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Mark Nadja "Literary Outlaw, author *Hardcore Romeo* and *61 Bang*" RSS Feed (New York City)

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The Painted Bird
The Painted Bird
by Jerzy Kosinski
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.19
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6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is no bluebird on your shoulder..., February 22, 2008
This review is from: The Painted Bird (Paperback)
A powerful, brutally dark novel, *The Painted Bird* is a masterpiece of 20th century literature whatever the prevailing critical/personal opinions regarding Kosinski and the many controversies that surround him may be. I'm not exactly sure how it gets the reputation as a Holocaust novel because the adolescent main character is neither Jewish nor sent to a concentration camp. He is, however, suspected of being a Jew, or, just as "bad," a Gypsy, and under constant threat of being turned over to the Nazis as he roams, homeless, across a war-ravaged countryside populated by folks straight out of the Inferno.

One can't read *The Painted Bird* as a realistic chronicle--that so many bad things could possibly happen to one person, even the unluckiest, is absurd. But as a "mythic" morality tale, as a kind of picaresque "everyvictim's" experience of man's inhumanity to man as specifically manifested during the Nazi Occupation of Europe, it is a profound and uncompromising and perhaps unparalleled tale of the suffering of the outcast and persecuted individual wherever, whenever, and whoever he happens to be in history.

Kosinski spares us nothing as his young narrator passes from one horrendous scene of degradation to another. Perversion, superstition, ignorance, poverty, violence, disease, and death are everywhere among the peasantry through which Kosinski describes--and their counterbalance, ironically and appallingly, is in the godlike supremacy of the figure of the ultra "civilized" SS officer. This is a world in which Evil--both high and low--has the upper hand and the only safe place tobe is on the side that's strongest. It's a grim picture of life but one hard to argue against given the events of the 20th century and what we've seen modern man capable of doing. Those who like to point to the eventual triumph of good over evil at the end of WW2 are conveniently forgetting the horrors of Hiroshima and Stalin's Soviet dictatorship.

*The Painted Bird* has the timeless, parable-like simplicity of the great Nobel prize-winning novels of yesteryear--when the prize generally was awarded for literary merit rather than to recognize ethnic and sexual diversity or to reward political agendas. A spare, slender novel but as serious as a stiletto in the fist of an assassin and packing a wallop that will follow you for the remainder of your reading days, *The Painted Bird* truly is one of those books you'll never forget.


A World Undone: The Story of the Great War, 1914 to 1918
A World Undone: The Story of the Great War, 1914 to 1918
by G. J. Meyer
Edition: Paperback
Price: $16.25
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The "other" world war..., February 18, 2008
Before Hitler, Stalin, Auschwitz, and Hiroshima, there was the "Great War"--the war to end all wars, World War 1. Diminished by time, by the characters and events of its even more horrific sequel, and the collective amnesia we inevitably suffer as a trauma--no matter how scarring--fades with time, World War 1 is largely forgotten and if its thought of at all, its often vaguely--a kind of faded relic symbolic of some bygone, simpler, and still idealistic age. When in fact World War 1 all but killed idealism outright in what was to that point four years of the most appalling and sustained slaughter in human history.

G.J. Meyer's *A World Undone* is a vivid reminder of how the Great War forever changed civilization--and how it very nearly destroyed it altogether. Some, in fact, would say that it did.

It's hard to imagine that a better one-volume history of World War 1 exists than this one. From the historical and political situation at the time of the assassination of Franz Ferdinand by a Serbian terrorist group to the signing of the Versailles Treaty which planted the poisoned seeds of World War 2, *A World Undone* provides the reader with a complete picture of the war--its causes, its battles, and its key personalities both in the trenches and behind the scenes.

Meyer's breathes life into his history and the war as he recounts it unfolds with all the pathos and drama of an epic novel--a tragedy in which everything that could possibly go wrong did and even those with the best of intentions seemed destined to make the most disastrous of choices. Of course, not everyone had the best of intentions. Here is the opportunistic jockeying of politicians and generals for fame and power as soldiers are butchered by the hundreds of thousands and civilian populations starve. Here is the stupidity and stubbornness that ordered an entire generation of young men straight into solid waves of machine gun fire because military strategy had yet to catch up with the new technology of death. Here is the nightmare of life in the elaborate networks of tunnels and trenches that soldiers shared with corpses, rats, and disease. Photographs embedded throughout the text help the reader put faces to the names of a large cast of characters and special "background" sections provide fascinating sidebar information and human interest pieces on everything from Lawrence of Arabia to the Ottoman Empire that entertain and illuminate.

Meyer wrote that his aim was to provide a World War 1 history that didn't assume the reader was already in possession of the historical currents converging in 1914 that made an assassin's pistol the starter's gun for a world war. Instead Meyer's intention was to take nothing for granted and to provide the reader with as complete and coherent picture as possible of a very complex time. In that he has succeeded without reservation. If you intend on reading only one book about the Great War, this would be the one book to read. Chances are, though, *A World Undone* will cause you to want to read further about the seminal disaster that inaugurates modern history--and whose aftershocks shake our still undone world today.


Lenin, Stalin, and Hitler: The Age of Social Catastrophe
Lenin, Stalin, and Hitler: The Age of Social Catastrophe
by Robert Gellately
Edition: Hardcover
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12 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The murderous 3 Stooges of 20th century idealism..., February 11, 2008
Here they are, the evil triumvirate who definitively proved how there's no one more dangerous than someone determined to save the world. Lenin, Stalin, Hitler--they all had a vision of utopia and it was going to take a long, tortuous climb up a mountain of corpses to reach it. Unfortunately, they weren't deterred.

For the attentive reader, that is the ultimate lesson to be gleaned from the "age of social catastrophe" as summed up in this excellent book. Robert Gellately corrects a long-standing omission by including Lenin among history's most prolific mass killers. For as the theoretician of idealistic murder, Lenin made Stalin possible; indeed, Stalin was Lenin writ large. Disgustingly, because of the post-Stalin communist-sympathizers who continue to march under their idealistic Marxist banner, Lenin and his crimes have long been given an ethical pass, but as Gellately amply illustrates, that's a mistake: Lenin was every bit as intolerant, dictatorial, and murderous as his totalitarian bedfellows.

Thoreau once said that if he knew that someone was coming to visit with the express intention of doing him some good, he'd run off as far as possible in the opposite direction. The wisdom of that maxim is proven in this history of Communism and Fascism, both ideologies that sought to bring about their own version of heaven on earth, which is always hell for someone else. There is, perhaps, no more overlooked, or more chilling a realization to be gleaned from this catastrophic chapter in human history and yet people continue to overlook it. Hitler, Stalin, and Lenin weren't "evil" incarnate. They didn't set out to intentionally do evil, and, in their own estimation, and in the estimation of their legions of followers, they didn't do anything evil when all was said and done. Just the opposite. Each of them thought they were saving the world from itself, each of them thought they were *purging* it of evil, of injustice, of misery.

Ha, ha, right?

The story Gellately tells is chilling. The sheer number of murders, executions, battlefield causalities is jaw-dropping, inconceivable, eventually numbing. One can't help but feel guilty realizing there's a vicarious pleasure to be had from reading just how unprecedently horrible it all was--it's the same thrill one gets watching a horror film from the safety of one's armchair, except here the victims, reduced to mere numbers on a page, were all too real.

*Lenin, Stalin, Hitler* is an incredible book--massive, seemingly well-researched, and surprisingly readable. It has a page-turning narrative force that makes it difficult to put down--and it's dramatis personae are, of course, of seeming endless fascination; their now dark charisma still draws us even after more than a half century and the relentless, unquestioned demonization they've undergone following their deaths. Gellately covers a lot of history, crosses a lot of areas of expertise, and deals with three titanic figures who've each generated whole libraries of studies, and yet he manages to bring all this information together into a coherent and perfectly balanced synthesis.

In the end, *Lenin, Stalin, Hitler* sounds a cautionary alarm, but not likely the one that most readers will hear--or even the one the author necessarily intended. For it is not the return of Lenin, Stalin, or Hitler we need to fear in the 21st century--we'd recognize them a mile away--but the new face idealism will wear when it arrives on the world-stage determined to save us from ourselves even if it has to slaughter, imprison, or impoverish us to do it. One ought to remember that such "saviors" come from both ends of the political spectrum--as Hitler from the right, and Stalin/Lenin from the left proved. Perhaps the best way to spot trouble is, as Thoreau said, behind the mask of someone come hell or high water to do you good.

Run, then. The other way. Remember this is life. Idealism has no place here.

God save us from the do-gooders!


Recollections of the Golden Triangle
Recollections of the Golden Triangle
by Alain Robbe Grillet
Edition: Paperback
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Intellectual decadence at its best--a labyrinth of guilty pleasures, February 5, 2008
A book that reads, alternately, like a detective novel, an erotic snuff fantasy, a bizarre sexual mythology or a dream embodying aspects of all three, *Recollections of the Golden Triangle* is a sensual literary feast in virtually every sense. Lucid and yet lavishly written ((at least in this excellent translation)), with echoes of Sade by way of Lautremont, *Recollections* lingers lovingly over the most deliciously perverse images, mixing the sacred and the profane with a dark eroticism of the sort that has always throbbed through the seminal vesicles of B-movies, an art form often much closer to the real well-springs of life than the prettied-up picture presented by high culture.

It's maddeningly difficult to summarize this novel--which is partly what makes it so fascinating. It's a lot like viewing a complex and evocative painting--or, better yet, an enigmatic film: non-linear, evasive, shifting viewpoints, time-frames, even the identities of its principle characters, as if the story were being told on several levels at once, which, of course, it is. But to provide you with the barest skeletal outline: young women are disappearing and being found murdered in various locations throughout the ruins of a city by the sea sometime in what seems the future. A detective seeks to solve these crimes--which may or may not be the work of a secret society practicing human sacrifice--at the same time that he seems to be confessing to the crimes in question, or explaining them, or dreaming them.

Among much that is remarkable about this novel is that it holds together, delicate as the fabric of a dream, even though it seems to be created out of nothing at all, nothing, that is, that is stated with any assurance by the narrator or experienced by any of the various characters. What is most stunning about this text, however, is its hyper-visual nature--the arresting tableaux of pseudo-religious eroticism that seems a kind of psychic compression of the sexual elements in myths and fairytales as retold in contemporary detective novels, horror films, and newspaper accounts of the sex crimes of serial killers. It's as if the cumulative force of all these stories we tell to channel our sexual violence into acceptable social forms of behavior have been driven into a wall, leaving the contemporary man amongst the lurid fragments of a stained glass window he can no longer put together in any meaningful way. That stained glass window, by the way, representative of his own consciousness.

*Recollections* is the attempt to construct a new myth--and at the same time illustrative of the utter impossibility of doing so ever again. Still the readers most lasting impression of *Recollections* is of wandering through the underground maze oft-referred to as an element in the text itself, a kind of secret museum of perversity where around any bend one is apt to stumble upon a shocking--albeit mesmerizing and titillating--exhibit of guilty pleasure. It is this labyrinth that ultimately holds the text together...and one soon suspects, our consciousness as well.

Btw...for a short course in everything wrong with American publishing--not to mention the utter absence of real literary, intellectual, and critical culture in this country--check out the Publishers Weekly review of *Recollections* on this page. The only value I've ever derived from Publishers Weekly is to immediately seek out any book that offends and or outrages their delicate sensibilities. Their review here being a case in point.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 28, 2012 11:16 AM PST


The Erasers
The Erasers
by Alain Robbe-Grillet
Edition: Paperback
Price: $12.60
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A mystery with none of the usual suspects..., February 2, 2008
This review is from: The Erasers (Paperback)
Although his first novel and written when Robbe-Grillet was still quite young, *The Erasers* has most of the stylistic and thematic elements that characterize his later and greater work. Which is to say, *The Erasers* is a good deal more conventional a text than one might expect from one of the leading practitioners and theorists of the "New Novel." What you have here is a novel that reads something like a David Lynch movie--there is a discernible storyline--beginning, middle, and end in the old-school sense--but like a splintered mirror, the shards reflect a picture back upon itself in what seem an infinite number of possible explanatory scenarios.

In *The Erasers* a "special agent" named Wallas arrives in an unnamed town to investigate a murder linked to a series of similar assassinations believed to be carried out by a terrorist group intent on disrupting the nation's political and economic stability. But that's only one theory why Professor Daniel Dupont was shot to death in his study. Another theory is that he committed suicide. Another is that he isn't dead at all since no one--including the cynical local police commissioner--has seen the body, which has supposedly been lost in a labyrinthine bureaucracy. What witnesses exist are entirely unreliable. Wallas himself apparently looks a good deal like a stranger believed to be the killer. And the city with its frustrating layout of look-a-like streets and canals that seem to duplicate and double-back on each other becomes a maze through which Wallas wanders as exhausted physically as he is mentally.

Robbe-Grillet always a master of atmospheric foreboding provides plenty of it in this "existential" thriller. The story has that disturbing fever-dream quality about it where trivial phrases and incidents repeat themselves so obsessively in contexts and combinations so unexpected that they eventually take on an enigmatic significance that begs for interpretation and eludes it at the same time. Is Wallas really a dupe of the agency he supposedly works for? Does such an agency even exist? Is he the murderer? These are the kinds of questions *The Erasers* forces the reader to ask and you're still asking them after reading the final page. The mystery is too big for one man to figure out; the world cannot be understood ultimately by any single mind even with the "help" of others--there are too many variables, too many unpredictable testimonies, too many hidden agendas, too many "suspects."

Missing the dark, S-M tinged eroticism that would later become his trademark, as well as earn him a certain degree of notoriety, especially in his films, *The Erasers* is not quite as exciting--or as stylistically innovative--as the novels in which Robbe-Grillet fully developed his theories and vision. But it's an interesting avant-garde literary thriller that still retains enough conventional mystery elements to make it enjoyable even for the intelligent, if somewhat less adventuresome, reader.


Watt
Watt
by Samuel Beckett
Edition: Paperback
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars It's so hard to get good help in a Beckett novel..., January 29, 2008
This review is from: Watt (Paperback)
To a house in the country comes an enigmatic man named Watt to take the place of an outgoing servant in the household staff of a man equally enigmatic, Mr. Knott. From this commonplace beginning, Samuel Beckett weaves a most uncommon tale that can perhaps only be accurately described as...well, Beckettian.

Watt is of that distinctive tribe of shabby, decrepit, stumblebums who are regularly featured as "heroes" of Beckett's work. In the case of the present novel, Watt becomes obsessively preoccupied with the habits, duties, and peccadilloes of the other household staff and, in particular, of his erstwhile new employer, the aforementioned, Mr. Knott. Clever how Beckett has Watt--a cipher himself--trying to decipher another cipher, Mr. Knott. To Watt, his employer, who he eventually comes to dress and undress, remains an elusive albeit binding mystery. But then virtually everything presents itself as a mystery to Watt and becomes the subject of long, tortured, and mostly humorous super-logical speculations that seek to take every possible explanation into account for even the most mundane phenomenon--with invariably absurd results. What you have is the literary equivalent of the old proverb of the spider who asked the centipede how it manages to walk with all those legs--and the centipede trying to explain suddenly finds he can't take another step without falling. The same sort of paralysis grips Watt's efforts to understand Mr. Knott and, for that matter, the absurdity of life in general. It's an affliction very common to characters in Samuel Beckett's work--and probably one that strikes a sympathetic chord in the experience of his most appreciative readers.

Indeed, significant portions of *Watt* will likely try the patience of lesser fans comprised as these portions are of quasi-Biblical lists of absurd comprehensiveness, extended series of repetitions detailing, for instance, all the possible permutations a man might manage when shodding his feet with the customary footwear available to him each morning: a shoe, a boot, a sock, and a slipper. Like a lot of Beckett, these kinds of ridiculously exhaustive lists of minutiae gather a certain sort of power and poetry when read aloud, but they are nearly impossible to get through with any profit while reading silently on a crowded bus, let's say.

On the other hand, *Watt,* like *Mercier and Camier* is quite a bit more conventional than Beckett's later fiction; though, of course, "conventional" in regard to Beckett is a relative term. In this case, *Watt* features genuine dialogue, a range of character viewpoints, and, if not a plot in the ordinary sense, than a plot in the extraordinary sense.

Mordant, ribald, dark, and grotesque, not to mention slapstick, sometime Three Stooges-like funny, *Watt* may not be Beckett at his peak, but he's clearly on his way--and Beckett anywhere on the climb is head and shoulders above just about anyone else.


Mercier and Camier
Mercier and Camier
by Samuel Beckett
Edition: Paperback
Price: $15.00
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A long walk nowhere..., January 26, 2008
This review is from: Mercier and Camier (Paperback)
*Mercier and Camier* may be my favorite work by Beckett--if not, then it's certainly on the shortlist. Indeed, it's one of my favorite novels of all time. Written around the period of *Waiting for Godot,* *Mercier and Camier* bears a good deal of similarity to Beckett's legendary play, except the two curmudgeonly protagonists of M&C are walking instead of waiting on futility.

Decrepit, degenerate, down-at-the-heels, Mercier and Camier are two mutually antagonistic friends who decide to set off one day on a journey. They're looking for something--or somewhere--but what they aren't exactly sure. They have a broken umbrella, one raincoat, a bicycle, and a sack between them. At one point or other, they lose, regain, and lose again even these scant belongings. Their laconic dialogue is peppered with insults, complaints, truncated rants, sarcasm, and, most of all, a confusion bordering on out-and-out senile dementia. They no sooner leave one station of their journey then they decide they must double back. It's always raining, or about to rain. As in a nightmare, for every two steps forward they seem to take two back. They don't get anywhere; which is apropos. They had no clue where they were going from the start.

Along the way, the two friends have various fallings-out and reconciliations, all over trivial matters. They come across various outlandish characters with whom they interact in the most oblique and frustrating of ways. They commit what should be a shocking act of senseless and unpremeditated violence which causes them to become fugitives--if they weren't fugitives already. But because of the dreamy surreality of the text that renders the emotional charge of murder equal to that of bickering about a fork in the road nothing seems more important than anything else and nothing seems important at all. Everything is flat-line, the same expanse of featureless gray.

Odd to say then that *Mercier and Camier* is a hilarious, slapstick novel--a read that will have you laughing out loud. On a universal scale, Beckett's gallows humor simply can't be topped. He's got the oft-mentioned "absurdity of the human condition" down the way no one has before or since. Slim, grim, and good for a grin, *Mercier and Camier* may be one of the most *perfect* novels ever written.


The Complete Short Prose of Samuel Beckett, 1929-1989
The Complete Short Prose of Samuel Beckett, 1929-1989
by S. E. Gontarski
Edition: Paperback
Price: $13.10
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Beckett erases himself..., January 24, 2008
This book brings together what is the lesser-known short prose of Samuel Beckett--a surprisingly small output for so long-lived and otherwise so prolific an author. From his first published story to his last gnomic writings, this collection of texts provides a kind of comprehensive chronicle of Beckett's developmental arc as a writer beginning with the surprisingly conventional *Assumption.*

These texts showcase Beckett both at his most human and his most "inhuman." His characteristic slapstick black humor is in full play through about half the book, but from *Texts for Nothing*--which strike me as a stunningly personal testament of depression and isolation just this side of the grave short of suicide--to the final *Stirrings Still* the writing takes on the terse impersonality of stage direction, which I can't help but think would be far more effective--and interesting--taken dramatized ((indeed as many of these texts have been staged)) than they are to read. Obsessively precise descriptions of nameless mute bodies standing, sitting, lying, etc. is interesting experimentally but eventually becomes mind-numbing on the page. These last texts of Beckett, leached and bleached of everything that heretofore one loved about and associated with Beckett, including Beckett himself, leaves one with the eerie sensation of having entered a room whose occupant has long since vanished. What one is watching in effect is Beckett's suicide--or self-erasure--in prose and if one takes the later writing in that context it is both a chilling testament to the human condition and the grimly logical "end game" indicated by all of his earlier work. Man is subtracted little by little until he's simply not there anymore--that seems to be the message of the ever diminishing momentum and presence of personality of Beckett's oeuvre as illustrated in *The Complete Short Prose.* It is, however, with regard to the final texts in this volume, far more rewarding to contemplate these existential suicide notes from a philosophical point of view than it is embodied in the form of prose.

Without question an important and rewarding book, *The Complete Short Prose of Samuel Beckett* is explanation itself why Beckett's short fiction is not as well-known or well-loved as his novels and plays. As a record, though, a sort of autobiography in fiction it can't be beat as a way to understanding the painfully compelling work of the last--and final?--true giant of world literature.


The Atrocity Exhibition
The Atrocity Exhibition
by J. G. Ballard
Edition: Paperback
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Your ticket to utter perversity..., January 18, 2008
*The Atrocity Exhibition* is a book so radically original in concept and execution it renders itself resistant to practically any attempt to rate it by ordinary standards. Lacking both conventional plot and characterization, bearing a structure closely resembling collage, and a syntax that sometimes seems to slip into a style reminiscent of automatic writing and word association, one might make the case that *Atrocity* is neither novel nor novella, neither entirely fiction nor entirely nonfiction--indeed, *The Atrocity Exhibition* represents a text outside any established genre whatsoever and therefore against what standard can you judge it, except, perhaps, the only relevant one: is it worth reading?

It is.

What you have here, basically, is a sort of literary assemblage loosely radiating around a dense gravitational core of obsessions--cultural, sexual, and psychological representative of the postmodern countdown to the anti-climactic nothing that took the place of the apocalypse we'd all been expecting.

The JFK assassination, the media representation of iconic Hollywood stars, the Vietnam war, the geometric sterility of highways and car parks, and the mythology of the American automobile as a symbol of speed, consumerism, sexuality, and the allure of violent death are some of the structuring themes around which *The Atrocity Exhibition* is built. Fans--or detractors--of Ballard's controversial *Crash* will find much of that later work prefigured here, but *The Atrocity Exhibition* is far more atrocious, far more deliciously tasteless than *Crash*, which, by comparison, now seems almost a "mainstream" novel.

Composed in an often flat, documentary style purposely reminiscent of a scientific paper, which, at times, it ostensibly is, *The Atrocity Exhibition* is one of the more extreme transgressive texts by a well-known author you're likely to read. In great part because Ballard employs real-life celebrities and historical personages as the victims of his x-rated brand of stylized violence and because of the matter-of-fact delivery of even the most outrageous sexual and political theories, the effect of *The Atrocity Exhibition* is in many ways even more shocking than, say, Burroughs's *Naked Lunch.* Ballard's fictional characters move through a surrealistic landscape of constantly shifting, never resolved, but always ominous aura, the borders between sanity and insanity, simulation and reality, fiction and fact open to interpretation. Is Ballard serious? Does he really mean the things he's saying? What's so disturbing is that one has to ask the question at all. There's a certain psychopathic truth to even the most radically insane theories proposed in *The Atrocity Exhibition,* the kind of simulacra of "truth" that is often inextricably wound into the schizophrenic rant of the insane. Is it possible that reality itself can't be rationally explained without recourse to insanity?

In this edition, Ballard has contributed sidebar annotations which are often every bit as thought-provoking as the text itself. Written from a perspective nearly three decades after the initial publication of *Atrocity,* Ballard's notes illuminate much of the circumstances and influences that inspired the text. It's striking how prescient Ballard was about events and trends that would eventually come to pass and how spot-on were his satiric takes on politics, media, war, and sex. *The Atrocity Exhibition* often reads like a prophetic text from an earlier time that eerily describes, even at its blackest, our obscene present--a sort of postmodern "Book of Revelation."

Hardly what one would call an "easy read," *The Atrocity Exhibition* requires attention and patience as well as a taste for experimentation and a connoisseur's palate for perversity. This book offers a feast for such readers, comparable to those super-exclusive restaurants of urban legend that serve Heart of Lion Medallions or Broasted Leg of B-movie Starlet--hard to find establishments, all-but-impossible to get into, certainly not for the hoi-polloi, but well worth the price of admission if nothing else can satisfy your jaded appetite. You've been warned. Here's your invitation to the Exhibition. Enjoy.


Erotism: Death and Sensuality
Erotism: Death and Sensuality
by Mary Dalwood
Edition: Paperback
Price: $14.01
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60 of 61 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sex, death, and violence--a high-falutin' theory of the good stuff..., January 14, 2008
If I had to pick one book for the Bataille newbie, it would be this one. *Erotism* puts forth the crux of Georges Bataille's critical thought in what is its clearest and most forthright expression. Here the man once called "the theoretician of evil" lays out for the educated layman his controversial and challenging views of the interrelationship of sexuality, violence, taboo, suffering, mysticism, and death. Most of the major ideas found in Bataille's more complicated philosophical works such as *The Accursed Share* are distilled here, as well as the philosophical underpinning of the infamous novels *Madame Edwarda* and *The Dead Man.*

Bataille is always perversely entertaining, if sometimes frustrating, having a facility to cast even the most lurid subjects in a language that can render pornography intellectually impenetrable. The problem is partly due to the fact that Bataille's main concern is to elucidate what he calls "extreme states of being," those experiences at the very limit of human possibility such as orgasm, visions, and death--phenomenon that philosophy has traditionally left out of the equation when considering human life. Because these extreme experiences are often irrational--or transcend rationality, as Bataille would prefer it--they usually fall outside the natural scope of philosophy, as well as language itself. Bataille, who tries to write about these inner states on the outer edge, can only do so by ultimately failing, which he readily acknowledges is necessarily the fate of anyone who tries to express the inexpressible.

In *Erotism,* Bataille, for the most part, confines himself to saying what can be said before it becomes unspeakable and that's what makes this book so much more readable than most of his other texts. Taboo as that which sets us apart from the animal and yet is meant to be transgressed in order that we may know the sacred. Sacrifice as a communal "crime" by which we contemplate the deathless state of continuity that is death itself. Work as the dike that keeps humanity from being swept away in a flood of sex and violence. Bataille follows the red thread that zig-zaggedly stitches together man's age-old fascination with sexual transgression and violent death. From the cave paintings of prehistory to the novels of Sade, from Saint Theresa's pseudo-sexual ecstasy to the Kinsey Report, the result is a wide-ranging and fascinating re-interpretation of the religious instinct in man from the point of view of our mortal obsession with filth and degradation. What Bataille has wrought is a philosophy of "evil" that itself is a thing of transgression, overturning much of what we thought we knew about morality, love, civilization, god, and all the rest of it, but most of all ourselves.

A sort of primer to Bataille, *Erotism* can be used as a skeleton key to access the treasures locked away in his more inaccessible works. A must-read for any philosophically inclined renegade interested in sex and death, *Erotism* justifies your morbid penchant for the corrupt and obscene. You really shouldn't have another orgasm without being cognizant of the insights to be found in this life-warping and mind-bending book.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 9, 2009 9:11 PM PST


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