Prufrock's Page

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Reading Lolita In 2005

Yet another piece on the 50th anniversary of Nabokov's nymphet -- but this one is interesting, informative and thought-provoking. Allen Barra gently chides Azar Nafisi (of Reading Lolita in Teheran) and owns up to his dismay in realising that Nabokov's view of the novel -- and of art -- may have been colder and narrower than he'd have liked:

"Nafisi, I think, is wrong in seeing social and political intent in Lolita, but she is not wrong in wanting them to be there. Some of you are going to be receiving the 50th anniversary edition of Lolita as my Christmas gift, and I want you to love the book as much as I do. But it will come with a little card that contains a proviso: Reading Nabokov can be an unparalleled delight, but idealizing him, accepting literature on his terms, can negate what you loved about literature in the first place."

City Of Dust

Now that the weather is cooler and drier, the city you live in is encircled by fine particles of dust. You see flurries outside shops in the morning when sweepers wield their brooms; it clouds streetlights in the evening, giving them a translucent orange corona; and your fingertips have only to brush past exposed surfaces to leave clear stripes behind.

On your way home at dusk, you look out upon the trenches that have scarred the city's roads in the name of civic amenities, and see a haze reflected in the headlights of cars that, in their impatience to overtake, ride roughshod over the rubble. The windows of the car you are in have grimy streaks on them, a dried-out mixture of dust and water. You pick up a book lying on the back seat and your fingers encounter grainy particles that you brush off till the cover is glossy again.

Back home, the first thing you do is wash your hands and face: the water runs a light shade of brown before dribbling into the drain. Somewhat cleansed, you attempt to untangle a thicket of wires in order to connect your amplifier, CD player and DVD player together -- the equipment has been lying separate and disconsolate ever since the packers deposited them into your new house a week ago -- and find a thick patina of dust coating the crevices and sockets at the back of each device. After a few wrong connections, you find the right plug for each socket, and then you need to wash your hands again.

You shut the windows; you draw the curtains.

But it is never-ending, this attempt to keep surfaces clean. It is the first dark hint of the law of entropy which dictates that out of dust we have arisen and, no matter how resplendent or boastful our civilisation, it is into dust that we shall again descend.

What We Searched For In 2005

Google has the answers. As well as some grisly charts that map our obsessions.

Friday, December 23, 2005

"Nostalgia Is Overblown"

“Journalism today has a certain impact and power, a kind of public-education function, that I find enormously attractive. I didn’t want to be so removed from the world and be so cloistered …I’d rather think about the big issues that matter...I think that in the world as I view it, journalism by and large is better today than it’s ever been...Let’s be honest: The New York Times made plenty of mistakes 30 years ago. What’s different now is that people constantly catch them at it and correct them on it. I think the nostalgia for the good old days is completely overblown.”

- The New York Observer profiles Fareed Zakaria, Newsweek International editor.

Just Watching

Summing up some of the perks of being a writer [Vikram Chandra] says, “It allows you such great liberties. You can be a voyeur and justify it!”

Thursday, December 22, 2005

After Naipaul, It's Bono

The Elegant Variation has pointed to Paul Theroux's op-ed rant against Bono's philanthropic efforts in The New York Times. Well, the responses to Theroux's piece have already begun -- here's one from Jim Herriott of Nashville, Tenn:

Paul Theroux asks whether there is anything "more annoying" than "being hectored about African development by a wealthy Irish rock star in a cowboy hat." I have an answer: being chided by a wealthy travel writer in a Hawaiian beach town that I should not help starving Malawians because they should take care of their own problems.

Take That, Harry

Yesterday, adults voted Enid Blyton's Famous Five series as their favourite books for children.

(One wonders what the children themselves think.)

Word Of The Day: Blag

Not blog. Blag, with an 'a'. It's a word one came across in the headline to a review of a new book by John Mortimer. So one looked it up, and no, it has nothing to do with blogs or blogging -- not yet, anyway.

It's British slang for robbery or theft, often a con or scam. could a plagiarist's blog be called a blag?

Forgive me. Idle ruminations on an idle morning.

Busted Logic

P.J. O'Rourke, a writer whose politics makes one wince, but whose prose makes one laugh admiringly, has this to say about humour: "Humour is just busted logic - a surprise that reveals what you were thinking all along. And since what we were thinking all along is something we oughtn't have been thinking at all it ties in nicely with Protestant guilt. You enjoy it and feel bad at about it at the same time."

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The Guy With The Flamethrower? He's The Critic

There's been much fuss in certain circles about literary criticism's destructive attitude (remember Vendela Vida, aka Mrs Dave Eggers, and her Snarkwatch?) -- with corresponding echoes in India where first-time authors whine about critical reviews. Well, look at the situation in Europe, where they're obviously a lot more used to taking it on the chin and moving on.

In the Spanish literary magazine La Fiera Literaria, all articles are signed with pseudonyms and the journal is semi-clandestinely distributed only to subscribers and writers, editors, critics, and university professors.The editor of Lateral, another Spanish publication, says: "It is a magazine specialized in destruction. It's libel, a publication in which the majority of the most well-known names in the Spanish literary world are defamed."

Lateral recently published an anonymous interview with one of La Fiera Literaria's editors, who said: "In the sense that defamation means discrediting someone, publishing something to counter their good reputation and fame, we certainly defame writers who, in our opinion, and according to evidence we provide, possess a level of prestige and renown that they don't deserve. But the fact is that defamation, in common language, has become limited to the sphere of honour, dignity, and a moral 'good name'. In this sense, we do not defame anyone. We limit ourselves to presenting unqualified arguments concerning logic, grammar, and style; criticizing a lack of common sense; and pointing out offences to the intelligence of the reader."


America's Greatest Living Writer... the creator of Portnoy, Zuckerman and Kepesh.

(Meanwhile, the country's "most accomplished living novelist" turns his gaze to art criticism.)

The Annotated Lolita Review

MSN Slate's Stephen Metcalf writes about Lolita turning 50. (Yes, months later, they're still doing pieces about it.) But, after all these years, he still gets some facts wrong. As the editors of Slate point out: "This article originally and incorrectly stated that Vladimir Nabokov gave his character Dolores Haze, aka Lolita, an IQ of 150. In fact, her IQ was 121. The sentence in question has been removed. The article also may have given the impression that Lolita was 14 years old at the beginning, or for the duration, of the book. In fact, she is 12 at the beginning and 14 when Humbert Humbert settles them in Beardsley."

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Living Up To His Name

In an article on "book blogs" in The New York Times by Pamela Paul (author of Pornified), Rick Moody is quoted as saying that he's a "suppurating wound of vulnerability." Admitting to searching for posts on himself on Technorati, he says: "I can graph it onto my serotonin levels. It's like taking a pill to enhance suicidal ideation. Even the good ones make me want to kill myself."

One can only wonder at his reaction to Dale Peck's earlier assessment of his work.

You Sure That Was Banville, Mate?

Matthew Price encounters an uncharacterictically chirpy and cheerful Irish author:

"...he takes a particular delight in recalling the words of a BBC reviewer who concluded, Banville tells me, that 'The trouble with The Sea is that it's this very elaborate thing but when you look closely there's not much there.' This suits Banville just fine: 'That's a perfect description of life. It's immensely complicated, immensely detailed, but when you look closely there really isn't much there at all.' You might think the man who uttered these words is a maladjusted crank, but Banville, 60, exudes good cheer. 'Being in the world is the most glorious adventure imaginable, far more fun than heaven,' he enthuses."

And Now, A Remixed Short Story

Elaine Jarvik and Brooke Adams have just created an original piece of work -- with more than a little help from the likes of Faulkner, Steinbeck, Norman Mailer, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Rudyard Kipling, Virginia Woolf, Kurt Vonnegut, Jack London and dozens more.

A Prize Observation

"When the first Nobel Prize in Literature went to Sully Prudhomme, in 1901, the choice was regarded as a scandal, since Leo Tolstoy happened to be alive. The Swedish Academy was so unnerved by the public criticism it received that its members made a point of passing over Tolstoy for the rest of his life—just to show, apparently, that they knew what they were doing the first time around—honoring instead such immortals as Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, José Echegaray, Henryk Sienkiewicz, Giosuè Carducci, Rudolf Eucken, and Selma Lagerlöf."

The estimable Louis Menand reviews The Economy of Prestige, an analysis of the history and social function of cultural prizes and awards.