All 4 entries tagged Literature

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February 08, 2006

A Novel

Writing about web page

5 out of 5 stars

Just in case it wasn't clear, this is an entry about a novel. Jonathan Safran Foer is the author of Everything Is Illuminated [_which I'll start reading soon, and a film review can be read here

I got this book in a new year daze. My friend and I had the best new year's day one could wish for, which ended with watching 4 or 5 episodes of Grey's Anatomy, but somewhere between getting up at 4pm and going to bed at 2am, we were mesmerized for 3 hours by an amazing man. An amazing man that she [my friend] henceforth fell in love with has had an "art crush" on. Anyway, that was Jonathan Safran Foer in an interview held by Kristien Hemmerechts, a well-known [in Holland and Belgium] Flemish author, but a poor interviewer.

Fortunately, Foer was well prepared and knew exactly where he wanted to go with the interview, and managed to link his fascination for Woody Allen to his fascination for Stephen Hawking. He says all the right things, and seems to have the right channels open to link his feelings to his mouth. At one point he commented on the difference between his book and the film Everything Is Illuminated. Like every other adaption, the film deviated from the book at parts, and he was asked to what extent he minded. He related the issue to a possible situation where I painter would want to paint a portrait of someone described in his book.

To paint the right portrait, the painter won't read the description word for word, but instead will find out the person's character and role in the book. Similarly, the director of the film looked at the story of which Foer's book was an image [it's all quite mathematical, really], and as the film struck the right chords, told essentially the same story as the book, Foer saw no problems with passages being left out. [Please note that I saw the interview over a month ago with a hangover, and I obviously can't tell it as brilliantly as one of the best authors of our time].
Harry Altman

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close is about a young boy, Oscar, who lost his dad on 9-11. He finds a key amongst his dad's belongings and the real-time story is about the boy's quest to find the lock. The link to 9-11 is subtle, and mainly appears through the boy's thoughts of how his dad might have died [was he so desperate that he jumped out of the window?] and his fears. This boy is however better described by his desire to learn, to invent, to make a difference. In that, he's so annoying that he become endearing - he actually reminded me of how Harry Altman from Spellbound was portrayed [see photo, or actually, watch that film!].

When watching a film, I expect to see wonderful images, or people or things portrayed in a way that looks into their soul. The story is generally told in 2 hours, and the director should use the medium to its full extent to let the audience understand the characters, the things, the wonderful images. With a book, the length is less limited, though every page should have its existence justified.

I've written earlier about Nick Hornby and Tony Parsons, and whether or not it's literature. Well, Jonathan Safran Foer has set the standard. Even though half the pages don't contain more than a single word, every single one of them is valid and constitutes to the body of the story. No words are spilled in vain, and the author has played with the layout of the book in order to make the literary experience more engaging – he lets you see what the characters see.

I haven't had this much fun reading a book in a while, and I would highly recommend it to anyone who loves to read.

December 03, 2005

Back in the day

Not sure how apt this result is. Really enjoyed the first 37% of The importance of being earnest, but can't really imagine myself being witty with Oscar Wilde. Though the dawn of the 20th century sounds like an exciting time to live in!

Unfortunately, the massive book it came in [it was a collection of Oscar Wilde's work] proved to be impossible to transport to England on previous occasions, though I might try again this time if this is truly my purpose in backward living.

Thorwald's Reason for Travelling Back in Time:

To make fun of the upper-class with Oscar Wilde

Time Machine!

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February 14, 2005

Feeling good

Follow-up to What is Literature? from [TBA]

In my altruistic plan of sharing the great movie High Fidelity, I encountered a setback last night when my friends told me it was a chick flick. Wordspy defines chick flick as a movie with themes, characters, or events that appeal more to women than to men.

The argument was that High Fidelity did not agree with any of the standards of what the antonym of a chick flick would be: think explosive, fighting, little or no talk for several minutes, and lots of swearing. Ironically enough they just mentioned this when one of the characters screamed you fucking asshole and five minutes later another character was in an ideal world beaten up to pieces with a phone and an amp. Right.

To make it all a wee bit clearer, I thought I'd delve into elementary maths and draw you this Venn diagram. A stands for the action and SciFi movies (chick flick antonym), think Star Wars, Rambo, or any James Bond; B includes movies such as Being John Malkovich, The Big Lebowski, Schindler's List, so movies with some arguable artistic value, that lack explosions and relationship-talk; C then stands for the feel-good movies, encompassing the whole chick flick genre, including Legally Blonde, Pay it Forward, and any Disney movie. The overlap between B and C is to leave some room for films like The Matrix or most of Tarantino's movies; A and C overlap for Forrest Gump or Almost Famous.

Any mathematician can tell you that when chick flicks are encompassed by group C, that doesn't imply that any feel-good movie is a chick flick. High Fidelity, being a somewhat feel-good movie with the arguable artistic value, does not have to be a chick flick. It is however in a more precarious position as the main character talks about relationships 90% of the time to his audience, i.e. the viewer. But chick flick? I'd still say no. Men have a chance to connect with the main character Rob (John Cusack), and still feel good about themselves (like the main character does). Women, however, could connect to the main female character, who ends up being 'too tired not to be with' Rob. Not quite the successful strong woman Julia Roberts tells them to be!

I'd agree that High Fidelity is a feel-good movie, still in good company with say Forrest Gump or As Good as it Gets. And I would not be surprised if the movie has a higher appeal with women than with men, but to put it in the same little box with The Sweetest Thing, or any Meg Ryan movie just doesn't feel right. Wordspy's definition is too broad: the classic chick flick is there for women to feel good and to provide them with role models. Movies about relationships might be more enjoyable for women, but surely they're not necessarily chick flicks?

2 Final notes:

  • I omitted an overlap for A and C because I thought it didn't exist, but just realized it's the perfect spot for most adventure and kids movies;
  • A quick look at the not so reliable imdb website shows that until they're 45, men rate High Fidelity higher than women do till their 45th, after which men suddenly seem to be fed up with it and drop their ratings.

January 09, 2005

What is Literature?

Writing about web page

Alert: Long entry with italic paragraphs hence destructive nature to both this blog as well to your time management.

I'm not a language student, nor do I claim to be literary educated – if that exists – though I have done my Creative Writing and Journalism courses. At one point the lecturer involved told me he didn't regard Tolkien's work as literature – subjectively speaking that was. Still, I was shocked, being in the heydays of my fascination for Middle Earth.

The other day I met up with Tim and Susi, the latter being an English literature student in Edinburgh, which triggered a discussion about literature, and again I was shocked that someone did not regard one of my favorite books as literature. This time it was Nick Hornby's High Fidelity – a bridge too far! To find out what is literature, let me take a detour.
Note: All of this is subjective, hence open for discussion.

Now, I did do some art courses and remember the discussions during the Modern Art lectures about a toilet bowl being art as it is not in its function of a toilet bowl etcetera (won't go into details). A nice description of what art is can be found if you follow the link, though it's not the one I want to use. The author of the website basically regards anything ever reproduced by mankind to reflect reality is art. Interesting, but news reports and building plans and maps of england would be art then as well.

First, let me be snobby, and dismiss all decorative arts and crafts, and as I don't care about most of the fine arts, I'll focus on painting. The last refinement concerns the time frame – although beautiful works of art were created before modern times, most of these were commissioned (by church, state, or nobility), hence restricted the artist's freedom of expression. Finally, I don't want to include paintings from the 18th and 19th centuries as either the previous objection still counts, or art was heavily monitored by institutions (Salon). For me, the discussion starts with Van Gogh, Cezanne, and Gauguin.
Note: I just realize I restrict myself to 'Western Art' as well - apologies for this small minded vision.

Now that we've just removed 99,9% of what Belladonna (author of the website) calls art, let's change the definition as well. Art should be thought provoking, in the sense that it stirrs emotions in the people, even if it is of disgust or confusion. Art should be innovative in the sense that it fits in a somewhat natural course of development (e.g. from cubism to collage to pop art), and it should be inspiring and motivating for others to be creative. Oh, and it should be contemporary! In the sense that if I'd paint a beautiful scene of Amsterdam set in the 17th century in the style of Rembrandt or his contemporaries, it would just be silly and adds nothing to the current course of art.
Note: Again my apologies, for part of these definitions are blatantly though not literally copied from sources I discussed in my art classes. I'll try and find the source asap.

It has hard to criticize contemporary art, but I just want to say it might well be that nominees for the Turner Prize do not fall under this definition. Or maybe even Damien Hirst (shock! horror!). Anyway – art might not be art when it is young; sometimes it needs time to be appreciated. Back to literature.

I have no idea how to copy the definition for art to literature. I have no sense of literary history and have no idea how to even devise a universal definition when there are so many languages covered by literature. Even focusing on English/American literature won't help me having only read 10 books that would probably be considered literature in similar sense we just discussed art. And Nick Hornby.

The idea we (Tim, Susi, and me) came up with was to consider something literature, when it is written in such a way that it is all that what art is. I haven't read it (yet), but I believe the Da Vinci Code wouldn't be covered by this definition. Nor would most detectives or thrillers – they are nice stories and often very exciting and fun to read, but are they thought inspiring and moving and do they stir any emotions other than a thrill (such as a painting might just be beautiful and that's it).

In the Netherlands we have an author who has been hoping to win the Nobel Prize for literature for years now (Harry Mulisch). I haven't read most of his books, but so far only one would be literature (De Aanslag). In his other books he tries so hard to include wisdom and to create 9-page-long sentences that it is almost impossible to read, let alone to give you a chance to think for yourself.

Nick Hornby is literature. He can make the seemingly casual life of some bloke from somewhere in London sound interesting, inspiring, moving. I cannot say it is innovative, as I don't know if anyone else wrote such a book in our time before him, but it certainly was contemporary. We can all recognize London the way he describes it, at least if we've been there. Someone from the 1920s would have no idea what he's talking about, nor would most certainly someone from the 2030s.

Another friend told me to read Tony Parsons, seeing it's a similar kind of story. Now, I've read Man and Boy, and just finished Man and Wife, and it just doesn't seem literature to me. They're great stories and I would tell anyone to read it, but it seems too familiar to me now. It's like reading Virgil after having read Homer. But then Tony Parsons does not improve on Nick Hornby.

Dilemma. What is literature? And how can I define it such that Nick Hornby is literature and Tony Parsons isn't (no offense to him or his work - I do love it). For the record, I haven't read any James Joyce, but I'm sure it's literature. To me, the most literary piece of English/American literature I've read is The Great Gatsby by Fitzgerald. The most horrible piece of literature that I'd rather not call literature is Snows of Kilimanjaro by Hemingway. Let me know what you think, or tell me your worst piece of literature or best piece of non-literature. Oh and I agree Tolkien's work on Middle Earth isn't literature, though I'm positive he has written literature according to our undefined definition though I can't remember what it was.

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