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Scarlet's Walk
Scarlet's Walk
Price: CDN$ 15.00
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5.0 out of 5 stars On The Road, A Flowering Of The Rod, Nov. 22 2002
This review is from: Scarlet's Walk (Audio CD)
Tori Amos' Scarlet's Walk represents a 'flowering of the rod,' a full-blossom return to the depth and genuine feeling which has been the hallmark of her best work, and largely missing on the dead wood she's produced since Boys For Pele. With Scarlet's Walk, Amos has once again become a vital presence in her own songs. Warm, comforting, and confidently poised, the album reflects a new, refreshing maturity and a balanced personal vision. Scarlet's Walk is also Amos' most trusting, hopeful, and outreaching record thus far: Amos here seems determined to connect, to offer these songs to her audience in easy, open, and friendly fashion.
Amos has been a rebellious, largely antisocial artist since she took control of her career with Under The Pink, but on her last three releases-From The Choir Girl Hotel, To Venus And Back, and Strange Little Girls--Amos seems to have turned her general discontent on her audience as well, as if whatever was threatening or displeasing her was getting closer to home and wearing an uncomfortably admiring and formerly welcome face. It was difficult to feel that Amos had real enthusiasm for any of these projects; it seemed Amos' career was spindling down to a mere burden and obligation, rather than the vital process of artistic fulfillment and spiritual seeking it had previously seemed. Amos had inexplicably ceased creating anything of beauty.
Incredibly, Scarlet's Walk has been completely written and recorded since September 11th. The record has the emotional cohesion, if not the clarity, of Joni Mitchell's Court and Spark, or Mitchell's own road-trip-across-America travelogue, 1976's Hejira. Though some lyrics are readily accessible, others are as obtuse as any on Boys For Pele. There are ellipses, eccentric metaphors, difficult-to-place allusions, multiple points of view and reference, shifts in time and place. But, as on Boys For Pele, the meaning of any song or lyric line is conveyed by Amos' spectacular vocal intonations. If the listener cannot understand the lyrics with his or her mind, he or she will understand them, eventually if not immediately, with the emotions and senses; Scarlet's Walk is a sensuous, pulsing album, almost a bedroom record.
The album's concept is presented as a loosely-strewn mosaic, ostensibly revolving around a woman, Scarlet--like "a stranger and a weary pilgrim in her native land"--who journeys, largely by car, across post-September 11th America. The 18 songs broadly represent her adventures, observations, lessons, and reflections. Native-American themes abound. The lyrics refer to balmy days, jacaranda trees, and the northern lights, but this isn't your grandmother's America: no Holsteins, no Hoosiers, no honeysuckle.
Listeners will hear a kaleidoscopic mix of influences and musical references on the eighteen songs--from Kate Bush ('I Can't See New York,' the album's 'Hello Earth,' also has a little 'December Will Be Magic" mixed in), Steely Dan, Madonna, and Laura Nyro to Bad Company (the first cords of the title song), Three Dog Night, and saucy Maria Muldaur. But what makes these songs preternaturally distinctive is that, more than anything else, they sound and feel exactly like Tori Amos songs the listener has somehow already imagined, come to know well, and walked down the road a ways with, even while acknowledging that he or she is hearing them for the first time.
Every song works and works magnificently. With the rollicking music-hall-style 'Wednesday,' humor and levity return to the Amos oeuvre. 'Pancake' features a passionate, multi-themed diatribe directed by Scarlet at another person, who, clearly not listening or interested, says in response at the song's end, "I ordered you a pancake." Direct, touching, but no-nonsense ballads 'Strange' and 'Crazy' are the most perfect 3:05 and 4:23 minutes Amos has yet committed to record. Amos keens throughout the ghostly, very powerful 'Scarlet's Walk,' and beautifully evokes a deity, perhaps a goddess or a Native-American ancestor; but the Furies are present too. 'A Sorta Fairytale' proves that Amos can write a great pop hit without compromising her integrity or vision even a whit. 'Taxi Ride' simultaneously diffuses and underscores its line "just another dead fag to you" by cleverly having Scarlet singing, "I'm down to your last cigarette" and thus throwing the intended meaning of 'fag' into question. The evenly-controlled 'Your Cloud' gorgeously walks at tightrope over saccharine sweetness without ever lapsing into it. Using the words 'amber waves' as the name of a falling porn star in 'Amber Waves' may irritate or offend some listeners, especially since Amos' reference is to the coarse and unenlightening film Boogie Nights; but the song itself is riveting, nuanced, and touching. The album ends with what has rightly been called one of Amos' most beautiful and poignant pieces, 'Gold Dust,' which briefly incorporates notes from 'Cloud On My Tongue,' and addresses the same theme as Thornton Wilder's play 'Our Town.'
Where From the Choir Girl Hotel's equation was Tori + Band - Tori = Playboy Mommy + 0, Scarlet's Walk dazzles with the winning formula of Tori + Piano + Band = Fully-Realized Masterpiece. Scarlet's Walk also moves in several new directions musically, especially on 'Wednesday,' 'Sweet Sangria,' and 'Your Cloud,' which are all underscored by subtle jazz intonations. Amos' production and arrangements are immaculate; her voice has never sounded as beautiful or powerful as it does here, even when she reduces it to gravel for negative emphasis. Matt Chamberlain again proves himself to be Amos' secret weapon in much the same way that Roger Fisher was that of the Wilson sisters on the first two Heart albums.
The graphics Amos has chosen are particularly lovely; it's been a long time since Amos has allowed herself to be presented as plainly as this, simply as a human being and a woman. Simultaneously, the cover photo also suggests Scarlet is an archetypal roadside wanderer, small but standing firmly against the vast blue plane of the sky. It's also touching, especially to her American audience, that Amos has, questioningly or unquestioningly, aligned herself with America here. Highly recommended for all audiences.

The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories
The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories
by H. P. Lovecraft
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 12.80
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2 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The Thing In Rockwell's Attic, Nov. 21 2002
What do Howard Phillips Lovecraft and Norman Rockwell have in common in 2002? Both artists are being newly appraised and embraced by the same establishments that officially shunned them for decades, which is interesting, as Lovecraft was the anti Rockwell, a writer who saw deep shadows, howling monsters, and degenerate humanity in the same New England landscapes where the painter saw loving families and neighbors living happily in homey comfort. There was a period in the 1970s when Lovecraft's books were kept in the Classics section in chain bookstores across America, an apparent mistake which was roundly corrected in the 1980s, when his fiction was regulated to the fantasy, horror, and science fiction section, presumably for good. The rapid changes in American life and culture today have scholars and critics taking a second look back at both Lovecraft and Rockwell, and finding something precious where they formerly found only the trite, obvious, and artistically dismissible. With the Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories, Lovecraft has been officially canonized with this, and a second, Penguin edition. Lovecraft at last has earned his pedestal.
This compilation is a mish mash of Lovecraft that includes some of his best work, like 'The Colour Out Of Space' and 'The Outsider' as well as an unhealthy portion of his weakest material, such as 'He' and a famous story Lovecraft himself thought too poor to publish, 'The Shadow Over Innsmouth.' Editor Joshi's introduction and biography of his subject is comprehensive and informative, as are the wealth of footnotes that accompany each story. Lovers of the work of Washington Irving, Edgar Allen Poe, Montague Rhodes James, Algernon Blackwood, Arthur Machen or Shirley Jackson who might be oddly unfamiliar with Lovecraft's work, however, can start here. A lesser writer than all of those listed, Lovecraft, who started his career as a writer in the pulp magazines of the 1920s, has actually benefited posthumously from his status as an ultimately third rate talent, since his tales and ideas are unchallenging, and thus accessible to even light readers, many of whom, historically, have taken up and carried on the Cthulhu cudgel. Lovecraft excelled at creating mood, and in developing his themes to the point of constriction, but, unfortunately, was a poor dramatist.
Most of his stories, like 'The Whisperer In Darkness,' are simply too blatant: 'Whisperer' compromises its mystery from its second page when the author drops a giant, dead crustacean in a New England river after an autumn flood. A better writer could still make something worthwhile from this unsubtle maneuver; Lovecraft can not. In many cases, such as in 'The Shadow Over Innsmouth,' the writing is simply too weak to allow the reader to suspend disbelief. 'He' opens brilliantly with several acute, timeless observations about life in New York City, but quickly slides into 10 confused, badly executed pages comprised of Indian curses, time travel, immortality, mysterious mansions, and slithering eye covered masses of protoplasm. Lovecraft's "bloated fungoid moons," "mighty beetle civilizations," and "reptile people of fabled Valusia" are hackneyed, coarse, silly, and impossible to take seriously, if still fun for right audience. A typical Lovecraft piece begins with a narrator hesitantly reporting 'a story too horrible to tell,' ends with the same party found unconscious and semi-amnesiac by well meaning strangers far from the climatic scene of trauma, and features the appearance, usually towards the middle, of at least one group of degenerate 'natives' babbling in an alien tongue and leaping semi naked about a fire. Lovecraft wrote parodies of his own work, but he just as often parodied himself and the genre even when this was not his intention.
The sexless, reclusive, and xenophobic Lovecraft came, not surprisingly, from the dying line of an old New England family. Since decadence and degeneracy coupled with some element of 'super nature' is the essence of the horror story, Lovecraft's work and imagination fit his character and history like a glove. Readers of the Call of Cthulhu will wonder what sort of person could walk through the beautiful hills, valleys, and woods of New England and imagine cosmic monsters and forgotten, tentacled deities hiding beneath the quiet towns, farms, and autumn foliage of Vermont and New Hampshire, or rocky shorelines of Massachusetts.
Lovecraft's father died of syphilis when Howard was eight years old, and, after a physical and mental breakdown, his domineering mother passed away when he was 21. Lovecraft himself was sickly as a boy, and left high school early due to an undiagnosed breakdown of his own. Readers will find potent evidence of the bad blood and the genuine social and psychological decadence that surrounded Lovecraft and manifested darkly in all of his work. Himself a product of repression and decay, readers will not be surprised to find Lovecraft's narrators obsessed with almost laughably phallic "Cyclopean" towers and monoliths, or with the pulpy, regenerate masses, globsters and blobs that comprise his otherworldly hierarchy. This hierarchy is crowned by Cthulhu, an ambiguously sexed creature who symbolically blends both male and female elements: like Melville's fleshy squid, Cthulhu has a face full of dancing, probing, and erect tentacles resting on a soft, amorphous body. Cthulhu is Lovecraft's 20th century Gorgon who freezes all of earthly existence in its stare. Readers will notice that atavistic and incestuous themes abound; Lovecraft's mankind is continually slipping backward, via inbreeding and alien contamination, into cannibalistic rat and ape ('The Lurking Fear,' 'Arthur Jermyn,' 'Rats In The Walls'), or into gilled and web limbed fish men ('Dagon,' 'The Call of Cthulhu,' 'Shadow Over Innsmouth').
Lovecraft, who was casually married and casually divorced within a few years, lived a short, grim, childless existence as far from one of Rockwell's cheery scenarios as it was possible to get. After completing the Call of Cthulhu, most readers will not be surprised that Lovecraft died of intestinal cancer at the age of 47; for what were Lovecraft's oozing terrors but masses of uncontrollably reproducing cells, and concrete materializations of a tragic, disturbed, and victimizing unconscious?

Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper - Case Closed
Portrait of a Killer: Jack the Ripper - Case Closed
by Patricia Cornwell
Edition: Hardcover
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1.0 out of 5 stars The Principle Figure In A Pageant Of Massacre?, Nov. 15 2002
Patricia Cornwell's investigation into whether British painter Walker Sickert was in fact also infamous murderer Jack the Ripper has been fascinating to follow in the media over the last year. As the essence of any good investigation is clear, accurate perception, precision, and a rigorous search for the facts and truth by objective methods, it is by these standards that Cornwell's book must be considered.
The author has accumulated an enormous amount of circumstantial evidence against Sickert, but Portrait of a Killer is amateurishly written, sloppily executed, and poorly edited. For a famous crime writer, Cornwell has produced a weak book unlikely to stand up to scrutiny or survive the brunt of attacks by Ripperologists the world over, written as it has been for the uncritical light reader. Every facet of Portrait of a Killer seems rushed, as though Cornwell wrote with little consideration for structure and then submitted the manuscript without rereading, rewriting, or thinking it through as a whole. The awkward title alone suggests Cornwell's hesitations: 'Portrait of a Killer / Jack The Ripper / Case Closed.' Why not 'Walter Sickert: Portrait of a Killer,' or 'Walter Sickert: Jack The Ripper?' Why the reservation about damning her subject in the title, as she does so heartily in the text?
For Cornwell damns Sickert before she's made her case, and from the first page. She immediately refers to Sickert as a killer as if this were an objective fact, and as a 'psychopath,' a phrase she bandies about loosely and without proper definition throughout the book. By contemptuously referring to his rented East End studios as 'ratholes' upon their first mention, Cornwell makes her biases entirely clear. As a result, Sickert's habit of long walks become 'obsessive walks,' and his love of walking at night becomes evidence of his psychopathology, when night walking was also the habit of Edgar Allen Poe, H.P. Lovecraft, Paul Bowles, Walt Whitman, Thoreau, and Charles Baudelaire. Sickert's penchant for watching and studying people is also interpreted as a sign of his predatory madness, rather than as an attribute common to most visual artists, actors, and writers - to say nothing of detectives and crime writers. Describing a poem sent to the police and signed 'Jack the Ripper' which she believes was written by Sickert, Cornwell describes the poem's rhymes as "not those of an illiterate or deranged person." Since she believes Sickert was a "psychopath," by what criteria was he a "psychopath" but not a "deranged person?" Cornwell says of the broken, middle-aged Sickert, "He subsisted in filth and chaos. He was a slob and he stank," but on the next page states, "he traversed the surface of life as a respectable, intellectual gentleman."
The same easy logic the author uses to turn the lights on Sickert could be used on anyone, at anytime. Cornwell has been obsessed with and made a career of criminal behavior, death, and murder herself; by her own what - makes - madness equation, shouldn't she explain her own morbid preoccupations to the reader?
In light of the many sound accomplishments found here, it's unfortunate how many errors in judgement Cornwell has made, especially if "staking her career" on this volume as she says she is. Sickert is portrayed on any number of pages as manipulative, bizarre, cunning, misogynistic, treacherous, desperate for attention, and dangerously arrogant - Cornwell states these are facts about his character - but provides almost no sources for her information, when this should have been scrupulously documented. The worst others have to say about Sickert comes to almost nothing. Under oath, former teacher Whistler says, "Walter has a treacherous side to his character," his first wife's sister, who clearly disliked Sickert, perhaps with good reason, says "they cannot know what he really is as you do," and Clive Bell refers to him a man of "no standards." In exaggerated fashion, Cornwell calls Sickert a "master of disguise" - a master, not just an afficionado - but again provides no sources.
Viewing early drawings by Sickert-or, she admits, perhaps drawn by his father-Cornwell believes she already sees clear evidence of a woman-hater and a violent, disturbed mind. But when the reader refers to these drawings, the figures are hardly more than stick figures; one male figure Cornwell ominously perceives as "about to spring" at a defenseless woman looks more like a hemorrhoid sufferer hesitantly lowering himself onto a cold toilet. Yet two Ripper letters containing drawings obviously done by a talented hand are called "crude." An in-profile caricature of a woman is said to have "an ugly mole" on the nose, but the "mole" is clearly just an oversized, if still unsightly, nostril. Readers will get the sense that one thing Cornwell isn't is a visual artist, a race she seems to have little understanding of or sympathy with.
Sickert's relationships with his wives is barely touched upon until the end, and what first wife Ellen thought about her husband, whom she loved until her death, is never made clear. Since Cornwell believes Sickert was impotent all his life and perhaps left without a penis after three traumatic childhood surgeries, the reader should know a great deal about his marital life, and what his wives felt about marrying a man only to discover a eunuch in their honeymoon beds.
Cornwell, in sadly PC fashion, quotes her mentor Dr. Marcella Fierro as saying "a woman has the right to walk around naked and not be raped or murdered." In the theoretical and idealized Garden of Eden of liberalism, that certainly may be the case. Reality, again, is something else. Cornwell embarrasses herself by stooping so low to make an unnecessary case for the Ripper's desperate, tragic victims.
The author should have spent several more years on this book and then written a scholarly, definitive account of her presently unfinished investigation. Why the rush to publication? Cornwell's errors and misjudgements throughout will only raise powerful doubts about her methods and conclusions, and prejudice the reader against the more solid fruits of her labor.

Miracle of the Rose
Miracle of the Rose
by Jean Genet
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 23.94
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Sinking Ship Shall Cast The Light Upon The Land, Nov. 1 2002
This review is from: Miracle of the Rose (Paperback)
Genet's second novel is a phantasmagorical account of his youthful incarceration in the Mettray penal colony and subsequent imprisonment in the adult facility of Fountevrault. The author portrays Mettray as a womb like hive of sunless corridors and constricting passages that both shelters the prisoners and guards and incubates their stark attempts at individual development. The formless men of Mettray constantly meld and mesh into one another, existing between mental and emotional states of absolute being and permanent dissolution and drift. Genet sees the hieratical Mettray as "the universe itself," something he finds "fabulous." Surrounded by 400 other confined men, many who are attractive and apparently virile, young Genet searches for potential lovers and models upon which he might base his coreless identity.
The narrator identifies these young men as his literal brothers, born from the same maternal body of childhood desolation leading to crime, and is highly drawn to this incestuous angle of his attractions. He describes the other boys "stroking themselves" in unison alone in their single unit cells, the mixed perfume of wisteria and rose vines creating a "vegetable incest" which wafts over their dreaming heads; he "yearns for a mother," feels he's returned, via Mettray, to "the mother's throbbing breast," and describes the prison and his mood as permanently tinted in autumnal shades. The female principle reasonably dominates the state of male immaturity, and in both benevolent and malevolent fashion, for Mettray is surrounded by a minefield of "traps laid by women's hands" that create an "invisible, undetectable danger" which throws would be escapees into "wild panic." For hoping to gain the fifty franc reward that comes with each capture, local women lie in silent, unseen wait like archetypal witches, accompanied by shotguns, pitchforks, and dogs.
Unloved, cast out, and uneducated, the instinctively virility-seeking boys of Mettray are little more than unindividuated eggs united in a desperate search for a master sperm bearer to fertilize and transform them into legitimate men. Each acts as a 'double' for another, but combined, the two halves still add up to less than one definite being. Though some "big guys" and "toughs," especially mysterious Christ figure Harcomone act as witting or unwitting father substitutes to those in need, Mother conquers in the end. Returning years later to find Mettray in ruins, Genet sadly notes that swallows have built their nests in its window ledges, grass sprouts between the impregnable stones, and thorn bearing vegetation covers and "pierces" the place. The rugged house of troubled, fragile lads has returned to the soil forever.
Fifteen years later, at Fountevrault, Genet finds hero and double murderer Harcomone locked in irons in solitary confinement, condemned to death. He discovers Fountevrault's foundational hub when he stumbles upon former Mettray lover Divers, a powerful and handsome tough, freakishly squatting atop the central iron cone which serves as a toilet, his genitals exposed and hanging as he defecates loudly, surrounded as he is by the circle of punished and endlessly marching prisoners he oversees and verbally abuses daily. Thus the lord of Fountevrault is an unconscious, ridiculous clown and fool, his pointed punishment and dunce cap under him instead of atop his head. Nonchalant Divers, "a barbaric king on a metal throne" gets up "without wiping" and actively resumes command as Genet allows himself the pleasure of sniffing Divers' "vast and serene" bowel gases. Drunk with sensation, Genet commits a willful infraction and happily joins Divers' marching circle, which becomes his new microcosm of "eternal reoccurrence."
While the broad shouldered "big guys" gather in all alpha male groups like a huddle of mountain gorillas, Genet loves--and often confuses--three men. Divers; dying, crown-of-thorns bearing god and great subject of prison gossip Harcomone; and mercurial "chicken" Pierrot, who straddles the safer middle ground and whose essence contains elements of both men. Genet sees Pierrot as a Sphinx and himself as a "questioning Oedipus," he describes their desperate lovemaking, clandestine stairwell meetings, and risking note passing, but later says they were never lovers and met only on twelve occasions. Divers and Harcomone are the twin father kings of Fountevrault: earthy, feces smeared Divers, who upholds macho postures even while defecating, symbolizes the Genet's reality principle. Supernatural Harcomone, the single complete man, "the emanation of a power stronger than himself," is even loved and cherished by the stars, moon, and seas -- by nature, his transcendent bride. Paternal Harcomone had once read nightly to the youths at Mettray from a book intended for very small children; now his chains blossom fragrantly into white roses before the astonished prisoners, an experience divinely denied the guards. Harcomone's rapidly approaching execution by beheading becomes a crisis for everyone under Fountevrault's roof.

Active mystic Genet calls himself "the spirit that hovers over the shapeless mass of dreams," "a dead man who sees his skeleton in the mirror," one who "sings the void" and who strains "every fiber to see very high or very far within himself." By "cutting all threads" that hold him to the world, he "plunges" into "prison, foulness, dreaming, and hell," believing this will land him in a garden "of saintliness where roses bloom." Exhausting himself with the effort, he manages, by a kind of remote viewing, to project himself into the condemned man's cell during the last nights of Harcomone's life, where he finds Harcomone already a ghost, his spirit drifting through the prison, and visited by specters.
Perhaps Genet's most deeply felt novel, the meditative Miracle of the Rose finds the author alternately confronting and avoiding his deepest obsessions and the shadowy motivators stirring uncomfortably within him. The archetypal "ghosts" of the male and female parental figures, in both their nurturing and paralyzing aspects, constantly overwhelm Genet's consciousness, are projected, embodied (Genet, the bride, is officially wedded to Divers in an elaborately structured midnight ceremony) or obscurely grappled with during moments of reverie. Transvestite figures and shifting configurations of gender and persona abound; male identity, like the ever shifting and unsustainable ocean shoreline, is in constant, painful flux, perpetually threatened with an obscuring inundation that will reduce man back to his earliest, in utero female state of existence.

Funeral Rites
Funeral Rites
by Jean Genet
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 19.13
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Phallic Universe of Satyrs and Martyrs, Oct. 17 2002
This review is from: Funeral Rites (Paperback)
Despite its title, Jean Genet's Funeral Rites is considerably less desperate and less grim a novel than his others; here, Genet's stand-in narrator (Jean) sounds more boastful and vainglorious than threatening or threatened. Taking place in Paris during the Nazi occupation and just after, this is Genet's most psychologically incestuous book, one in which almost every character is linked to the others by undiscussed or only infrequently acknowledged sexual affairs. Despite the violent emotions the characters feel for one another, when they actually speak, their words are banal, monosyllabic, and thus lacking in complex information; the only extensive dialogues are internal. Genet's philosophy is clearly stated: "Speech kills, poisons, mutilates, distorts, dirties."
As the book opens, Genet's love-object--a young resistance fighter also named Jean--has just been killed and buried. There are extended early passages about the dejection Genet feels; he states that "the book is completely devoted to the cult of a dead person with whom I am living on intimate terms." However, Genet questions whether the 'Jean' to whom the book is dedicated is the dead man or himself, and soon refers to him as "my poor Jean-in-the-box" and thinks of him as "changing into fertilizer." Eventually Jean becomes something of an afterthought, as Genet turns away from the dead towards his lust for the living.
The conversational, episodic plot concerns Genet's interactions with the remaining members of Jean's family, as well as with German Erik, former Hitler Youth member and current tank-driver for Hitler, and youthful French traitor Riton, a collaborator with the Reich. Genet presents an awesomely entwined branch of relationships: Genet and the dead Jean; Genet's casual friendship with Jean's brother Paulo, who is both Hitler's and Genet's lover in Genet's fantasies; Giselle, Jean's steadfastly bourgeois mother, is Erik's mistress and keeper regardless of his Nazism; Erik and Riton are physical and emotional lovers; Erik, who clearly gets around, is also the submissive lover of Hitler's massive, unnamed, ax-wielding executioner; unattractive Juliette, Giselle's despised housemaid, is Jean's former fiancé; and Genet and Erik also become sexual partners in time, and right under Giselle's roof.
Genet adds another layer of complexity by having character 'Genet' transform mid-scene into the characters he is describing. Genet briefly becomes Joan of Arc just before she is burned alive, and replaces Erik as the killer when Erik decides to murder an innocent country boy to establish his manhood. Genet also steps into other shoes during the erotic passages, metamorphosing into Hitler (who sends "his finest-looking men to death" because he can't bugger them all, Genet says) when the Fuhrer orders Paulo aside and rapes him, an act Paulo accepts flatteringly and actively responds to. The narrative also moves frequently backward and forward in time, and at least one murdered character (not Jean) shows up robustly alive after his death.
Unlike the later novels, few defensive statements are made about the sexual interaction between the men, who alternately accept male and female lovers without question, as if this were the natural state of things worldwide (though other men seem to be the sexual partner of choice). The tough men of Funeral Rites do not constantly challenge and tease one another about standing, dominance, and submission; instead, they seem to take sexuality in all its manifestations pleasantly in their stride. Erik openly makes love to Riton in front of his soldier comrades, none of which bat an eye; when two grave diggers conspire to rape a maid (Juliette?), they fondle and caress her but also reach for one another's hands under her skirt. ...
Funeral Rites is humorously obsessed with scatology and flatulence, using both as none-too-subtle weapons against the despised French middle class. In one hilariously protracted episode, Giselle, tired of waiting on chisel-faced Erik, retires to her room to "release her wind," only to find she's let fly with something more than she intended and that impatient lover Erik is entering her small, temporarily unventilated room. In another, a prison chaplain, hurrying to give last rites to 28 falsely-accused boys, finding himself in the outhouse without toilet paper, imprudently decides to use his hand, and is then suddenly confronted by God. Hardly a character in the book escapes breaking wind, wiping themselves, or anxiously wondering about the state of their anal hygiene. Genet tells of finding dried feces lovingly sequestered in the doilied, oaken drawers of the bourgeoisie, and, taking up a favorite motif, has 'Genet' hoping that he still genitally harbors some of dead Jean's crab lice. After having failed to crawl into Erik's sheltering and flower-bearing anal cavity, Genet uses his tongue to pinpoint the lice on Erik's back end which are bloated with his virile blood.
In addition, there are scenes of wanton cruelty that may disgust some readers, such as that in which starving Riton kills a cat with a hammer, but most of the material seems sensational and mischievous rather than offensive. ... More restrained and less indulgent that The Thief's Journal, if also less deeply felt, Funeral Rites is an excellent choice for new readers approaching Genet's work. Genet seems oddly more confident and hopeful about himself and mankind here, perhaps as a result of the emotional catharsis (as well as the victory) provided by the war. Highly recommended.

The Thief's Journal
The Thief's Journal
by Jean Genet
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 21.47
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5.0 out of 5 stars In The Age Of The Poet-Assassins, Sept. 24 2002
This review is from: The Thief's Journal (Paperback)
In Jean Genet's complex novel The Thief's Journal, the author has modeled his protagonist, Jean, on himself, and the loose, conversational plot after his own experiences as a young thief, drifter, and poet in thirties and forties Europe. 'Jean' is Genet's fictional recreation of himself; but readers should keep in mind that Jean's relationship to Genet is to some degree imaginative. The book provides an excellent illustration of how even when speaking or writing with as complete an honesty as believed possible, man is still caught in a process of creation, structuring, and discrimination-a process of fictionalization. Therefore, honesty, sincerity, and truthfulness always retain elements of artifice, and, as pure states, remain ideals only.
Abandoned by his family as a boy, sentenced to reform school at sixteen, as a young man, Jean is still "alone, rigorously so," he lives "with desolation in satanic solitude." Realizing early that he is, in status and nature, completely at odds with the social order, Jean learns through trial and error how to care and not to care, how to make all possible outcomes to his actions reasonably acceptable. "Rejecting the world that rejected me," Jean exacerbates his position: identifying with his rejectee status, he feels it appropriate that he should "aggravate this condition with a preference for boys." Thus his homosexuality is at least partially an act of self-creation, part of his perverse desire to transgress the rules of order as broadly as possible. Jean decides he will henceforth admit to guilt whenever accused, regardless of the truth or the nature of the crime, and thus rob his accusers of the ability to jeopardize his fate.
"Betrayal, theft, and homosexuality are the basic subject of this book," he says. For Jean, theft becomes a means of survival while simultaneously representing a daily blow against society. If caught and arrested, he readily throws himself into the homosexual life of the prison, making himself available to those in authority as well as to fellow inmates. Jean allows himself a somewhat desperate game of searching for a dominant male partner who is completely, impossibly powerful. Submitting physically and emotionally to men he believes meet this standard, Jean repeatedly proves himself the more powerful by betraying the men when he inevitably senses a definitive crack in his exaggerated conception of them. Once he has glimpsed some "inelegant," unforgivable portion of their imperfect humanity, his slavish masochism fades and sociopathic indifference replaces it: the abandonee becomes the abandoner and assassin. For Jean, a well-planned, keenly-felt personal betrayal is the ultimate show of toughness and "a handsome gesture, compounded with nervous force and grace."
As in Genet's other novels, homosexual love and physical interaction is a given between all of the male characters--pimps, prostitutes, gamblers, gangsters, and thugs--each of whom has a theoretical set of rules and limits concerning the degree of their own participation. But regardless of their speeches and proud macho denunciations, they loosen their belts for one another at a moment's notice if they feel so inclined. Genet cleverly has Jean reacting and reporting in the same indeterminate manner: Jean identifies Michaelis as wholly homosexual but then denies it; one-armed stud Stilitano, who wears a bunch of artificial grapes buttoned inside his fly to lure strangers and enhance his mystique, routinely denies Jean access to his body at night but coyly raises the subject repeatedly during daylight hours. Regardless, Stilitano and Jean live and share a bed together, affectionately plucking one another clean of head and body lice. Ugly Salvador strikes Jean on the street for kissing him in public while simultaneously whispering, "tonight, if you like," in his ear. When hairy Armand decides he respects Jean too much to be anything other than friends, Jean sleeps between his open legs, Armand's colossal sex organs resting nightly on his forehead.
Only gorilla-like, Paul Muni-faced Java is wholly unconcerned with the nature of his acts or words. He provocatively exposes himself to other men in saloons, daring them to hold and guess the weight of his genitals, and repeatedly forces himself on willing Jean, who, gloriously obliterated by Java's assault, finds it a blissful but inevitably temporary salvation. Java "cringes in fright" during a fight, and Jean sees even his cringing as beautiful. But then "yellow diarrhea flows down his monumental thighs," and--well, so much for Java. Clinging to his masochistic illusion, Jean continues drifting, his submissive position a seeming necessity. When discovered sleeping in a beachfront shack by a guard, Jean services him automatically and the guard accepts it automatically as a given in turn. These are the strange, all-encompassing rules of Genet's world. But free or imprisoned, single or partnered, masochist or sly sadist, Jean is ultimately self-fulfilling and independent.
Jean, who says "metamorphosis lies in wait for us," is an almost unknown quintessence, a mass of animal meat and instincts coupled with emerging homo sapien characteristics. Constantly in a liminal state of becoming, he atavistically prefers stepping sideways or backward instead of forward; for long periods his existence seems mere ostensible movement through time and space. But Jean, who in fact secretly enjoys and protects his isolation, really seeks only to fulfill himself "in the rarest of destinies," a kind of quest for "sainthood," one born of reducing himself to pure essence and thus becoming his own temple, savior, and deity. On this final road, which Jean sees reachable by both subjective and objective methods, including sacred betrayal, there is in truth no room for anyone but himself, as there will be none afterward when he has attained his goal of becoming a selfless but self-complete being, like Jung's psychological, alchemical, and hieratical hermaphrodite.
The Thief's Journal is a full-frontal, multi-layered book that should be read several times to be fully appreciated. One of the finest portrayals of the introverted character in literature, The Thief's Journal has a great many things to express about man's nature and psychology, most of which should be revelatory if somewhat jarring to the general reader.

Paris Spleen
Paris Spleen
by Charles Pierre Baudelaire
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 16.77
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "In Autumn All Things Think Through Us Or We Through Them", Sept. 18 2002
This review is from: Paris Spleen (Paperback)
Charles Baudelaire's Paris Spleen is a wonderfully original work, one happily outside the framework of American literature and its broad range of sensibilities. Most notably, these 51 short prose poems illustrate how truth, and the most accurate perceptions of life possible, can be reached purely by honing the senses and then melding them with the more passive facilities of the mind; logic and rational thinking, as demonstrated here, are for the vulgar, those in denial, those simply unable to accept the very rich, very broad, self-evident smorgasbord of life. Baudelaire, both a tragic and a comedic clown, also effortlessly illustrates how melancholy and joy are by no means mutually exclusive categories of human feeling and experience.
Set largely against specifically autumnal landscapes, our wandering poet indulges in "the mysterious and aristocratic pleasure of watching" whenever he is not a direct participant in the events these visionary pieces describe. Solitary, 'fluent in outrage,' cranky, self-tormented, lovelorn, misanthropic, and pedagogical by turns, these pieces find the poet stalking bereaved widows, peering unseen through the candle-lit windows of neighbor's homes, asking philosophical questions of "enigmatical" strangers, shunning crowds, luxuriating in midnight solitude, greeting the twilight with a bow, reading the time of day in a cat's eyes, "suffering before Beauty" in all its forms, futilely but vocally castigating inflexible Dame Nature, advising the world on the varieties of glorious drunkenness, dreaming of tempting devils, beating the poor, pitying aged, poverty-stricken circus performers, rebelling against infinity, arguing with mistresses, and listening, eavesdropping, and relentlessly observing wherever he goes.
Not surprisingly, the poet's vision of urban Paris lies somewhere between the multiple canvases of Degas and Toulouse-Lautrec; garishly colored, slightly grotesque, heavily populated with heavy, heaving women and friable grande dames, Baudelaire's city is a fluid and respiring stage for life's pantomime, open to and allowing for all combinations and possibilities. By contrast, his autumnal countryside is a place of relative purity, where the poet wanders alone under piercing blue skies and roaming, shadow-casting clouds.
In one of the more hallucinatory episodes, the poet, "under a vast gray sky, on a vast and dusty plain" comes upon a short procession of men with "worn and serious faces," each of whom carries a very large, monstrous chimera on his back, the muscles, tendons and limbs of the beasts wrapped tightly around them. None the wiser after his inevitable questions, the poet observes that "under the depressing dome of the sky" the men moved past and beyond him, each "with the resigned look of men who are condemned to hope forever."
Paris Spleen is a wise, serious, and occasionally dour work. But if its only sometimes-tragic underpinnings and conclusions are embraced by the reader, then its vibrant, bawdy, colorful, and transcendent aspect will reveal itself shamelessly in turn. Baudelaire is so confident, unselfconscious, and plain-spoken that his perceptions are remarkably easy to visualize, his emotions as expressed easy to share and make one's own. It's a rare book that is as multi-prismed as this.
Baudelaire implies that if man could accept mortality, reasonably subdue his ego, and curb his more flagrant dreams, life would fall into the glittering, far from perfect, but certainly tolerable and potentially enjoyable miracle it really is. The poet seems to reach the same conclusion about life that Isak Dinsen does at the end of Out Of Africa: man must accept, without exclusion, every facet, aspect, element, and component of existence before existence-before life--will give anything back to man.
In no way a despairing book, Paris Spleen is a sheer pleasure to read, contemplate, discuss, laugh over, and digest. Readers will carry their copy in their back pocket until it falls into tatters, and force copies on friends, family, and strangers. Beautifully translated by Louise Varese. Highly recommended, especially to the non-creative who would like to see, however briefly, as a poet sees.

Satan Bug
Satan Bug
3 used & new from CDN$ 24.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars George Maharis: The Hunter Not Home From The Hill, Sept. 11 2002
This review is from: Satan Bug (VHS Tape)
A 1965 release, The Satan Bug falls firmly into the B-film category of sixties cinema, and will find a comfortable place alongside other Hollywood science-fiction and adventure movies of that era such as Marooned, Tarzan & The Valley of Gold, Planet of the Apes, Valley of Gwangi, Mackenna's Gold, and Fantastic Voyage--pop culture genre thrillers all. Despite claims to the contrary, The Satan Bug is not a serious film or an A-list production like The Birds, Failsafe, Seconds, The Manchurian Candidate, or 2001: A Space Odyssey.
The story of a fatal, artificially-created super toxin stolen from a secret American science facility by parties unknown, The Satan Bug appears cheaply made (viewers hear about but do not see the evacuation of Los Angeles; to avoid scenes of Washington, D.C. and extra cast, stalwart Dana Andrews steps in to singularly represent the entire U.S. government), the sets are limited to a few awkward interiors and a lot of desert, much of the acting by the supporting cast is just short of caricature, the script is composed of a series of confusing ellipses which defeat its mystery and 'whodunit' approach, and director John Sturges doesn't seem to know what kind of film he's making or wants to make.
From the early scene when Ed Asner walks out of the desert compound like a very suspicious cardboard zombie without any of the security staff noticing, it's clear Sturges doesn't have as tight a reign on the film as he might. Star and brooding protagonist George Maharis is repeatedly required to fire upon men carrying flimsy flasks of lethal toxin for which there is no known antidote and which is capable of destroying all life on earth; the vials are tossed about haphazardly from hand to hand to hand throughout the film, from villain to hero to villain, like bottom-heavy frisbees of no consequence. At times, The Satan Bug seems almost like a parody, an episode of Get Smart, Police Squad, or an early entry into the Naked Gun series.
That said, the film is great fun, only charmingly dated, and will be a satisfying viewing pleasure to fans of science fiction, action, and suspense films and of American sixties cinema and television generally.
The film's largest strength is the subtle, nuanced performance by George Maharis as an ex-government troubleshooter called in to find the perpetrators and track down the missing toxin before the world can be blackmailed and destroyed. Maharis performs as if in a serious film and an A-list production (as it may have initially been), and makes a credible, serious-minded, and unflinching protagonist. This was an imperfect role for cat-eyed Maharis, who usually cast a semi-veiled, slightly antisocial, restlessly hungry, and somewhat isolated persona on the screen; Maharis faired better in more naturalistic films, such as 1969's The Land Raiders, where his character's dual objectives of justice and revenge, under the blazing southwestern sun, allowed him the opportunity to sweat, snarl, and engage himself full-bloodedly in his role. Here, his more disciplined, finessed character-note the continually perfect part in his hair--repeatedly foresees and intuits what the other characters do not, piecing together the puzzle with a keen, restrained intelligence that seems to accurately reflect Maharis's own. Confident and capable, Maharis is consistently believable, even though required to deliver absurd, convoluted dialogue to further the plot and enact scenes that stretch all credibility.
The Satan Bug did not make theater-trained Maharis an action-adventure star (an ambition he probably didn't aspire to in any case), but if his performance here fell in the way of that, it is due to its strengths and not its weaknesses; Maharis was made for stronger material and a finer production than this, and delivers a performance that stands above the rest of the film. In fact, Maharis, of Greek heritage, rightfully belongs in the tradition of European actors that also came to prominence in the sixties like Alain Delon and Jean-Paul Belmondo, who, while convincingly poised, urbane, and sophisticated when required to be, also simultaneously and spontaneously emitted a moody, sensual ferality (In Maharis's case, this impression is strengthened by the fact that, whenever speaking, only the bottom row of his teeth are visible).
A slightly more robust, extroverted, and ham-fisted actor like Rod Taylor may have been what the filmmakers had in mind; but Maharis expertly captures the urgency and contained anxiety needed to make his character seem situationally vulnerable, blindly dedicated, and resigned to all possible outcomes. Viewers will want to watch for an early scene in which Maharis, with blank existentialist resolve, voluntarily offers to investigate the potentially contaminated 'hot zone,' his beautiful face an unreadable tabula rasa as he proceeds.
The Satan Bug is surprisingly suspenseful if taken within its own limits, a purely entertaining time capsule, and a showcase for the versatile, chameleon-like Maharis, much of whose film work is unfortunately currently unavailable on DVD and video.
2 stars for general audiences; 3 for fans of the genre.

The Invention of Jane Harrison
The Invention of Jane Harrison
by Mary Beard
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 38.29
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Jane Harrison as Marcel Duchamp's Pipe, Sept. 6 2002
Mary Beard's The Invention of Jane Harrison (Revealing Antiquity 14) perfectly illustrates the frightening, hilarious, and absurd situation occurring the world over in academia today. And the book's publisher is none less than Harvard University Press. Beard clearly has connections in high places.
Beard has unearthed-I use 'unearthed' here in its figurative sense-a lot of 'new'--or, 'recent,' 'current'--'information'--by which I hope to suggest 'information' as a new paradigm in the process of 'evolution'---about Harrison-by which I purposely refer to not 'Jane Harrison' 'herself' but to the constellation of thoughts, theories, and 'historical' ideas which we generally assume to be 'identical' with its 'subject'-by this I am suggesting that the unconscious 'assumption' of a biographical 'subject' by both 'author' and the 'assumed' reader is a fallacy--by 'fallacy,' I suggest not its 'original' meaning of 'guile' or 'trickery' but its present-day usage of a plausible 'idea' based around-I use 'around' in the figurative sense in this case--a false inference-with which 'she,'-- by which I refer to 'Beard'-who is not 'identical' to a living person but an abstract idea we agree to refer to as 'Mary Beard'--could have made remarkable use.
As 'Beard'-not the facial hair worn by men but the 'author'-is an Cambridge 'scholar'-in itself an 'elitist' conception worth challenging-'she,' by which I hope to suggest to the 'reader' 'author' 'Beard,' and not the conceptual formation which 'we' are using as our 'subject' and calling 'Jane Harrison'-might have made better use of if 'turned over'-in the figurative sense-her 'findings'-by which I intend to suggest that elements of existence-by 'existence' I do not make use of Sartre's conception of 'such' or imply an 'existential' 'imperative'-can be 'lost' and 'recovered' though perhaps, as man--men and women inclusive--are limited to five (5) 'senses'-'senses' being an idea formation worth 'investigating'--have always been, in 'fact' present but not until 'now'-not the moment I am writing, creating, and 'thinking' this--but the moment it is conceivably 'perpetually'--that is to say, 'infinite' but not in the theological sense--being absorbed in the literal--I use 'literal' literally here--sense--not to be mistaken for 'senses' above--by its presumed 'reader'-or 'readers'--
If the reader can stomach 150 very small pages (the rest is documentation) of useless, loopy backtracking, second-guessing text, and Beard's inability to write a straight sentence without multiple unnecessary qualifications, then this book, which can confidently assume nothing and finds its style clearly necessary and delightful, might find an audience, if said readers are willing to push through and come out the other side exhausted, none the wiser, and empty handed.
The Invention of Jane Harrison is primarily about Mary Beard and her thought processes, and presents Harrison--when it finally forgets itself and remembers to deliver her up-as a kind of stuffed partridge in an Edwardian museum display case. Pretentious, smug, and yet so nice and gentile, this book rightly belongs on no one's shelf. By taking on such an eminent subject, Beard mortally underscores her vacuity as a writer and thinker. ...Forget the logrolling praise this project has received. For cynical careerists only. Everyone else, run for the hills.

Psychology of the Transference: (From Vol. 16 Collected Works)
Psychology of the Transference: (From Vol. 16 Collected Works)
by C. G. Jung
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 37.95
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Apex, Not The Ape, Sept. 6 2002
The penultimate title in C.G. Jung's 20 - volume Collected Works, The Psychology of the Transference is a short, seemingly complex book which readily rewards the reader who perseveres and is unintimidated by Jung's lengthy sentences, the alchemical illustrations, or the numerous passages in Latin.
Jung's subject is his discovery that the "great work" of the 16th and 17th century alchemists -- a search for the 'philosopher's stone' of 'psychic wholeness' (as opposed to 'psychic perfection') -- corresponds closely to the psychological process of the transference (a dynamic set of duo projections of unconscious psychic contents). The alchemical process mysteriously corresponds not only the transference possible between psychologist and patient, but between any two individuals who spontaneously (unconsciously) constellate some part of the other's psyche through normal human interaction.

However, as with all of Jung's later work, the book's larger focus is the psychic evolution of the individual. The Psychology of the Transference's pivotal message is that the process of cautiously evolving one's consciousness to the hypothetical point of 'individuation' or 'integration,' is primarily a moral and ethical one. The book stresses that it is also a critically necessary process, however painful and potentially dangerous. In Jung's estimation, mankind has no choice but to accept the challenge of psychic evolution: the alternative is a perpetual present state of misunderstanding, hatred, suspicion, bigotry, oppression, war, and genocide.
Like Freud, Jung believed that man's psyche contains an enormous multi-tier unconscious reservoir, one which not only dwarfs man's generally narrow consciousness but is also the matrix in which consciousness originated (thus the alchemical motto "high rests on low"). The unconscious is the original abode of all drives, demons, and daimons, all instincts and angels, all creativity and appetites for destruction. Since many of its contents are unacceptable to modern man -- the most foundational of these being the incest complex - these damned and rejected contexts are not and cannot be readily integrated into consciousness. Instead, they are spontaneously projected outward onto other human beings, social classes, institutions, and countries -- onto any 'object' that is perceived as other and different from the self. No man can evolve his consciousness without first becoming aware of and retracting these projections and learning to comfortably accept them as his own dark potentialities. It is not simply of matter of leaving the instinctual man behind, but of learning to integrate the necessary if often unattractive instinctual and vital functions into consciousness before moving forward. Thus the process is one of refinement and accumulation and not one of elimination.
Only the first major step in a series (Emerson: "Every ultimate fact is only the first of a new series"), the confrontation with and integration of the 'shadow' is often a harrowing and precarious process. If man accepts this task without ample preparation, inner fortification, and secure sense of identity (which he nonetheless must be willing to forgo), he may come to despise himself, lose all motivation, become morally degenerate, or commit suicide. But if he does not recognize, accept and take up his own cross, he will blame, and attempt to injure or destroy, other people, classes, races, or countries to eradicate the sense of indefinable angst, doubt, suspicion, and fear that impinges itself so relentlessly upon his psyche; as Jung perfectly expressed it, he will endlessly attempt to free himself of "that thing that thrusts itself tyrannically upon him in the stillness and loneliness of the night."
Only after man has accepted and integrated his 'shadow' can he, 'reborn,' proceed rightfully ahead. It is this slow process ('make haste slowly' was another motto of the alchemists) of prudent illumination towards conscious realization of the "whole man," or "self," as Jung called it, that the alchemists referred to as "the great work," the highest single achievement of which man is capable. Thus, though the alchemists apparently sought to turn base metal into gold, "gold" was in truth a simple metaphor for successfully integrated consciousness. Clearly, most of mankind, finding the burden of unconsciousness easier to bear than the burden of conscious realization and responsibility, regrettably and understandably fails in even this initial step. As a result, man lives in a predominantly fallen world of near - animal existence.
The Psychology of the Transference is one of the most concise and digestible books in Jung's oeuvre; its insights and wisdom are readily applicable to life in the 21st century. As in the balance of his previous eighteen titles, Jung presents the world as an incredible place of breathtaking depth, mystery, and meaning, most of which is lost on the average man, who typically lives in a state of permanent hibernation from objective reality. However, Jung's worldview is also one in which nature is infinitely strange and capable of continuous unexpected manifestations, unique hybrid creations, and monsters, simply because the process of psychic evolution is not only something man must willingly confront, but because it is a process which nature inexorably demands.
It is to Jung's credit that with The Psychology of the Transference he is able to present his ideas in direct, palatable, and useful fashion without dilution. A world of readers are blindly searching for this book, and turning instead to authors like Herman Hesse and Carlos Casteneda, 'New Age' crank authors whose work is merely plagiarism of Jung, or lesser psychologists who offer up Jung's ideas in vastly diluted form. The Psychology of the Transference, a deep and hopeful book, is the source to which questing readers should turn.

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