Monday, June 1, 2009

Winnie and Wolf. Or, I Am Filled with Regret and Self-Reproach For Regret Upon Having Finished This Book.

PS Proceed only if you wish not to read—Winnie and Wolf, that is.

31 May 2009

First off, let’s be fair and acknowledge some things: 1) I was attracted by the book’s cover and decided to read it on the basis of this and of having read the author’s The Victorians.  2) My reading started off somewhat sceptical though optimistic because I had been reading this review by Terry Eagleton (note to self: big names do not mean trustworthy half-hearted recommendations).  3) Of Wagner I only know a handful of motifs, and I don’t know anything (really) about Nietszche, Schopenhauer, or anything about the ego in 19th c German philosophy—this kind of book might have been more meaningful to me if I’d had some deep knowledge of these things.  4) I’ve been reading this book painfully slowly over a period of months (finishing other books on the side) and willing myself to finish it.  I began to tell myself that I was reading it in order to write on it—to blog it—and so the blogging of it became my holy grail, to the extent that I developed a bit of a fear of blogging it after finishing it and began to procrastinate on blogging the book, as I had on finishing the book.  So now I’m blogging it.  I’m striking into the demon’s heart—if this were an age of paper, or an age of quills, I would say ‘with my pen,’ but no—I’m encoding the demon’s heart (is that a good thing, suppression? —I don’t understand this about movies that rejoice when a demon or villain has been bound and locked away—it’s only temporary—why is everyone celebrating?  Aren’t they worried the demon will come back again? They should be working, straightaway, on how to destroy the villain.  Or would a psychologist say this is unhealthy—that it’s necessary for one’s demons to have their allotted space, allotted boundaries, and that to conquer them is really to accept them?).  But what can one say about Winnie and Wolf?  As much as one can say about one’s parents, or any kind of persistent element in one’s life that isn’t particularly pleasant, but not altogether bad, either.

1 June 2009

Most of the time reading this book I was confused.  Also sometimes frustrated, because confused: I couldn’t figure out the author’s intention.  It was really difficult to say if/where Wilson was using his narrator as a mouthpiece and where he was using him as simply provocative, or unreliable.  An author could, of course, do all three, but I think the problem with Wilson’s narrator is that most of the time he appears reliable (indeed, Eagleton’s review takes the narrator for Wilson), so that when some attention is drawn to the possibility of some distance between himself and Wilson in contexts which don’t appear more thematically significant than others, things just get confusing.  My sense of Wilson’s handling of the narrator is, I think, a converse articulation of what I feel is the novel as a thematic quicksand.  That is, there are some really interesting ideas in WW, but it seems that Wilson lays emphasis too wide across this set of ideas; or, those structural features that might make distinctions as to emphasis are either absent or have a sense of being absent or shallow about them.

Wilson perhaps covertly acknowledges his novel as nothing more than an artistic attempt when Hitler/Wolf tells the narrator “‘When you are older, you will understand that Parsifal is [Wagner’s] masterpiece.’”  And the narrator thinks of Parsifal,

it is an incoherent masterpiece, which touches dark places in an unintended way . . . it is an imperfect work of art.  But I never made the transition Wolf predicted.  I have never considered it a more interesting or more impressive thing than The Ring. (290) 

The narrator never makes “the transition” because to do so would be some breach of ethics in which (I’m guessing) Wolf’s hero-worship values would become validated/would validate the aesthetic worth (“masterpiece”) of a piece of art.  If the narrator (and not Wilson) is himself writing an incoherent but nonetheless in some way admirable manuscript, then I suppose his inability to exalt the incoherent piece of art over The Ring cycle is a sign that he is capable of recognizing what his MS should be, what his life story should be.  Perhaps Wilson is saying the same of his book? (Alright, alright, disclaimer here: this post is incoherent and in no way pretends to the virtues it finds lacking in said book.)



For 2 June 2009, after work.

Questions for tomorrow’s emetic sesssions: How much of the book’s faultiness is due to its potential as a sympathetic portrait of Hitler?  Can art avoid being political?  What is ‘German pride’ and why does Wilson seem so gung-ho about it?  And, is Wilson just trying to write a pretty history-book?  

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