Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters
Jane Austen/Ben H. Winters
Quirk Classics 2009
344 p.

Opinions differ about the pertinence of classics' reinterpretation or sampling: some are horrified at the mere idea of THE CLASSIC being altered, others find it amusing and many simply don't care. Being neither a Jane Austen enthusiast nor even a reader of her works, I wasn't going to rave about the unholiness of this sea monsters invasion. And given my love of postmodern literary weirdness, I certainly wasn't going to stand by and pretend not to be interested. So being amused it was, and indeed I had to laugh directly at the first page:

„The late owner of this estate was a single man, who lived to a very advanced age, and who for many years of his life had a constant companion and housekeeper in his sister. Her death came as a surprise, ten years before his own; she was beating laundry upon a rock that revealed itself to be the camouflaged exoskeleton of an overgrown crustacean, a striated hermit crab the size of a German sheperd. The enraged creature affixed itself to her face with a predictably unfortunate effect. As she rolled helplessly in the mud and sand, the crab mauled her most thoroughly, suffocating her mouth and nasal passages with its mucocutaneous undercarriage. Her death caused a great change in the elderly Mr. Dashwood's home.“ (p. 7)

A very promising start, I should say, for this augmented steampunk/horror version of Elinor and Marianne Dashwood's youthful search for the ideal match. Or so I thought but I was soon to be proven wrong. The world in which the Dashwoods live is under constant threat of sea creature attacks and the Devonshire coast is known to be one of the most dangerous places in Great Britain. It's been like that since the Alteration took place, what- and whenever that may exactly be.* But at the same time, the whole of humanity and especially the wealthy part of it seem to be unable to restrain from exploring the seas and engages in risky behaviour all the time, be it walking along the beach, or living on small, unshielded islands or even building a submarine station. So it comes that Barton Cottage, the new home to the Dashwood sisters after the cohabitation with their half-brother Sir John Dashwood and his wife in the family house proved impossible (daddy got half eaten by a shark, leaving the sisters not much money and John the house) is situated on a tiny island off the Devonshire coast; while the place to be seen at isn't London but Sub-Marine Station Beta, a city built on the bottom of the sea, under a giant glass dome, off the Welsh coast. And this kind of alterations goes for the characters as well as the places. Being a good swimmer for example is a bonus for women willing to marry a good party. Colonel Brandon isn't only old but also afflicted by tentacles on his face, while Willoughby the libertine is a treasure hunter, never to be seen without his diving helmet and flippers. And the favourite topic of conversation, besides who is going to marry whom and to what conditions, is pirates and shipwrecks.

Well, some of you will probably hate me for saying this but the Sense and Sensibility-part of the novel is utterly dull! The Dashwood sisters (and the rest of their family, and Mrs Jennings, and Willoughby, and Edward etc. etc.) are unsufferable. I mean, how self-absorbed can one get?! And don't try to blame that on the sea monsters because they actually made the story better for me (I checked many scenes in the original version and it was even worse). All that marriage/how-much-money-will-(s)he-get-blahblah is the most boring topic there is. The only character I did care about (a bit) was Colonel Brandon, which means the one who was the most tormented by the whole sea monster addition! The tentacle-thing was indeed delightful in its sexual character:

„Colonel Brandon, who had a general inivitation to the docking station, was with them almost every day. He came to look at Marianne and talk to Elinor, who often derived more satisfaction from conversing with him than from any other daily occurence. At the same time she saw with much concern his continued regard for her sister. She noted that his appendages at times seemed to stiffen a bit when he chanced to glance upon Marianne, as if excess blood were flowing into them. It grieved her to see the earnestness with which he often watched Marianne, and discomfited her to see the aforementioned tentacle-stiffness; his spirits were certainly worse than when at Deadwind.“ (p. 157-158)

Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters had some truly hilarious moments – whenever the characters' response to sea monster threats was completely inappropriate – but the rather fun b-movie horror was blunted by the dreadfully uninteresting romance that bored me to death.

*There is no real explanation of how it actually came to the Alteration or when. The book refers to legends, theories and studies about its origin but nothing conclusive. One possibility though is to interpret it as a sign of metaficition: it's not just meant as an alteration of animal behaviour and so on but as the very alteration by Ben H. Winters of Jane Austen's work, which of course would be quite clever!

Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters is published by Quirk Classics.

Operation Clear Backlog: Episode 3

Sunday, May 30. 2010

Nota Bene: BiLLet MULtilinGUE / mulTILINgual PoST / MEHRsprachIGER EinTRag / FlerSPRÅkigt inlÄgG

The operation Clear Backlog continues, yes, yes, and this third episode shall reveal, like the first, works of mixed quality, origin and topic.

Hermann Hesse: Demian

Hermann Hesse
Suhrkamp 2007 (1919)
155 S.
Achtung: Kitsch sondergleichen! Soviel Dusseligkeit dürfte nicht erlaubt sein. Hesse schrieb Demian in drei Wochen während des ersten Weltkrieges, und das merkt man. Der Text enthält zu viel Unnötiges samt einer gehörigen Portion Pathos, und stützt sich zu sehr auf den Gedanken, dass die mehrfache Wiederholung eines Statements allein von seiner Wichtigkeit überzeugen kann.

Demian erzählt vom Werdegang des jungen Emil Sinclair, Sohn einer bürgerlichen Familie, der in einer so klar schwarzweiß definierten Welt lebt, dass man ihm schnell ein einfaches Gemüt unterstellt. Seine Welt gerät allerdings ins Wanken, als er sich durch (jugendlichen) Leichtsinn den lokalen bösen Jungen zu sehr nähert und von der Titelfigur Demian aus seiner zunehmend heiklen Lage gerettet wird. Die Zeit vergeht und Emils Freundschaft zu Demian, dem sonderbaren Jungen, der so viel Geheimnisvolles weiß, wächst, wozu sich auch leidenschaftliche Gefühle für Demians Mutter Eva gesellen. Viele Fehler, Exzesse, existentielle Fragen und esoterische Versuche später ziehen Emil und Demian in den Krieg, der zur endgültigen Trennung der beiden führt und das Ende von Emils Selbstfindung markiert.

So viel flache, klischeehafte Esoterik habe ich selten gelesen und schon gar nicht von Hesse erwartet, der mit dem freilich mehrere Jahre nach Demian erschienenen Roman Der Steppenwolf bewiesen hat, dass er es besser kann. Demian fehlt die Stringenz, die Kraft, die Subtilität und die Ironie des Steppenwolfs, wobei Letzteres vermutlich das Hauptproblem darstellt: Alles ist in Demian furchtbar ernst gemeint! Und wenn das Kitschigste und Lächerlichste so ernst gemeint ist, tut es nur noch weh – besonders der erste Teil, als Emils Welt noch unversehrt ist, hat mich Einiges an Überwindung gekostet. Und doch hätte ich mich von diesem Bericht einer Jugend angesprochen fühlen sollen, deren Bedürfnis nach Individualität mit dem Streben der Gesellschaft nach Gleichförmigkeit kollidiert. Ich habe ihn zwar im Rahmen einer Prüfung gelesen, habe ihn aber freiwillig ausgewählt und war ursprünglich sehr neugierig auf diese Erzählung, an den sich Mamiya Okis Manga Das Demian-Syndrom (Yaoi, Yaoi ;-)) anlehnt. Und es sind tatsächlich der homoerotische Subtext der Freundschaft zwischen Emil und Demian sowie das Spiel mit den Grenzen zwischen männlich und weiblich, die beide in der finalen Kussszene kulminieren, die mich am Ehesten interessiert haben. Aber den ganzen Rest hätte ich mir wirklich sparen können. Und wer Lust auf geheime Glaubensgemeinschaften, wirre Träume und Abenteuer mit Stil hat sollte lieber Corto Maltese lesen.

Demian erscheint bei Suhrkamp.

On va faire court, j'ai la flemme de traduire ma critique allemande en français : Demian, c'est nul et complètement kitsch (non vraiment j'ai souffert en le lisant). Rarement lu autant d'ésotérisme à deux balles. Pas la peine de perdre votre temps avec ce récit d'une jeunesse contrariée pas convaincant, plein de pathos et dénué de recul ou d'ironie (écrit en trois semaines et ça se sent). Allez donc plutôt lire directement Le Loup des steppes, c'est autrement plus réussi et complexe. Ou alors, si vous voulez lire de chouettes histoires d'organisations secrètes ésotériques, pleines d'onirisme et d'aventure, allez donc voir du côté de chez Corto Maltese.

Demian est publié chez Stock et Le Livre de poche.

PC Jersild: En levande själ

En levande själ
PC Jersild
Bonniers 2007 (1980)
266 s.
Ypsilon heter en naken hjärn som simmer i ett akvarium i något laboratorium. Den vet inte vem den är, har glömt allt som hände innan den blev reducerat till en hjärn med bara ett öga (för input) och båda öron (som stabilisatorer) kvar. Den är fångad där och berättar om sin historia medan den experimentas på: om hur den blir kär i laboranten Emma, om sitt äventyrliga flyktförsök och om det som den får ta reda på om experimentet och dess ledare.

En levande själ är en underbar SF roman som kritiserar medecinens utveckling till en ren rationalistisk vetenskap helt utan etik som blir slav under marknadens princip av alltid mer, alltid snabbare. Den visar med mycket humor hur absurd denna absoluta rationalism är som försöker att förvandla människorna i automatiska maskiner utan själ eller känslor (på det sättet som Descartes betraktade djur). Romanen avsluter på hemskt vis men även om ämnet är allvarligt och tragiskt, så får jag säga att Ypsilons berättande är hur komiskt som helst med dess naiva-optimistiska synpunkt. En levande själ kan varmt rekommenderas!

En levande själ publiceras av Albert Bonniers.

Ypsilon, ainsi s'appelle un cerveau nageant dans un aquarium quelque part dans un laboratoire indéterminé. Il ne sait pas qui il est ni ne se souvient de ce qui s'est passé avant qu'il ne soit réduit à l'état de cerveau auquel ne restent attachés qu'un œil (input) et les deux oreilles faisant office de stabilisateurs. Prisonnier de cet état, il nous raconte son histoire pendant qu'on lui fait subir des expériences : comment il tombe amoureux d'Emma la laborantine, sa tentative d'évasion rocambolesque et ce qu'il a réussi à découvrir au sujet de l'expérience et de celui qui la conduit.

Mon âme dans un bocal est un formidable roman de science fiction critiquant l'évolution de la médecine vers une science purement rationnaliste, dépourvue d'éthique et devenant l'esclave des lois du marché exigeant toujours plus, toujours plus vite. Il montre avec beaucoup d'humour toute l'absurdité de ce rationalisme absolu cherchant à transformer les humains en des machines automatiques sans âme ni émotions (en gros selon le principe des animaux-machines de Descartes). Le roman s'achève sur une note particulièrement amère mais, même si le sujet est en soi sérieux et tragique, il faut bien reconnaître que le point de vue naïf et optimiste d'Ypsilon est délicieusement comique. Un roman que je vous recommande chaudement !

Mon âme dans un bocal est publié chez Actes Sud.

Jack Kerouac: The Subterraneans

The Subterraneans
Jack Kerouac
Penguin Books 2001 (1958)
163 p.
You don't read Kerouac for the story, in this case a lovestory: they're both a bit mad, want each other, but being that involved with another human being can be scary, so it has to stop. You read him for his style. And it's not one made for being read hours on end. Kerouac's spontaneous prose, a kind of stream of consciousness on drugs, is extremely powerful and overwhelming. So much so that after a while you'll begin to feel dizzy and nauseous because the ride is too wild for your brain. You'll feel atmospheres gush into you, see characters dance in and out of view, ideas will coil around your neck and tighten slowly. But eventually you'll have to breathe and put the book aside. It's too much. And, being more akin to poetry than standard prose, it should be read aloud rather than be left to spin silently in your mind. Judge for yourself:

„And so having had the essence of her love now I erect big word constructions and thereby betray it really – telling tales of every gossip sheet the washline of the world – and hers, ours, in all the two months of our love (I thought) only once-washed as she being a lonely subterranean spent mooningdays and would go to the laundry with them but suddenly it's dank late afternoon and too late and the sheets are grey, lovely to me – because soft. – But I cannot in this confession betray the innermosts, the thighs, what the thighs contain – and yet why write? – the thighs contain the essence – yet tho there I should stay and from there I came and'll eventually return, still I have to rush off and construct construct – for nothing – for Baudelaire poems –“ (p.16)

The Subterraneans is published by Penguin Books.

„Kaboum !“ a dit le volcan...

Saturday, April 17. 2010

Puisque l'Eyjafjallajökull nous empêche Mo, Fashion, Karine, Caroline, Stéphanie et moi de nous retrouver à Berlin pour un week-end de folie hautement culturelle, j'ai trouvé qu'une petite bibliographie volcanique était de rigueur. Et la liste est ouverte aux suggestions donc n'hésitez pas à en faire ;-) :


Edward Bulwer-Lytton The Last Days of Pompeii (1834)
Shusaku Endô Kazan (Volcano) (1960)
Robert Harris Pompeii (2003)
Malcolm Lowry Under the Volcano (1947)
Maja Lundgren Pompeji (2001), disponible en français chez Actes Sud
Susan Sontag The Volcano Lover (1992)
Jules Verne Voyage au centre de la terre (1864/1867), Le Volcan d'or (1899)


Hergé Vol 714 pour Sydney (Les Aventures de Tintin et Milou t. 22)
Roger Leloup La Forge de Vulcain (Yoko Tsuno t. 3), Le Matin du monde (Yoko Tsuno t. 17)
Hugo Pratt (Corto Maltese t. 12)

De tout cela j'ai lu le Tintin, bien sûr, les deux Yoko Tsuno (Le Matin du monde est l'un des meilleurs albums de la série), le Corto Maltese (très onirique !) ainsi que le roman de Maja Lundgren, dans lequel on apprend que le Vésuve et le Krakatoa ont un jour été amants et que les tigres peuvent communiquer avec les volcans...

Update : Et une addition hautement scientifique et en images proposée par Caroline :-) :

Minéralogie des volcans, ou Description de toutes les substances produites ou rejetées par les feux souterrains. Par M. Faujas de Saint-Fond. Paris, 1784. Ce texte est même disponible en ligne ici.


Monday, October 15. 2007

A very short post today, just long enough to offer a very unpretentious bibliography (English and German titles) on and of DADA and Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven to those of you who would like to read more about it. I hope you'll enjoy it ;-).

Heute nur eine ganz kurze Meldung von mir. Ich habe eine sehr einfache und keinesfalls vollständige Bibliographie (englisch- und deutschsprachige Werke) von und über DADA und Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven für die unter Euch zusammengestellt, die sich für das Thema interessieren und gern mehr darüber lesen möchten. Viel Spaß damit ;-).

Dadagraphy/Dadagraphie (PDF)


Saturday, October 13. 2007

Mein Mund ist lüstern/ I got lusting palate
Dada-Verse von Elsa von Freytag-
Hg. von Irene Gammel
edition ebersbach, 2005
144 p.
Baroness Elsa. Gender, Dada and Everyday Modernity - A Cultural Biography.
Irene Gammel
The MIT Press, 2003
(1st ed. 2002)

J'ai écrit il y a quelques jours dans un commentaire à mon précédent billet qu'il faudrait que je me botte un peu le train et que je rédige enfin un article sur mon artiste dada préférée ; alors voilà je m'exécute. Il s'agit d'Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven (1874-1927), poétesse et artiste d'origine allemande expatriée à New York puis à Paris. Elle écrivait en anglais et en allemand et, autant que je sache, il n'existe malheuresement aucune traduction de ses poèmes en français. La suite de ce billet sera donc en anglais plutôt qu'en français ou en allemand, afin de le rendre accessible, je l'espère, à un plus large public.

Dada is often presented as an all-male – and a mostly European – artistic movement, but, thanks to the efforts of some scholars who dare challenge this view of literature and art history, a few publications on the role of women in dada are now available. Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven aka The Baroness – she gained her title through her third marriage – was probably one the most important figures of New York dada and definitely the most excentric one, but is generally absent from reference works and anthologies on dada. I stumbled upon her name, quite by chance (I had misunderstood a name and found hers instead of the one I should have been looking up), two years ago and later intended to write a paper about her poetry, which I eventually didn't do for lack of time.

She was born in Germany in 1874 but went to Kentucky with her second husband, the poet and translator Felix Paul Greve (aka Frederick Philip Grove), in 1910 and, after he left her, to Cincinnati and finally New York City in 1913. There she worked as a model, painter, sculptress, poetess and was also a notorious thief. She was radical in her art as well as in her way of life, accusing some of the most prominent – and today best remembered – artists of the time like Marcel Duchamp, with whom she had a very complex relationship, of compromising too easily with established social rules. She also became one of the first performance artists, marching around New York City in very provocative, self-made outfits and declaiming poetry whenever and wherever she felt like. Though admired by some, she lived most of the time in extreme poverty and died in Paris in 1927 (for a more detailed biography, please see the book suggestions and the links at the end of this article).

Her poetry, which was mainly, if ever, published in The Little Review – alongside extracts of Joyce's Ulysses and other milestones of modernistic fiction and poetry –, had been more or less left untouched in the archives of two American Universities (Maryland and Wisconsin-Milwaukee) and in any way unpublished for 80 years until a German scholar, Irene Gammel, took interest in them and decided to edit a bilingual collection of some of these poems.

With this book I discovered Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven's poetical work, which ranges from more expressionistic pieces to downright dada nonsense-poems. One of her trademarks is to replace parts of the syntax with mathematical symbols like „=“ or with spaces and lots of dashes and she has in common with other dada poets a sometimes nonlinear organisation of her texts and a use of different fonts and font sizes. Characteristic for her is also the way she creates her own new words when needed or splits those that already exist. Some of her poems are written in English, others in German, some exist in both an English and an German version and she sometimes blends the two languages together. With all this creativity, her language is rich, incredibly powerful, very plastic and rhythmic and often strongly onomatopoeic; her poems really deserve to be read aloud!

But the great force of her poetry comes from the combination of these formal characteristics with serious or controversial subjects like sexuality or consumerism – it really wouldn't be half as fun and interesting if she had written only about flowers and nice landscapes. Thus she wrote in an often straightforward manner about female orgasm – at a time when this was not a subject one could talk about freely –, contraception, masturbation or impotence. And in order to criticize consumerism she took popular advertisements and used them as raw material for her poetry. As an example of this, the beginning of her poem, A Dozen Cocktails Please:

No spinsterlollypop for me – »yes – we have
No bananas« I got lusting palate – I always
Eat them – – – – –
They have dandy celluloid tubes – all sizes –
Tinted diabolically like a bamboon's
Hind complexion.

quoted from Gammel, Irene (ed.): Mein Mund ist lüstern/I got lusting palate. Dada-Verse von Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven. edition ebersbach, Berlin 2005.

Irene Gammel has also written a biography of EvFL called Baroness Elsa. Gender, Dada, and Everyday Modernity. A Cultural Biography. published in English by The MIT Press.

Irene Gammels Biographie von Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven ist auf deutsch bei edition ebersbach unter dem Titel Die Dada Baroness. Das wilde Leben der Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven. erschienen.

Another collection of EvFL's poems, Subjoyride: Selected Poems, edited by Rudolf Kuenzli is to be released by Green Integer by the end of the year.

Wikipedia has a short article on Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven with very interesting links (short biography, essays about her poetry, selected poems...).

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