Shakespeare’s writing—all of it, poetry and plays—was repulsive to Tolstoy, who claimed that whenever he read Shakespeare he was overcome by “repulsion, weariness, and bewilderment.” As for “King Lear,” ranked among Shakespeare’s four greatest tragedies, he found it “at every step,” according to George Orwell, “stupid, verbose, unnatural, unintelligible, bombastic, vulgar, tedious and full of incredible events, ‘wild ravings,’ ‘mirthless jokes,’ anachronisms, irrelevancies, obscenities, worn-out stage conventions and other faults both moral and aesthetic.”
“No one has ever written a song about Coronary Thrombosis, / Even though its blessings have been widely recognized . . . / Even though it has saved many people from a lifetime of sorrow . . . / Even though it has rescued many people from bottomless pits of Death . . . / Even though it has provided a good life for millions of doctors, nurses, / Ambulance drivers, morticians, stonecutters and countless others. / Yet, on ungrateful Tin Pan Alley / No one has ever written a song about Coronary Thrombosis.”
‘The Odyssey’ tells of the adventures of Odysseus as he tries to get home after the Trojan War, and of his wife Penelope’s struggles to keep their island kingdom from civil war, along with his son Telemachus’ search to find his lost father. This reading brings 72 actors together to perform the epic poem in sequence. ‘The Odyssey’ was first performed by bards across the Mediterranean in the eighth century BCE. The entire reading will remain on YouTube for a week.
‘He did not believe that men were born good, and he admitted original perversity as an element to be found in the depths of the purest souls—perversity, that evil counsellor who leads a man on to do what is fatal to himself precisely because it is fatal and for the pleasure of acting contrary to law, without other attraction than disobedience, outside of sensuality, profit, or charm. This perversity he believes to be in others as in himself. . . . As much as possible he banished from poetry a too realistic imitation of eloquence, passion, and a too exact truth.’
Although Albert Camus does not come up in WHO’S YOUR DEATH HERO? — a conversation between the filmmaker Richard Kern and the writer who goes by the name of Supervert — he would be my candidate in answer to the title. Camus’s declaration, “I want to keep my lucidity to the last and gaze upon my death with all the fullness of my jealousy and horror,” conveys precisely what this book is about as if he’d read it himself.
[Alexander’s father] Philip’s training for power was proceeding along useful if unorthodox lines. His experience as a member of the Macedonian royal household had given him an understandably cynical view of human nature: in this world murder, adultery and usurpation were commonplace. … Philip took it as axiomatic that all diplomacy was based on self-interest, and every man had his price: events seldom proved him wrong.
‘This is Burroughs the self-styled revolutionary at his most historically explicit, the courageous whistle-blower in 1960 denouncing and exposing media magnates, business moguls, bankers, political leaders and scientists as part of a larger, deeper conspiracy at work behind the scenes of the mid-twentieth century.’ By Oliver Harris BATTLE INSTRUCTIONS addresses particular individuals, which marks a […]
As I continue to read “All the Sonnets of Shakespeare,” edited by Paul Edmondson and Stanley Wells, I’m more than ever impressed by the remarkable clarity of the presentation. An added bonus is the intimacy of the scholarship, especially for a non-specialist like me. “The year 1591 saw the beginning of a sudden vogue,” they write, “for the composition and publication of sequences of interrelated sonnets initiated by the posthumous publication in that year of Sir Philip Sidney’s ‘Astrophil and Stella’.” Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets are “on the whole, a collection of often highly personally inflected poems written over at least twenty-seven years, rather than a sequence aimed at catching the mood and developing the taste for a literary fashion. His sonnets are not public poems written and published for money; . . . they were published a decade after the vogue for sonnets had passed, printed only once, and were ‘clearly a flop on their first appearance.’ He seems interested primarily in using the sonnet form to work out his intimate thoughts and feelings.”
Instead of reading the sonnets in the numbered sequence of the 1609 folio, which is the usual way, the editors of ‘All the Sonnets of Shakespeare’ examine them in what they believe was their order of composition. This puts a special focus on the considerable tinkering that went into them. Their method yields lovely insights that bring us closer to the man himself and his development as a writer.
It’s a 16,000-word letter that Neal Cassady wrote to Jack Kerouac, who said it was his inspiration for On The Road. The letter, written in 1950, went missing and was found in an attic in Oakland, California, in 2011. Now for the first time it is being brought out in full by the London-based publisher Black Spring with an introduction by the noted Beat scholar A. Robert Lee, along with illustrations. I’m betting Lee will tell us if the letter really was the inspiration for On the Road—Kerouac, true to his calling, loved to make things up— and if he really did adopt his prose style from it. The reality is likely more nuanced than the legend.
A summer package for the avant garde:
‘BRION GYSIN LET THE MICE IN’ edited and with a foreword by Jan Herman and with an introduction by Douglas Field.
“MINUTES TO GO Redux’ edited and with an introduction by Oliver Harris.
‘THE EXTERMINATOR Redux’ edited and with an introduction by Oliver Harris.
‘BATTLE INSTRUCTIONS’ edited and with an introduction by Oliver Harris.