A man with a noticeably long neck and a plaited cord around his hat instead of a ribbon boards a crowded bus called the S bus. Each time the bus makes a stop, his neighbor steps on his foot, prompting conflict. When a seat opens up, however, he takes a seat. Two hours later, the man is found with a friend, who tells him his coat needs a new button.
Raymond Queneau’s 1947 avant-garde novella Exercises in Style retells that exact banal story in ninety-nine different ways. Examples of this include the chapter ‘Cockney’, written as if told in a cockney accent; ‘Ode’, which tells the story as a musical composition; ‘Medical’, which explains everyday phenomena as if they applied to a doctor’s diagnostic criteria; ‘Onomatopoeia’, using words resembling sounds to narrate the story; ‘Comedy’, a three-act play; ‘Reactionary’, narrated by a politically conservative observer and; ‘Haiku’, which reduces the story to seventeen syllables. While many may see this as pointless and indubitably boring, Queneau’s book is nothing short of a triumph, demonstrating not only the vast possibilities of linguistic styles while storytelling, but also the power of language itself.
In a sense, Queneau’s story gains somewhat of a mythic quality throughout the book; by its mere retelling, the story metamorphoses from a completely average event into a legend of sorts, bound to secure itself stubbornly into the conscience of any reader. The reader is never given any reason to care for the characters; as a matter of fact, the reader never really figures out who the characters are at all. Moreover, the story itself says nothing interesting or significant whatever – it is as bare and trite as could possibly be. These factors should deter anyone from seeking in the story pleasure, but it remarkably does quite the opposite, with the tale becoming increasingly fascinating with each retelling.
Exercises is all about language and literary form; it thrives only as a result of its ambition in toying with different techniques and styles. Although a simple and quick read, Queneau succeeds tremendously in communicating his fervent love of language. The novel forces one to consider how they use language on a daily basis – what words they use, how they use them, how their thoughts are channeled into language, and how they build their narratives. It reminds one to consider their words more carefully and to explore alternate methods of speech and presentation. With incomparable zest and wit, Queneau’s Exercises in Style is an exemplary work of postwar French avant-garde literature and is bound to secure a place in the heart of every eccentric who dares open it.
Buy here: https://www.amazon.ca/Exercises-Style-Raymond-Queneau/dp/0811207897
By Benjamin J.N. Harrison
Infidelity is a common theme found throughout my favorite stories: Nichols’ The Graduate, Lean’s Brief Encounter, Anderson’s Rushmore, and now Radiguet’s 1923 The Devil in the Flesh, a disgustingly enjoyable wartime novella about the love affair between a fifteen-year-old boy and a married woman four years his senior.
While at times deplorable, the nameless protagonist of The Devil in the Flesh is a character many can relate to; perfectly embodying the lust and ambition of youth, he represents the adventure many of us seek, but never find. He skips school and lies to his parents constantly to visit the irresistible Marthe, an older married woman whose husband is off at war. The relationship begins in a relatively innocent fashion, with the protagonist sneaking around and lying like a typical mischievous teenager, but it grows serious when he discovers his imminent fatherhood. The entire novel reads as if scandal remains possible at any given moment; this creates a sense of urgency and excitement throughout, as if the reader is embarking themselves on some kind of perilous but extremely gratifying escapade.
The novel furthermore deals with themes of morality. The narrator and protagonist can be classified as amoral and obnoxious; with a scrupulous eye, he criticizes the most insignificant of things in other people. But based on his pretentious and cocksure nature, one must consider whether our protagonist is rude from genuine conviction or from mere bravado. Morality is also linked to themes of control and power within the novel; certain passages force one to question how much influence one should exert over another in a relationship, and when such influence becomes immoral. The protagonist clearly wields a considerable amount of power over Marthe, and while the morality of this is not often questioned directly, it sparks thought in the attentive reader’s mind.
Interestingly enough, The Devil in the Flesh is a romance novel written without much feeling; the sober and objective prose can at times read as if no love whatever is present. Although the narrator insists on his love for Marthe, it is sometimes difficult to believe, as the style is almost affectless. In this regard, the novel can read as if Marthe is a mere object of consideration for the protagonist - a philosophic experiment of sorts. While far too many lustful adolescents would perhaps love to be in the protagonist’s position, he seems to lack any emotional attachment, thus putting such desires into question.
Supposedly, Radiguet wrote The Devil in the Flesh as a fictionalized autobiography; one can only hope his affair ended on a lighter note than did that of the novel’s protagonist. The ending of Radiguet’s novel is heartbreaking and moving, despite (or perhaps as a result of) the prose’s apparent apathy.
Raymond Radiguet’s The Devil in the Flesh is a disturbing but clever novella; it deals with common themes, such as romance and morality, but renders them fresh with its objective storytelling and thought-provoking witticisms. It’s a tragedy Radiguet died only in his twentieth year; a prodigy endowed with exceptional literary ability at such a young age, one can only imagine how his style would have developed.
Buy here: https://www.amazon.ca/Devil-Flesh-Raymond-Radiguet/dp/0714534021
By Benjamin J.N. Harrison
Of all the novels I have read, perhaps none have better prepared me for adulthood than Patrick Süskind’s The Pigeon. Above anything else, I took away from the novel that middle-aged men are angry, depressed, and self-loathing; such emotions can be provoked by the most seemingly insignificant of things: a rip in one’s pants, a pigeon at one’s doorstep, a milk carton accidentally left unattended. These cause trouble enough to launch a man in his fifties into a heart attack; at least, that’s what Süskind would have you believe. Well, perhaps I am exaggerating a little. Of course, The Pigeon deals with the listed instances, but something lay much deeper behind the seemingly inappropriate reactions to such trivial events.
The Pigeon tells the story of Jonathan Noel, a friendless fiftysomething bank security guard in Paris. Throughout his life, Noel has become accustomed to abandonment; he lost his parents during World War II, and three months into his marriage, his wife left him for a Tunisian fruit merchant. Due to these experiences, Noel has adopted the philosophy that people are not to be depended upon; Noel seems content with his solitary life, however, and continues to lead it peacefully until the pigeon incident, a seemingly small event that thrusts Noel into a neurotic misery of sorts – an existential crisis, if you will.
One morning, when Noel leaves the room of his apartment, he encounters a small, red-taloned pigeon roosting in front of his door. This seemingly insignificant event is enough to unhinge Noel’s life into a chaotic angst; Noel’s entire life was leading to this moment; the last straw in his sanity, the one minor event that topples the pile of suppressed sorrows and angers. The rest of the novel centers around the aftermath of this event, following Noel through the span of one dismal day, as his sense of composure falters.
The Pigeon’s prose is subtle and lucidly told, but still retains its anxious dread; at under one hundred pages, one could complete the book within a mere hour or two. Among other things, the book explores the concept of a wasted life; it instils in the reader a fear of regret. Pessimistic and gloomy, The Pigeon does not compliment the reader; rather, it reminds one that when one does not seize an opportunity, the only person at fault is oneself. The Pigeon is a reminder that there will come a day when no more opportunities will exist, when one simply will not be able to achieve their goals in life. Unfortunately, far too many can relate to investing too much time in a dead-end relationship or job, only to crave deeply a risky escape and movement toward one’s dreams.
Moreover, The Pigeon explores the hatred that is often birthed by a mental breakdown; the downright cruel detestation Noel cultivates for his fellow man following the pigeon incident is, yes, ridiculous, but also far too real and far too human. Prior to his crisis, Jonathan envies the nomad he always sees across the street, but after, he is repulsed as he watches him do his business for all to see. When one suffers from mental pain, one can often feel as if one is the only person in the world feeling an anxiety that acute, resulting in a superiority complex of sorts.
The Pigeon is furthermore a novel that does not take itself all that seriously; sure, its subject matter is relatively mature, but the author does not completely abandon humor. There were quite a few instances of unexpected humor in this novel, some of which had me audibly chuckling to myself as I read. When a novel manages to communicate a fundamental aspect of the human condition while avoiding pretention, it succeeds.
With concise and unequivocal prose, Süskind tells the greatly enjoyable, albeit depressing, unfolding of a middle-aged man’s existential crisis. It demonstrates how one minor event can color one’s entire world. It reminds the young to seize opportunities and the old to blame themselves for not seizing opportunities. Süskind’s The Pigeon is memorable, pessimistic, and surprisingly funny.
Buy Here: https://www.amazon.ca/Pigeon-Patrick-Suskind/dp/0394563158
By Benjamin J.N. Harrison
Over the past few months, I have become increasingly interested in Argentine literature. Exploring the works of Jorge Luis Borges prompted me to traverse the country; I encountered Puig, then I met with Aira, and most recently I connected with Bioy Casares. What strikes me as particularly fascinating about literary tradition in Argentina is the apparent disdain for convention; although I have not read many novels from the country, those that I have were wholly divorced from those stringent exigencies of literature seemingly more prevalent up north. Adolfo Bioy Casares’ surreal and superb 1940 The Invention of Morel is no exception.
In an unspecified time, a fugitive from Venezuela hides on a deserted island and records his experiences in a diary; this nameless fugitive is intensely paranoid, racked with fear of being found by the police, though the reader never finds out the wrongs he has committed. The island he inhabits contains but three structures: a three-story building referred to as the museum, a chapel, and a swimming pool. Soon, the fugitive realizes that he is, in fact, not alone on the island; randomly, a large party of people who listen only to ‘Tea for Two’ and ‘Valencia’ arrive. Our protagonist is profoundly confused and he naturally hides, remaining dubious of the visitors’ intentions.
Gradually, the fugitive begins studying the people; at the beach each afternoon when the sun sets, he watches a dark-haired woman named Faustine, with whom he falls in love. One day, the fugitive attempts to converse with Faustine in a nonsensical ramble, but she merely looks ahead, paying no attention whatever to his words. Initially upset, the fugitive eventually realizes that she cannot perceive his presence; as a matter of fact, no one on the island can acknowledge the fugitive and his existence. By this point, the fugitive is deeply disturbed, a feeling exacerbated by his observation that the visitors go through the exact same actions each week, as if in some kind of never-ending loop. Since the people on the island are far too human and physical to be ghosts, the nameless protagonist fears he is going insane. His fears are furthered by other strange visions, like the presence of two suns in the sky during the day and two moons in the sky during the night.
It is not revealed until quite late in the novel that these beings are not people, but rather highly complex and life-like photographs of people; tangible photographs that capture the sensory and spiritual realities of those people. This truth is discovered when Morel, a tennis player, tells of his invention: a recording device he has been using to capture the actions of tourists he brought to the island in the span of one week. This machine is capable of reproducing sensory-dependent external reality by projecting the recordings onto the island, thereby leaving those captured to spend eternity looping through the same week.
Bioy Casares’ The Invention of Morel identifies key philosophical problems, most notably those of perception and consciousness; the novel meditates on whether reality is merely a creation of the mind, and, in an almost Cartesian fashion, if human sensory perception is truly accurate in experiencing the external world. Moreover, the novel poses some interesting questions on humans in relation to photography, such as: can consciousness be captured?, can one’s essence be captured in a photograph?, is it possible for one’s character to be reproduced with technology?, etc. Bioy Casares further explores the idea that one can continue to live on through the films and photographs they have been captured in, a position affirmed by the gargantuan influence film holds upon society. But even so, how much can one truly live on through their images? How much, if one has been consistently recorded throughout their lives, does one actually die? While The Invention of Morel was written nearly eighty years ago, it nonetheless proffers questions both philosophically fascinating and deeply relevant today.
The Invention of Morel also recounts a bizarre and tragic romance story; the fugitive is infatuated with Faustine, a woman who cannot interact with him, let alone acknowledge his existence. The two do not even live on the same plane of reality; the fugitive is essentially in love with a mere image. But when one confronts the philosophic questions Bioy Casares poses, one wonders just how fundamentally different being in love with an image is from being in love with another human.
Elegant, surreal, and profound, Bioy Casares’ The Invention of Morel is one of Argentina’s greatest literary triumphs. Transcending genre classification, the novel offers scenarios both strange and intensely thought-provoking. Aware that I am doing no justice to the novel’s greatness, I now turn to the eloquence of Octavio Paz to deliver my sentiments:
“The Invention of Morel may be described, without exaggeration, as a perfect novel…. Bioy Casares’s theme is not cosmic, but metaphysical: the body is imaginary, and we bow to the tyranny of a phantom. Love is a privileged perception, the most complete and total perception not only of the unreality of the world but of our own unreality: not only do we traverse a realm of shadows, we ourselves are shadows.”
Buy here: https://www.nyrb.com/products/the-invention-of-morel?variant=1094932045
By Benjamin J.N. Harrison and Mr. Puar
On Thursday, 28 February, SDSS’ Equinox Theatre premiered Roger & Hammerstein’s 1943 musical, Oklahoma! with zeal, a stellar live orchestra, and a dynamic cast. While the blue cast would perform on later dates, the yellow cast kicked things off. We had the pleasure of watching the latter in action, but unfortunately could not catch any performances of the former; it should thus be noted that the following critique will focus solely on the efforts of the yellow cast and crew.
It’s 1906 in the southern United States on land that would soon become the state of Oklahoma; Curly McLain, a local ranch hand approaches a young farm girl named Laurey Williams optimistically. The two are infatuated with each other, but are both too stubborn to admit it. It is established that there will be a box social later that evening, and when Curly offers to escort Laurey, she refuses, as she believes Curly hasn’t style enough to do so. Thus, the depraved and misanthropic Jud Fry seizes the opportunity and asks Laurey to the dance; her, being too afraid to turn him down due to his intimidating nature, accepts.
Meanwhile, Will Parker is eyeing Laurey’s friend, Ado Annie; he is from Kansas City, and announces that he has just won the exact sum of money necessary to marry her, based on her father’s wishes. However, a suave young French peddler named Alain L’Heureux has caught her attention; unfortunately, Parker has spent the sum on her wedding gifts and is no longer a front-runner for her groom. Thus, a competition for Annie’s love ensues.
Seeing as though this is a historical musical, it should firstly be noted that Equinox’s yellow cast succeeded in transporting one to the early 20th century south. The rustic set design, paired with the mostly accurate costuming, aided with propelling one back to the intended era, as did the performers’ vernacular and cadence. While most of the actors were consistent in the way they spoke and presented themselves, there were certainly a few performances in which the accents changed throughout; and though this did not ultimately influence our general view of the play, it certainly brought one out of one’s immersion.
Moreover, Oklahoma! was set entirely to music from SDSS’ own live pit orchestra, which is an achievement in and of itself. While watching, we were not aware of this fact, and assumed the soundtrack was pre-recorded; it was not until the middle of the play that we realized, to our surprise, that our assumptions were incorrect.
Although the staging of the play was mostly successful, one thing SDSS’ Oklahoma! suffered from was a lack of clear fight choreography; the combat scenes could have benefitted from more preparation and tighter direction, as they unfortunately came across as amateur. Of course, Benjamin approaches this with some bias, as his father is a professional stage fight choreographer.
In summation, watching SDSS’ yellow cast perform Oklahoma! was a greatly entertaining experience. Despite its flaws, the acting was generally well-prepared, the live music was superb, the time period was realized, and a significant amount of enthusiasm was demonstrated by the students.
Captain Marvel, Directed by Anna Boden & Ryan Fleck is the newest action packed superhero movie. the film follows Carol Danvers who becomes one of the most powerful heroes in the universe when Earth becomes a battle ground for a war between two alien races. It is the first marvel movie to feature a female as its lead hero. I enjoyed Captain marvel for its blast back to the 90s, humorous yet amazing fight scenes, and plot twists. As a long time fan of the movie I enjoyed the backstory that the movie gives us, but for newcomers it might not make as much sense. I found the majority of the movie to be background story for old marvel fans. I also liked how we get to explore Carol Danvers' origin story with her as she has no memory of her old life as a human. I enjoyed this movie quite a lot and would recommend to others who enjoy the marvel cinematic universe.
Various insightful reviews about books and movies.