Friday, March 30, 2007

The Road

The Tournament of Books finished up today, awarding The Rooster to Cormac McCarthy's The Road. I read The Road over spring break and I have to say, it is everything anyone has ever said it was—utterly absorbing, incomparably moving, impeccably written. This is not only the book of the year, but maybe the book of the past five years.

Oprah could not have chosen a better book for her book club, and I say that without a trace of irony. The Road is broad enough for multitudes, and it richly deserves as big an audience as it can get.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Fast Food Nation

I feel rather stupid with this rating thing now, as I have only once given something a non-positive rating. Fast Food Nation won't change this streak, unfortunately.

I was really knocked over by this film—it's one of the first that I feel makes good use of multiple narrative storytelling to allow a sense of sinisterness to emerge somewhat organically, and to give its component parts the right values. I haven't seen Traffic, but films like Syriana or any of the three Iñárritu/Arriaga films (yes, even Amores Perros) or Crash seem ultimately, and unintentionally, centrifugal—the center cannot hold in any of them, especially not in Crash or Babel, because the director tries to generate so much momentum through a gradually accelerated cutting between narratives and the simultaneous buildup of each individual narrative that eventually, every one of them is pointing in different directions.

Fast Food Nation on the other hand, is remarkably centripetal—Linklater seems to be circling throughout the film, discharging some narratives early (the Kinnear one) and altering others at odd points (the Amber narrative, for instance), all preparing for the kill shot, the cows being slaughtered at the end of the film. This is the proper way to orchestrate a multi-narrative film, and I hope other directors take note.

Firmin, by Sam Savage

Needing a break from this term's reading (Heidegger and Bellow—ouch), I was hoping for a pleasant but not too challenging read, an after-term mint of a book to cleanse the palate.

I would say that Firmin is the perfect book for this sort of thing, but I don't want to sound as if I'm dismissing it as mere distraction. It is an engaging read, charming and honestly touching, about a rat who lives in a bookstore, first eating and then consuming (figuratively—clever, no?) books voraciously. I can therefore only describe Firmin in the context of characters—he is what might have happened if Dostoevsky became mixed up and wrote Notes from the Underground in Alyosha's voice. And perhaps I am just reading this into the novel, but I feel a Bellovian influence somewhere in there—probably in the mix of low and high "art" appreciation (Firmin, in addition to reading books, avidly watches pornographic films in the theater next door) and the whorling sentences which cry out at every moment, "Look! A great mind at work!"—a cry that is both exhilarating and (clearly) obnoxious.

But perhaps the loveliest part of the book is also what makes it more than just another story about an anthropomorphic rodent with preternatural abilities (speaking of which, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH is still one of my favorite books). The author has set Firmin down in the last days of Scollay Square, a seedy (but charmingly so!) part of Boston, which has a date set with the forces of change and modernization. It is by now utterly tedious to hear this storyline once more, to imagine the weepy nostalgia and tottering indifference to the actual squalor of the vanished but ever-glorious rubbish heap, but to read it, and in Firmin's descriptions—cliches are irrelevant.

I have always heard that a Jeeves & Wooster novel is a terrific way to wrap up a term. Wodehouse is, as I have heard it said, the master of the cliche, a forceful counter to Orwell's injunctions against them in (I think) "Politics and the English Language." I think it is obvious tha these things go together—the talent to write in cliched language and with cliched tropes and yet seem neither self-consciously ironic nor prattish and the ability to write completely engrossing novels for serious readers that nevertheless function properly not even as a dessert or a snack between serious novels, but rather as a sort of chaser, washing down the hard stuff.

At any rate, I highly recommend Firmin, and I give it the Seal of Approval.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Pan's Labyrinth

Meh. I thought the fantastic scenes were somewhat tedious, and although the "real-life" scenes made up for them, they didn't do so to the point of making for an excellent film. It was entertaining in the sense that my attention never wandered, but not in the sense that I left the theater still clinging to del Toro's world, as I did with Victor Erice's "Spirit of the Beehive."

It's rather cheap just to say "Spirit of the Beehive" is better but it is—1) the way Erice closes out the adult world almost entirely is necessary in a film like this, 2) 2 children are better than 1—the interplay between the two sisters is the most amazing part of the film, 3) the fantastical elements are kept to a minimum, not letting you escape into them. I find del Toro's escapism sort of purposeless and unfit for a meditation on cruelty.


I have two copies of this magazine here with me at Dartmouth, but I've only read a few articles total. That's not because I find them dull—N+1 magazine is exactly what I'm looking for—deep engagement with and analysis of the major intellectual trends current or, in a very odd sense, popular today. It's run by a bunch of young turks, people who are scrambling over themselves to give the sleekest, most arch, and most important opinion. That makes for a sometimes aggravating read—self-importance is always rhetorically annoying; I should know—but nevertheless fascinating.

N+1 also has online content; here is a good article about Giorgio Agamben, who it looks like I might have to read.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

For Future Use

Pending graduation.

Until then, though, I will likely post a few things—certainly no real observations for awhile, though those might come as I get closer to leaving Dartmouth—but mostly single links or videos or "Seals of Approval" (I know, corny as hell, but seriously, might as well).

For future reference:

This is the Seal of Approval.

This is the Seal of Disapproval.

And this is the Seal of Mixed Feelings.

These will be used to review films or albums—something quick and not comprehensive or thoughtful in any way.