viernes, 20 de abril de 2012

7 x 7 Link Award

Caroline of Beauty Is a Sleeping Cat and Himadri of The Argumentative Old Git recently tagged me to take part in a link round-up for something called the 7 x 7 Link Award--something of a crypto-meme, let's be honest.  Although I'm not really a meme guy, the psychological double-team employed by these two bloggers and the totally coincidental arrival of a "wonderful" unicorn image in my in-box courtesy of the amusingly passive-aggressive Jill from Rhapsody in Books persuaded me I should lighten up for a day.  In any event, the instructions I'm supposed to follow appear in red below.

1.  Tell everyone something about yourself that nobody else knows.
Hmm.  Well, I do often wonder whether book bloggers who endlessly swoon over Victorian fiction have non-book blogging counterparts with similarly monotonously antiquated tastes in other parts of the blogosphere (i.e. fashionistas who devote their blogs to frock coats and cravats and governess gear; personal bloggers who chronicle their struggles with fainting on demand and "the vapors"; political bloggers who wax about their love for 19th century imperial monarchies, etc.).  Then I take another swig of high alcohol content beer and think about the good old days when adult YA fans were my only "blogging nemeses" ("blogging nemeses" = smilingly stolen from the ever perceptive Frances of Nonsuch Book).

2. Link to a post that you think fits the following categories: Most Beautiful Piece, Most Helpful Piece, Most Popular Piece, Most Controversial Piece, Most Surprisingly Successful Piece, Most Underrated Piece, Most Pride-Worthy Piece.
  • I don't do "beautiful," so I guess that one's out.  On the other hand, there's a "lovely" simile buried in the body of this post although the lovely part naturally wasn't actually written by me.  Is that close enough to count, chers lecteurs
  • I don't really do helpful either--or at least not intentionally.  However, I'm tickled at the thought that a number of people arrived at and were potentially helped out by this Life A User's Manual post after launching a surprisingly popular keyword search for the humble "petit-beurre."  True story!
  • This Classics Club sign-up post--in reality, something of a prank--is the blog's most popular piece by far in terms of the number of comments it's generated.  More importantly to me, the discussion was a blast.  Since part of my blogging philosophy (well, if I had one, that is) is that people who don't comment don't exist, I won't mention the posts that have been visited more but have been commented upon less according to the lurker/spammer stats at my disposal.
  • I wouldn't have had any idea how "controversial" this summarily brief, two sentence long post here was except a guy who's never commented on my blog took the trouble of e-mailing me a rambling, multi-paragraph complaint suggesting that I had caused people on multiple continents to cry on account of how hurtful and sexist the post supposedly was.  Lesson learned from this incident: hack YA authors apparently have a lot of highly-strung fans in their cénacles!  Other lesson learned from this incident: apparently many emo book bloggers only want to discuss books with you when you fully agree with them.
  • I'm not sure how to measure a most successful piece or a most underrated piece since my opinion on the "success" of these things is likely to differ from yours.  Ultimately, they're all throwaways anyway. However, I still get a laugh out of these old write-ups of Huysmans' Là-Bas and Suetonius' The Twelve Caesars because of the clearly inappropriate and ineffective ways I was going about trying to connect with other challenge readers who had little to no interest in the kinds of books I was reviewing.  What an audience-baiting novice!
  • "Most Pride-Worthy Piece" is a tough call--mostly because whatever stupid evanescent investment I have in a post has to do with whether I made myself laugh or said whatever I wanted to say in a short time or at least said it with only a modicum of potential future embarrassment anticipated.  That being said, this post's first-sentence combination of a gratuitous Bjork insult with another insult about the crappy Scandinavian novel in question being a "historical fiction Beaches"?  Yeah, I remember being pretty proud of that hate vibe handiwork at the time!
3.  Pass this on to 7 fellow bloggers.
I'm going to anti-climactically pass on this passing on part since the chain-mail aspect of blogging awards doesn't appeal to the non-community builder/non-Victorian swooner in me.  I hope you'll all feel free to participate if you like, though, since the posts of the other bloggers I've seen who have chosen to participate to this point have provided plenty of pleasant diversions for me.  In the meantime, thanks to Caroline and Himadri for the invites!  Their own responses to the 7 x 7 survey, by the way, can be found here and here.  Other respondents of note: Emma; Guy Savage; LitloveObooki.

martes, 17 de abril de 2012

The Unredeemed Captive: A Family Story from Early America

The Unredeemed Captive: A Family Story from Early America (Vintage Books, 1995)
by John Demos
USA, 1994

Yale history professor John Demos, a Bancroft Prize winner for his 1982 Entertaining Satan: Witchcraft and the Culture of Early New England which I'd also like to pick up at some point, here trains his sights on a doozy of a captivity story set in "frontier" New England.  On an icy winter night in late February 1704, the slumbering English inhabitants of Deerfield, Massachusetts were rudely awakened by a large party of French and Indian raiders sent from across the border by the government of neighboring New France.  Houses were set on fire.  Settlers were butchered in their bedclothes.  Over 100 survivors of the massacre were taken into captivity, a common practice at the time both before and after the outbreak of hostilities legitimized by Queen Anne's War, most to be ransomed or otherwise released later.  One of the prisoners who didn't return--at least not in the fashion expected by her family and former countrymen and then not until several tearful decades later at that--was little Eunice Williams, the then seven year old daughter of Deerfield minister John Williams (who was also captured along with four more of his children).  Instead, Eunice would "turn" to Catholicism in captivity, lose the use of her native language entirely, and then willingly turn her back on other elements of her birth culture and onetime identity by choosing to marry into and live among the Catholic Mohawk Iroquois from Kahnawake who figured among her captors on that fateful February night in 1704.  To give you a sense of how radically different Eunice's cultural and spiritual life must have been after first "contact" and eventual assimilation, Demos spends a wonderful chapter talking about how many of the native Kahnawake religious practices persisted long after the tribe's conversion to Christianity.  He notes that the priest Joseph François Lafitau, who lived at the settlement from 1712-1717, wrote a book called Moeurs des Sauvages Amériquains Comparées aux Moeurs des Premiers Temps [Customs of the American Indians Compared with the Customs of Primitive Times] in which he described seeing ecstatic "shamans," use of "charms and fetishes" for healing purposes, "divination by dreams," "villagers perform[ing] gestures of libation," and "elaborate" dancing festivities that would last for days and nights on end (153-154).  Since it might be tempting to think that this fascinating account about "the unredeemed captive" is so inherently juicy that it would be virtually impossible for any writer to muck it up, I should point out that Demos is much more than a caretaker as the author of the history.  Throughout, for example, he takes great pains to tease out information from a wide variety of sources--various Williams family captivity narratives, diaries, letters, and sermons; Jesuit priests' accounts of the Kahnawake people and practices (as seen above); political correspondence from both sides of the border--while limited by the almost complete absence of Eunice Williams' own voice from the historical record.  Demos also maintains an admirable neutrality when discussing the English, the French, and the Indian responses to various events having to do with the Deerfield incident itself and with other aspects of the Anglo-French wars in general--perhaps no small feat given all the "barbarous" and "savage" and "French Popish Indians" (95) references in the New England sources.  Finally, the historian also manages to fashion a moving story about Eunice Williams' life and times and eventual reunion with some of her original family while honoring the demands of his craft as a practitioner of history.  Considering the disdain with which academic historians are often greeted by the general public, a rather nifty achievement.  (Vintage Books)

John Demos

Contact and Identity
In a work that has so much to say about "contact" among different groups of people and one's individual identity, here's how Demos helps highlight the complexities of these matters.  This description of the Kahnawake people who "adopted" Eunice Williams can be found on page 120:

To the French--those leaders and functionaries who wrote about them--they were les Iroquois du Sault.
To the Jesuit fathers, they were nos pauvres sauvages.
At Deerfield, and elsewhere through the English settlements of Massachusetts Bay, they were "the French Mohawks."
In New York, wrote one who had seen them close up, "they are now commonly the name of the Praying Indians, it being customary for them to go thro' the streets of Montreal with their Beads, praying & begging alms." [footnoted in Demos' text]
The Abenakis, their Indian neighbors to the east (and fellow Christians), addressed them as "praying Iroquois."
And the non-Christian Iroquois to the south, their cultural (sometimes blood) kin, called them "our brethren at Canada."
To themselves, they were simply the Kahnawake (pronounced, roughly, Gah-nah-WAH-geh).
This varied nomenclature directly reflects the ambiguity of their cultural, and geographical, placement--and the extraordinary complexity of their history.  Mohawk, Iroquois, Indian, in ascending order of generality; Christian, to a degree; French, in a limited sense; "brethren" to some, allies of others, and, of course, enemies of still others: the Kahnawake were all these, and more.  Less than four decades old when Eunice Williams came to them, their community was already known--some said "renowned"--on both sides of the imperial border, and across the ocean as well.

sábado, 14 de abril de 2012

The Rules of the Game

The Rules of the Game [La Règle du jeu] (The Criterion Collection DVD, 2004)
Directed by Jean Renoir
France, 1939
In French with English subtitles

Renoir's introduction to the Criterion version of La Règle du jeu, filmed many years after its infamous screen debut in Paris when many patrons booed the film and one filmgoer even tried to set the theater on fire in protest, provides a timely reminder of the Sex Pistols-like outrage the movie once provoked with its farcical portrayal of an utterly corrupt society at play.  Moviegoers who weren't yet born at the time might wonder what all the fuss was about.  On the eve of war in 1939, an annoyingly ebullient group of French aristocrats gather at a country château to wine and dine, to take part in a hunt, to put on a drunken variety show, and to cheat on their partners.  The only slightly less ebullient help spend their time exchanging anti-Semitic remarks and attempting to cheat on their understandably less chic but no less buffoonishly stereotypical partners.  Eventually shots are fired--already foreshadowed by the hunt scene, of course--thus ending the frivolity and "witty" banter and talk of love for one of the key characters.  The end.  Given Renoir's stated desire to want to break away from naturalism and to create something in between a fantasy and a tragedy instead, I suppose I should be more forgiving of the fact that there's simply too much farce in this particular fantasy/tragedy for my, ahem, predictably middle class tastes.  Then again, that's easier said than done when remembering how often Renoir's so-called masterpiece is hyped by people in the know as one of the greatest movies of all time.  "Ever get the feeling you've been cheated?"  (The Criterion Collection)

Jean Renoir

viernes, 13 de abril de 2012

April Foreign Film Festival and World Cinema Series Links

Robert Mitchum inspires a Clash song in The Night of the Hunter

You never know, but I might actually write about a movie this month for a change.  Until then, submissions for my Foreign Film Festival and/or Caroline's World Cinema Series can be reported here.

April Foreign Film Reviews
  • La Ronde (dir. Max Ophüls, France, 1950; reviewer: Dwight)
  • La Zona (dir. Rodrigo Plá, Mexico, 2007; reviewer: Guy Savage)
  • Little Dieter Needs to Fly (dir. Werner Herzog, Germany, 1998; reviewer: Séamus)
  • Miss Bala (dir. Gerardo Naranjo, Mexico, 2011; reviewer: Guy Savage)
  • My House in Umbria (dir. Richard Loncraine, England, 2003; reviewer: Caroline)
  • The Blue Angel (dir. Josef von Sternberg, Germany, 1930; reviewer: Guy Savage)
  • The Raid: Redemption [Serbuan Maut] (dir. Gareth Evans, Indonesia, 2011; reviewer: Novroz)
  • The Rules of the Game [La Règle du jeu] (dir. Jean Renoir, France, 1939; reviewer: Richard)

lunes, 2 de abril de 2012

April Reading Odysseys

I do so little reading/writing about poetry these days that I thought I'd mix things up in April and spend the better part of the month reading/thinking about The Odyssey, an old favorite that I haven't spent any time with in years.  No real plan at the moment--maybe a slow motion one book a day reading schedule with a short piece of literary criticism or two thrown in each week--but this is where you come in: I'd be grateful for any bibliographical assistance to be had if any of you have any can't miss secondary literature recommendations that might fit the bill.  Right now Eric Auerbach's "Odysseus' Scar" from Mimesis and something from the Robert Fowler-edited The Cambridge Companion to Homer are the only Homeric goodies I have lined up to accompany The Odyssey.  Suggestions?