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Month: August 2008

Ancient of Days

Ancient of Days

Ancient of Days, by William Blake. 1794
Ancient of Days, by William Blake. 1794

After John Milton and his Paradise Lost, the second guiding spirit for much of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials is William Blake. Its radical, subversive nature, its speaking truth to power, its combination of ancient wisdom and modern rebellion, are prefigured in the life and work of the great poet, painter and mystic. When we meet the Ancient of Days in the last novel of the series, Blake’s vision comes before us, though Pullman adds a few twists and surprises. We learn prior to his appearance that the Old Man, or the Authority, may not be the Creator. Gnosticism comes into play in the view that the god of organized religion is not the creator god, but a usurper, a demiurge, which follows yet another ancient pattern of divinities overthrowing divinities and rewriting history. Rather, their devotees rewrite history by expunging the previous layer of all-fathers. And so it goes.

Along with … Click to continue . . .

Odds and Ends

Odds and Ends

We have a new essay by Robert Mueller below, about my dear aunt, Barbara Guest. He knows her work well, and offers a unique perspective. Barbara Guest deserves a much wider audience, and with the expected release of her collected poems in September, I have faith that that will happen. A new generation of readers should follow.

 

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Finished Philip Pullman’s wonderful trilogy, His Dark Materials, and will write about the last two books this week. I will say up front that the last two books in the series provide fabulous material for more movies. No amount of pressure from church groups should prevent that. It would be a shame if it did. The philosophies involved, the overall and underlying spiritual messages, are positive. Very positive and life-affirming. And any attempt to snuff those films out would really only help confirm the fictional picture of dominant organized religions depicted in the three novels.

Robert Mueller: Barbara Guest, West and East

Robert Mueller: Barbara Guest, West and East

The Silent Confucius, The Confetti Trees, Hollywood, Who
Else but Barbara Guest
by Robert Mueller

 

Barbara Guest’s books are wonderful because of how they come to us with their bountiful co-valencies and layering.  The Confetti Trees, a series of short-short stories or quasi-filmmaking anecdotes that qualify as prose poems (Sun & Moon, 1999), has this implicating character, so that when it takes its measure in the rich play of glitter and artifice that are Hollywood, one of its expounding layers is a blending cosmic plot.  Guest’s stories, deft and trothfilled-wacky in their fabulous causes, propose circumstances that concern none other than the coming to America of Confucianism.  By way of making and divining not only events on the set but their twice-felt reflections, they are the outpouring of sublime Tao (taking the concept “universal law” to be the application thereof), and thus the cream of informed understanding of universal orderliness as ever-changing mobility, and even chanciness, all … Click to continue . . .

Between Worlds

Between Worlds

I’m almost finished with Philip Pullman’s trilogy, His Dark Materials. Really enjoying it. But am sensing more separation between these stories and books written for adults. Moreso than with the first novel in the series, The Golden Compass. As I’ve moved on, that separation grows.

Can’t quite pinpoint it yet. But I think it mostly has to do with sex. There is a slight undercurrent throughout the trilogy, but it’s vague and subtle and mostly hidden. Hints occasionally seep up through the surface of the sentences. But there’s not much there there. A book for adults would obviously handle the subject in a different manner.

As I read the final novel, The Amber Spyglass, I can’t help but wonder if this trilogy wouldn’t have been better as an “adult” series. Of course, when I say that, I’m talking about “better for adults.” The ideas involved, the poeticizing of alternate worlds and connections and commonalities, the Dust and … Click to continue . . .

Persepolis

Persepolis

I am not a reader of graphic novels and know next to nothing about them. But I heard good things about this movie version of one such series (Persepolis and Persepolis2, by Marjane Satrapi) and thought it would be worth a look. More than a pleasant surprise, the film actually knocked me out.

 

Persepolis movie trailor

It’s the largely autobiographical story of Marjane Satrapi, her time in Iran before and after the revolution of 1979, her family, and her flight to France. I did not think that a cartoon would be moving in this way, nor as thought provoking. But it is. The DVD adds excellent special features, takes us behind the scenes and includes interviews with cast and crew. The work involved in making the film is stunning, laborious, time consuming and admirable.

Marjane Satrapi strove to make this a universal story, a coming of age story, albeit one with extreme circumstances. I think she succeeded. … Click to continue . . .

Northern Lights

Northern Lights

I finished Philip Pullman’s wonderful The Golden Compass last night, and can’t wait to read the rest of the trilogy. It’s very well written and surprisingly thought provoking. A page turner, to be sure. Also hoping that the sequels will be filmed, even though mixed messages abound about that. I’ve read on the Net that the next movie is in the bag for 2009, and, that it won’t be filmed at all. The two major reasons given for not filming are the lack of box office success for the first movie and opposition from church groups.

The novel is set in parallel universe to our own, with many similarities, but some striking differences. The most striking being that humans have personal daemons — animals that remain with them at all times and are something like an external soul. These daemons have the ability to change into other animals, at least while their humans are children. Once the child becomes an … Click to continue . . .

The Golden Compass

The Golden Compass

Reading three books at once right now. Multi-tasking in a sense. But concentrating mostly on just one: Philip Pullman’s The Golden Compass. Still reading Doctor Zhivago, and Zamyatin’s We, but am having a great time with Pullman’s book. Enjoyed the movie as well.

Outside of the Potter books, I’ve read no other kids’ books since I was a kid. This current reading is a serious departure for me. But I think I’ve discovered something very interesting in the process. Something about the way books are written in general, and for their respective audiences in particular.

Books for kids are more visual, descriptive, and are driven more by the visual and the descriptive. As in, the plot is moved by those descriptions. There is also greater control over time and space. Meaning, they don’t waste much time trying to create gaps and irony and meta-commentary, nor do they circle back on themselves very often. They don’t talk about … Click to continue . . .

The Lady of Shalott

The Lady of Shalott

The Lady of Shalott, by John William Waterhouse. 1888.
The Lady of Shalott, by John William Waterhouse. 1888.

I love this painting. It’s mystical, edgy, sharp, ethereal, and the stuff of dreams. Tennyson’s Elaine of Astolat. Elaine of the curse, something out of Plato’s cave, mixed strangely with the myth of Medusa, as if in reverse. Obliquely. Tangentially.

She could never look at reality directly. Only through a mirror. Doomed to see reflections, doomed to observe others in love while locked away. An allegory for artists and writers and anyone who separates themselves from life, remains severed from it, looking at life from afar.

King Arthur and Lancelot and Elaine. The Pre-Raphaelites and their obsessive nostalgia for another world, another time. Camelot. Astolat. Plato’s cave. Who hasn’t dreamed of knights and the Round Table and the Sword in the Stone? And the trail leads all the way back to the 5th century, not the 11th or the 12th or the 13th. The trail leads back to a time in … Click to continue . . .