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    Thursday
    Feb012018

    Little Kingdoms

    Preface: the slideshow for the gallery seems to display only part of the scanned pages, for the full text click here

    Steven Millhauser’s Little Kingdoms, first published in 1993, is a compilation of three novellas or short stories.  I’ve scanned excerpts from two of them:  The Little Kingdom of J. Franklin Payne, and The Princess, the Dwarf, and the Dungeon.  As in his novel Martin Dressler, Millhauser brings the reader back to Progressive and early Roaring Twenties-Era New York.  Millhauser is a master of describing the characteristics of an object and how it functions, which makes his incorporation of imaginative scenarios all the more believable. The Little Kingdom of J. Franklin Payne, is a heart-wrenching story which follows the life of a passionate and skilled comic strip artist and animator who is exhaustively pouring his energy into the then-new frontier of animation while he contends with grave family matters.  In the scanned pages you will find marvelous descriptions of the fantastical and magical animated films John Payne has created – drawing each frame by hand, working four to six hours a night after he gets back from his day job.  The Princess, the Dwarf, and the Dungeon is yet another heart-rendering story which weaves the dark elements of human nature – suspicion, jealously, lust, vengeance – into a fairytale-world of castles, dwarves, and princesses.  Millhauser is a master of empathy.  He is a like an expert psychologist who can enter the mind of any character and lay-out their internal reasoning with incredible persuasion.  One of my favorite passages in the story is this:  Her look, like that of someone frightened in the dark, made the prince taste the full horror of his moral fall, even as it sharpened the sting of his suspicion. 

    Saturday
    Jan162016

    Dangerous Laughter - The Tower

              The book Dangerous Laughter is a complication of thirteen short stories by Steven Millhauser.   Four of the most extraordinarily imaginative short stories contained in the book are:  Cat N’ Mouse, The Dome, In the Reign of Harad IV, and The Tower.  Scanned below is The Tower, which runs neck and neck with Saki’s The Interlopers as the best short story I’ve ever read.   Like many of his stories, it contains no dialogue or main characters, but is a captivating depiction of the gradual evolution of a structure. Millhauser’s prose is perfect – not a word goes to waste – and the concepts outlined in his Impossible Architectures section ease reader into a realm of beauty and magic.   Try not to die without reading these stories.  (Right-click on the images to view them in full.)

     

    Monday
    Jan112016

    The Revenant - Historical Note

        The slideshow below features the afterward of Michael Punke's novel The Revenant, which was just released as a movie.  Both are great and you need not be concerned about spoiling the book for yourself by watching the movie first because they are significantly different.   The afterward looks at the true life of Hugh Glass and his relationship to the other characters and events in the fictionalized novel, the title of which means a person who has returned, especially supposedly from the dead.

     

    Tuesday
    Nov252014

    Slaughterhouse-Five and the War in Afghanistan 

          Without consulting Congress or the American public, President Obama played his favorite game and quietly backed out on his word to scale-down U.S combat missions in Afghanistan.  Last Friday, Obama signed a classified order which extends the role of U.S troops fighting obscure enemies and increases the bombing and drone campaign in America’s longest war.  This comes at a time when a new report from the human rights group Reprieve finds that U.S drones strikes kill twenty-eight unidentified people for every intended target.  The grave inaccuracy of these “targeted strikes,” – championed by the current administration and military – are part of the reason why terrorists attacks are increasingly common in foreign lands occupied by the United States and serve to generate severe distrust and hatred for Americans here and abroad.  That the United States is choosing to increase such attacks speaks to the incompetence of our government and its lack of imagination when it comes to devising a path toward peace in the Middle East. 

         Such depressing subjects are often best dealt with by fiction writers who make a parody of those men and women who are so fearful of others and utterly arrogant that they feel entitled to destroy the world in order to make it safer for themselves (which doesn’t work anyway).  Along with Catch-22, Slaughterhouse-Five is a terrific novel which speaks the insanity of war and the power structure, and is a great book to read in this day in age.  One of my favorite parts of Slaughterhouse-Five is when Billy Pilgrim watches a World War II war movie, but only it’s playing backwards.  Vonnegut writes:

          American planes, full of holes and wounded men and corpses took off backwards from an airfield in England.  Over France, a few German fighter planes flew at them backwards, sucked the bullets and shell fragments from some of the planes and crewmen.  They did the same for wrecked American bombers on the ground, and those planes flew up backs to join the formation… 

    More of the excerpt is feature in the slideshow below (you may need to right-click in order to view the full image).


    Thursday
    Sep042014

    The Bridge on the Drina

             Ivo Andrić (1982 – 1975) wrote the historical novel The Bridge on the Drina.  It’s an exceptional fiction, spanning over 400 years, with no main characters save perhaps the perennial Višegrad Bridge.  Born in Travnik, Bosnia, Andrić was a Bosnian-Serb who became a diplomat and the first Yugoslavian to win the Nobel Prize in Literature for his monumental work at hand.  I’ve scanned some of the most memorable excerpts (including the most detailed, graphic, and disturbing account of a man getting staked that you will ever cringe to read in your life), which are featured in the slideshow below (right-click to see them in full), and have transcribe some of them here.  I think this first quote from Alihodja (whom, if anyone is to be considered the main character, then it is he) is my favorite:

    ‘If you are going to hell, then it is better that you should go slowly,’ he said curtly to a young merchant.  ‘You are an imbecile if you think that the Schwabes have spent their money and brought their machine here only for you to travel quickly and finish you business more conveniently.  All you see is that you can ride, but you do not ask what the machine brings here and takes away other than you yourself and others like you.  That you can’t get into your head.  Ride then, my fine fellow, ride as much as you like, but I greatly fear that all your riding will lead only to a fall one of these fine days.  The time will come when the Schwabes will make you ride where you don’t want to go and where you never even dreamt of going.’ (Pg. 213)

     

    Jasenova Concentration Camp Stone Flower Memorial; image from: http://blog.albertocampiphoto.com/?p=1716

    Every human generation has its own illusions with regard to civilization; some believe that they are taking part in its upsurge, others that they are witnesses of its extinction.  In fact, it always both flames up and smoulders and is extinguished, according to the place and the angle of view. (Pg. 233)

     

    ‘There is no need to feel sorry for me.  For all of us die only once, whereas great men die twice, once when they leave this world and a second time when their lifework disappears.’ (Pg. 73.)

     
    Image from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Bridge_on_the_Drina#mediaviewer/File:Mehmed_Pasa_Sokolovic_Bridge_Visegrad_1900.JPG


    Only then began the real persecution of the Serbs and all those connected with them.  The people were divided into the persecuted and those who persecuted them.  That wild beast, which lives in man and does note dare to show itself until the barriers of law and custom have been removed, was now set free.  The signal was given, the barriers were down.  As has so often happened in the history of man, permission was tacitly granted for acts of violence and plunder, even for murder, if they were carried out in the name of higher interests, according to established rules, and against a limited number of men of a particular type and belief.     (Pg. 282)


    NATO bombing of Novi Sad in 1999.  Fuck NATO.


    Sometimes there is such a year when the heat of the sun and the moisture of the earth combine, and the whole Višegrad valley trembles from the superabundance of its force and the universal urge toward fecundity.  The earth swells and everything in it bursts vigorously into buds and leaves and blossoms and brings forth fruit a hundredfold.  That bread of fertility could easily be seen quivering like a warm blue cloud over every furrow and every heap of earth.  The cows and goats walked with hindelegs astraddle and moved with difficulty because of swollen and brimming udders.  The fish in the in the river which every year at the beginning of summer came in shoals down the Rzav to spawn at its mouth were in such numbers that the children scooped them out of the shallows in buckets and threw them on to the bank…  (Pg. 266)


    Bojan's Grandpa's farm.

     

     The Bridge on the Drina excerpts: