Saturday, May 22, 2010

6 more of the 15 books that always will stick with me…

More of the same…
The Birds, Aristophanes
Okay, The Frogs is a more interesting premise, but The Birds actually shows us more of what the contemporaries of Socrates thought about various things by contrasting the ludicrous wishes of the foolish protagonists with what could only have been the sensible opinions of the Athenian middle and working classes. The wish for fathers who berate unemployed Sophists for not sexually stalking their teenage sons sinks the entire Foucauldian mess in a swamp.
The Book of J, Harold Bloom and David Rosenberg
Bloom is useful at all times, but his marvelous critique and rediscovery of the J author, along with a fantastic translation by the poet Rosenberg, drags the most unique voice in the Old Testament out from under King James: “The KJV, with its unified, high-toned and poetic voice, is the ultimate work of the Redactor.” Indispensable.
Sexual Personæ, Camille Paglia
Sadly, I have nothing to say about this book, except that it is the other half of my mind; what isn’t Paines-ian politics and Burkean temperament simply is Sexual Personæ.
The Iliad, Homer, trans. by Robert Fitzgerald
The Bible is an ancient work, written in ritualistic styles in four languages over many centuries by dozens of authors, and today hidden under translation. The Iliad, on the other hand, is immediate, accessible and mostly modern. Mostly, I say, because the morality is entirely foreign to us modern Westerners; I have as much trouble understanding the morality of the ancient Greeks as I do your average Hong Kong chop-socky flick. Everyone does nothing but whine about how long their name will live and how they will avenge their father, and I am utterly stymied at getting where they are coming from, because I, as a Westerner, am so Judaicized that I obsess over morality and my relationship with God.
Interpretations of Poetry and Religion, George Santayana
“In the Gospels, for instance, we sometimes find the kingdom of Heaven illustrated by principles drawn from observation of this world rather than from an ideal conception of justice; as when we hear that to him that hath, shall be given, and from him that hath not, shall be taken away even that which he hath. Such characterizations appeal to our sense of fact. They remind us that the God we are seeking is present and active, that He is the living God; they are doubtless necessary if we are to keep religion from passing into a mere idealism and God into the vanishing point of our thought and endeavor. For we naturally seek to express His awful actuality, His unchallengeable power, no less than His holiness and His beauty.”
Leaves of Grass, the first edition 1855, Walt Whitman, introduction by Malcolm Cowley
About the only useful thing I've ever seen from a Marxist (and editor of The New Republic, but I repeat myself), Malcolm Cowley resurrected the original 1855 first edition of Whitman’s Leaves of Grass with an introduction that, aside from a single snide comment on “bumptious American nationalism”, is a marvel of clarity and original thought on author intent (indeed, on the authorial state of mind). Cowley’s simple thesis is that Whitman was inspired by a transcendental experience: what Freud called “oceanic” and the Zen Buddhists call satori. Later rewrites clouded the original vision, but the 1855 edition may be seen bright and clear.

Modern Grotesque

Stephen Green compares, properly, San Francisco's Planning Commission to the Red Guards : “In a 5–0 vote, it ordered Johnston to build a...