Sunday, November 27, 2005

Michael Haneke's Cache (Hidden)

One film I have been eagerly waiting to see is Michael Haneke's Cache. It was shown in competition in this year's Cannes film festival, where it won the best director prize for Haneke and along with Cronenberg's A History of Violence(which I saw last month and which is a great film, although slightly disappointing and "mainstream" by Cronenberg's standards), was surely the most talked about film there. Haneke is the current bash-the-bourgeois film maker of Europe, a mantle he seems to have inherited from the likes of Bunuel, only that his mood is very Teutonic, always glum and totally humourless (very unlike Bunuel). Actually, Haneke has said publicly somewhere that he would never ever make a comedy!

Anyway, Film Comment has a long article on his latest film. It disses one of my favourite contemporary film maker on its way to lionize Haneke (Lars von Trier makes "political cartoons"!). Nevertheless, it is a good summary of his career so far and tries to place his latest film in the context of recent political developments in the west.

Since his first theatrical feature in 1989, The Seventh Continent, German-born Michael Haneke has dispensed post-9/11 visions of violent, benumbed swatches of middle-class society on the brink of dissolution. Four years and numerous debacles after the onset of our apocalyptic era, it is increasingly clear that in our heads—as, for the most part, comfortable, educated, anxious urbanites who also constitute the prime audience for Euro art cinema —we inhabit the same unremittingly bleak, paranoid landscape within which Haneke conducts his nasty business. It is a place we would call home only under duress. Hidden (Cache), his latest and arguably most accomplished provocation, revolves around central characters and a plot predicament that —despite being set in an unnamed French city —feels terrifyingly familiar. That's the operative word, terrifying.

The whole article here.
A good account of Haneke's career and his past films can be found here. Senses of Cinema profile here.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Another Lars von Trier Interview

Perhaps this picture will do something to this sedative and unromantic blog! Anyway, I remember reading in one of his earlier interviews, when asked about his religious inspiration in making Breaking the Waves, Lars von Trier replied that he was not necessarily religious much less a devout Christian and that he was merely rebelling against his upbringing which was millitantly anti-religious because his parents were avowed communists and atheists. In his home everything was permitted except "feelings, religion and enjoyment". He clarifies few things in this interview too. He now says he is taking a socialist line and fighting neo-liberal capitlalism through his films.

SPIEGEL: Do you want to fight against this neo-capitalism through filmmaking?

Trier: That would be naive but, with this film, I am fighting for the values which I learned in my family. I wanted to make a film which my parents, especially my mother who was a committed socialist, would have liked.

SPIEGEL: Your mother is still the measure of all things?

Trier: Yes, although she died several years ago -- or perhaps she remains central because of her death. When she was still alive I rebelled against her. I made "Breaking the Waves" mainly to annoy her and I succeeded. When she saw it she shouted at me. She couldn't stand it that a woman sacrificed herself for a man in it. Yet if sentimentality exists can we condemn it? You have to throw yourself into this feeling head-on and see what happens. Only in this way can you explore human nature.

The whole interview here

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Books I Read This Year

Last two years I have been on a reading spree. I managed to read on an average one book every week and that included any thing that I could lay my hands on, Literature, Science, Arts, Religion, Politics, Current Affairs, Economics, Cinema. This year however was quite different. I spent more time catching up with all those European movies that I had missed watching in film societies and festivals. And I spent most of the rest of the time reading their reviews on the internet. For some reason that I can not fathom now, I also spent a lot of time this year just staring in the blankness through my window in the room, doing nothing, not even thinking anything. This is slowly becoming a habit now. I have started to prefer sitting idle than sitting with a book folded over my face, as I used to do earlier. Hopefully this will change soon.

This exercise should have been better last year when I read more books with more variety but in any case here is the list of non-fiction books I read this year. Will write about the fiction list later.

Speak, Memory by Vladimir Nabokov: I was trying not to make a top ten list. It still is not; but couldn't resist naming my book of the year. And it is absolutely no contest whatsoever. The book of the year is definitely Speak, Memory, the autobiography of Nabokov. I have rarely felt this sad and this exhilarated at the same time after reading a book (last time it was when I had read Swann's Way). Reading the account of Nabokov's first love, which he lost like everything else of his childhood and adolescence, in a chapter left me paralysed with sadness. His account of his attempts to string together words to form a poem in Russian and then his struggle as an emigre writer in Germany and France contains some of the best prose descriptions I have ever read. I wrote about the book in my humble capacity here. Can't recommend the book highly enough.

The Extended Phenotype by Richard Dawkins:A very technical book, very unlike your regular Steven Pinker or even Dawkins's own classic, The Selfish Gene, but eye-opening nevertheless. Like The Selfish Gene, this book also makes you see the world and yourself in a new light. Dawkins's defence of his earlier book against his confused critics and the afterword by Daniel Dennett are alone worth the price of the book.

The Logic of Scientific Discovery by Karl Popper: The most high-brow book of the year which I read, or actually not read. This book was so high-brow that I could finish only the first two chapters of it and left the book totally exhausted. I have often been appalled by the general ignorance of how science works even among educated and enlightened people and I thought reading this book would give me some good insights with which I can argue on behalf of science in a more intellectual and rigorous sort of way. But I guess, this particular book was enough for that purpose, which I read last year.

The Roaring Nineties by Joseph Stiglitz: A very informative account of how those capitalist crooks looted innocent people's money in that free-for-all age, the nineties. Much better than his previous and more widely celebrated work, Globalization and its Discontents.

Rosebud : The Story of Orson Welles by David Thomson: A rather irritatingly written book which didn't enlighten me about Welles's work in any special way (which is what I demand from an artist's biography). If you like smart-assy journalistic writing you may like this book. I didn't find any value in reading it whatsoever.

A Lover's Discourse by Roland Barthes: Not sure if I understood what Barthes's aims were in writing this book, but as the title says it's a good account of the "language" of love, how trivial words and concepts acquire new meanings and become complex, imbued as they become with the subjective experience of being in love. In fact, I don't have the book right now, otherwise I could have written down a few excerpts from the book. They are funny and quite enlightening (enlightening as in to those who have been through all the crap of "romantic love"!).

Love by Stendhal: Now this was one book I really liked. Stendhal knew how to balance the cool, analytical and "scientific" side of his personality with the swooningly romantic side. The result is this book. Very amusing and very enlightening again. I wrote about the book here.

Why We Love? by Helen Fisher: Now in hindsight it appears, I spent too much time trying to understand love this year! Bad decision! This book wasn't that good. Fisher is an anthropologist and this book is a scientific and physiological account of the symptoms of romantic love. Yeah, this book treats love as a disease and quite rightly so! I wrote a post after reading this book here.

Will write about the fiction books later.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

From Korea to Bollywood

The shameless folks at the Bollywood copy cat department are at it again. Only this time it is not a Hollywood film but a film from Korea. Yes, Sanjay Gupta, who earlier brought Reservoir Dogs to the Indian shores (in his rather lamentable "Kaante"), is now planning to do the same with Oldboy, the subject of my previous post. In the hindi version, which is called Zinda Sanjay Dutt plays the hapless abductee and John Abraham plays his tormentor and nemesis. I am told that Gupta has spared us songs and dances this time, no not even item songs!

In a sense this is good. Interested people will come to know that there is a vibrant film industry in Korea and it is sometimes worthwhile to get a feel of what is coming out from there. What I am mystified about is how close Gupta can take the story to the original. Not that I doubt Sanjay Dutt's acting capacity, but even achieving half of what the Oldboy's hero did, will be a very big achievement indeed. One thing is sure, Dutt is not going to eat a live octopus for a film! I am sure too that the twist in the Indian version will be different. The original will be too outre for the audiences of regular Bollywood films.

Check out the trailers of Zinda here. Even the trailer is copied! Original here.

Sunday, November 20, 2005


Finally saw this Korean movie this weekend at the docfilms. I had been waiting for it since the last one year, ever since it won the grand jury prize at last year's Cannes Film festival. I could have seen it on DVD but somehow kept deferring. May be because of the wait or perhaps I was expecting too much, I didn't find the film all that great. It is spectacular and immensely entertaining but certainly not a masterpiece as I was led to believe after reading ecstatic reviews and its great reception at Cannes last year.

If you don't know already, the story is about a middle-aged man named Oh Dae-Su who is taken prisoner and held captive there for fifteen years in a seedy looking hotel room, by some anonymous person who bears some mysterious grudge with him. After he is released, he gets to meet his captor but also gets five days to find out the reason why he was kidnapped. I won't reveal the plot, because that's where most of the pleasure of watching this film comes from. The way director Park Chan-wook divulges plot information is surely masterful and it has quite a disorienting effect on the viewer who never knows which direction the story will turn to or what the truth behind the character is.

As is perhaps already well known, the film is extremely violent. There are scenes of brutal torture and Park has a special penchant for the tooth and the tongue other than regular parts of the body which take most of the blows. There is also an incredible scene with an octopus which will surely drive all animal rights activists furious (btw, do octopuses come under their purview?). Although I found one brief sex scene towards the end of the film, which was very innovative and tenderly done (it involves a hand-held mirror).

The best part of the film is as I said earlier, the way plot twists and turns. Even though there are lots of loopholes and a few subplots sound totally implausible, the mastery with which Park handles the narrative more than makes up for it. The amazing production design and the MTV commercial style camera work reminded me of David Fincher, specially Fight Club, which definitely looks like its artistic predecessor.

Some reviewers claim to read Oldboy as a Jacobean revenge tragedy filtered through contemporary pop-culture idioms and imageries, but I thought it was reading a little too much into the film. The film does try to reach some depth and insight about what it is that drives men towards vengeance and what are its moral and spiritual costs but overall the effect is quite shallow. All those existentialist voice overs just don't add up. But if the surface is so artistically designed, who cares for depth!

Friday, November 18, 2005

Swallows or Snails?

The latest edition of The New York Review of Books has an essay on Proust by Andre Aciman. He begins by classifying novelists into two categories - Swallows and Snails:

We'll say there are two kinds of novelists: the snail and the swallow. The swallow is quick, agile, and able to speed across long, tireless stretches. Nothing a swallow does goes wrong; mistaken turns are instantly corrected, bad weather is put to good use, and poor judgment can be tweaked just enough to look like a flash of genius. In the implacable assembly line of prose, nothing is ever wasted or thrown away. By contrast, the snail is slow, deliberate, fussy, cramped. Swallows travel and seek out the world; the snail burrows into itself. The swallow acts; the snail retracts, guesses, speculates. A swallow chugs life down the way whales take in water, plankton and all, while the snail ingests choice bits down a multichambered spiral, where its appetite, like its vision, is eternally whorled. Balzac, Dickens, and Fielding are swallows, even Tolstoy.

I am not sure, if I understand what he means. But later, he says Proust, Gogol and Stendhal come under the category of snails. Well, that pretty much decides for me, as to which camp I belong to!

Some Random Links

Lars von Trier answers some questions in his typical style.

The End of literary theory?

The eternal debate. Does God exist?

Most people who believe in God assume their belief to be pretty reasonable. “Perhaps God’s existence can’t be conclusively proved,” they’ll say, “but it’s a fairly sensible thing to believe—far more sensible than, say, belief in fairies or Santa Claus.” But are they right?

Why don't we have someone like him in India? He will surely have an easier time exposing all the frauds and fakers!

This looks like an interesting book. Even though I have never heard of most of the celebrities the book talks about
The Dictionary of National Celebrity is one of the most reassuring books published in years, for it demonstrates that even now, when Madonna's face stares from every magazine rack, it is still possible to distance yourself from the 21st-century dungheap and genuinely despise the things you are writing about.

And finally, an interesting rant on girls gone wild. No, that's not about the famous video series. Click on the link to know more. If you are interested in the topic, here is something more.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

"God lives elsewhere"

The president and the prime minister of this so called "secular" country inaugurate an opulent and ostentatious temple. As if we don't have enough temples already! It is shameful. Tehelka has an angry editorial by Amit Sengupta:

So how much space does god need to call it his home? How many crores does god want us to spend on him so that he can possess a swanky, sprawling mansion which dominates the skyline? So what will god do in this huge expanse, move from room to room? Looking for what, inner peace, outer silence, inner silence, bitter truth? Or will he play golf or ride a horse and gaze at the distances of the private property he possesses, till the eye can see, like landlord-princes in old European paintings? Is god terribly afraid of darkness? Does he suffer from insomnia? Is he a sleepwalker? If not, why does he need hundreds of jazzed up lights all night in a city so starkly short of power and in a nuclear power country where half the population still don't have electricity (or enough to eat, below that mythical poverty line)? So why does god need this rolling-in-wealth real estate?

While it is not wrong to criticise the construction of temples on utilitarian grounds, as Sengupta does, still I think there are sufficient reasons to hate temples on artistic and aesthetic grounds as well. These temples, specially the modern ones, are the most fertile grounds for that horrendous evil called Kitsch. I have never understood what kind of feeling those showy and shallow designs or those hideously corny statues are supposed to evoke. I almost always cringe in embarrassment at such stupid, crude and sentimental display of pieties.

P.S. More on Kitsch from Wikipedia here. If you are wondering why I called Kitsch a horrendous evil, then read Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being. He explains the nature and origin of Kitsch really well.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Some Thoughts on Antonioni's The Passenger

The films of Michelangelo Antonioni are generally admired more than they are loved, which is quite understandable given how radical and out of the convention his style is. His films lack almost everything that we generally associate with conventional cinema -- plot, or even a story, fully fledged characters, narrative resolution, emotional catharsis etc. Nothing much happens in his films, except perhaps in the minds of his confused and lost characters.

His films are a just a collection of beautifully shot and composed images whose purpose is not to tell a story but to convey a vague sense of mood and feeling. The Passenger, the latest Antonioni film that I have seen is no different. Although at the surface it does have a plot. Jack Nicholson plays a burnt-out TV journalist who is making a documentary in Saharan African country ravaged by some civil war. Like most of Antonioni's characters he is stuck in life. In fact quite literally so, as we see in the beginning of the film his vehicle stuck in the desert sand. So when he finds out that there is a dead body in the next room in his hotel, he impusively decides to switch his identity with the dead man. But soon he finds that he is being pursued by a hostile bunch of people.

As I have summarized it, this sounds like some spy thriller of some kind. But if it is at all a spy thriller, then it is thriller told in extreme slow motion! And the ending is so baffling and irritating, irritating as in to those who expect the film to be some mystery. I also couldn't imagine that a character, played by no less than Jack Nicholson himself (who was at the peak of his career at that time, just after Chinatown and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest), could die like that. Yes, Jack Nicholson dies in the end, most probably is assassinated but we never see how. We don't even see his dead body or his face. It is as if he just disappears from the screen. Just like the last few minutes of L'Eclisse.

Of course, I knew what was coming, having seen some of Antonioni's films earlier (and loved them too) and greatly enjoyed the experience. Jack Nicholson is perfect in the role. He is smart, witty and understated and his acting appears totally effortless. Maria Schneider (the girl from the Last Tango in Paris) acts well too. But in case you are expecting some buttery delight, there are no sex scenes in the film, but there is always a feeling of a languorous sexuality whenever she is on screen which works very well with the overall mood. And of course, as is typical of Antonioni's films, the landscapes are captured beautifully throughout. In fact early on in the film, Jack Nicholson character remarks, surveying the lifeless desert landscape in front of him, that he "prefers men to landscapes". I could imagine Antonioni chuckling silently at this thought. He surely finds landscapes far more interesting than people, even when they have faces and personalities of Monica Vitti or Jack Nicholson.

One of the scenes in the film that I really liked and which is coming back to me again and again is when Maria Schneider asks Jack Nicholson what is he escaping from. And then he tells her to turn back in the car and see for herself. She then jumps up from the seat waving her hand but soon she gets very pensive when she sees what they are leaving behind. Its a totally empty, long stretch of road. Completely empty and lifeless. It is as if it is emptiness itself. It is beuatifully shot and very evocative.

We all perhaps want to escape, escape from our routine life, life of a comfortable job, life of easy pleasures, life of banalities and shallowness. Even though we don't know where to escape to. But as this film teaches, there is just no escaping from. At least it is incorrect to assume that someone else's life is better than ours. The feeling of emptiness is not something that is associated with a particular person or a mode of life, but rather it is far deeper. It is perhaps a characteristic of life itself, specially in these modern times. Antonioni understood this better than any other filmmaker, that's what makes him one of the greatest artists of modern times. Overall it is a must see for all Antonioni fans. It is not his best work but it is far better than an average European art film. And to those who don't know anything of Antonioni, I will just ask them to go with an open mind. In fact as widely open as possible :)

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Lolita Updates

The Village Voice is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary this year and incidentally this year is also the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Lolita, one of my all time favourite books. Voice has published some selected reviews from its archives and one of them is that of Lolita. Not surprisingly given the time when it was published, it is not very flattering. The reviewer calls it the "most artificial book I've ever read". He then admits that there are a few funny pages, some of which are "delicately Joycean". But then in the end it is all "too many and too much"!

Some celebratory reviews (contemporary, alas!) are here and here

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Enemies of Truth

One of the things that often irritates me, is when otherwise intelligent and sensible people attack science and rationalism. People who claim that scientific method has no monopoly over truth (as if there is any other way to verify and falsify statements) and that individual opinions are more important and imposing one's version of truth (since they don't believe in the possibility of objective knowledge) on another is infringement of his or her basic freedom. Democracy and liberalism have reached such a stage that people have started equating science and its claims for finding universal and objective truth, with authoritarianism. One of the results of this trend is that people believe in astrology, feng-shui, crystal balls, tarot cards, angel visits, conspiracy theories, voodoo, etc. not to say the nostrums prescribed by the so called management gurus and other such charlatans, without losing any sense of self-respect.

Now, it is pardonable for ordinary people, after all most of them are stupid. But what about intellectuals, who legitimise this nonsense with their fashionable theories? Intellectuals who ridicule science and its claims for being the sole source of objective knowledge? It is with this background that I want to publicize a website which is perhaps not very well known. It is called Butterflies and Wheels. It's tagline is "fighting fashionable nonsense". It's main targets are the intellectuals from the literary and critical theory gang, specially the postmodernists and psychoanalysts (devotees of Freud and Lacan). People who always remind us of the dark forces of language, class, culture, gender, subconscious, power, desire etc. and how these always subvert and cloud our rational faculties, so that rationalism itself becomes merely a theoretical construct and scientific objectivity a total sham. What bunkum!

Take a look at the fashionable dictionary. This is the best introduction to the woolly-headed thinking of these people. Also how to argue like a fashionable intellectual. This is really side-splittingly funny. Of special interest would be the articles about issues currently in focus. I don't want to link everything. Go and explore the website yourself. It is an intellectual treasure trove. By the way, if you are intrigued about the name of the website, that is also explained there.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

David Lynch, Pervert or Priest?

What a delightful title for a book this is and quite an apt one, given the subject! I haven't read the book but some excerpts from the book are available on Google Print. Here is what the author says in the preface:

When I began viewing his features, I found each film the same: one long Manichaean screed delivered by a wacky evangelical. Lynch's zealotry was so pervasive that after my view-a-thon I could not look at any of his work--randomly in fragments, or through entire films--without identifying his moralistic slant toward mythological ideals of goodness, charity and benevolence threatened by forces of evil, calamity and violence. I was convinced that the moral frame in Lynch's work, so archetypically judgmental, condemnatory and culturally monological, would surely cause commentators to qualify Lynch's status (as a cult film hero of the bizarre) with his "calling" as a puritanical preacher, albeit one with a penchant for pornography

I had never thought of this before, and it is strange because it is so obvious! I always thought Lynch was a progressive liberal showing how hypocritical and total sham our lives of bourgeois normalcy are. How false and deceptive the appearances are and how they hide and imprison our real selves (specially our sexual selves, which almost always results in violence and perversion), more in the tradition of Luis Bunuel, only more in tune with the pop-culture and counterculture hipsterism. Like Bunuel, he shows us the possibilities of the anarchic freedom but what is important is that, unlike his predecessor, Lynch is a stern moralizer too. He doesn't just shows, he also condemns and passes judgments at what he shows. He is a voyeur and a pervert but he is also genuinely horrified at what he sees. None of this is of course a negative criticism against his work, which is without doubt the greatest among those of contemporary filmmakers.

I also found out that one of the leading lights of the lit-crit and theory brigade Slavoj Zizek (who writes obscure books on Lenin and Lacan) has written a short tract on Lynch's Lost Highway. One of the users has this insightful comment on Amazon:
[Zizek]finally hails Lost Highway as an example of what movies can become in the future, a sort of hypertexed jungle of possibilities and superimposed realities, where the viewer can control (or believe they can control) the outcome of the film.

Saturday, November 05, 2005


His latest book has come out and as always, there are a few very interesting reviews. Most of them criticise him for repeating what he did in his earlier books, indulging in scatter-shot misanthropy but they are always full of hilarious quotes and bleak insights from the book.

Here are a few reviews I found of his latest book.

A profile from The Guardian
The Sunday Times
Profile from The Sunday Times
The Guardian
The Observer

If you don't know about his career and his previous books, here is his entry on the Guardian authors page.

And yes, he lost out this year's Goncourt's prize to some author from Belgium! Just in case if any one cares!

Jack Nicholson on Antonioni

It's a sign of Nicholson's affection for Antonioni that the actor, who couldn't be bothered with doing interviews when he was up for an Academy Award for "About Schmidt," spent 90 minutes recounting his friendship with the legendary filmmaker. "He's been like a father figure to me," he said. "I worked with him because I wanted to be a film director and I thought I could learn from a master. He's one of the few people I know that I ever really listened to."

Full story here

Friday, November 04, 2005

Philip Lopate on L'avventura

Philip Lopate has some interesting insights* into one of my all-time favourite films:

It was the movie I had been preparing for, for it came at the right time in my development. As a child, I had wanted only action movies. Dialogues and story set-ups bored me; I waited for that moment when the knife was hurled through the air. My awakening in adolescence to the art of film consisted precisely in overcoming this impatience. Over-compensating, perhaps, I now loved a cinema that dawdled; that lingered. Antonioni had a way of following characters with a pan shot, letting them exit and keeping the camera on the depopulated landscape. With his detachment from the human drama and his tactful spying on objects and backgrounds, he forced me to disengage as well, and to concentrate on the purity of his technique. Of course the story held me, too, with its bitter world-weary disillusioned tone. The adolescent wants to touch the bottom, to know the worst. His soul craves sardonic disenchantment.

My soul craves disenchantment too. Does that mean I am still an adolescent? :)

Previous post on L'Eclisse here.

*From Google Print of his book Getting Personal: Selected Writings

Thursday, November 03, 2005

More on Love and Something Interesting on Google Print

No, it isn't Valentine's day or any other stupid love fest but I was little intrigued and amused by something and thought I should write about it here. I was looking for some information (scroll down or click here) and went to the new Google Print to look for it. I typed in a few key words and Google indeed threw some very interesting books. And then here I was, reading through all the dense paragraphs of books with titles as "The Semiotics of Human Desire" or "Love in the Western World", that I noticed two google ads sitting rather inconspicuously at the bottom of the pages. There were both I suppose by the branches of the same company. One of them offered me to teach "How To Make The Woman Of Your Dreams Fall In Love With You" and the other one, with the website name, offered similar lessons to women as in, "Want A Boyfriend To Love? Learn What Men Really Want and How To Find & Attract Lasting Love and affection". So much for my intellectual pretensions! And so much for Goethe, Stendhal and Barthes and their theories of love! Now, I surely must go to sleep.

By the way, if you are interested the websites here they are:

Stendhal, Love and More

I had a written a short post on Stendhal's On Love a few months back. In it I had promised to write about The Red and The Black (which I had not finished at that time) and also about the various "stages" and "types" of love that Stendhal describes in his book. Of course, I never got a chance to write about any of these. I was reminded of this when I saw the search entries which bring people on the internet to my blog. Most of those search keywords were "Stendhal", "stages of love" , "kinds of love". Someone was even looking for a biography of Methilde Dembowski!

Well, all those visitors, who came looking for either scholarly information or just some solace for their love-lorn souls, must have been disappointed with what I wrote there. It was a poor summary and a hurried cut-paste job. Now, I am not going to write a scholarly critique here on the history and philosophy of love or something, but if you are looking for simple facts, here they are.

Stendhal distinguishes between four kinds of love. First is the sympathy-love (or amour-gout, love of tastes). This is love, which is based on shared predilections in culture, background and tastes. Stendhal didn't think there was anything wrong with this kind of love but he found it artistically and psychologically very uninteresting. And indeed it is quite boring. No wonder then that most of the successful relationships are based on this kind of love! The second and third kind of love, he enumerated were vanity-love and sensual love. These are not even loves, they are self-interest and guile disguised as something noble. Be it love in order to feel good about oneself (what a beautiful girlfriend I have and how jealous must it make my friends!) or love based on purely physical attraction, Stendhal found both these kinds of love not only uninteresting but morally reprehensible too. Sadly he found the most common form of love practiced in his society was indeed of these kinds.

What he was interested in both personally and as an artist however, was the fourth kind of love, passion-love, or as he called it, "love generated in the mind". He waxes lyrical about this kind of love and gives a few psychologically acute insights into the mind of someone in that state. (By the way, there is a beautiful word limerence which is used to describe this state of being in love). I don't remember any lines and I don't have the book with me right now so can't give any excerpts.

In the last chapter of his book, Stendhal does a comparative study of two famous prototypes in romantic literature, Don Juan the famous womanizer and libertine and Werther, Goethe's tender and tragic hero, who literally dies of unrequited love. No prizes for guessing whose side Stendhal takes! What he argues is that while Don Juan's physical satisfactions might be many, and Werther's few or none, the latter must nevertheless be considered "happier" (of course, not in the literal sense) because of the triumphs of his imagination - joys of realities fashioned by his desires. He sees, feels and experiences things which ordinary mortals don't or can't. Okay, I know what will you say. He commits suicide in end. But more on that later!.

Now that I have summarised the types of love, let's move on to the seven stages of falling in love. But wait, this post has already become too big, it is already late in the night and I don't even remember exactly what those seven stages are. So as I always say, more on that later!

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Banville on Saturday

Here is the famous review published in The New York Review of Books in which Banville tore apart one of the most talked about books of the year, Ian McEwan's Saturday. He ridicules McEwan by calling him a "story-teller" (of the fairy-tale variety) and calls his book "dismayingly bad":

Saturday is a dismayingly bad book. The numerous set pieces—brain operations, squash game, the encounters with Baxter, etc.—are hinged together with the subtlety of a child's Erector Set. The characters too, for all the nuzzling and cuddling and punching and manhandling in which they are made to indulge, drift in their separate spheres, together but never touching, like the dim stars of a lost galaxy. The politics of the book is banal, of the sort that is to be heard at any middle-class Saturday-night dinner party, before the talk moves on to property prices and recipes for fish stew.

And here's an interesting exchange on the review with John Sutherland (he was the chief judge of this year's booker prize which Banville eventually won). McEwan's book wasn't even shortlisted.

Booker Winner Full of Windy Abstractions!

Michiko Kakutani in The New York Times finds John Banville's The Sea, which won this year's booker prize last month, "stilted, claustrophobic and numbingly pretentious". Further she says that the book is filled with "windy, self-indulgent abstractions" and that it was "chilly, desiccated and pompously written". She also gives some choicest examples of those "abstractions":

[Banville]He describes a thunderstorm as a "spectacular display of Valhallan petulance" and a youthful crush as a "storm of passion" that left "the frail wings" of his emotions "burned and blasted by love's relentless flame."

She also furnishes a list of words, none of which I am proud to say, I have ever come across ("leporine," "strangury," "perpetuance," "finical," "flocculent," "anthropic," "Avrilaceous," "anaglypta", "assegais", "crepitant," "velutinous").

I can understand her criticism. Language like this does attract reader's attention to itself rather than what it is meant to describe and in the process often alienates the reader from the subject matter of the book. But sometimes, as in Nabokov's best works, linguistic playfulness does play an important role. Often they are meant to create an abstraction. Often alienting oneself from the immediacy of feelings and emotions is the goal of the writer and linguistic abstractions like these do help in that. I have not read any of Banville's books so can't say what his aim was in using those words though.

Kakutani also says that Banville, in his novels, has often attempted to "wed Joyce to Nabokov to Wim Wenders". Wim Wenders? What is he doing with Joyce and Nabokov? Later she claims that the narrator of the novel sounds like "an annoying Peter Handke character on a bad day". Now, Wenders and Handke worked together on Wings of Angels. But what has that got to do with Banville's novel?

Here is a profile which has a round-up of the debate over the booker prize from the same edition of the book review.