Thursday, January 31, 2013


 Just like East of Eden , John Steinbeck wanting to write for his , and others, Children a tale that would impart the tender values , upbringing and sense of duty , honour , keeping pledges , delivering on words with actions that he grew up on as the young child.The work that opened his eyes as a child was an archaic Malory version of The legendary adventures of King Arthur and his Knights.

Initially , Steinbeck looked to make a translation of the Malory stories replacing older words which would in his view be an obstacle for Children with more common ones to enable fluidity and the story to run along at a uniform pace.Very early on in the work he realised the work of Malory was cumbersome , got bogged down on long lists of participants , and dwelt on epic battle scenes whilst forgetting to return to missing threads in the plot.This meant Steinbeck would have to spend a longer than expected devotion to the research , detail and fusion of the plot.

This article gives an excellent introduction of the considerable details of deep research ( a lot of it in England) , careful detailing of original manuscripts , and steadfast focus Steinbeck gave the project over many years.

 Read this novel to your children, read it to yourself, whatever you do, read it. It is magic, it is wonderful, but more importantly it carries with it a wide-eyed, childlike sense of wonder about the world, something which has never been more lacking than today.

Many have speculated why he did not manage to finish the project.The most reasonable explanations are that he , sensing the very chivalric values he held so dear , got diverted from a detailed study that would involve a lot of travelling to europe for a project that would entail a re-telling of the tales rather than the initial idea of a translating at a time in which he thought he was close to death.At this time the concerns of his legacy to his children and their peers was the urgent loss of decency in morals of society closer to home which inspired the Books "Winter Of Our Discontent" and shortly afterwards by "Travels With Charley: In Search Of America".Shortly afterwards the Winning of the Nobel Prize , and the irony of one of the Sons he was writing the project for Participating in the Vietnam War , with all the intendent  criticism of a letting down of his liberal values of previous years meant he could not give it the attention required as well as the initial goal being lost.

Steinbeck’s retelling is clearly a labor of love, unfinished as it may be. His language is powerful and aesthetically pleasing, the stories are exotic and full of adventure, the characters and broad strokes are beloved and familiar. When Steinbeck prefaces the chapter “The Noble Tale of Sir Lancelot of the Lake” with the simple, blunt remark, “And noble it is,” he gets at why we want to read these stories—or why we should want to, or why we should read them. They are just plain good, and he is good at telling them, and I wish he had managed to put his stamp on the whole thing.

The above quote comes from this article which explores more themes and working processes of Steinbeck during this endeavour.

 One of the best features of the Book is the appendix of letters written by Steinbeck to his Agent in which we get the sense of his creative process and how much effort and diligence go into even the most casual seeming passages of his work. Lastly , here is a beautifully arranged tribute song to the writer himself.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013


Jack Kerouac himself explained the difference between the Beat (Beatific ) Generation and the  Generation of the 20s.The 20s were looking for hedonistic escapism , whereas the beats were on a stimulation fueled search for meaning.

It is important to understand this as a lot of readers see the slightly mismonic title as an escapist drug trip with hedonistic superficial ambient pleasure-seeking celebrationist track.So much so even the Amazon Book description blurb confidently tells us  " Their hedonistic search for release or fulfilment through drink, sex, drugs and jazz becomes an exploration of personal freedom, a test of the limits of the American dream.".And we also had a recent documentary revisiting the landmarks on the 50th Anniversary of the Novel being presented by a parody of faux-hedonism , comedian Russell Brand.

Alas this way of looking at the Novel seemed to be at variance of the self-description of Kerouac himself "Dean and I were embarked on a journey through post-Whitman America to FIND that America and to FIND the inherent goodness in American man. It was really a story about 2 Catholic buddies roaming the country in search of God. And we found him."

On The Road should be looked on as an Account of a Pilgrimage of the Mind , and not necessarily a journey from inanimate location to another place and back on a road leading nowhere.

Though he is said to have written the main body of work in a feverish three week spell using a system he termed "kickwriting" , he would type and type until he reached a zone he would consider the real prose of his inner being  , it was not unusual for him to generate rolls and rolls of joined paper stretching to over twelve feet in a single sitting, looking to create the emotional urgency of his actual experience at the time of the event in the form of an emotionally chromatic impressionist painting, the work was then  tweaked and honed over a seven year process before he finally managed to get a publisher.

We also have from footage of Kerouac reading the manner to appreciate the diction of flow of reading his material.The narration voice takes the form of a jazz instrument in the context of a "spontaneous" performance.The video below gives a classic example to the tempo and delivery as he reads from the last page of the Book.

The Beat Generation and Jack Kerouac especially were a religious generation , the specific object of their quest was spiritual , without sounding like a cliche , the real journey was inward.

Below is an interesting lecture by Prof. Amy Hungerford on the Book and its place in post-war literature.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013


This Novella with play dialogue experiment is on the theme of Continuity , how far you should go to make certain things come about and using what means.

The original title of the Play was from Blakes stanza "In The Forests of The Night" , and so we have the conflicting dilemma of Aesthetic Spiritual and Moral Beauty with Primal Want and Need.

In this easy to read Morality Play the lead character Joe Saul is in need of Continual Legacy that is apparently unattainable , his Wife is laboured with the finding of the solution to his Need for a transcendent fulfillment by having to conceive his desperately wanted Child with another Man , hence having to come up with the desperate fusion of Moral aesthetics with Primal requirements to try to find Happiness.A pact that requires putting faithfulness on the line.

The end result is more emotional painful tension and disintegration of trust than the resolution of a situation that ought to have yielded Happiness and Contentment.

The moral of this Morality Play is not The Road to Hell is Paved With Good Intentions , but the road to faithful fulfillment is paved with Sincere Good Intentions as long as they do not cross over certain inalienable boundaries.

The Book also has significance as a tribute to his close friend Ed Ricketts , with whom he wrote The Sea of Cortez,  who had been killed in a road accident at about this time.

Monday, January 28, 2013


This Book examines the other side of having physical relations with those you do not , unless something drastic happens, with those you do not want to spend the rest of your life with , or the other who does not , sometimes you only find out later , does not want to spend their life with you.

The physical is ultimately sweet but short -lived.Real relationships are with the soul and spiritual fusion with the other.They are the only ones that last , the only ones that are a true source of genuine fulfilled happiness.

The worth of this Book is the pointing out of the negative long term consequences of physical car-crash relationships when the protagonists are mistaking carnal exchanges for the unattainable true love which only manifests when you are at one with the other person before you go exploring the physical side once having made a commitment to be a life partner.

Engaging in relations is a troubled and naive way to find love.Having tried to do this the character in the novel suffers the inevitable and expected pain, anxiety , anguish , despair , loneliness , tortured mind , angst ,grief of having traded the eternal golden gifts of Honour; Chastity and Virtue far to cheap to Men who want only the carnal exchange and have no genuine intention of returning love with love.The Woman is defeated by trying to find love and eternal happiness by selling herself to the vainest and cheapest gratification of Mens basest short term desires.Thus satiated they have no need to give anything , yet alone the most precious of eternal loving back to the woman who has sacrificed so much for so little in return.

Here is an interesting review of the Book from a Feminist perspective with also some pertinent comments.

The story of how a Woman can sell herself cheap by trying to satisfy her quest for long term happiness and well-being by physical means without ensuring a long term commitment from the partner can also be reflected in the image Anais Nin has in the spurious stereotyping of her contribution as an Erotic Fictional Writer , rather than a valued Human Being with a story and message to tell both Men and Woman as well as Society.

This 3 -part Documentary by an old Friend of Anais Nin Deena Metzger sets the record straight by rescuing Anais from the straight-jacket of narrow labelling and presenting us with an All Round Woman.


"The Kingdom of Music is not the Kingdom of this World" is a profound observance of this novel.The author took is seriously , dropping the format of the novel for the higher art that is Music.

Compared to the Books at the turn of the 19th century by authors such as Edith Wharton or the New Machiavelli of H.G.Wells this book can come across as lightweight and limped.But it is the understanding of the subtle musical undertones beneath the superficial title one understands why E.M. Forster was a favourite of so many authors as any casual glance of back issues of the Paris Review would indicate.

In the novel the Room symbolically represents the constricting social mores and customs that restrict development and freedom to express ones inner self , and the View represents the opportunities and paths that can allow a person to gain a character true to themselves.   

A Century later we seem to have come full circle in the social theme of the Book.Whilst society shut-off and suffocated opportunities for individual self expression at the beginning of the 20th century we now have come to a time when a person is considered a prude and misfit if they want to retain the eternal values of Honour ; Virtue and Chastity rather than selling them for a transient cheap price on the consumer commodity exchange for a cheap temporal carnal thrill.

Forsters own views are expressed in this statement of Mr. Emerson  "I know by experience that the poets are right: love is eternal. . . . I only wish poets would say this too: love is of the body; not the body, but of the body"?

This review gives a good summation of the book and also has helpful questions that will get the reader to think deeply and do justice to the work.

Almost 50 years later Forster added an appendix to some additions relating what would have become of the characters.

"I cannot think where George and Lucy live." They were quite comfortable up until the end of the war, with Charlotte Bartlett leaving them all her money in her will, but World War I ruined their happiness according to Forster. George became a conscientous objector, lost his government job but was given non-combatant duties to avoid prison, leaving Mrs Honeychurch deeply upset with her son-in-law. Mr Emerson died during the course of the war, shortly after having an argument with the police about Lucy continuing to play Beethoven during the war. Eventually they had three children, two girls and a boy, and moved to Carshalton from Highgate to find a home. Despite them wanting to move into Windy Corner after the death of Mrs Honeychurch, Freddy sold the house to support his family as he was "an unsuccessful but prolific doctor." After the outbreak of World War II, George immediately enlisted as he saw the need to stop Hitler and the Nazi regime but he unfortunately was not faithful to Lucy during his time at war. Lucy was left homeless after her flat in Watford was bombed and the same happened to her married daughter in Nuneaton. George rose to the rank of corporal but was taken prisoner by the Italians in Africa. Once Italy fell George returned to Florence finding it "in a mess" but he was unable to find the Pension Bertolini, stating "the View was still there and that the room must be there, too, but could not be found." He ends by stating that George and Lucy await World War III, but with no word on where they live, for even he does not know."

And finally here is EM Forster himself discussing his Novels and insights.

Sunday, January 27, 2013


“What is the meaning of life? That was all- a simple question; one that tended to close in on one with years, the great revelation had never come. The great revelation perhaps never did come. Instead, there were little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark; here was one.” 186

Virginia Woolf wrote this experimental thoughtpiece at the same time painters were coming up with avant-garde cutting edge modernist styles using emotions and chromatic metaphorical constructs to capture thoughts and feelings rather than the traditional linear shapes.

The cover of the book (above) was designed by Virginias sister , the painter Vanessa Bell.Using words as a Palette , the book is also like a painting , freeing the page from place and chronology to create kaleidoscopic  relationships that criss cross time to make an emotional tapestry flucuating from Children to Adult relationships and back with subtle ease.

Vanessa thought the Character of Mrs.Ramsey brought their mother to life.

In this video we have the Professor of English Reynolds Price discussing the contents and value of this work.

You can find out more about Virginia Woolf and her contribution to literature in this 3 part documentary called "The Mind and Times of Virginia Woolf".

Sunday, January 20, 2013


This book started with a working title "1805".Tolstoy looked to portray the state of Russians , elites and peasants alike , that led to the Decembrists Revolt in1825.The paradox of this movement was the dichotomy , and passionate ensuing debate , on the direction the Slav nation must take when in defeating the Imperialists Napoleonic Invasion the Russians could at last address the direction of their future without unhealthy overt external interference.They had militarily won the Right to enact A Slavic solution for a Slav problem.

One of the greatest narratives  , its many concepts and themes which transcend nationality, ideology and time in that it expresses universal values , actions that shape moments in Human History ,be it  temporal or those that cast shadows across the ages.

And so we get to the crux of why 1805 has to be the starting point of this debate.Catherine the Great had started the great Eurocentralisation of the Russian nation on a predominately Prussian Germanic Model ( being Prussian herself) , at one level releasing technologies into the agrarian and urban sectors , establishing an efficient methodical bureaucratic central governing mechanisms , all these supported by encouraging immigration of German skilled technicians and administrators and a wholesale reorganisation of the Church into an effective organ of the State.On the other hand a rigid class system was established for the elites and Serfdom of the Peasants was enshrined with a near religiously ordained caste system.

The pursuing of this system into the Period of the Romanovs led to a rigid ,stolid and satiated elite strata which had become completely uncaring and out of touch with the land and the culture in which it was born.So much so that French was the language of the rulings elites , and all cultural and ideas of progress from Europe were apishly followed whether they suited the Russian situation or not.

 Napoleon and a host of strong charismatic leaders that ultimately led nations into cataclysmic upheavals can be identified as fast-tracking into a decade or so a direction their respective societies would have traversed in a timespan of about forty years had none of these individuals shown up.No one entity these names are famous for leading went in a trajectory that would not have led to the same point in national objectives had governmental institutions been in charge instead of individual strongmen.Strong leaders of this nature do not go against the flow , rather they ride crest , fuelling momentum.With the defeat of Napoleon the Russian ruling classes realised not only independence for themselves , but an opportunity to determine and change society from within.

In the video below , the concept of Tolstoys perception that History is a mass fluid movement work of individuals and not the work of Heroes or Great Men.

Another of Tolstoys great universal observations is the combining of Newtons Law on Motion to the outcome of Wars.His contention is that no matter the material size of the invading force or the ammunition they have at hand , the ultimate victory in War will come to the side with the Greatest Human Spirit and Heart to Fight and Resist allied with  unlimited time to rebel and resist over years and generations.The Afghan resistance to the British twice , the Soviet Union and now NATO ( in which ultimately there is only going to be one winner) amply bears Tolstoys formula out.

“Military science says, the greater the numbers [of an army] the greater the strength. ... For military science to make this assertion is like defining energy in mechanics by reference to the mass only. It is like saying that the momenta of moving bodies will be equal or unequal according to the equality or inequality of their masses. But momentum (or ‘quantity of motion’) is the product of mass and velocity. So in warfare the strength of an army is the product of its mass and of something else, some unknown factor x
He goes on to debate what this unknown x may stand for and rejects the common explanations, especially the interpretation of x as the amount of genius of the commanding general. He goes on to say that [WP, 1224]:
“We must accept the unknown and see it for what it is: the more or less active desire to fight and face danger. Only then, expressing the known historical facts by means of equations, shall we be able to compare the relative values of the unknown factor; only then may we hope to arrive at the unknown itself.

You can get more information of the mathematical themes of War and peace in this Russian archival article.

And Finally the video below has a rendition of a Tolstoy Short Story with an Aphoristic message called "Evil Allures But Good Endures"