Electric Review

Culture & Criticism From the Far Distant Realms

Literature

New Releases from McGraw-Hill

DUBLINERS. Edited by Andrew Thacker. Palgrave.

Hugh Kenner, perhaps the definitive Joycean scholar, recounts in his Dublin’s Joyce that one of the great novelist’s pupils recalls him dreamily gazing at a glass paperweight which contained floating crystals, at once remarking that “Yes, snow is general all over Ireland.”

It must remembered that Joyce was, after all, a voluntary exile whose native land was a series of shadows which he could not exorcize from his psyche. Certainly, the last paragraph of Joyce’s immortal short story, “The Dead”written in 1906, evokes a reverie for his homeland in addition to a dark and unspeakable sadness:

“Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, on the Bog of Allen, and further westward, softly falling into the dark, mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried …”

In his analysis of “The Dead”, Robert Spoo concentrates on the uncanny aspects of the story. According to Freud’s theory, the uncanny included “the resurfacing of primitive religious beliefs that have been ‘surmounted’ by modern civilization (such as the belief in the omnipotence of thoughts, secret injurious powers, the return of the dead) …” (Emphasis added).

And Spoo goes still further:

“The intertextual ‘haunting’ in the final paragraphs of “The Dead” hint at the presence of a dialogism — to be fully realised in Ulysses and Finnegans Wake — in which the vast hosts of discourses that make up the ‘realistic’ mode are permitted to have their ghostly say.”

(Page 141)

Like his creations, Gabriel and Greta Conway, Joyce was haunted by the past, by a deep sense of loss and return. For example, Greta Conway is resurrected on the lips of Leopold Bloom in the “Calypso” episode of Ulysses at the point when he recalls the dance where his wife first met her lover, Blazes Boylan. Further, in the “Aeolus” episode, Joyce informs his readers that Gabriel Conway wrote fiction reviews in the Daily Express as Joyce himself had done.

And Spoo himself notes in his analysis of Joyce’s notes for his play, Exiles (written some seven years after “The Dead”) that the character, Bertha, is based in part on the experiences of Joyce’s wife, Nora:

“Joyce records snippets of Nora’s early life in Galway, including images of her young admirer, Sonny Bodkin, the original of Michael Furey: ‘Graveyard at Rahoon by moonlight where Bodkin’s grave is. He lies in the grave. She sees his tomb (family vault) and weeps. The name is homely . . . He is dark, unrisen, killed by love and life young The earth holds him.’ . . . A few lines later, relating Bodkin’s grave to the poet, Shelley’s in Rome, Joyce writes, ‘Shelley whom she has held in her womb or grave rises’…” [emphasis added in bold].

(Pages 147-148)

An acquaintance of mine who spent a decade reading and re-reading Finnegans Wake once remarked that the novel embodies more of the Neolithic and lessofthe Nineteenth century. Indeed, Joyce was both primordial storyteller and literary Lazarus who, in the incarnation of the resurrected Irish hodcarrier, Tim Finnegan, becomes our guide in the telling and re-telling of the fall and resurrection of his Adam and Eve (disguised as Humprey Chipden Earwicker, his wife, Anna Livia Plurabelle, and their children). In the Wake, the host of mankind, including the vilified and the forgotten, are always permitted by Joyce to have their “ghostly say.”

Recommended as a supporting text in literture courses dedicated to exploration of the work of the great novelist.

Order at amazon.com.

by Frank Aiello

© Frank Aiello. All rights reserved.


Frank Aiello is an attorney who has practiced law in California since the 1970s, including criminal defense, civil and probate work. He holds a History degree from the University of California at Berkeley, and a Law degree from Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco; he has also studied Anthropology, Sociology and Political Science extensively. Reach him via The Electric Review.

SONTAG AND KAEL: Opposites Attract Me. Craig Seligman. Counterpoint Press.

Craig Seligman, in his new book Sontag & Kael: Opposites Attract Me, compares and contrasts two of the foremost influential American critics of the twentieth century: Susan Sontag and Pauline Kael.

In deconstructing their works by-way of its innovative scope and the controversy it provoked, Seligman illuminates Sontag and Kael as mirrors of the embattled artist, the conscientious writer, and, most importantly, the moral human being.

It’s true, critics are the lawyers of the artistic community. Witness Exhibit A, Samuel Beckett’s Waiting For Godot, in which Vladimir and Estragon hurl insults at one another. “Vermin!” they call each other, “Sewer-rat!” “Abortion!” Not until Estragon cries out (with finality), “Critic!” that they are shocked silent.

And yet, for every hundred ambulance chasers, there is a Tony Serra. Andfor every hundred hacks with a copy of Foucault, there is a Susan Sontag or a Pauline Kael. As a critic analyzing the lives and works of two such luminary critics, one would think Seligman’s book would have limited accessibility to anyone outside the field. However, in his deconstruction of their approach to their subjects, Seligman reveals in them the fundamental challenge every artist (and every engaged human being) must face.

By paying homage to her unblinking, almost masochistic devotion to the truth, Seligman paints Sontag as the ultimate modern representation of the tortured artist (one can almost see her lying hobbled on l’avenue du misere as she grapples with la vérité). He further reveals her continued struggle between honesty and deception, between revelation and oppression, and how her writing ultimately became a tool, the tool for her own self-discovery.

Likewise, through the deft application of quotations, the author illuminates Kael’s own struggle between avant-garde and kitsch, art and entertainment, and that most perplexing of paradoxes – political correctness and the truth.

Seligman’s criticism is always fair and well-balanced, well-researched and contemplative. Accordingly, we can’t help but respect his analysis: Seligman is a critic who knows his subjects, and this fact is reflected in the overall gravity of his criticism.

At its most academic, Sontag & Kael is a brilliant analysis of the oeuvres of two innovative, creative and remarkable critics (nay, artists). However, the book becomes even more intriguing when Seligman reveals his own personal relationship with these two women by documenting the history of their work’s influence on his own life.

This is a remarkable book to be sure, and finishing it can’t help but invoke a sense of melancholy and nostalgia. Where have all the critics gone, those whose loyalty to the truth and their subjects often matched the achievements of the people they were writing about?

It could be said that criticism is a dying art, one that’s given way to crass marketing and self-promotion. Personally, I hope this is not actually the case. However, this debate notwithstanding, Craig Seligman’s Sontag & Kael proves a wonderful documentation of what it once was like to be a real critic.

Order from amazon.com.

by Jacob Aiello

© Jacob Aiello. All rights reserved.


Jacob Aiello is a writer and co-editor of Soft Show and the Portland Fiction Project, whose stories have previously been published in Portland Review, Wordstock, and forthcoming from Stealing Time Magazine. Born in Mount Shasta, California, he now lives in Portland, Oregon, and is hard at work amassing a collection of short fiction consisting of far too many pronouns. Reach him via The Electric Review.

A COMPANION TO AMERICAN FICTION. 1780-1865. Edited by Shirley Samuels. Blackwell.

This new text issued by Blackwell (well respected in academic circles for its high-level Humanities list), provides critical analysis of American fiction from the unification of the nation through the time of the civil war. In this volume, over 30 of the leading academic voices in the field analyze various selections of the American catalog, discussing each selection in deep historical context so as to teach students to view the things they’re reading in relation to the world at large. Includes both political and literary pieces, with individuals such as Whitman, Melville, Poe and Washington Irving explored through their words, ideals and thought patterns.

The basis of this book is vital to teaching young students that pieces of fiction are not merely products of the imagination, but also products of the world from which the mind draws its breath.

For a writer, the world is composed of everything we see and everything we can’t see; moreover, these infinite realms of transparency and dimension are born connected to the times in which we live.

Thus, to truly understand a book like “Moby Dick” one must see beyond the words and personally connect to that timeline within the writer’s head: What was he seeing? What was he hearing? Where was he living? What was he smelling? We follow each of these circles in his eyes by reading the webs of words on the printed page now taking their full shape. And now absorbed in the perfection of his mood and inspiration. And now absorbed in the newness of the world, a light, heavenward, rises.

In the end, this is what writing is really about. And Companion is a stepping stone that allows the student to begin the journey.

Recommended to libraries on the college level and in the public sector as a general reference text. Also recommended as an under-graduate teaching text in all critical literature courses. Well-edited with top contributions from an eclectic selection of critics. Note the fine plates which give the reader a true sense of the writers and pieces.

Order at amazon.com.

POETRY. An Introduction. Michael Meyer. Bedford/St. Martin’s.

Entry-level college students often struggle with the idea of poetry, as the specters of Shakespeare and Eliot cause many of those old high school fears to resurface – young readers worried over their ability to thoughtfully analyze the message and essence of a piece. Here, Meyer (University of Connecticut) has created a sound anthology that should open myriad doors in the mind of the student. I think what sets this collection apart from other similar selections in the discipline is revealed byway of the material he’s included for study. Carefully examine this text and you will experience a wide array of writers whose styles collectively embody the full breadth of the poetic idiom. Poets such as Emily Dickinson and William Blake put the student in touch with the romance of the word and its deeper implications, while the inclusion of writers like Gary Snyder and William Carlos Williams connect student-readers with the essence of the modern sensibility – image creating meaning in the eye of the poet as the act of expression becomes sacred in and of itself. In addition to collecting some of the brightest voices of the medium, Meyer intersperses “suggestions for approaching poetry” as a means to show students how to come to poetry with an open mind and an open heart. Many selections also end with “Considerations for Critical Thinking and Writing,” as Meyer attempts to inspire a true passion for the medium by focusing the student on the deconstruction of isolated pieces.

Well formatted and impeccably presented, this collection would serve as a fine class text for all beginning-level poetry courses at the college-level.

by John Aiello

THE BEDFORD INTRODUCTION TO LITERATURE. 7th Edition. Michael Meyer. Bedford/St. Martin’s.

In this text, Meyer’s approach to poetry extends to the complete study of literature as he attempts to teach entry level college students how to read literature for its hidden meaning. What’s best about Meyer as a writer is found in the way he tries to lessen the intimidation factor that many young readers feel as they enter a lit class in a university setting. So what’s his secret? Meyer artfully accomplishes this feat via the material he includes for study. Simply, Meyer chooses pieces that have meaning to students and their lives – these stories and poems that transcend words on paper and guide them through their own individual missions on earth. This particular collection features some spectacular pieces, including Faulkner’s “Barn Burning” and Joyce’s magnificent “Eveline,” in addition to an array of poetry and dramatic works (note the important and accessible deconstructions of Shakespeare and Sophocles) that attempt to bring the idea of literature current with the sensibilities of the 21st-century student.

Well-rounded and comprehensive in tone, Bedford’s Introduction to Literature will serve as a perfect class text in entry-level lit courses ( providing students with an intimate survey of the writers who have collectively shaped the mind of the world).

by John Aiello

THE AMERICAN TRADITION IN LITERATURE. George Perkins. Barbara Perkins. McGraw-Hill.

In this volume, George Perkins (Eastern Michigan University) and Barbara Perkins (University of Toledo) present an anthology known throughout academic circles for its innovative flair in creating a record of the major movements and artists of the American landscape.

As most college-level English lit instructors will attest, it’s near impossible to bring a fresh and vibrant slant to a discipline that is literally as old as the inception of the country. Further, it has become ever-more difficult to conjure excitement among student-learners who often view so much of our literature as out-of-step with their times.

Enter Perkins and Perkins: in this new “short” edition to their classic anthology, the authors compile a “documentary” in book form that encompasses examples of the very best writers to ever find their voices in the Americas. Beginning with an overview of the explorers (Columbus) and the Colonies (John Smith, William Bradford), we leap into a plethora of topics and writers and styles that define our evolution as a People and a Nation.

Perkins and Perkins are exhaustive in their coverage of the writers responsible for capturing the flavor of the United States (from Anne Bradstreet and Puritanism to Ben Franklin’s erudite dissection of his place in the greater scheme of the world). In turn, students are enlightened on multiple levels — encouraged to read and read some more, to learn and delve deeper in a personal quest for spiritual illumination.

However, this book truly comes to separate itself from other anthologies by-way of the poetry it collects: With pieces by Bob Dylan, Allen Ginsberg, William Carlos Williams and Marianne Moore, readers are led from the “classicists” into the modern movements, tracing a timeline that leads directly from Whitman’s nascent “Song Of Myself” to the rock-and-roll stage of the modern-day song-poet-sorcerer.

The simple idea here is to make literature meaningful to 18-year-olds in the 21st-century, and the authors have done this with a deep and cutting-edge energy that can’t help but hold the attention of even the most indifferent Business major.

Recommended as a primary reader in all entry-level English Literature survey courses. This edition includes a multimedia CD ROM which features profiles of a vast array of writers, providing an interactive platform through which students can explore great moments in literature from the comfort of their PC.

Order at amazon.com.

by John Aiello


John Aiello, who founded The Electric Review in 2001, has been a journalist for the better part of the last 25 years, and has reviewed books professionally in myriad subject areas since 1987. In addition, Aiello has taught the fundamentals of composition in both college-level writing labs and in private settings since 1983.

LITERATURE. Reading Fiction, Poetry and Drama. Robert Di Yanni. 5th edition. McGraw-Hill.

Robert Di Yanni (Pace University) is recognized in the field for his unique and expert ability to cover the rudimentary aspects of the study of literature and then tie these works to the contemporary world of the student.

As Di Yanni’s approach infers, the typical student doesn’t retain the meaning of a work of literature unless that work is somehow made meaningful to their individual world. And that is the under-lying perspective of this text: the material contained here is meant to teach the student about the core of his culture and society – in turn directing each of us to our places within this intricate framework.

This volume contains a wide sampling of material (fiction, poetry and dramatic works) meant to introduce the student to the broad study of literature. In addition to exposing students to these writers, the idea here is to begin to teach young people to think about themselves in relation to society. Once this interaction takes place, the young reader will naturally start to absorb the elements of how to engage in thoughtful analysis of the elements of literature.

A wide array of fiction and poetry is high-lighted by an expert section on Edgar Allan Poe. Also notable for the poetry of William Blake, William Carlos Williams and Lawrence Ferlinghetti (Poetry and Painting chapter). One of the most daring (because of the writers anthologized) and solid readers we have seen to date. Also includes the Ariel interactive reader’s CD-ROM, with over 50 annotated interactive texts and over 50 audio/video versions of selected works.

Also from Robert Di Yanni: Literature: Approaches to Fiction, Poetry and Drama. This volume is notable because in addition to various anthologized works, it attempts to direct the student on how to write effectively for the college level (with smart guidance on how write a research paper and document sources to avoid plagiarism).

Both are appropriate for use in the classroom in all introduction to literature courses.

TROY: FROM HOMER’S ILIAD TO HOLLYWOOD EPIC. Edited by Martin M. Winkler. Blackwell Publishing.

When Wolfgang Peterson’s Troy was first released in 2004, many critics were dismayed by his liberal use of the original story – especially noteworthy is the fact that although Menelaus is challenged by Paris to a duel on the plains of Troy (as in the epic telling), in the film version, Paris is not spared from death by the intercession of the Goddess, Aphrodite.

Instead, a defeated Paris crawls back to the Trojan lines seeking the protection of his brother, Hector. As Helen watches from the ramparts and Menelaus (played by veteran character actor Brendon Gleeson) roars, “Is this what you left me for?” At this point, Hector intercedes and slays Menelaus.

As Monica S. Cyrino appropriately notes in her analysis of the film from Helen’s perspective:

“The death of Menelaus midway through the film has elicited much dismay and criticism from viewers, since the Greek epic tradition records that Menelaus retrieves Helen after the fall of Troy and takes her back to Sparta where they resume their lives together. [fn]

Yet, the removal of his character at this point has a strong motivation: it effectively erases Helen’s function as the reason for the war and reinforces one of the film’s major themes, that the true cause of the war is Agamemnon’s outrageous greed for power.”

(Page 144)

In fact, Peterson has made little pretense of the fact that he was making a film not so much about the Iliad, but rather about the “[p]ower-hungry Agamemnons who wants to create a new world order …”[p.7]

In the perceptive and incisive essay, Troy and Memorials of War, Frederick Ahl writes that “loyalty…has a sinister side. Without it, there would be no tyrants.”

And Ahl goes on:

“It is not far apart from the way the word ‘patriotism’ is currently misunderstood. Laelius, one of Julius Caesar’s centurions and winner of the highest military award available to someone not a commanding general, the ‘civil oak’ (quercus civilis, the Roman equivalent of the Victoria Cross, Congressional Medal of Honor or Iron Cross), shows the extremes to which this kind of loyalty may go…”

(Pages 182-183)

In sum, Troy is a cinematic examination of the abuses of power and arrogance which serve as an excuse for conflict – men manipulating traits of loyalty and self-sacrifice in the defense of the Trojan/Spartan “homeland.” As such, Peterson demands that his audience accept the lessons of recent history: In Peterson’s world, empires go to war to plunder the resources of other empires, or to pursue their proprietary brand of imperialism. However, empires do not go to war over a woman’s love affair.

From the Editor: This well-written analysis will appeal to both students and historians of the era. In addition, instructors in courses which explore the psychology of loyalty and betrayal and the insatiable need to pursue power might consider this as a supporting class text – the essays rich and evocative bring the reader to true points of introspection.
Order from amazon.com.

by Frank Aiello

© Frank Aiello. All rights reserved.


Frank Aiello is an attorney who has practiced law in California since the 1970s, including criminal defense, civil and probate work. He holds a History degree from the University of California at Berkeley, and a Law degree from Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco; he has also studied Anthropology, Sociology and Political Science extensively. Reach him via The Electric Review.

THE CLMP DIRECTORY OF LITERARY MAGAZINES AND PRESSES. Foreward by Sherman Alexie and Robert Hershon. Council of Literary Magazines and Presses.

Highly recommended directory of literary presses and magazines for writers of all genres, including fiction, poetry and non-fiction prose. Listings include information on publishers and online journals; also data on contacts, submission guidelines and circulation figures. The Council of Literary Magazines and Presses is a non-profit organization in support of independent publishing. A must have for journalists and freelance writers.

Order directly through Small Press Distribution.

A DIRECTORY OF AMERICAN POETS AND FICTION WRITERS. 2003-2004 edition. Poets and Writers Inc.

Listing of writers in the United States, with contact information. Invaluable resource for journalists, community leaders and students who must contact writers. Must have for all school libraries, High School to University level.

Order directly through Small Press Distribution.

APPROACHING LITERATURE. Second Edition. Peter Schakel. Jack Ridl. Bedford’s/St. Martin’s.

This anthology is noted for the vast selection of authors it presents which give undergraduate students a fresh look at the history of literature and its many voices. In addition to exposing readers to many enlightened authors (Louise Erdrich, Edward P. Jones, William Faulkner, Gabriel Garcia Marquez), Schakel and Ridl also carefully teach students how to read with the critical eye (teaching them how to analyze what they’ve read so they can then write intelligently about it). Aside from being a well-formatted anthology, Schakel and Ridl also provide a secondary service – showing students how to write by example. In essence, all writers learn their craft by reading. And when they are provided with examples of incisive and stylistic prose at a young age, they have a leg up on the process. Approaching Literature is about furthering just this mission.

by John Aiello

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This entry was posted on June 30, 2013 by in Reference and tagged .
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