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Reading the Cantos

Categories: Crit & Lit

Ezra Pound provided T.S. Eliot with some much needed assistance on his groundbreaking modernist poem, The Waste Land. Because of this, Eliot dedicated The Waste Land to Pound, calling him “il miglior fabbro,” the better craftsman. Yet Pound’s own poetry has seen far less interest than his friend's little poem that he edited. Perhaps this is in part due to the sheer immediacy of The Waste Land, and it happening to fill a void in the zeitgeist at just the right time. Or it could be because Pound’s own poetry, especially his masterwork, The Cantos, is difficult, lengthy, and hyper-allusive. But just as Joyce broke open the form of the novel with Ulysses and Finnegans Wake, Pound’s Cantos reinvent poetry and the relationship between author and reader.

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Nearly the entire modern discussion around John Milton’s seminal epic poem Paradise Lost centers on Satan’s role as hero, or rather, anti-hero. Academics, critics, writers, and artists have debated whether Milton intentionally wrote Satan the juiciest part of the poem or whether, as Blake said, it was a repressed product of his unconscious. One could endlessly debate whether or not Satan is the “hero” of Paradise Lost, but more importantly he represents a very early prototype of the 20th and 21st centuries’ existential protagonist. Like Dante’s Divine Comedy, Paradise Lost is an allegory, heavily steeped in Christian mythology and scripture, and supposedly meant to be read as an exegesis upon the scripture, a companion to the bible used to help explain moral lessons to contemporary readers. But, also like Dante’s masterwork, Paradise Lost contains within it more than perhaps even the poet himself knew at the time he penned it.

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Banksy’s street art documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop somehow made its way into the Oscar line-up for best documentary, an unbelievably ironic situation, given that everything Banksy does is in direct opposition to the Hollywood Money Machine and their ridiculous self-congratulating award shows. But the film itself is unbelievably good. Beautiful, hysterical, sardonic, and cool, yet with a subtle poignancy in its central message of how graffiti and other forms of street art make people see their everyday world through a different lens. This perspective shift is intentional and is where the true power of the street artist comes into play – many of Banksy’s stencils are beautiful, intriguing, or funny, but in the context of their location, illegality, and temporariness they speak a larger message, one also espoused by such people as Karl Marx, Jacques Lacan, and Slavoj Žižek.

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This week I’d like to take a closer look at something I introduced in a previous article, about how Charles Bukowski uses realism in his prose and poetry to connect to the “average person.” In one of his funniest novels, Post Office, Bukowski uses this method of vulgar realism to showcase the rote absurdity of his day job and its contrast with his down-and-out leisure time lifestyle. However, Bukowski also slips in a few clues as to his own personal value system and his views on literature in the process, for while some peg Bukowski as a "nothing is sacred" kind of guy, he clearly delineates what is sacred and what is profane.

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Dissent 101

Categories: Crit & Lit

The popular uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia and the current events in Yemen, Iran, Bahrain, Libya, and Algeria have captured the attention of the world and brought to light one of mankind’s most fundamental, yet woefully under-utilized faculties: dissent. These protests, demonstrations, and rebellions against the status quo power structures prove yet again that despite the crippling powerlessness and disenfranchisement many individuals feel in the face of the overwhelming superiority of established power, when organized, the people can make a change in their country and for their lives. This epidemic of resistance spreads rapidly throughout the Arab world, but its ramifications are universal. To better understand the phenomenon of dissent, one must study a variety of disciplines ranging from history, to philosophy, to psychology, to economics, and of course politics. But for those who, for whatever reason, feel alienated from the ideas of dissent, there are ways of breaking into this area of study, and as I hope to show, self-education is the first and most important piece of dissent, of autonomy, and of sovereignty.

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Last year for Black History Month, I wrote an article about how the work of William Faulkner documents and maintains a legacy of racial interaction in the American south, with all of its complexities, contradictions, and emotion. This year, I’d like to take a closer look at Go Down, Moses, a novel that encapsulates Faulkner’s ability to bring and keep the past alive. People often refer to Go Down, Moses as a book of short stories, but it is more a novel told through a series of disjointed vignettes across the span of several generations. With Faulkner, form always complements function, and as we will see, the very telling of this story reflects the reality of America’s slavery-ridden past and our attempts to deal with its memory.

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America's Curse

Categories: Crit & Lit

The divide between two of America’s founding statesman, Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton persists today in the split ideologies of those who believe in governmental economic intervention and those who believe in true laissez-faire capitalism with no or absolute minimal government interference. Thomas DiLorenzo offers a glimpse into this struggle in his book Hamilton's Curse. As the title suggests, DiLorenzo is far from impartial in presenting this debate. DiLorenzo considers himself a Jeffersonian and his economic and political viewpoints are apparent as he argues that Hamiltonian policies have corrupted the American ideal of freedom. But does DiLorenzo’s book offer a fair judgment of American history?

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Crowds and Power

Categories: Crit & Lit

What is power? Why is power something some people strive for and what is its relation to our fundamental nature? Nobel Prize winning author Elias Canetti tackles these and other basic questions in his groundbreaking sociological exploration Crowds and Power. In this somewhat unassuming book, Canetti mines the very depth of power in all its forms and guises, attempting to both define and structure this abstract concept. For anyone interested in human relations and the inevitable power dynamics that accompany them, Crowds and Power is a must read tour de force.

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It used to be that a novel like D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley's Lover generated a lot of controversy. When it was released, its sexuality and obscene language led to much outrage and many bans. However, when viewed in the oeuvre of Lawrence’s entire literary output it is a fitting piece in a larger puzzle of intimate human interaction. Lawrence’s ultimate masterpiece of human intimacy takes shape in the two book saga consisting of The Rainbow and Women in Love. In these two novels, Lawrence plumbs the depths of the difficulties, vulnerabilities, joy, and cruelty that make up interpersonal affairs.

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Nikolai Gogol’s satiric masterpiece Dead Souls boasts a title that is at once ambiguous and intriguing. The title caused Gogol no small amount of trouble with the censors, who maintained that since the soul is immortal, the concept of a dead soul was blasphemous. The title operates on a variety of layers that reflect the layers of the book in general. In a very oblique way, Gogol addressed the problem of serfdom and the decay and eventual death of the souls of the land owning gentry as they became more and more acquisitive. Gogol’s homage to the road, to travel, to exploration also serves as a scathing indictment of the increasingly prevalent trend to acquire and amass by any means necessary.

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About Unabashedly Bookish: The BN Community Blog
Unabashedly Bookish features new articles every day from the Book Clubs staff, guest authors, and friends on hot topics in the world of books, language, writing, and publishing. From trends in the publishing business to updates on genre fiction fan communities, from fun lessons on grammar to reflections on literature in our personal lives, this blog is the best source for your daily dose of all things bookish.

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