Links of the Week

Many of these links have been tweeted in the past, but here I can tag and categorise them for future reference. I hope you find some of them interesting too. Please feel free to discuss in comments or on Twitter. Some of the links to PDFs change or disappear, so if something interests you download it quickly.

 Virginia Woolf with father, Sir. Leslie Stephen

Virginia Woolf’s The Voyage Out [PDF] published in 1915, though conventional in form, carries all her later themes.

Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway: Invisible Presences [PDF] by Molly Hoff.

Italo Calvino’s short story The Adventure of a Photographer [PDF]. This is from Calvino’s Difficult Loves collection.

Italo Calvino’s Borgesian, enchanting collection of stories Cosmicomics [PDF].

Mary Ruefle’s essay On Fear captures perfectly the distinction between feeling and emotion.

Jonathan Culler’s Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction [PDF] is one of the best of the VSI series, and a rock-solid theory primer.

The highly recommended Companion to Philosophy and Film [PDF] embraces “both the philosophical study of cinema and the investigations of films’ philosophical dimensions, implications, and pedagogical value”. If nothing else read Kovác’s Andrei Tarkovsky (p. 581).

Friedrich Nietzsche’s The Antichrist [PDF], (the title might be better translated as The Anti-Christian), is Nietzche’s onslaught on the decadence of Western Christianity.

Anton Chekhov’s Letters to His Family and Friends (trans. Constance Garnett) [PDF]. These are beautiful.

Franco Moretti’s The Slaughterhouse of Literature [PDF].

Links of the Week

Many of these links have been tweeted in the past, but here I can tag and categorise them for future reference. I hope you find some of them interesting too. Please feel free to discuss in comments or on Twitter.

The term ‘mansplaining’ is genius and deserves to be listed in the OED. This is where I first came across the term.

Julia Kristeva’s Powers of Horror, Essay on Abjection.

Martha Nussbaum – How to write about poverty.

The Myth of Matriarchy: Why Men Rule in Primitive Society by Joan Bamberger.

Politics and the English Language an essay by George Orwell.

Charles Bukowski’s so you want to be a writer.

The David Lynch mixtape.

Franz Kafka: The Meaning of Life is that it Stops.

Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker and the surprising physical reality of this world as he sees it.

The ideal way to read Marx’s Kapital is with David Harvey.

One of my favourite Desert Island Discs with writer Al Alvarez (friend of Plath and Hughes).

On Fear – a wonderful essay by Mary Ruefle (the distinction between emotion and feeling is perfect)

Julia Kristeva’s essay – A Freudian Approach: The Pre-religious Need To Believe.

Adam Kirsch on The New World of William Carlos Williams.

Italo Calvino’s 14 Definitions of What Makes a Classic.

Favourite Films (10)

I was asked by a friend about my favourite films, so here goes with a list of the top ten that come to mind today. They are in no particular order. There should be a Woody Allen here, but in truth I prefer the ten below. These are selected on the basis that I’ve watched each no less than five times, and a few many more. In each case I will watch them many more times yet.

Andrei Tarkovsky: Stalker

Francis Ford Coppola: The Godfather: Part II

Krzysztof Kieslowski: Three Colours: Blue

Andrea Arnold: Fish Tank

Chantal Akerman: Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles

Michael Haneke: The Piano Teacher

Sofia Coppola: Lost in Translation

Charles Chaplin: City Lights

Martin Scorsese: Goodfellas

Milos Forman: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Zona by Geoff Dyer

Without reservation, I am a deep-seated admirer of Geoff Dyer’s work. Since reading his D. H. Lawrence book I have continued through each of his titles. Last year I went to a talk that Dyer gave on Camus, (available here, but registration needed for the full video. It is worth it when you have a free 55 minutes.), when he spoke of Camus as a kindred spirit. It is a similar, extraordinary kinship I feel for Dyer’s writing. There is a connection beyond some murky similarities in our backgrounds.

Dyer’s latest book Zona has as its foundation Andrei Tarkovsky’s film Stalker, which has haunted me through three successive viewings. I am far from finished with Stalker so I am thrilled Dyer chose (and was permitted) to weave his discourse around (almost) a shot by shot post-mortem of the film. If you haven’t read Dyer before or seen Stalker, I recommend you watch the film and start elsewhere with Dyer.

At one point Dyer writes,

There are no clichés in Tarkovsky: no clichés of plot, of framing, no clichés of music to underline the emotional meaning of a scene (or, as is more usually the case, to compensate or make good for an emotional meaning that would be absent were it not for the music). Actually, we need to qualify this slightly; there are no one else’s clichés in Tarkovsky.

By the time you’ve read several of Geoff Dyer’s books, fiction or non-fiction (these categories become irrelevant), the same statement could so easily apply. Conceptually and in its realisation Zona is reliant on Dyerian cliché, but that is not a negation of the book’s virtuosity. Dyer’s writing is idiosyncratically brilliant for its immunity from the traditional contrivances of literature. Ostensibly about Stalker, Dyer digresses far from his original theme. This latest Dyer is brilliant, but on this occasion please don’t expect objectivity.

“In the beginning was the Word. Why is that, Papa?”

Andrei Tarkovsky on the set of The Sacrifice (1986)

Tarkovsky on the set of The Sacrifice,  his final film. The house in the background burnt down while the film jammed in the camera. The crew could not reload in time, so it had to be reconstructed and burnt down a second time.

From the NYT review:

Andrei Tarkovsky, the Soviet expatriate director and writer of this work, which was made in Sweden, owes a lot to two veterans of the Ingmar Bergman troupe – Sven Nykvist, who did the photography, and the actor Erland Josephson, who manages at moments to achieve the sense of profundity for which the movie strives. And strives and strives every instant of its nearly two and a half hours of running or drifting time.

A Corking Issue of the Paris Review


This corking issue of the Paris Review features not only the Geoff Dyer excerpt of his next book on Tarkovsky’s Stalker, but also a brilliant  essay by Lydia Davis, Some Notes on Translation and on  Madame Bovary.

Essential reading for anyone with an interest in translation, Davis discusses, in a wide-ranging essay, the evolution of her translation of Madame Bovary between hardback and paperback, and in later editions. Digressing into other languages Davis comes to the pleasures of the German language:

The concreteness of their word for (our Latinate) multiplication: Einmaleins (=”one-times-one”).

The economy or condensation of their Wildbachbrücke (=’wild-brook’bridge”) = bridge over a mountain stream).

One of my favourites is a word I remember from a Peter Handke novel but cannot now find in it, search as I may. I find it elsewhere, though, in an article about a 5,300-year-old corpse preserved by a glacier and discovered in the Alps by a Bersteigerhepaar (=”mountain-climbing-married-couple”).

This is Google translated more concisely as “climber couple”; the corpse is described in English by the translation machine as “freeze-dried.”

Even Geoff Dyer’s Footnotes are Worth Reading

A footnote, Noel Coward observed, is like going downstairs to answer the doorbell while making love. On this, and many other topics, Noel and I am in total agreement. But as always in life there are exceptions, and if there is to be an exception for me it is likely to be Geoff Dyer.

This is a footnote from an excerpt of his next book which happens to be about one of my top-five favourite films, Tarkovsky’s Stalker. It contains all the elements that make Dyer my most prized contemporary writer.

On the subject of quotation within film: an interesting study could be made of scenes in films where other bits of film are seen, glimpsed, or watched, whether at a drive-in, on TV, or in the cinema (Frankenstein in The Spirit of the Beehive, Red River in The Last Picture Show, The Passion of Joan of Arc in Vivre sa Vie). Actually, maybe it wouldn’t be that interesting after all; one wouldn’t get far without the word meta cropping up and turning everything to dust. But, as it happens, this sequence in Stalker is used to a brilliant effect in Uzak (Distant, 2002) by Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan. Mahmut, a middle-aged photographer, is living in Istanbul. When his clodhopping cousin, Yusuf, comes to the city looking for work, Mahmut is obliged to put him up in his apartment. They come from the same village, but they’re worlds apart and Mahmut is not about to compromise his high aesthetic standards just because a dull-witted cousin has come to stay. So when we see them at home, feet up, watching TV, it’s not Top Gear or Turkey’s Got Talent they’re watching; it’s Stalker, the trolley sequence. The two of them are slumped and starched out in their chairs, in a torpor of concentration and boredom. Mahmut is eating nuts, pistachios presumably. Cousin Yusuf has nodded off. One can hardly blame him; even the most boring night in the village cannot compare with the depths of tedium being plumbed here. Professor, Stalker, and Writer are on-screen, on the trolley, heading toward the Zone, faces in tight close-up, while, in the unfocused background, some kind of landscape blurs past. The electronic score echoes and clangs through the apartment. Yusuf wakes up, amazed to discover that he’d only been asleep for a few seconds or, even more amazingly, that after a decent nap the TV is still showing these three old blokes drifting along the railroad to nowhere. Peasant he might be, but at some level he has intuited Baudrillard’s insight that television is actually a broadcast from another planet. The evening, evidently, is not going to improve. He decides to go to bed. They say good night. After a decent interval, Mahmut gets up, fetches a video, puts it in the VCR, and points the remote. Stalker is replaced by girl-on-girl porn. Everything else remains pretty much unchanged. Before, he had one foot on the pouf, and one hitched up over the arm of the chair. Now he has both feet on the pouf, otherwise he’s stretched out the same way as when he was watching Stalker. The only difference is that now, instead of this long magical sequence of three men clanging toward the Zone, we’ve got a silicon-breasted woman sucking the tits of a Page 3 model. Upstairs, Yusuf calls home. After a while he comes down again, and Mahmut, who has not budged, who is not jerking off, whose fly is not even open, just about has enough time to flip to a broadcast channel. The fact that the indescribably boring film they were watching before has morphed into some kind of comedy is not lost on Yusuf-this is much more his cup of tea-and stands there snickering a bit, so Mahmut flips channels again and comes to a kung fu movie-which is exactly Yusuf’s cup of tea. His evening has improved after all, but Mahmut’s has taken a decided turn for the worse: no Tarkovsky and no g.o.g. action, just him and his moronic cousin watching a kung fu film. It’s late, he says. Let’s turn that off.

If you want a definition of deadpan you could do a lot worse than choose this sequence to illustrate you point. In fact, thinking about it, this is probably the most deadpan sequence I have ever seen in a film. It’s so deadpan that you have to be a real cinephile to find it funny, and even then you don’t actually laugh out loud. You just sit there in the sofa with your feet up, munching pistachios, watching, snickering. If you laugh out loud it’s partly to show you get the joke in all its precise levels of denotation, but there’s an element of affectation about that laughter; it’s one of those laughs that contain the desire to explain why you’re laughing, why you’re so clever. If I were to make a film I would contrive a scene in which a couple of people were watching Uzak, though probably not this bit. That way I’d really show how clever I was, and it would give people in the audience a chance to have a good, third-degree, cinephilic metachuckle.

Tuesday Links

Possibly a one-off but some links below to web sites that inspired me this week, all of which I wish to come back to in the near future:

Interpolation’s reasoning for reading good literature.

The Millions’ consideration of Harold Bloom.

The freshly minted Why Not Burn Books?

I am excited about Geoff Dyer’s next book, a study of one of my favourite films.

A Geoff Dyer  (But Beautiful) Spotify playlist.

A Haruki Murakami Spotify playlist.

Spotify writers’ playlists.

Hans Henny Jahnn, an intriguing writer, sadly very little in English translation.