Posts Tagged ‘literature’

yes I will Yes

Thursday, July 28th, 2011

Stylist Magazine in Britain recently posted a list of the best 100 closing lines from books.

They mentioned a lot of literary greats–The Great Gatsby, Pride and Prejudice, The Old Man and the Sea.  And several classic literary spec-fic ones, like 1984, The Wonderful Wizard of OzSlaughterhouse Five, Brave New World.

But I didn’t see them mention my fav:  Molly Bloom’s soliloquy from Joyce’s Ulysses, which forms the whole last chapter.  She wrestles with weighty emotional issues in her life, and her monologue becomes a heartwarming reaffirmation of her love for Leopold, ending with the famous words “and yes I said yes I will Yes.”

The droll literati joke is that Molly’s soliloquy also contains no punctuation. So the entire chapter is actually the last line! How could you have a better closing line than one that is an entire chapter? :)

“Heretics give meaning to defenders of the faith.”

Tuesday, June 2nd, 2009

This past weekend, my First Reader and I went back into D.C. to see Tom Stoppard’s new play “Rock ‘n’ Roll,” at The Studio Theater.

It’s about a Czech dissident in Cambridge, who returns home during the 1968 unrest, and his mentor, a British communist university professor. Stoppard himself was born in Czechoslovakia before fleeing the Nazis, and the play mixed twenty years of Czech opposition with the Western rock music that was an important symbol for the dissidents.

It was an interesting play and an engaging production in the round, and there were lots of wry truths about totalitarianism of all stripes, but for me this play was nowhere near as brilliant as Stoppard’s “Arcadia.” “Rock ‘n’ Roll” seemed mostly about ideas–the Czech opposition movement, communism in Britain, 60s and 70s rock in general and the music and life of Syd Barrett (the Pink Floyd founder and Cambridge native who became mentally unstable) in particular. The parallels, to me as a musician and a student of history and literature, were fascinating.

But other than some tender moments with the British communist Max and his extended family, the play didn’t seem to be as much also about the characters. Perhaps it was the long lapses of narrative time between scenes, often three or more years. Perhaps it’s that the essence of rock or of winning societal freedom is hard to dramatize. Perhaps it was that the dissident protagonist didn’t seem to have a clear goal–he went home to Czechoslovakia but didn’t know exactly why; he vacillated about signing a political petition then got talked into it; he spent time between scenes in prison but didn’t seem much changed for it; and his running off with another character at the end of the play seemed sudden to me and not fully motivated.

Arcadia” is likewise about ideas, but at the same time it’s also about the characters. Thomasina is aching to learn, Septimus is driven to teach her, Bernard aches to prove that Byron stayed at Sidley Park, and Hannah is driven to endure Bernard’s blather. That may be that play’s higher genius, that it’s about both ideas and people at the same time.

Which is definitely the combination I prefer. I don’t care for SF that’s purely about ideas or fantasy that’s purely about a milieu. I’ve got to have dynamic people (or aliens) amongst those ideas or that milieu, rife with their own core hopes and fears, driven to pursue something, so I can empathize with their core humanness while they’re wrestling with ideas or moving through a milieu.

For me, it all comes down to that line from Faulkner’s Nobel acceptance speech–the only thing worth writing (or reading) about is the human heart in conflict with itself.

Pigeons. Sex. Literature.

Tuesday, May 26th, 2009

Last weekend my First Reader and I went into D.C. to see “Arcadia,” Tom Stoppard’s early-90s masterpiece, at the Folger. The play itself is utterly brilliant, seamlessly weaving literature and science and their history over nuanced characters and vivid settings both past and modern.

The Folger’s production of it we thought was pretty good but not equally brilliant. I saw a lady on local PBS saying it was the best “Arcadia” she’d ever seen, but we saw a fantastic one at UVa about ten years ago, which included several very good theater department grad students in the adult roles and undergrad future actress Sarah Drew as Thomasina. It’s hard to remember exactly, and at the time I may partly have been blown away by the play itself, but I still think that production was better.

Either way, it’s a shame that there isn’t a film version of this play, or of more of Stoppard’s work (the Tim Roth/Gary Oldman Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead is the only one I know of, and I agree with Roger Ebert that the movie falls flat). Especially with the Hollywood screenplays he’s written, you’d think some indie director would be interested in filming one of his plays. Maybe they’re just far too cereberal for a film audience–which might be one reason I love them.