The Casual Optimist

Books, Design and Culture

Midweek Miscellany


Purple Haze — A typically tangential literary collage about Conrad’s Heart of Darkness by Geoff Dyer:

The actual book is far stranger than accounts of it sometimes suggest. It’s a shame in a way that the book has become so famous as to dull our sense of this pervasive strangeness. Re-reading it now I find it scarcely less bizarre than when I plodded through it as a mystified seventeen-year-old (we were doing The Secret Agent for A-Level). What H. G. Wells wrote of Conrad’s earlier book, An Outcast of the Islands, also holds good for Heart of Darkness: “his story is not so much told as seen intermittently through a haze of sentences.”

Read the whole thing. Trapped on a boat, Dyer apparently wrote the piece in one night. You can almost hear him losing his mind.

Etiquette — Caleb Crain on criticism and the role of critics, at The Paris Review:

A non-question has recently preoccupied the literary corners of the Internet: How rude should a book critic be? I call it a non-question because its non-answer is the same as for people in social situations generally: it depends. It’s impossible to find a universal rule that licenses rudeness. There’s always going to be at least one observer who feels that a conflict could and should be handled politely. (And who knows? Insofar as politeness is a skill, maybe there’s always room for improvement.) Also, there’s always going to be at least one observer who describes as honest what others call rude… Only the particular questions are worth debating, and no matter how many questions like them you answer, you never reach a rule that has the purity of math. The most you can hope for is etiquette.

Hackery — Simon Kuper on the fantasy of being an artist, for the Financial Times:

Even if you are sure that it’s your vocation to make art, you are most likely wrong. For a start, if it was your vocation, you would probably have embarked on it aged 18 instead of making a living first. And even people who do devote their lives to their supposed vocation often discover that they aren’t good at it after all. As Nick Hornby writes in his memoir Fever Pitch, in a riff on the failed Arsenal footballer Gus Caesar: Gus must have known he was good, just as any pop band who has ever played the Marquee know they are destined for Madison Square Garden … and just as any writer who has sent off a completed manuscript to Faber and Faber knows that he is two years away from the Booker. You trust that feeling with your life … and it doesn’t mean anything at all.

The Sadness at the Heart of Dredd — A headline as brilliant as it is unlikely… Antonia Quirke reviews Dredd, also for the Financial Times:

Dredd has something absent from all recent action and science fiction films: sadness. How desperately The Dark Knight craved sadness!… The slow-mo moments in Dredd – imagined by the screenwriter Alex Garland and realised by cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle – aspire to the bluesy melancholy of the sequence when Joanna Cassidy as the doomed replicant Zhora goes crashing through the glass in Blade Runner: a moment that set the tone for all our hopes for science fiction on screen.

See also: Writer John Wagner talks to the Daily Record about his creation Judge Dredd.

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