Barrows Dunham's 1947 work of popular philosophy deserves the widest possible audience in 2020.
In 1995 I lived in Manhattan in a grotty little walkup with my wife, about twenty minutes' walk from the Strand Bookstore on Broadway. Sunday mornings after breakfast I'd head down there, and inevitably walk out with armloads of stuff . On one such trip, late in the year, I saw a spine on one shelf that read MAN AGAINST MYTH, by one Barrows Dunham. Such a title evoked a number of possibilities for me, all appealing, and so I brought it home and read it all in one sitting that night. I kept it through three changes of address. It has helped me retain my sanity these past four years. It now sits on a shelf immediately to the left of my desk, where I keep the books that I know I will read and refer to until the day I die.
A genre-transcending romance reaches its conclusion and ennobles itself in the process.
I’m going to start my discussion of the second and third volumes of Paradise Kiss with the sex scene in volume 2. Actually, there’s a couple of such scenes, but the one that comes most crucially to mind involves heroine Yukari and her lover / antagonist / homme fatale George. I mention it not as a way to denigrate the story, but entirely the opposite: if Paradise Kiss is able to take one of the hoariest, most stock components of any romance—the good-girl heroine losing her virginity to her bad-boy lover—and make it into a complex and nuanced story about whether or not the guy and the girl even deserve each other in the first place, or deserve something better than what they currently amount to.
A winner. A work so "modern" and bracing it's hard to believe it was penned in 1880.
I am a deceased writer not in the sense of one who has written and is now deceased, but in the sense of one who had died and is now writing.
Fiction is about what's impossible, but not what's implausible. It is impossible that a man would tell us his autobiography in the form of a novel after his own death. It is not implausible that he would use such a story to ruthlessly burst apart the hypocrisy of others, and himself as well. A dead man worries nothing about his reputation or his standing in the eyes of others -- except maybe posthumously, and even then why should he, in limbo, worry? -- and so who but someone like him would be best suited to showing up the living for the fools they are?
Epitaph of a Small Winner -- also known as The Posthumous Memoirs of Braz Cubas -- is one of those miracles of literature that seems to have barely any right to exist in the first place. Its pessimism and bitter irony seem decades, if not centuries, out of phase from the 1880 in which it was written -- more the child of a Luigi Pirandello or even a Louis-Ferdinand Céline (although without that author's repugnancy). Wipe away the topical details of life in late 19th century Brazil, and you have a story that not only hasn't dated but seems immune to irrelevancy.
A further tightening of the screws, and maybe the first step in the next direction for this story.
Third installment in this symphony of adolescent emotional brutality pits hapless would-be seeker of transgression Kasuga against his (female) mentor in perversity Nakamura, with his would-be sweetheart Nanako caught between them. After Kasuga and Nakamura enjoy -- not sure that's really the word, actually -- an orgy of destruction in their school homeroom, Nanako's forced to see what Nakamura wants her to think the "pervert" Kasuga is really made of ... except that Nanako is even more pure-hearted than anyone banked on her being. Where the story goes from here ought to be a real challenge; let's see if they branch out even further and more daringly, or simply repeat the same beats as per a goofy sitcom where nobody ever learns. My money's on the former.
Enjoyable if not-impressively-drawn manga take on Western-style kid's action comics. (Stan Lee had a hand in it, and it shows.)
Vertical has been attempting to snag a bigger slice of the mainstream manga pie in various ways now. This latest attempt is the adaptation of the Stan Lee + BONES anime which I liked for being an interesting Japan-POV take on the American kids'-comics mythos: kid has his robot toy struck by lightning and it turns into a giant fighting companion (see: Johnny Sokko, et al.), one which comes in great handy when fending off a burgeoning alien invasion. Emphasis here is not on the gimmick but on little Joey Jones's growing accustomed to the idea of being anybody's hero, especially when he's spent the better part of his young life being everyone else's kickball. Bad points: amateurish art by Tamon Ohta, and a translation that seems way below par for the typically meticulous Vertical folks.
What makes a story that's nominally a romance into something a little deeper and more insightful? The idea that the characters want to be more than overgrown children, for one.
It’s been said that genres are reading instructions. A book bearing the label science fiction earns certain exemptions of tone and content right out of the gate that a book labeled fantasy or romance or literary fiction does not. Romance is a label we associate freely with broad brushstrokes of emotion (e.g., hate-that-is-actually-love), coincidence, and a great many other things we’d only tolerate in small doses, if at all, in something not sporting that label.
In other words, a genre is a label for a specific kind of suspension of disbelief, and that may explain why many people turn their nose up at certain genres. Some people find the suspension of disbelief re: human behavior or motivation required for a romance to be far more absurd than the suspension of disbelief re: physical reality required for a fantasy, SF, or four-color comic story. I don’t believe this mechanism underlies all instances of why people snub a romance for something else, but it sure explains why many people never try out certain genres at all. They have evolved a certain discipline for their suspension of disbelief. They do not let themselves play outside of those strongly-painted lines.
It’s a shame, because within any genre there is always the possibility for happy accidents and lively discovery. Shojo manga, the whole subdivision of manga nominally intended for girls, has many titles with plenty of crossover appeal. Having a mainstream breakthrough experience with one of them doesn’t much increase the odds of the others following suit—the Dark Knight Trilogy hasn’t caused mainstream moviegoers to pick up too many Batman comics—but it can at the very least expose the reader to new territory. The very best of shojo manga has included some territory I might never have discovered on my own: Keiko Takemiya’s To Terra, for instance, or Moto Hagio’s remarkable work that freely crossed between labels: romance here, fantasy there, science fiction at times, all of it remarkable.
John Cage's first book (and perhaps the only one of his you need) continues to stimulate, infuriate, and amuse over fifty years later.
There are two ways to experience John Cage at this point in time: through his work, and through his writing. I had plenty of grounding in the first by way of Indeterminacy and Variations IV and so on by the time I encountered Silence, but even if I had none of those formative experiences I think Silence would have still cracked a good deal of the pavement under my feet.
It has been nearly twenty years since I first read Silence, and I keep it in the small cubby of books next to my desk that is reserved for a few select things I pull out and read whenever I need a moment to see things more clearly. It is the closest thing Cage ever created that amounted to a manifesto, even though he published it in 1961 and spent the next thirty or so years still evolving and mutating. It is the right of any artist, and any human being period, to re-invent himself continuously, but much if not all of what Cage put into Silence serves as an encapsulation of most everything he identified himself with throughout his career.
I am not sure Cage would have appreciated that. He was fondest of the living event, not the artifact that signified it. A recording of music was not for him music, but a recording—it was no more the music than the photo of the Grand Canyon was the place itself. Likewise, his words on paper were nothing more than photos, but all the same there are enough such photos in this book, and from such a diversity of angles, that it’s hard to read it and not feel a first-hand engagement with his way of seeing things. Silence has much of the experience of a performance of his work (bested only by actually attending one, that is), which means that it can be every bit as boring as the real thing—although as Cage once said, do something long enough and you’ll eventually find it’s not boring at all but very interesting.
This page contains an archive of posts in the category Books
New York City
Other Lives Of The Mind