well, what did you expect from an opera? (truegrit) wrote in 50bookchallenge,
well, what did you expect from an opera?
truegrit
50bookchallenge

visions

last reviews of 2009...

53.


Memory of Fire: Genesis
by Eduardo Galeano
genre: history/literature

54.


Memory of Fire: Faces and Masks
by Eduardo Galeano
genre: history/literature

With the "Memory of Fire" trilogy (I haven't read the third book yet), Galeano combines anthropology, data, first-hand accounts, myth, song and literature to create nothing less than a complete history of the Americas, from Columbus' landing to the late 20th century. Galeano pointedly eschews the idea of a history book as something dry, staid and 'authoritative' - these books are emotional, intimate and pointedly political; he writes in a lush and literary style, and he focuses primarily on Latin America and also primarily on the experiences of slaves, laborers and those who otherwise aren't included in the histories of the victors. For example, he spends as much time on Benjamin Franklin's sister as on Franklin himself, and he gives much more space to Tupac Amaru than to George Washington. So of course, there's a wealth of amazing stories here - like, the story of Palmares, a hidden community of escaped slaves; or, the life of the early Mexican poet Sister Juana Inés de la Cruz; or, Cuba's late 19th-century war of independence.

By trying to relate history in an evocative or poetic way, Galeano often elides the sort of nuts-and-bolts reporting that can be important to understanding history; there were several times when I found myself thinking "Hmm, this is an interesting person/place/event - I'll have to look it up on Wikipedia later" - that's probably not exactly how you want to feel while reading a history book. Well, so it goes - it seems like every page of this project has some sort of amazing piece of information or beautiful bit of writing; it's hard to think of it as anything other than a masterpiece (at least, I'm assuming I'll still feel that way after I've read all three books).

sum-up: Truly remarkable


55.


Out From Under: Texts By Women Performance Artists
edited by Lenora Champagne
genre: drama/art/women's studies

This is a (ca. 1990) collection of the written components of performance artworks, featuring the likes of Laurie Anderson, Karen Finley and Holly Hughes. I was excited about this book - I love performance art, feminist art and the like - but I ended up somewhat disappointed: a lot of the writing here felt pretty myopic, or self-serving, or generally aimless. Another problem, and this isn't really the book's fault, is that a lot of this work just doesn't translate well into writing. For example: Rachel Rosenthal's "My Brazil" was performed as a combination of spoken-word, music and dance; in this book, we're basically left with the words that were spoken in the spoken-word part - we don't even get to hear how they were spoken. Naturally, the experience is a bit lacking.

That said, this book is valuable as documentation of what is perhaps an under-documented art form/art movement, and contains some great moments - I'm actually very glad I read this book, disappointing though it was.

sum-up: Valuable, if underwhelming


56.


In the Shadow of the Silent Majorities
by Jean Baudrillard
genre: critical theory

57.


America
by Jean Baudrillard
genre: critical theory

58.


Cool Memories II
by Jean Baudrillard
genre: critical theory

Jean Baudrillard (1929-2007) was one of the primary philosophers of contemporary postmodernism: he combined ideas from classical philosophy, psychology, theology and, deployed like a sort of secret weapon, metaphors from the natural sciences to structure his concepts of simulacra and hyperreality and such. Towards the end of his life, his work was introduced to a wider/non-academic audience thanks to the "Matrix" movies, which were heavily influenced by his writings and function as a sort of literal illustration of some of his theories of technology, simulated reality and the role of the mass media. As a reader, I think that with Baudrillard and similar writers, everything has to be taken with a grain of salt, or a big handful of salt, even: you have to accept that these theories may be basically unstable and certainly idiosyncratic - more like personal musings or poetry than anything. Still, I think that Baudrillard had a very sharp sense of the modern world, and it's remarkable how some of his writings from the 1980s prefigure more recent ideas around things like the Internet and terrorism.

"In the Shadow of the Silent Majorities" (1983) is ostensibly about the difficulties of identifying the will or beliefs of 'the masses' - it seems a tad obscure at first, but it ends up actually feeling quite relevant, especially as it considers some of the political consequences of its particular vision of mass culture... In "America" (1986), Baudrillard gives his impressions of the U.S., focusing especially on the endless expanses of the desert, the wild "verticality" of New York City, the manifest realities of California. I was worried that this would be essentially an educated, 'cultured' European thumbing his nose at the excesses of American culture - it has some of that, to be sure, but Baudrillard's interpretation isn't so simple. As he puts it:

"I went in search of astral America, not social and cultural America, but the America of the empty, absolute freedom of the freeways, not the deep America of mores and mentalities, but the America of desert speed, of motels and mineral surfaces."

In other words, he's more interested in figuring out the spiritual or emotional meaning of America, and his observations feel refreshing and uniquely insightful. "Cool Memories II" (1990) - part of a series - is sort of like a diary or intellectual sketchbook, made up of notes and fragments. For example: "At the Festival of Dreams and Secondary Processes, all the talk was of the flat liquid crystal encephalograph". Um, okay. The overall effect is that of taking already-obscure concepts and making them even less accessible. But, there are some beautiful moments, like this passage:

"As an allegory rather than a utopia, an allusion rather than an illusion, desire was for a whole generation something of a guiding star. Today it is merely an observation satellite."

sum-ups:

In the Shadow...: Worthwhile
America: Worthwhile
Cool Memories II: Good for completists

one more entry to go...
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