1. Art Spiegelman’s new comic autobiography Breakdowns is out and looks great. I don’t have room for the fairly gigantic book in my apartment, so I’ll have to read it at Barnes and Noble. You’ll find me in the Graphic Novels aisle.

2. Dan Green went and called Fyodor Dostoevsky “a terrible writer” over at his Reading Experience blog, prompting James Wood and many others to respond. Good stuff all around, though it gets a bit unhinged as these discussions often do. Based on my scoresheet, James Wood (in defense of Dostoevsky’s greatness) wins the argument by a wide margin. Admittedly not a hard argument to win.

3. Why Are Literary Readings So Excruciatingly Bad? Personally, I don’t think they have to be. My recipe for a good reading: add some poetry, some music and a lot of spontaneity and everybody will have a good time.

4. First Dan Green calls Dostoevsky a “terrible writer” and now A. N. Wilson is dismissing Jean-Paul Sartre as a quaint relic? Frank Wilson takes a few punches too (“Good riddance”) but I’m going to stand up for old Wall-Eyes. I do agree with both Wilson brothers (not really brothers, I don’t think) that Sartre can be a horribly boring writer, and that his novel Nausea is pretentious. However, his play No Exit (source of the line “Hell is other people”) stands the test of time and remains widely read. The diagrammatic comedy about Hell with cheap French furniture has also influenced many of our best playwrights, including Harold Pinter, David Mamet, Tom Stoppard and Peter Shaffer. Sartre’s brisk and mercifully short autobiography The Words also remains a popular read.

It’s also not true, as A. N. Wilson suggests, that Jean-Paul Sartre’s philosophy is not taken seriously. His Marxism was extreme and does not weather well today, but his psychology, his observations on relational ethics, phenomenology, consciousness and race and gender remain highly respected among almost all serious readers of philosophy. He retains his standing among the top Existentialist thinkers, alongside Kierkegaard and Nietzsche on many readers’ lists.

5. We’ll miss Paul Newman (and my favorite Paul Newman movie has got to be The Sting). I remember John Cassady telling me that Paul Newman was always his choice to play his father Neal in any On The Road movie.

6. Every once in a while, Gawker does something really good. Here’s 20 Movies About the First Great Depression To Watch During the Sequel. This would actually make an amazing film festival and I wish Gawker would sponsor it. Points for including Ironweed.

7. And while we’re hanging around Gawker … does the combination of this and this suggest a modest downsizing at the NY Times Book Review?

8. Maud Newton in Oxford with a dictionary.

9. Tomorrow evening will bring the newest installment of our October exercise in literary/political analysis, the Big Thinking series. Our special guest will be either David Hume or Count Leo Tolstoy — we’re not yet sure which one, and we hope they don’t stand us up like John McCain did to David Letterman.

10. Phish is reuniting! The last time I saw them was in 2002, and they did seem creatively exhausted at the time. Hopefully the time apart has given these four highly inventive musicians new angles to explore.

Hmm … Obama as President, Phish back on tour and, get this, Axl’s really going to release the new album. Maybe 2009 won’t be so bad.

10 Responses

  1. Newman’s best film is the
    Newman’s best film is the Verdict. Nietzsche’s easy to read, compared to other philosophers. Hubert Selby jr. must’ve read Dostoyevsky.

  2. On number 2…

    I don’t think
    On number 2…

    I don’t think many would agree that Dostoevsky is a terrible writer, but I think it’s useful to look into the semantics of terrible and great, especially given your recent article on Wittgenstein.

    There are two things for me that make a novel great, substance and style. By substance i mean the themes and morals and content and what a book means. By style I mean how artfully the writer crafts his or her sentences.

    Dostoevsky, for me, has the substance in spades but isn’t the greatest stylist in the world. I love his themes and what he makes me think about, yet I think he tends to be longwinded at times and does some things a writer should never do (e.g. switching to second person and addressing the reader). Some of my complaints against his style might be due to the fact I’m reading a translation, I admit.

    I’ll take Steinbeck and Fitzgerald and Hemingway (a great lover of the Russians) as stylists any day.

  3. I can’t get myself to read to
    I can’t get myself to read to Sartre. It reminds me of angst which I don’t handle well. I think Dostoevsky is fantastic. One of my favorite books is the Brothers Karamazov.

    The Art Spiegelman book looks fantastic. Why don’t you try and borrow it from the library. Barnes and Noble is very much like a pact with a different kind of beast.

  4. Yes, ‘Cool Hand Luke’ is my
    Yes, ‘Cool Hand Luke’ is my favorite Paul Newman movie, too. A close second is ‘The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean’!

  5. I haven’t seen Newman in Hud.
    I haven’t seen Newman in Hud. It’s based on a novel by McMurtry [who did the screenplay for Brokeback Mountain and had another novel adapted for film, The Last Picture Show].

    The Hustler, Color of Money, and Cool Hand Luke are archetypes.

    As for Sartre, no one can write philosophically about freedom without addressing his arguments. Sartre liked Camus’s The Fall which, theme-wise, Cool Hand Luke reminds me of.

    I want to read the new translations of Dostoyevsky because I have only read The Double and Notes From Underground and never made it through Crime and Punishment or Bros. Karamazov.

    I’ve only read Tolstoy’s How Much Land A Man Needs. People have told me that Hume’s denial of causality is unnerving. It’d seem in the postmodern age that Hume would get more press.

  6. Hume should get more press
    Hume should get more press due to deconstruction’s re-reading and search for meta-narratives postmodern skepticism denying all fundamental beliefs, what Wittgenstein called river-bottom propositions.

  7. Sartre left a massive oeuvre.
    Sartre left a massive oeuvre. In my opinion his pieces for theatre are the most enduring, and certainly the most accessible. Huit Clos – No Exit, Les Mouches – The Flies, and Les Mains Sales – Dirty Hands are all, as Bill Ectric would say, “top notch”.

    Also Les Chemins de la Liberté – The Paths of Liberty – is interesting if long.

    He also did some interesting critical work on Baudelaire and Genet.

    And he was an engaged philospher, willing to go to the sreets for a cause.

    It is no secret that Sarte was a marxist. What is interesting is that when he died, thousands of people filled the streets of Paris for his funeral. In France, he was a respected intellectual and philosopher. If he had lived in the US during the same time period, he would have been in jail for being a communist.

  8. Walter Kaufmann: philosopher
    Walter Kaufmann: philosopher extraordinaire, nietzschean afficionado, a man, if without, perhaps Nietzsche does not become the literary jailbait that makes us philosophers cringe.

    Kaufmann said (paraphrase): Nietzsche, when compared to all philosophers, it by far the easiest to read; but, Nietzsche, when compared to philosophers, is the most difficult to understand.

    Perhaps Nietzsche said it best in the following aphorism from The Gay Science :

    (173) “Those who know that they are profound strive for clarity. Those who would like to seem profound to the crowd strive for obscurity. For the crowd believes that if it cannot see to the bottom of something it must be profound. It is so timid and dislikes going into the water.”

    He also states somewhere, I believe in The Birth of Tragedy, that the Greeks were deep because of their superficiality. This probably has something to do with the pre-Socratic idea of wonder versus the philosophical encouraging of curiosity (Plato and beyond)- espoused and analyzed, most notably, by Martin Heidegger.

    Jean Paul Sartre : Levi, I have worked in a few philosophy departments, through these experiences, as well as other philosophy circle interactions, I have found that Sartre is not taken very seriously. Most departments, or students of philosophy, tend to fall into one of two categories: 1) continental or 2) analytical. If it is the former you subscribe to, it is likely that you view sartre’s Being and Nothingness as a misinterpretation of Heidegger’s Being and Time. If it is the latter you enjoy, well, you aren’t going to be reading Heidegger or Sartre. Also, many seem to brush Sartre aside with the understanding that his ideas of responsibility and freedom were politically inspired, therefore not genuinely philosophical, hence pushing him aside into literary-philosophy categories … alongside Camus. Politically inspired verses picked from some other well spring of information?

    Even if Being and Nothingness was a misinterpretation of Being and Time, so what? Being and Nothingness still has much to offer, as do No Exit, Nausea, The Wall, and many of his essays.

    A fun side note : I live in Los Gatos, CA. Many of you may recollect that Neal Cassady lived in Los Gatos. I found out the other day that my therapist (let’s call her Pam), as a young child, lived next door to Neal Cassady. She would sit on his lap, listening (with little apprehension). Cassady would take her around the neighborhood, in whatever car he was driving, Pam on his lap, allowing 5-6 yr old girl to steer and maneuver the vehicle. Pam would walk around her little community with underwear stretched over her head, going door-to-door, introducing herself. Neal and his wife, seeing this, quickly invited her inside, thinking such an oddity as magnificent. I can only hope that one of these meeting between Neal and Pam included our intrepid hero, Jack.

    Pam also remembers the days she was not allowed over, usually happening the day of Neal’s return, a day following a few of absence, a day of most probable “coming down.” Neal would sit in his chair, room darkened, and demand silence and solitude.

    My therapist’s formative years were spent absorbing the inexactitudes of Cassady. Perhaps this illuminates, if only fractally, or proportionately, not only why I enjoy the company of my therapist, but why she entertains and supports my peripatetic-peninsular-strange-attractor-super-positioned travels.

    Maybe up to City Lights today to sit in the chair that Neal once occupied.

  9. Levi, Have you seen Michael
    Levi, Have you seen Michael Moore’s newest film, “Slacker Uprising?” I’m watching it right now. Lot of great music (Eddie Vedder, Steve Earle, etc), and some great political insight to what went wrong last time.

    Free online here:

    I feel funny now, thinking about the Bush Presidency. These last eight years have pretty much sucked for sure. But did we have to get this far down before we got someone good, someone who could lift the country back up again?

    Did we NEED George Bush to move our country forward?

    I shiver at the thought. But it’s possible.

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Litkicks will turn 30 years old in the summer of 2024! We can’t believe it ourselves. We don’t run as many blog posts about books and writers as we used to, but founder Marc Eliot Stein aka Levi Asher is busy running two podcasts. Please check out our latest work!