Enjoy Thanksgiving with our menu of literary recipes:
Christmas Bonus: George Orwell’s Recipes for Plum Cake and Christmas Pudding
[Ed. note: The following citations come from one-star Amazon reviews of George Orwell's novel 1984. I think 1984 is an important dystopian work (although I think Huxley gave us a better book and a more accurate vision in his novel Brave New World). Anyway, I find myself fascinated by one-star Amazon reviews for some reason (see also: See also: Melville's Moby-Dick, Joyce's Ulysses and Markson's Wittgenstein's Mistress) and to be clear, I think some of the one-star reviews of 1984--including ones I cite here---make some pretty valid points (others are atrocious, of course). I've preserved the reviewers' unique styles of punctuation and spelling].
1984 is a fictional novel by George Orwell.
I don’t really like futuristic based books…
1984 might have been scary 100 years ago, but not now.
…the plot is fairly simplistic but with redundant lines. “Oceania has always been war with Eastasia.” “Freedom is slavery.” “Big Brother is watching you.” In other words, it was nothing but a lot of nonsensical fillers.
I truly believe that Orwell’s sole purpose for writing this novel was to encourage anarchy, and to convince his readers to be subordinate to authority.
The text was so long and unelaborate.
George Orwell is no wordsmith and his style of writing stinks and flows like verbal diarrhea.
i give this book one star i had to read it for class and i know it’s suposed to be a “classic” but god itis awful. first of all its NOTHING like the future is probly going to turn out. second of all every one says the aurthor george orwell is so trippy and wierd but i think he’s just trying to cover up for the fact that HE CAN’T WRITE. please george do us all a faver and stop writing books.
I am not at all intrested in the goverment. This may be part of the reason that I didnt like it.
I personally think big brother is the man.
It is crude, heavy-handed, superficial propaganda.
…a boring, unoriginal one-hit wonder who wanted to make a buck rehashing much-talked-of, much-written-of themes.
It is dark, depressing, and I finished reading it feeling like less of a human than when I started.
Quote from “1984”: “Humanity is nothing more than one man shoving another man’s face in the mud.” So, “1984” tells us that humans are completely useless and we have no reason to exist.
It was just thoughts of a sad man with perverse and suspicouis thoughts. The main character constantly dwelled on how horrible everything was and eventually how he was going to fight against it. But never did, unless you count having an affair and writing in a journal or buying an old paperweight.
Keep your dictionary handy.
I was greatly dissapointed with the redundent and unecessary words.
For me the book took a downword turn during the time where Winston started having a love affair with some girl.
…it doesn’t make any sense to think that a novel like this one is really any better than say, Michael Crichton or Stephen King.
The main character, Winston, daydreams about raping Julia, who later becomes his dirty mistress. Then about a hundred pages later, they get caught by the Thought Police, thrown into “prison,” and are brain washed. That’s pretty much what happens.
…and must we really keep reading in full detail the horror and disgust of Winston’s vericose veins?!
Today, his book is the modern bible of the paranoid disgruntled white male and other conspiracy nutcases.
Human beings are BETTER than this…
In addiction, the contradictions throughout the novel were frustrating.
On the surface it seems to be an interesting glance at the “future” that our grandparents envisioned. This however could not be farther from the truth. 1984 is in fact a lame, boring, and novel that attempts to be philosophical.
…a monumental ode to nothingness, an ideologically streamlined state of unbelievable being.
And please for the love of God don’t read that “Brave New World” book by Hoxley. It is twice as worse as 1984.
Last time I ever read a history book by this Orwell scrub. He doesn’t know a thing about the 80s. Not ONCE did he mention Def Leppard or Karma Chameleon.
Enjoy Thanksgiving with our menu of literary recipes:
Christmas Bonus: George Orwell’s Recipes for Plum Cake and Christmas Pudding
What are we to do with these spring days that are now fast coming on? Early this morning the sky was gray, but if you go to the window now you are surprised and lean your cheek against the latch of the casement.
The sun is already setting, but down below you see it lighting up the face of the little girl who strolls along looking about her, and at the same time you see her eclipsed by the shadow of the man behind overtaking her.
And then the man has passed by and the little girl’s face is quite bright
“Absent-minded Window-gazing” by Franz Kafka.
From the beginning of Leo Tolsoy’s attack on William Shakespeare, A Critical Essay on Shakespeare:
I remember the astonishment I felt when I first read Shakespeare. I expected to receive a powerful esthetic pleasure, but having read, one after the other, works regarded as his best: “King Lear,” “Romeo and Juliet,” “Hamlet” and “Macbeth,” not only did I feel no delight, but I felt an irresistible repulsion and tedium, and doubted as to whether I was senseless in feeling works regarded as the summit of perfection by the whole of the civilized world to be trivial and positively bad, or whether the significance which this civilized world attributes to the works of Shakespeare was itself senseless. My consternation was increased by the fact that I always keenly felt the beauties of poetry in every form; then why should artistic works recognized by the whole world as those of a genius,—the works of Shakespeare,—not only fail to please me, but be disagreeable to me?For a long time I could not believe in myself, and during fifty years, in order to test myself, I several times recommenced reading Shakespeare in every possible form, in Russian, in English, in German and in Schlegel’s translation, as I was advised. Several times I read the dramas and the comedies and historical plays, and I invariably underwent the same feelings: repulsion, weariness, and bewilderment. At the present time, before writing this preface, being desirous once more to test myself, I have, as an old man of seventy-five, again read the whole of Shakespeare, including the historical plays, the “Henrys,” “Troilus and Cressida,” the “Tempest,” “Cymbeline,” and I have felt, with even greater force, the same feelings,—this time, however, not of bewilderment, but of firm, indubitable conviction that the unquestionable glory of a great genius which Shakespeare enjoys, and which compels writers of our time to imitate him and readers and spectators to discover in him non-existent merits,—thereby distorting their esthetic and ethical understanding,—is a great evil, as is every untruth.
Tolstoy spends most of the rest of the (long) essay showing why he believes King Lear a terrible piece of literature. His rubric is of course terribly subjective, aesthetic, and perhaps ultimately rooted in his own literary mission of realism and social reform—but what I find most remarkable is that, despite all his claims to have read and reread Shakespeare (in English, Russian and German!) he never mentions actually watching a performance of the play.
I read Tolstoy’s gripes last night and felt the need (why?!) to reply, but found this morning that George Orwell already did so. From Orwell’s rebuttal to Tolstoy, “Lear, Tolstoy and the Fool“:
Artistic theories such as Tolstoy’s are quite worthless, because they not only start out with arbitrary assumptions, but depend on vague terms (‘sincere’, ‘important’ and so forth) which can be interpreted in any way one chooses. Properly speaking one cannot answer Tolstoy’s attack. The interesting question is: why did he make it? But it should be noticed in passing that he uses many weak or dishonest arguments. Some of them are worth pointing out, not because they invalidate his main charge but because they are, so to speak, evidence of malice. . . .
There is no argument by which one can defend a poem. It defends itself by surviving, or it is indefensible. And if this test is valid, I think the verdict in Shakespeare’s case must be “not guilty”. Like every other writer, Shakespeare will be forgotten sooner or later, but it is unlikely that a heavier indictment will ever be brought against him. Tolstoy was perhaps the most admired literary man of his age, and he was certainly not its least able pamphleteer. He turned all his powers of denunciation against Shakespeare, like all the guns of a battleship roaring simultaneously. And with what result? Forty years later Shakespeare is still there completely unaffected, and of the attempt to demolish him nothing remains except the yellowing pages of a pamphlet which hardly anyone has read, and which would be forgotten altogether if Tolstoy had not also been the author of WAR AND PEACE and ANNA KARENINA.
Unsure of how to “review” David Marson’s last novel The Last Novel, I here provide a series of citations from said novel with my own brief comments. The citations are organized not by theme or idea, but rather simply by the order in which they appear in the book, from first to last. My intention is to provide a clear picture of Markson’s method with some brief commentary on his themes.
By way of recommendation: The Last Novel engrossed and obsessed me, commanding most of my attention for four days, during which time I read it twice and then picked at again and again, as one might return to the generous leftovers of a Thanksgiving meal.
I hope I have not strained the limits of copyright law with my citations of Markson’s citations. To wit, from the colophon:
Copyright © 2007 by David Markson
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the Publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
The last novel / David Markson.
1. Novelists—Fiction. 2. Fiction—Authorship—Fiction.
3. Psychological fiction. I. Title.
Is The Last Novel fiction? Does this question matter? “Fiction–Authorship–Fiction” — this seems like a fair descriptor.
Our author, by way of summary, announces his themes, his name, and his prophetic conclusion:
Old. Tired. Sick. Alone. Broke.
All of which obviously means that this is the last book Novelist is going to write.
And now his method, followed by two examples of said method:
Nonlinear. Discontinuous. Collage-like. An assemblage.
I do not see why exposition and description are a necessary part of a novel.
Said Ivy Compton-Burnett.
I am quite content to go down to posterity as a scissors and paste man.
And a comment on that method, and Novelist’s textual place in it:
A novel of intellectual reference and allusion, so to speak minus much of the novel.
And thus in which Novelist will say more about himself only when he finds no way to evade doing so, but rarely otherwise.
On the first theme announced, “Old”:
Rereading a Raymond Chandler novel in which Philip Marlowe stops in for a ten-cent cup of coffee.
Old enough to remember when the coffee would have cost half that.
A citation that seems to hold all the themes, but especially “Sick” and “Broke”—-and then a Renard citation that fits Markson (or “Novelist,” if you prefer) into a grand tradition of starving artists:
The bleak image Novelist is granted of himself as he asks a question of a local pharmacist — and becomes aware of the woman contemplating the conspicuously threadbare and even ragged ends of his coat sleeves.
Writing is the only profession where no one considers you ridiculous if you earn no money.
Said Jules Renard.
Moments in which Novelist does something like leaving his desk to retrieve a book from across the room — and finding himself staring vacantly into the refrigerator.
Or tossing his keys into a drawer — without having opened the drawer
Markson instructs us how to read his work, and at the same time makes a grand grab at glory; he then moves to reflect on death, and perhaps a fear of going unread, before pointing out the sublime powers of art :
Novelist’s personal genre. For all its seeming fragmentation, nonetheless obstinately cross-referential and of cryptic interconnective syntax.
Wondering why one is surprised to realize that Thoreau was dead at forty-five.
A lament of Schopenhauer’s:
Over how frequently the mere purchase of a book is mistaken for the appropriation of its contents.
Two pages of The Mill on the Floss are enough to start me crying.
The intersection of commerce and art and madness (or, really, I just like this citation):
Because bookshops are among the very few places where one can spend time without spending any money, George Orwell noted, any number of practically certifiable lunatics are guaranteed to be regularly found in most of them.
My least favorite reading experience of all time is Clarissa:
The endless commentary, and analysis, and even retelling, in Clarissa. Anyone reading it just for the story would hang himself, Johnson said.
A good definition, but also a sideways description of entering The Last Novel:
Thinking with someone else’s brain.
Schopenhauer called reading.
Markson is fond of the dependent clause as a stand-alone thought. He often lets the reader complete the sentence, or, as below, responds perhaps obliquely with another citation—his synthesis is subtle but always in play:
Reviewers who have accused Novelist of inventing some of his anecdotes and/or quotations — without the elemental responsibility to do the checking that would verify every one of them.
Asking a working writer what he thinks about critics is like asking a lamppost what it feels about dogs.
Said John Osborne.
The Last Novel is in part a work of canon-formation, one that situates Markson’s place in arts and letters; it is often angry or bitter, as he tries to situate being “Alone” and “Broke” into a historical tradition of suffering writers:
Another of Novelist’s economic-status epiphanies:
Walking four or five blocks out of his way, and back, to save little more than nickels on some common household item.
While needing to stop to rest at least two or three times en route.
Writers are the beggars of Western society.
Said Octavio Paz.
There is no way of being a creative writer in America without being a loser.
Said Nelson Algren.
Markson repeatedly reveals his anxiety of influence: Where and how will he be remembered when he dies?:
Old enough to have started coming upon likenesses on postage stamps of other writers he had known personally or had at least met in passing.
Occasionally in The Last Novel, because he doesn’t always attribute his citations, it’s unclear to me if a string of sentences are original to Markson or not. Markson describes his method again:
A seminonfictional semifiction.
And with its interspersed unattributed quotations at roughest count adding up to a hundred or more.
A note on book theft, germane to (the original mission of) this website:
Please return this book. I find that though many of my friends are poor mathematicians, they are nearly all good bookkeepers.
Read Walter Scott’s bookplate.
A dependent clause:
Reviewers who protest that Novelist has lately appeared to be writing the same book over and over.
Again, the intersection of economics, art, and how we honor and remember genius (with the implicit underlying anxiety over Markson’s own fate):
Before the Euro, the portrait of Yeats on Ireland’s twenty-pound note.
America’s Whitman twenty-dollar bill, when?
The Melville ten?
I think the Melville ten is a grand idea. I’d put Hawthorne on the twenty and Emerson on the penny.
A quirky new impulse of Novelist’s, at news of several recent deaths — Dialing the deceased, in the likelihood that no one would have yet disconnected their answering machines — and contemplating their voices one eerie final time.
The voice of an agitated colleague? Friend? Student? Is the quote a composite of complaints? Is it verbatim?:
Listen, I bought your latest book. But I quit after about six pages. That’s all there is, those little things?
Many of us have wondered:
Why did Harper Lee never write another novel?
It is possible she never wrote that first one.
Again, money and writers:
America’s Emily Dickinson dime?
We could put Thoreau on the nickel and Poe on the fifty.
Conclusions as a kind of interception; the author offstage, off scene, ob skena — obscene:
Novelist’s personal genre. In which part of the experiment is to continue keeping him offstage to the greatest extent possible — while compelling the attentive reader to perhaps catch his breath when things achieve an ending nonetheless.
Conclusions are the weak point of most authors.
George Eliot said.
If you know what you’re doing, you don’t get intercepted.
Said Johnny Unitas.
I feel like I’ve skated over the book, failed to plumb it at all: But I also protest that the book is a work of autocriticism, a work that decenters its themes, bats them around, analyzes them, tosses them back to the reader, sometimes bitter, sometimes melancholy, always erudite and engaging.
I cite from the end now. Can the end be spoiled? Markson tells us this is his last, that he will die (“Old. Tired. Sick. Alone. Broke.”). He dies a few years after the publication of The Last Novel. (He dies on the day my son is born, or, rather, his body is found on the day my son is born. He is very much alone. The New York Times publishes his obituary on my birthday). The novel ends with a series of citations that mull on death:
Dispraised, infirm, unfriended age.
Sophocles calls it.
Unregarded age in corners thrown.
And what it means to be an artist, a writer, a critic, to write in and on and through others’ books:
The worn copy of Donne’s verses, inked throughout with notes in Coleridge’s handwriting. And at the rear:
I shall die soon, my dear Charles Lamb, and then you will not be sorry that I bescribbled your book.
Life as pain, death as transcendence:
Then come kiss me, sweet-and-twenty,Youth’s a stuff will not endure. Be patient now, my soul, thou hast endured worse than this.
Odysseus once says.
Mais où sont les neiges d’antan? Is it true then, what they say — that we become stars in the sky when we die?
Asks someone in Aristophanes.
Banal signage or access to ascension?:
Access to Roof for Emergency Only.
Alarm Will Sound if Door Opened.
To reiterate and move on:
Old. Tired. Sick. Alone. Broke.
The old man who will not laugh is a fool.
Als ick kan.
Stuart McMillen’s webcomic does a marvelous job of adapting (and updating!) Neil Postman’s famous book-length essay, Amusing Ourselves to Death, which argues that Aldous Huxley’s vision of the future in Brave New World was ultimately more accurate than the one proposed by George Orwell in 1984. (Via).
Christopher Hitchens on George Orwell’s Animal Farm in this weekend’s issue of The Guardian. From the essay:
It is sobering to consider how close this novel came to remaining unpublished. Having survived Hitler’s bombing, the rather battered manuscript was sent to the office of TS Eliot, then an important editor at Faber & Faber. Eliot, a friendly acquaintance of Orwell’s, was a political and cultural conservative, not to say reactionary. But, perhaps influenced by Britain’s alliance with Moscow, he rejected the book on the grounds that it seemed too “Trotskyite”. He also told Orwell that his choice of pigs as rulers was an unfortunate one, and that readers might draw the conclusion that what was needed was “more public-spirited pigs”. This was not perhaps as fatuous as the turn-down that Orwell received from the Dial Press in New York, which solemnly informed him that stories about animals found no market in the US. And this in the land of Disney . . .
From the OED:
“A writer of satires or lampoons; applied to Timon of Phlius (268 BC).
1845 LEWES Hist. Philos. I. 77 His state of mind is finely described by Timon the sillograph. 1849 GROTE Hist. Greece II. xxxvii. IV. 526 The sillograph Timon of the third century B.C.
So sillographer, sillographist.
1656 BLOUNT Glossogr., Sillographer, a writer of scoffs, taunts and revilings; such was Timon. 1775 ASH, Sillographist. 1845 Encycl. Metrop. X. 393/1 Menippus indeed, in common with the Sillographers, seems to have introduced much more parody than even the earliest Roman Satirists.”
Famous sillographers include:
Timon of Philius (as noted above)