individual characters.

I've rarely experienced a novel that made me feel so happy when something good happens to the characters and so hurt when something bad happens to them. The length of the book is in part responsible for an intimidating reputation for English speakers, but I have the impression from a Russian and a Ukrainian I've spoken to that the book's like a big, wonderful Easter basket to those who grew up speaking Russian. Both people I spoke to immediately lit up at the mention of the book. The Russian, a woman named Yelena, was my manager at a store I worked at several years ago. It was one of the few times I saw her truly enthusiastic about discussing any topic.

The book was originally published in a serialised form, and it often has the feeling of great, insightful gossip about people in Russian society of the early nineteenth century. But what makes the characters really come alive, and what lends to the battle sequences a feeling a fundamental credibility, is Tolstoy's keen perception of human nature as being a mysterious contradiction of belief in free will and necessity driven motives. From Napoleon Bonaparte to the daughter of a count heavily in debt and on the verge of losing all his estates, people at all positions in society and possessed of every quality of means are depicted as ultimately helpless in determining their fates. I was frequently reminded of the close relationship between tragedy and comedy, as the complete foolishness of one man is quite funny at one point, and then strikes one as keenly terrible when he impatiently leads a group of men to their deaths on the battlefield. Everyone seems like a helpless child in the nurseries of Petersburg and Moscow and the pervasive presence of death's stark finality in war seems like a grotesque absurdity.

Anyway, I have a lot more to say about the book, but I don't have very much time to-day, so I'll continue in subsequent posts. I'm trying to decide what to read next--I still have a big pile of books people recommended to me, and I know whichever one I pick is going to cause me to imagine all the other people who recommended books to me inwardly sighing and just slightly thinking I have no respect for their tastes. I'm also thinking I'll read Dostoevsky's The Idiot next since I have Kurosawa's adaptation of it DVD and I've been avoiding watching it until I've read the book. I'm kind of interested in seeing the King Vidor adaptation of War and Peace--I'd had the impression for a while that it wasn't worth watching, but I have to say Audrey Hepburn as Natasha Rostova sounds ideal--I actually, almost without intending to, imagined Natasha looking like Hepburn as I read, since she is described very much like the actress. Henry Fonda as Pierre isn't quite as appropriate--Pierre's supposed to be very big and "stout"--but Fonda does seem suitable for the intellectual questing quality of the character, though I suspect the movie doesn't spend a great deal of time on Pierre's spiritual and ethical adventures. The fact that Jack Cardiff was cinematographer also compels me to watch the movie.

Again, I found myself contemplating the contrast between the nineteenth and twentieth century perspectives on war. Watching Wagner's Der Ring Des Nibelungen, filled with tragic mistakes of authority figures and the sad, sometimes grotesque mistakes of the lower social levels, and comparing it to The Lord of the Rings, a work influenced heavily by many of the same stories Der Ring Des Nibelungen is based on, I see that the newer work's great moments are more concerned with the triumphs of good people. I love Lord of the Rings, but it's one of a number of works of the twentieth and twenty first century reflective of this new honouring of accomplishments of individual men and women. In War and Peace, I feel good when good things happen to characters, or they suddenly, against all odds, alight upon an opportunity to pursue what they want, while in Lord of the Rings, or Alien, or Superman, or any number of other works, the great thing is what the hero accomplishes. Trying to trace this perspective on human worth, I remembered how Sherlock Holmes is sometimes considered to be the first real superhero. Holmes is a remarkable guy, though it's the Basil Rathbone movies that really created him as a superhero--there were cases the great Sherlock Holmes couldn't solve in the original stories. But it is true, the heart of those stories is really in what Holmes accomplishes.

Holmes' resemblance to Dupin in Edgar Allan Poe's earlier work, "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" shows one earlier, nineteenth century example of a story focused on a man's victory over obstacles in a story, though the focus seems to be more on the remarkable process of reasoning rather than on saving the day.

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