Magical Realism, Writing, Fiction, Politics, Haiku, Books

viernes, agosto 27, 2010

Why I Love (French) Intellectuals

This morning's New York Times brings us a treat about Milan Kundera's new book, Encounter. Here's an excerpt of the Times's John Simon's review:

“What Will Be Left of You, Bertolt?”...begins by making reference to a 1999 article in a Paris weekly, “one of the more serious ones.” ... It contained a special section on 18 “geniuses of the century,” featuring, among others, Coco Chanel, Maria Callas, Bill Gates, Le Corbusier, Picasso, Yves Saint Laurent and the little-known astronomy professor Robert Noyes.

“No novelist,” Kundera comments, “no poet, no dramatist; no philosopher; a single architect; a single painter, but two couturiers; no composer, one singer; a single moviemaker (over Eisenstein, Chaplin, Bergman, Fellini, the Paris journalists chose Kubrick).” The selectors were not ignoramuses, Kundera writes. “With great lucidity,” they “declared a real change: the new relationship of Europe to literature, to philosophy, to art.”

Yet the great cultural figures were not forgotten: the period toward the end of the 20th century, Kundera says, produced monographs on Graham Greene, Hemingway, T. S. Eliot, Larkin, Brecht, Heidegger, Picasso, Ionesco, E. M. Cioran and others. But the attitude had shifted. Instead of emphasizing works, the monographers concentrated on lives, surface events beneath which they ferreted out the hidden Sin: “Europe was moving into the age of the prosecutors.”

As a dreadful example, Kundera proffers “a huge 800-page book on Bertolt Brecht,” without naming it and its academician author (“Brecht and Company,” by John Fuegi). The book exposes “the vileness of Brecht’s soul (secret homosexuality, erotomania, exploitation of girlfriends who were the true authors of his plays, pro-Stalin sympathies, tendency to lies, greed, a cold heart),” and “finally in Chapter 45 comes to his body, in particular to its terrible odor, which the professor takes a whole paragraph to describe.”

Wittily, Kundera continues, “As guarantee of the scholarly nature of this olfactory revelation, in a note to the chapter the writer says he collected ‘this detailed description from the woman who was at the time the head of the photo lab of the Berliner Ensemble’ . . . whom he interviewed ‘on June 5, 1985’ (that is, 30 years after the smelly fellow was laid in his coffin).” And he goes on to wonder, “Ah, Bertolt, what will be left of you?”

I ask you, with all of that build up, all of that context, where is the quotation of this monster "whole paragraph" description? It has to be more horrible to imagine than to read. Is that why we've turned from reading to US Magazine? Just asking.

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