Monday, February 21, 2005


So apparently Shakespeare was a crypto-Catholic, eh? Well that would explain a lot. Not that it means anything, even if true, of course. It would seem, in a sense, a pretty easy claim to make about just about anyone (so Derrida accuses Heidegger). And like the label of "cynic," not as unflattering as it might at first sound.

On another note (and in keeping with this blog's down to date policy) would anyone happen to recommend the Carole Angier biography of Primo Levi (as opposed to the other one)? The woman in the bookshop was nice enough to let me use her computer to "pull up the Amazon reviews." When I proceeded to tell her about blogs, she expressed the usual, entirely justifiable hesitancy, the feeling overwhelmed by just how much is out there. Which is, I suppose, precisely the reason to read blogs (I may have recommended a few). But might anyone else have any lines they like to use re: why those in the bookshop business should not be afraid of blogs (and afraid of Amazon)? To her great credit, she did mention the recent scandal concerning anonymous self-reviewers at that Bush-supporting, monolithic, bottom line-worshipping place. Or if the bookshop woman happens to stop by here, and cares to leave a comment of any sort, that would of course be most welcome.

I was able to locate one review in The New Republic (BugMeNot required), from whence the following sentences:

Angier's book is not a critical biography or an intellectual biography. It is an emotional biography.


Angier's approach will not appeal to everyone. She is unrelenting in her pursuit of the personal, and she can be mawkish. Though she comments very effectively on certain aspects of Levi's writing, anyone looking for literary criticism should look elsewhere. Her book has passages of much grace, but it is bloated. She assumes a broad base of knowledge about Levi's books, failing to adequately introduce much of his work. And her speculation about Levi's wife and mother is astonishingly one-sided, utterly lacking the sympathy with which she treats so many of the other figures in his life.

Most controversially, Angier confesses in the introduction that at times she has "felt or imagined the past from a story, or from an encounter." This is not as dubious as it sounds, because the chapters in which she does this form a sort of "shadow biography": they are set apart from the main text, with their headings in italics, and anyone wishing to avoid speculation about Levi's life could simply skip them. Angier comments that these chapters have an "unstable bond" with Levi, but her own relationship with them is slippery as well. By setting them apart from the text and emphasizing their reliance on guesswork rather than scholarship, she appears to disavow them; but at the same time she says that she believes these "irrational chapters" to be "more true" than the rational ones. Angier really does seem to believe that she has gotten inside Levi's head, and maybe she has. But her perceived intimacy with him dominates the book, leading to a sense that she is too close to her subject, whom she refers to throughout by his first name.

It strikes me that this is much like what Derrida does in Counterpath, with his 'postcards' set aside in grey boxes, separate from the "more rigorously philosophical" text written by Catherine Malabou, and yet more intimate, more easily written (in the spirit of Debord, perhaps), and ultimately, more interesting.

Update: Speaking of being more interesting, some more thoughts on the Shakespeare book, the everyday contempt for readers, London, life and death are here.

No comments: