Monday, November 07, 2005

Good Thing or Bad? You Decide.

No more John Fowles books.


Reidski said...

Only read two of his - The Magus (what a mental book that was) and The Collector (what a mental book that was II). Tiny obit in London free (shite) rag The Metro today describes him as having been a "recluse" which probably means he didn't ponce around the literary and alcoholic establishments of Soho all his life blathering on and boring people about his books.

Martin said...

I read Bill's cat-eared copy of The Magus not so long ago. Basically it's the Wicker Man in Greece isn't it?

John said...

I read the French Lieutentant's Woman and was impressed, but I don't read books in order to be impressed (which is why I despise Ulysses snobs). Nonetheless, it was a story well-told, and I ventured to read one or two of his other books: The Magus, A Maggot, Daniel Martin, and a bunch of essays, the name of which escapes me but which was the only one I finished.

Slow, dry, uninspiring.

His books, I mean.

Martin said...

What else could have been "slow,dry and uninspiring" ?

John said...

Fowles himself.

Sorry, bad taste.

Reidski said...

Ulysses - worst book ever by a long way!! I fucking hate every pretensious page of it!

John said...

Reidski, you're a star.

I did enjoy the last page, however. Finishing it meant I'd never have to go near the book ever again.

Cue Bill to make some comment about philistines and cats.

Bill said...

Cue worked. I’ve read Ulysses about ten times and I’m more impressed each time. I like books and music and art and human activity to impress me. Calling Ulysses pretentious strikes me as the same level of insight as saying a child could paint like Picasso or that Stravinsky’s just a load of noise. It betrays a kind of word-blindness, an insensitivity to the richness of language. There are so many ways in which Ulysses achieves greatness; it’s full of humanity, it’s funny, it’s a magnificent exploration of what literature is and how language works; it’s dazzlingly unique and a tremendous moment in human achievement. It certainly takes a certain dedication and discipline to reap its rewards, but who said art should be easy? It’s often worth taking on the recalcitrant. The idea that people have done that are ‘snobs’ is a false kind of democracy that lowers horizons; the real snobs are those who don’t want a world where the working class can be admitted to the highest productions of humankind. There’s nothing radical about—yes, philistinism; dismissing human creativity at its highest is an attack on human potential which is why the censorious, the illiberal, and the reactionary were the first to attack Joyce.

John Fowles, on the other hand, might well be labelled pretentious. The French Lieutenant’s Woman and, even more so, The Magus do, it seems to me, strain towards aiming at some kind of importance, some kind of intellectual depth, without coming anywhere near it. The Collector is a good read and the stories in The Ebony Tower I remember as having some value, but really I think it’s mostly pap for the bourgeoisie like Julian Barnes, Ian McEwan, and many other contemporary English writers—something that can be seen to be intellectual but that doesn’t really break any barriers. Unlike Ulysses. And The Aristos, Fowles’s collection of ‘philosophical’ essays, is one of the most pretentious loads of toss I’ve ever begun reading.

Finally, isn’t the description of the Blooms’ cat in the fourth chapter a fine piece of writing?

John said...

Making art hard for no other purpose than to parade one’s learing and to 'keep academics busy for decades, as Joyce intended to do in the case of Ulysses, serves no purpose other than to intimidate the lower orders and flaunt one’s privilege. There's no difference in that respect between Ulysses and the 'high art' elitism of Eliot. Moreover, those who reckon they 'get it' are, in my view, merely trying to claim genius by association instead of demonstrating a capacity for independent thought. It isn't as though we haven't read the book. We're just willing to make a critical judgement based on something other than other people's opinions.

I'm happy to stand by my statement that Ulysses is little more than an attempt to cram in as many puns and arcane references in as small a space as possible as a way of rendering the work immune from criticism by the 'less educated.' The text isn't rich, it's bloated and overrripe.

Art that makes you think is one thing, and I applaud any work that makes me look at the world in a new light, it doesn't have to be art. But Ulysses doesn't do that. It just leads me to conclude that Joyce was experimenting with literature and that his experiment failed.

Besides, Bill, we all know how easily impressed you are. That's true of all cat lovers.

What's more, it's very telling that you assume stuff like Ulysses to be one of the highest productions of mankind and to talk about an unwillingess to accept received wisdom as the 'lowering of horizons'; it's also an attitude that begs the question, 'who decides what the highest productions of mankind are?' Could it possibly be academics with a vested interest in drip-feeding the rest of us with their pearls of wisdom while retaining control over access to cultural capital? I dunno. It's just a suggestion.

And by definition, anyone who attacked Joyce was going to be reactionary, censorious and illiberal just because he was being experimental. Who cares? On that basis, anyone who objects to a new test on cats I just thought up is being illiberal, reactionary and/or censorious. Does that mean you?

Reidski said...

Bill, whatever! It's pish, story over!

Bill said...

So, the intense intellectual and emotional satisfaction I get from Ulysses is delusional. My responses to it demonstrate my incapacity for free thought. All those millions who value Joyce, Eliot, Milton, Tolstoy, whoever, are slavish, mindless victims of a false consciousness generated by academic institutions bravely confronted by those freethinking independent spirits who dare to challenge the canon. (Although doesn’t this idea of the relativity of the canon itself derive from academics? Particularly postmodern wanky ones?) The question of aesthetic value is far more complex than you think, and people like Richard Hoggart and Raymond Williams (following Mukarowsky) have put forward important and radical defences that rescue literature for the working classes.

To take one little joke of Joyce’s at face value and use it as evidence of his fraudulent intentions as to why he spent seven years writing Ulysses and as to why we should find it worthless is not especially critical thinking. There’s not enough space for me to demonstrate with many concrete examples that Ulysses is more than a series of puns and arcane references but I would suggest reading some secondary criticism and gain some real awareness of the text. Though of course the idea that texts may not be immediately accessible, that not everything is present at the surface, and that other people—particularly those enemies of humanity, academics—may be able to elucidate something that is complex is anathema to those courageous and critical enough to see through the sham that is literature.

John said...

I didn't say your pleasures were delusional, only that you're wrong to imagine that your pleasures are somehow higher and of greater validity than those of others. If you enjoy the text, that's your prerogative, but you are delusional if you imagine that academics are NOT the guardians of privilege.

I think Eric Cantona said it best:

"An artist in my eyes, is someone who can lighten up a dark room.
I have never and will never find difference between the pass from Pele to Carlos Alberto in the final of the World Cup in 1970 and the poetry of the young Rimbaud,
who stretches cords from steeple to steeple and garlands from window to window. There is in each of these human manifestations an expression of beauty which touches us and gives us a feeling of eternity."

The idea that beauty requires work in order to be appreciated is a great comfort, I am sure, to wokers in the cultural sphere. We poor plebs of course can't recognize beauty and have to be taught it.

That pass. Just sublime. Ask anyone.