Thursday, October 23, 2008

A is for Albee and Adoption

In order to facilitate an exhaustive weekly theme with no clear sight of a terminal, I have decided to designate every Friday as "Alphabet Day." Yes, I am fully aware it sounds lame. But facility is everything; it's even more than creativity. I will go through alphabet from A to Z, and will blog on something, anything beginning with that letter (see how broad it is).With this theme I can go through the alphabet repeatedly, and with 26 letters in the alphabet and 52 weeks in a year, I will make it through the alphabet in exactly twice in one year. So here's A:

A is for Albee. Edward Albee, the author of the highly successful, very influential play after which this blog is named: Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? He was one of the most prolific playwrights of the latter half of the twentieth century, having penned over 30 plays in almost 50 years, many of which are now considered classics. In 1966 Albee's most (in)famous play, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, was adapted to film by the great Mike Nichols; along with the shocking vulgarity (for its time) the popular appeal of the stage production was imported to screen, and incredibly all four of the movie's principle actors and actresses were nominated for Academy Awards, two of whom won: Elizabeth Taylor and Sandy Dennis.

Digression: Sandy Dennis, 'that mousy type', is worth seeing in this movie: there is a scene near the beginning of the film where she reacts to a shotgun pointed in her general direction. She exhibits, in less than a few seconds, the two extremes of human emotion: her hysterical laughter (ecstasy) becomes utter terror (agony). It's like seeing the personified version of the Greek masks for comedy and drama. Its my favorite moment in the movie.

SPOILER! (read no further if you plan on ever reading the play and/or seeing the play and/or movie). A is for adoption. Albee was adopted, and like most adopted kids (and non-adopted for that matter) he had issues. The big secret, the big punchline of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is that the couple played by Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor hate, loathe, and despise one another because they are unable to have children, and for some reason this has lead to mental breakdown in the case of the wife, and a cold, uncaring, steel heart in the case of the husband. They, possibly, should have adopted to stave off the disintegration of their marriage as a result of its inability to reach the desired end of becoming a mother and father.

A is for Albee and Adoption, because Albee himself was adopted, and seems to have exorcised his demons from himself in writing Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Aesthetic of Fire in (Two Books By) Joyce Carol Oates

Joyce Carol Oates, to my knowledge, has never been suicidal. In fact she once wrote an essay characterizing Sylvia Plath as a personified argument against suicide. But, JCO is a living writer and thus falls under one of the categories of this blog. Her writings are profuse and diverse in form, subject and genre (she sometimes writes under the pseudonym Rosamond Smith in other genres), and she occasionally writes about boxing, a sport on which she is an expert. She has written over 50 novels and novellas, only a fraction of which I have read, and I am going to "review" one novel, 1993's "Foxfire" (which was turned into a horrendously bad movie), and one novella, 2002's "Beasts," both by JCO.

Both "Foxfire," and "Beasts" are in the tradition of Flannery O'Connor in terms of shocking 'out-of-the-blue' violence and equally shocking grotesque imagery, but while "Foxfire," is in certain places more akin to O'Connor, "Beasts," seems in places more akin to the mysterious Gothic of Hawthorne and Poe: gritty day/ debauched night (?). I will just say flat out, right now: both books are great reads, in fact "Foxfire," is one of the few novels I've ever been so totally enraptured with as to read it in one setting. Now that I've said this I'll move on to the aspect of the books on which I want to zero: the aesthetic of fire.

Both books contain in striking parallel scenario: the teenaged heroine of the each book torches a house and burns alive the inhabitants of each house. In "Foxfire," the heroine, Legs Sadowsky, witnesses an evil 'fraternity' of 'Deliverance' type men repeatedly raping and abusing a short statured woman in a house in the country who is identified as the sister of the male homeowner. When Legs tries to stop the men from continuing their abuse, they collectively muscle her, and she flees, only to return the next night and torch the place to the ground in feminine defiance to their masculine abuse. In "Beasts," the college age heroine, Gilian, discovers to her horror that one of her professors (whom she is in love with) and his french wife repeatedly lure female students to their secluded house in the woods (Hansel and Gretal!) where they drug the unsuspecting student with pills and bottles of wine, and then proceed to molest, rape, and thoroughly debauch the student and take pornographic pictures of the ordeal which they sell to smutty magazines. The result is Gilian torching their house and burning them alive. Both females use fire as a means to destroy evil.

Notice the parallels: both heroines are roughly the same age, both burn a house and its inhabitants to oblivion in response to sexual abuse/evil. Amidst the scenarios of pyromaniacal arson and the charred remains of once living (evil) people, the end result is ultimately positive, triumphant. For in these scenarios JCO builds in the reader an acute sense of horror, disgust, anger, rage, and justice, to a mighty crescendo of powerful triumph. Bad, even evil things happen in life, but good wins out in the beauty of fire, purging the evil from one's midst, so to speak. There also seems to be an element of distrust in the justice of civil authority. For neither heroines seek justice from the police, perhaps for a number of reasons intrusive to both novels but perhaps also, I suspect, because some things deserve to be consumed in the lap of fire; there is something primordially satisfying in reading these scenarios and wanting to join our clenched fists in the drumbeat of warfare against evil: invoking fire is the final, most ancient appeal, which attempts to make sense of the nonsensical; it is anti-logic action, passionate, and going to the police, while more logical, is not as interesting and visceral.

There are differences in the two scenarios. In "Foxfire," the fire scene is just one scene among many in the overarching story replete with revenge upon an unjust social structure, whereas in "Beasts," the fire scene is the climax of the novella. Also, in "Foxfire," the perpetrators (all male) and the victim are consumed in the blaze, whereas in "Beasts," only the perpetrators, one of whom is female, (the french wife of the professor) are consumed in the blaze. Interpretation(s) of these differences could go a number of ways, and personally I find the similarities more interesting.

These acts of arson are not the only significant and interesting aspects of these books. In "Foxfire," there is much made of feminism, communism and capitalism. In "Beasts," there is the highly sexualized sculptures of the french professors wife and her personal slogan, and most intriguing, the professors' obsession and adoption of the worldview and ethic of D.H. Lawrence. There's a lot in these books, and in spite of their intermittent dark material, they both speak of life as good.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008


Before he died, the late great Swedish filmaker Ingmar Bergman once said he hoped he wouldn't die on a sunny day. Implicit in his statement is a preference for gray cloudy days where the sun doesn't intrude upon one's eyes. With its constant bombardment of light rays upon the visible world, the sun has a tendancy to illuminate that which the suicidal person seeks to escape from. This is not to say that Bergman was suicidal, it is rather to parallel the comfort he took in existing under a gray sky with the sometimes necessary sensory dulling that keeps one in the world, which may serve as a point of convergence for mastress writers of dark territory: Sylvia Plath, Kate Chopin, Flannery O'Connor, Virginia Woolf, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Joyce Carol Oates; not all of whom were suicidal, but all of whom wrote novels and stories tackling some major themes. In this way they are reminiscent of Bergman, who soberly and somberly tackled the meaning of existence by looking death in the face under a gray sky in "the Seventh Seal." From the edge of a high, jagged precipace, some writers, such as those mentioned above, look down into the abyss and are then able to conjure some of the most powerful meditations on the life in the sun: living.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

About This Blog

The choice for this topic is rooted, first of all, in my undergraduate work in English, second, in my morbid fascination with suicidal women, and third, in my (seemingly)indiscriminate taste in literature(s). My undergraduate work in English, chosen two years ago over Philosophy, renders me neither an expert, scholar, or credential-buttressed sage; it rather is a sign of my rabid, insatiable fandom of the printed page. My morbid fascination with suicidal women writers began with Kate Chopin's "The Awakening," in which the female protagonist kills herself (quite sanely), and soon blasted into full blown hysteria when I discovered, with fear, trembling, and later awe, that real (non-fiction) women writers, such as Virginia Woolf, had done the deed and grasped the silver noose, sometimes for startling reasons. My seemingly indiscriminate taste in literature means simply, without any appeal to reason or Venn circles, that I'm a fan of many genres and many writers, and usually take some amount of pleasure, of varying degrees, in most forms of literature. So, when given the opportunity to start a blog and hereafter be known with the status of blogger, I determined rather quickly that I would blog on writers: living, dead, and suicidal. As for Virginia Woolf, she is the perennial suicidal woman writer: her name occupies a place in literature, British literature, women's literature, and is featured in the title of a play, a movie, and now a blog, dedicated to her and her ilk.
With this blog I hope to entertain others while at the same time expose them to writers of whom they may never have heard, which hopefully will foster audience interest in writers of literature and, perhaps, an appreciation and awareness of the most tortured of human souls, the suicidal writer. Although features of this blog will frequently be dark, this blog is not intended to be a downer and will only be so for ultra sensitive types. The rest of us will have fun, for what better way to stave off the lure of the silver noose than to have fun? Hopefully, after reading this blog devotedly, you will be able to answer the question, "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?" with a reverberating "I AM!"

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Three Noteworthy Blogs (and a Trophy Fourth)

Three blogs I count as delectable for human consumption are The Drudge Report, Michelle Malkin(.com), and Samizdata(.com). One will notice that the common factor binding these blogs together is political news, specifically conservative and/or libertarian. So if one leans to the left, one may not find these blogs delectable, but rather, a catalyst for vomiting.
That said, I like The Drudge Report because, of the 'most powerful blogs' visited, this was the only one I had actually visited before, oblivious to its blog status. Also, I like the blog's set-up: white background with vertical columns of news stories in black font.
I like Michelle Malkin blog because the woman that blogs, presumably Michelle Malkin, is a conservative woman, with a sometimes sweet, sometimes acerbic wit. This blog is set up pretty well too, and unlike the Huffington Post, this blog doesn't come across as a regular website (probably not correct Internet nomenclature, but oh well...).
I like Smizdata(.com) because it's a meta-libertarian blog; that is, it draws from various degrees of libertarian movements (none of which are bowel) from all over the globe. Alas though, this blog heavily resembles top-rate website with its orgy of pixels and pseudo-artistic symbols, both of which are enough to alienate well-meaning, curious visitors, if such web-surfers even exist.
Finally, while not on the list of 'most powerful blogs,' my favorite blog of all time deserves mention: "The Blair Necessities." Remember the nine-year running sitcom "The Facts of Life"? Remember Blair, the blond babe? Well, apparently she's (the actress) a hardcore (serious minded) Christian and has her own blog, "Coffee Talk." "The Blair Necessities," however, is blog in which the bloggers lift the content of "Coffee Talk," and comment on it in satirical fashion, with tongues planted firmly in cheek and an occasional venom lick. Check it out, it's great novelty, especially for those of us males that were once in love with Blair.