Friday, October 24, 2003

Tremble, sinners: Seldo says God is broken.

Thursday, October 23, 2003

Now, putting in print that Apple has scored another success is always risky business. Such an assertion inevitably invites a shower of e-mail pointing out that Macs are universally more expensive than Windows PC's (true for desktop machines, false for laptops); that far more software is available for Windows (true; "only" 6,500 programs are available for Mac OS X); and that the Apple hallmarks of elegance, beauty and thoughtful design aren't worth paying extra for (a matter of opinion).

But to argue these points is to join a religious war with no hope of resolution. Wherever you stand in the Macs vs. Windows debate, this much is certain: In Panther, Apple has taken an already sparkling, super-stable operating system and made it faster, better equipped and more secure.

-- From David Pogue's review of the new Mac OS X 10.3 in today's NY Times.

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

These are essential historical texts, as they illuminate the early intellectual development of this prophet of Pan-Africanism, Caribbean national liberation and federation, and working class sovereignty--yet this small elegant volume is also distinguished by imagery and narrative that even the reader of popular fiction will enjoy....

We begin to see the impending major intellectual powerhouse emerge.... Only hinting at the future political ideals for which he would become a standard bearer, James's Letters from London depicts both a clash over and an embrace of the principles of modernity and civilization.

-- From Matthew Quest's review of Letters from London in the Fall 2003 Rain Taxi Review of Books (unfortunately, this review isn't available online).

Saturday, October 18, 2003

I am the pillow where angels come for the sleeper.
Like all of Phillips's novels, A Distant Shore gives you a lot to think about; Phillips builds his fiction around provocative issues. But he's not a prose stylist. His sentences are rarely metaphoric or rich, his dialogue is often unrevealing, and he's not a particularly deft handler of scenes. Especially irritating is his habit of leapfrogging over present-tense events only to turn around and recount them retrospectively, jamming discontinuous scenes together in successive paragraphs. You sometimes feel that Phillips is changing the channel just when things are getting interesting. And yet his novels have a way of growing on you, staying with you long after you've closed the book. Some writers are more interesting away from the page than on it.

-- From Rand Richards Cooper's review of Caryl Phillips's novel A Distant Shore in this weekend's NY Times Book Review.

Friday, October 17, 2003

Dream on Monkey Mountain, the lyrical epic by the Trinidadian Nobel laureate Derek Walcott, is an eclectic work, a layered narrative laden with historical, folkloric and literary allusions that, as the title suggests, maintains the tenuous logic and adventurous imagination of dreams....

Over all, it is difficult to parse, for audiences as well as directors and performers, a likely reason it is rarely produced even while being considered by some to be Mr. Walcott's masterpiece.

All of which makes Dream on Monkey Mountain natural fare for that giant-killer of a company, the Classical Theater of Harlem....

If the company has a signature in performance, it is an electricity that pulses through each and every production, the kind of palpable sizzle that comes from glee and gall. With occasional exceptions in starring roles--in this case André De Shields as Makak and Kim Sullivan as his Sancho-like sidekick, Moustique--the actors the company employs are generally at the beginning of their careers, but the lack of experience is never stifling. And in Dream on Monkey Mountain, each and every member of the ensemble, which is full of athletic, stirringly attractive men and women, is equipped with nerve and energy.

-- From Bruce Weber's review of the current off-Broadway production of Walcott's play, published earlier this week in the NY Times.

(Note to Times fact-checkers: Walcott's passport has "St. Lucia" stamped on its cover.)
If only, Americans must wish, Iraq was like Grenada.

-- The Economist remembers the Grenada invasion.

Thursday, October 16, 2003

With the appearance of Letters from London, it seems almost as if C.L.R. James were making a posthumous critique of his academic admirers. A slender volume containing seven essays originally published in a Trinidadian newspaper in 1932, it reveals the essential James: a cosmopolitan man of letters from a small island at the margins of the imperialist world-system, his sensibility shaped by the literature of the Victorian era.... More distinctly than any other work, Letters charts James's growing ambivalence about the culture he has absorbed....

-- From Scott McLemee's review of Letters from London in the Fall 2003 BOOKFORUM (unfortunately, the text isn't online).

Monday, October 13, 2003

Exciting news for Walcott fans: Lynne Rienner, a small academic publishing house, is about to release a new edition of Another Life, extensively annotated by Edward Baugh of UWI-Mona & Colbert Nepaulsingh (a Trini) of the University of Albany (200 pages of notes!).

Friday, October 10, 2003

Had to be an Australian: 380 Hayden.

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

The Classical Theatre of Harlem revival of Derek Walcott's play Dream on Monkey Mountain has just opened off-Broadway; reviews have begun to appear in the NY press. Here's two:

The play takes the form of a hallucination, where the plot is routinely subverted and characters die only to be reborn again. It's more than a little puzzling, and the production, directed by Alfred Preisser, was understandably having trouble finding its footing during an early preview....

The production never establishes a disciplined rhythm. The pacing is erratic, with bursts of singing and dancing that serve mainly as temporary distractions from the narrative confusion. A razzle-dazzle approach may keep an audience in their seats but it doesn't unlock the theatrical meanings of a literary work that speaks in the coded language of dreams.

--Charles McNulty, in the Village Voice.

Dream on Monkey Mountain may be convoluted and more than a little opaque, but it's also consistently surprising and regularly riveting. It has a raw and ferocious heart that doesn't preclude humor, and expresses itself in unforced, openly beautiful language. It looks with complicated ambivalence at the obstacles to faith, the impossibility of revenge and the seeming inevitability of hate....

Preisser's staging sometimes favors sound over sense, and he and his actors have trouble tracing the specific emotional arcs of the play's characters.... But even though some of the details get lost, the overall force of the play remains intact, thanks to a theater group undaunted by such a tough, thorny, worthy challenge.

--Gordon Cox, in Newsday.
He carried himself with such effortless style, such carefree irony, that it seemed his life was his art and his work his play. If the reality was more trying, Plimpton was content not to share the strain.

"There are people who would perhaps call me a dilettante, because it looks as though I'm having too much fun," he once said. "I have never been convinced there's anything inherently wrong in having fun."

--From Andrew Anthony's interview with the late, wonderful George Plimpton, in last Sunday's UK Observer Review.

Sunday, October 05, 2003

The Mask of the Beggar, like all Harris's fiction, is more than mere storytelling; it is an essay on the radical potential of art, an inquiry into the nature of historical memory, and a meditation on South American identity and the imaginative resources that its materially deprived peoples may possess. Never remotely sectarian or parochial, Harris draws on "a community of Imaginations", people such as Van Gogh, Wilde and Goethe, even Trotsky, who, before he was assassinated in Mexico, sought to promote unceasing revolution, which Harris relates to "the unfinished genesis of all art". His own lexicon, repeated with incantatory, magus-like force, invokes the central importance of imagination, diversity, mutuality, intuition.

Small wonder that Harris is considered arcane and difficult to read. But so are Dame Julian of Norwich, T.S. Eliot and Kathleen Raine, writers whose mystic mantle he has long sported. Perhaps if his novels were illustrated, Blake-like, then their slightly recondite, hieroglyphic essences might be more transparent. Yet, whether read in short, intense bursts, or in one go as an oceanic wash of sound and poetry, it's almost impossible not to succumb to their strange, jarring, isolated power.

--From Sukhdev Sandhu's review of The Mask of the Beggar, published a few days ago in the Telegraph.

I'm still struggling with the book myself, apparently doing the almost impossible.

Saturday, October 04, 2003

"Oh Rowan," Mr. Plimpton said with incongruous ease. "By the way, the Dead are coming by for a drink. Make sure we have something for them. Oh yes, and tell the staff."

-- Warren St. John recalls The Five-Decade Book Party and Its Tireless Host.