Monthly Archives: March 2012

What is the point of art?

This is a question that almost everybody has an answer to. Some would accuse art as being merely a superficial distraction, designed to inflate the artist’s egos and all his admirer’s who ‘understand’ his work on a deeper level. This might be one side, but to dismiss art in this way is foolish. The marks left by inked fingers and the stories passed down through voice precede the sterile laboratories in which people expect the absolute truth to be extracted, dissected, and conquered. This extract is from Lehrer’s book, Proust was a neuroscientist; 


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Lo-lee-ta


In a way I have been delaying writing about my favourite novel, Lolita by Nabokov because I am worried I will not be able to do it justice. I have to, however, use this novel as Day 1 of the challenge as it is as much my favourite book as it can be, although labeling it such causes uneasiness. Maybe it is that feeling you had as a child when choosing which toy was your “favourite”…
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Have a gander…

… at my new tumblr

http://madtoread.tumblr.com/

Leave a link to yours if you have one 🙂

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pity this busy monster…

Here I thought I would be slightly self-indulgent and talk about one of my favourite poems, if not the favourite; Pity this busy monster, manunkind by e.e. cummings. Here it is –

pity this busy monster,manunkind,

not.  Progress is a comfortable disease: 
your victim (death and life safely beyond)

plays with the bigness of his littleness 
–electrons deify one razorblade 
into a mountainrange;lenses extend

unwish through curving wherewhen till unwish 
returns on its unself. 
                                A world of made 
is not a world of born–pity poor flesh

and trees, poor stars and stones,but never this 
fine specimen of hypermagical

ultraomnipotence.  We doctors know

a hopeless case if–listen:there’s a hell 
of a good universe next door;let’s go 

Firstly, the word ‘manunkind‘ alone deserves much attention. Although it is essentially quite simple, this simplicity merely adds to its genius. The fact that the addition to the word from our dictionary, mankind, is so slight makes it very easy to say, although it does not feel natural due to the repetition of the ‘n’ sounds. This perhaps reflects that although mankind today is “unkind“, we have developed a tolerance for it. The word kind also has two meanings; one being that of gentleness and thoughtfulness, combined with the ‘un’ drawing attention to how callous the world can be. The word ‘kind’ is so much more gentle than other words that mean the same thing such as caring or nice… I am searching for a reason why but perhaps it is due to the other meaning of the word. Kind, especially used referring to humankind, also means a collective unit, bound together by some likeness. This is perhaps used to show how disjointed we have become, with each other as well as the world around us. Later on in the poem, cummings describes the victim as “playing with the bigness of his littleness“. I see this as a reference to masturbation, showing how selfish and self-centered we have become. It is also a quite sneering and derogatory way to describe it, emphasising that although it seems big, this is only in comparison to how small it actually is. Considering men’s insecurity concerning this, it seems to be a very direct attack on society. The isoloation that masturbating requires (in general) also contrasts with the final lines; “Listen, there’s a hell of a universe next door” as not only does the sense of listening contrast with  looking (at porn), it begs the reader to leave their room and explore.
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Heart of Darkness

Here is the book I have just finished; Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. This is a near perfect book; short (only about 100 pages), filled with delicious descriptions, suspense and a way of stabbing you deep inside. The storyline is simple. A sailor is sent to America to join those finding ivory. While he is there he hears of an elusive and eccentric man, who he eventually meets. The majority of this novel is leading up to this meeting, but as Marlow, the main character, makes his way, he becomes himself enveloped by the darkness. It really does feel as though you are accompanying himself deeper and deeper into the unknown. In some ways, it reminds me of the ending of The Great Gatsby, the “fresh, green breast of America” as it combines fear of the unknown with a curiosity of what life has to offer. A description of the natives of possessing a “wild vitality“, and that “they wanted no excuse for being there” stuck in my mind throughout the novel. It is the same energy that I found in On the Road. The novel is filled with this energy that scares but also comforts. The narrative form also lends itself to this idea of journeying into the depths of the unknown; it is reported speech by a sailor listening to Marlow’s story, so in parallel with his own journey into America, the reader is taken on another journey with the sailor who are listening. Similarly, the reader does not know where they are headed, reflecting Marlow’s journey.

It is also a fairly moralistic novel, despite being sexist towards women. One quotation that I underlined was that conquering others was “nothing to boast of… since your strength is just an accident arising from the weakness of others.” This contrasts with the actions of what was happening in America, the pilgrims who attack the natives (the pilgrims are portrayed as ignorant and stupid, shooting “from this hip with their eyes shut”) to do so with self-appointed supremacy. Rather than this being a novel about America, it is more an account of one journey by one man. The Times described it also seeming to “reach into the heart of Conrad himself,” which I agree with, although I felt it was more of a reach into man in general. This is another reason why writers are so important; they shed light on aspects of human nature that are often hidden away, mainly for our own safety – in Marlow’s own words, it is “impossible, not good for one either, trying to imagine” the darker side of ourselves.
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