Monday, October 16, 2006

From the WSJ, on Orhan Pamuk winning the Nobel Prize:

When the Turkish controversialist (and novelist) Orhan Pamuk won the Nobel Prize for literature, no doubt the awarding committee felt the usual frisson of delight as they watched the world quarrel, yet again, about their choice. They certainly know how to push buttons. Last year, they chose Harold Pinter, who had written nothing of consequence for decades. Instead he'd turned his life into an extended political rant against the U.S., and that clearly appealed to the Swedes. The award itself, one might conclude, became an act of agitprop. Still, in his heyday, Mr. Pinter did do great things for the language and literature of theater, no matter how long ago. So what has Orhan Pamuk done?

The answer to that is, as can be deduced by the rhetoric, cynical:

The pity of it all is that Turkey desperately lacks a writer to explain itself to the world. Deplored by other Muslims for being too Western, and by the West for being neither Iran nor Switzerland, Turks remain a worrisome mystery to others. In "Snow," his last fiction work, Mr. Pamuk talks most clearly about contemporary Turkey, with its religious-secular-ethnic rifts, but he does so with so much Kafka/Borges/post-Theory tomfoolery that it reveals more his literary ambitions than his country.

Which is why his political adventures ring so false.

Read more.

Ian Parker profiled Christopher Hitchens in a long and revelatory piece in the New Yorker last week [alas, offline only], most of it concerned with Hitchen’s apostasy, “which runs from revolutionary socialism to a kind of neoconversatism:

What happened to Christopher Hitchens? How did a longtime columnist at The Nation become a contributor to the Weekly Standard, a supported of President Bush in the 2004 election, and an invited speaker at the conservative activist David Horowitz’s forthcoming restoration Weekend, along with Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh?”
Three years later, Hitchens in still on Fox News talking about the Iraq war. He has not flinched from his position that the invasion was necessary, nor declined any serious invitation to defend that position publicly, even as the violence in Iraq has increased, and American opinion has turned against the intervention and the President who launched it.”

While still at Oxford, Hitchens wrote his first article for the New Statesman, a left-leaning weekly. Upon graduating and moving to London, he became an occasional contributor, while taking a number of jobs in mainstream journalism, and selling the Socialist Worker on street corners. The New Statesman was enjoying a golden moment: its staff and writers included Amis, Fenton, McEwan, and Julian Barnes, the novelist. The Friday-lunch gatherings of Statesman hot shots and other writers, in which they out-joked each other on matters of sex, literature, and nuclear disarmament, now have the status of literary legend.

Here’s a link to one of my favorite pieces by Hitchens, his Atlantic essay on why Kingsley Amis's Lucky Jim “may be the funniest book of the past half century.”

Playwright David Edgar on John Osborne and Look Back in Anger in the London Review of Books:

From within a few weeks of its opening in May 1956, it’s been accepted that John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger ushered in a theatrical revolution. Launching both the Angry Young Man and kitchen-sink drama, the play is held to have had a devastating and irreversible impact on a postwar theatre scene dominated by winsome drawing-room comedies and witless country-house whodunnits.
Each of the great ages of British theatre writing—from the Elizabethan-Jacobean period through the Restoration to the turn of the 20th century---has spoken to and for a newly significant and confident social group. For Osborne, it was the generation too young to have fought in the Second World War but old enough to have benefited from the 1944 Education Act, who had escaped from the lower middle and working classes but had not been accepted by the class they had joined. Jimmy Porter is the most vivid representative of the children for whom the welfare state had proved an invalid passport; it got them out of a background they despised, but appeared not to allow them entry into a new world in which they felt comfortable. They were left in no man’s land, scornful of the states between whose frontier posts they found themselves stranded. Having missed out on the revolutionary certainties of the 1930s, this generation was contemptuous both of what Porter calls Dame Allison’s mob, the residue of the old gang who ruled England between the wars, and of the working-class yobs in the cinema….

Here is an extract from Osborne's autobiography, in which he recalls the opening night of the play on May 8th, 1956:

When I arrived at the theatre, still nauseous from the early-hours drinking, George attempted to brace me up but his own disappointment seemed clearer and more stricken than my own. He told me there was quite a good notice in the Financial Times. Tony pretended to be astonished by both of us. "But what on earth did you expect? You didn't expect them to like it did you?"

Wittgenstein on music, language and understanding:

What we call "understanding a sentence" has, in many cases, a much greater similarity to understanding a musical theme than we might be inclined to think. But I don't mean that understanding a musical theme is more like the picture which one tends to make oneself of understanding a sentence; but rather that this picture is wrong, and that understanding a sentence is much more like what really happens when we understand a tune than at first sight appears. For understanding a sentence, we say, points to a reality outside the sentence. Whereas one might say "Understanding a sentence means getting hold of its content; and the content of the sentence is in the sentence.
On a related note, I’m currently listening to the complete works of Anton Webern in chronological order, including chamber music, vocal works and symphonic pieces, starting with the Wagnerian Passacaglia No. 1 from 1908 and ending with the Cantata No. 2 [the last piece I could dig up]. Various selections of Webern’s work are available for download here. I hope to be able to briefly note on each work in the next few weeks.

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