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Old 01-22-2005, 04:45 AM   #1
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Controversial Literature

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This is an example of the literature I'm talking about; novels that cause a public outcry, invite the disgust of various parties, is threatened with banning etc. What pieces of controversial literature do you like or hate? What do you think of some of the pieces of so-called literature that have received notoriety over the years?

Concerning this particular one; I quite enjoyed it. I thought it was an interesting novel (though it did read too much like a two-character play) with equally funny and disturbing moments. More of a political rant than literature, I would think, but hey - I'm just a student.

Thoughts?

Ant.
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Old 01-22-2005, 05:14 AM   #2
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The minute I'm told a work of literature is controversial, I am
already salivating to read it. I want something that challenges
the my way of thinking. That being said, I don't often find the book lives up to the controversial hype and I wonder if something that mildly controversial threatens to upend humanity, what kind of fragile state are we in?

I thought Salman Rushdie's "Satanic Verses" was boring.
(I liked "Ground Beneath Her Feet") So I kind of figure his reputation was based more on Fatwa than the actual book.

I'd also like to hear about some controversial books you've read, what the controversy was about, and whether it lived up to the hype.
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Old 01-22-2005, 06:55 AM   #3
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You're right - none of the books I've read have ever lived up to 'the hype'. But then again, how can they, when you have people going on about how its the most evil book ever written, that the sheer sight of it makes them vomit etc.? However, I have always known that, so I've rarely been disappointed, shall we say. Sometimes I've even been delighted.

'The Satanic Verses' was a bit of a bore, admittedly, though I appreciated what he was trying to say (which is more than I can say for some of his earlier efforts).

Let's start with the classics; one of the most controversial works of its time (and still sets tongue wagging even now), and one of my favourites - 'Lolita' by Nabokov. There is still no one, I believe, who can write the way he writes - with his singular use of language and his absolutely incredible wit. The novel is simply beautiful, and a true masterpiece. I don't know what hype it got during its time, though I know it was controversial, but if the hype was that it was beautiful, it certainly was that.

I really admired 'Crash' by J.G. Ballard, though I have a feeling that the movie received more hype than the book probably did. The book was perfect in that it did what it wanted to do - genuinely disturb you in a way that somehow tapped into that depraved 'side' of you and really made you want to sit there and appreciate that. I think in this case it probably 'did' live up to the hype. The movie was crap, though.

'Naked Lunch' is a great book, though I wouldn't say it has any real controversial value, per se; it is quite graphic in several parts and it does possess a truly hideous character as a protagonist, (doesn't even have the sympathetic traits of, say, Humber Humbert).

The book in question didn't live up to the hype in that it doesn't REALLY talk about killing Bush. At least, not in a credible way. The man who is plotting to kill him is clearly deranged and, in a way, is a basic cartoon - he plans to kill Bush with these flying discs that are programmed to fly through the air and other Bond-esque gadgetry. However, it wasn't meant to be an intellectual treatise, I don't think, but rather, and incredibly concise and emotional rant at the times we are living. Its the summary of what a lot of people feel and think at times, but are rendered ineffectual when compared to the powers that be.

A good collection of books, really. I reccommend them all. Do you have any titles?

Ant.
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Old 01-22-2005, 08:04 AM   #4
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I loved Lolita. Couldn't get through Naked Lunch (Maybe because it was required reading for an English major)

I read "The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things" and "Sarah"
by JT LeRoy. Excellently written, graphic and a little disturbing.

"Crash" interests me from your description. I'll look into it.

Loved "Ulysses", but it took me two times through it to follow it.
Well worth the read; Joyce is wonderful with language and puns.
Also loved "Sometimes A Great Notion". Not exactly controversial, but the dynamic was wonderful.

Not much good stuff nowadays. Love Thomas Wolfe (and my guilty pleasure is Tom Wolfe).

One of the professors at a local university is Norman Mailer's editor. So Mailer came to speak at the school. Good speaker, although I've never been really fond of his books. He lets his rage get in the way of his writing (Loved Executioner's Song, though) So it was nice to see a writing icon. I didn't exactly fall all over him, though.
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Old 01-22-2005, 08:34 AM   #5
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Quote:
Originally posted by Anthony


Let's start with the classics; one of the most controversial works of its time (and still sets tongue wagging even now), and one of my favourites - 'Lolita' by Nabokov. There is still no one, I believe, who can write the way he writes - with his singular use of language and his absolutely incredible wit. The novel is simply beautiful, and a true masterpiece. I don't know what hype it got during its time, though I know it was controversial, but if the hype was that it was beautiful, it certainly was that.
agreed 100% about _lolita_. my professor actually cried on the final day of discussion -- it's devestatingly sad, when taken in toll, because despite all of the huge psychological mea culpas of HH and the gorgeous writing, the end result is very simple: he has killed (metaphorically, for sure, and even literally, since she dies in childbirth) a little girl. does it get more tragic than that? it's a murder story, sadly, and perhaps the most challenging novel i've ever written about -- the characters are so slippery, so complex, so unable for you to place in a single, easy box, so it's thusly nearly impossible to write about since literary analysis requires you to make order and sense of a novel. and this was part of Nabokov's purpose. he thought art should wash over us, it should be used not to psychologically explain motivations, but to illuminate complexity in the smallest acts and the smallest words. in the most gorgeous language possible -- on an aside, my prof commented how interesting it was that the two greatest stylists of the english language, Nabokov and Conrad, were not native speakers of english -- it's a jailed pedophile calling out, "understand me! no, really, i *loved* her!"

if memory from class serves, "lolita" was a pretty big deal when it hit in the mid-1950s, both for it's literary worth and for it's subject matter. it was reviewed in places like 'the new yorker' so it was hardly underground -- if anything, the reception then was more adult than it might be today. it was clearly a book for adults, and regarded as such. i believe it was banned in some areas, only available in dirty bookstoers in others. which was, i think part of Nabokov's purpose. since the book is anything but smut, despite the subject matter -- the book confounds any moral censorship.

other great books that have been banned ... it's a huge read, often inpenetrable, but at the end of the day, is probably the only 20th century novel on par with _ulysses_ would be _gravity's rainbow_.

i thought _SV_ was boring, too, but enjoyed _TGBHF_.

note to all potential high school english teachers: do *not* discuss _lolita_ in job interviews.
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Old 01-22-2005, 09:33 AM   #6
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Huck Finn. I haven't read it since high school so I don't know if I could even talk about it today but it remains one of the most controversial books, some calling it a masterpiece and others crying racisim.
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Old 01-22-2005, 01:23 PM   #7
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BonosSaint, you mentioned something very interesting. You said that Norman Mailer's (I don't like him that much, but I think he's a writer that commands respect) rage gets in the way; do you believe that rage can be a good thing for a writer and his novel, or detrimental? I personally find that rage can be a good thing, especially when referring to these novel. 'Naked Lunch' (appreciating that you didn't get through it) is nothing but an outpour of hatred, the sheer volume of such emotion is overwhelming.

Irvine, a great post about Lolita. There was a discussion ages ago about the book in FYM (at least I think it was), where a bunch of us had a discussion about it. Call me trite and sentimental, but I've always felt it to be a perfect love story - a novel about unrequited love. Do you think HH loved Lolita, or was he just a dirty old man? I feel that his first love (Annabel, was it) was a ploy from Nabokov to make his character just remotely sympathetic. I have never studied it, I just love Nabokov! (Despair is also an incredible read, did you ever read that one?) Conrad is great too, and yes, it is astounding that the two didn't even have English as a first language, but still, their use of language was and still is, unsurpassed.

Ant.
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Old 01-22-2005, 04:46 PM   #8
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Anthony, I think rage can be wonderful when it does not get in the way of the writing. I think for later Mailer "The Son", etc.
it was virulent rants. I lost all sense of the book. Rage is a powerful tool when it says something about the human condition. Mailer stopped talking about the human condition and moved into narcissistic vitriol.

James Baldwin handled rage beautifully.
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Old 01-22-2005, 05:43 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally posted by Anthony

Irvine, a great post about Lolita. There was a discussion ages ago about the book in FYM (at least I think it was), where a bunch of us had a discussion about it. Call me trite and sentimental, but I've always felt it to be a perfect love story - a novel about unrequited love. Do you think HH loved Lolita, or was he just a dirty old man? I feel that his first love (Annabel, was it) was a ploy from Nabokov to make his character just remotely sympathetic. I have never studied it, I just love Nabokov! (Despair is also an incredible read, did you ever read that one?) Conrad is great too, and yes, it is astounding that the two didn't even have English as a first language, but still, their use of language was and still is, unsurpassed.

it's impossible to really "know" any of the characters in the novel, especially HH, because it's a mea culpa. he's saying, i'm sorry, please listen to me, i am not a monster. it's reasonable to think that everything he says is a lie, and that it's an elaborate defense -- albeit an ecstatically beautiful defense -- of his rather reprehensible actions. i think this adds to the "point" of the book -- what i think Nabokov does, through HH, is overflow a story with words to the point where simplistic notions of judgment are impossible, even though these are situations that beg for condemnation. it's a book that champions uncertainty and ambiguity; it battles the reduction of people to clinical thought and categorical understanding.

Nabokov hated psychotherapy. always keep that in mind. he once said that, "there is only one key on the typewriter that separates 'Therapist' from 'The Rapist'."

HH knows that within the sphere of the novel, the narrator becomes a voice of creation, stitching nouns, verbs, and adjectives together in order to fashion a highly controlled universe. however, HH knows that this universe does not exist without the legitimizing attention and engagement of a presence beyodn the text, and that readers create their own meaning. HH knows this, and he's to proud to let you off the hook easily -- he's not a pedophile, he thinks, and dammit, he's going to tell you why. he's going to tell you why, exactly why, he is *not* Quilty (who he views as an actual pedophile).

what HH does, i think, is effectively solipsize (is that even a word? i'm trying to turn solipsistic into a verb) every character, so they exist only as extensions of himself and his longing for lolita. he does this especially with charlotte -- he diassembles her, verbally, reduces her, in order to assert control over here. he tries to do this with Lolita, but (beautifully) because she is an adolescent and growing and changing the way adolescents do, she cannot stay the perfect child he falls in love with -- she slips from his grasp.

i thought it was less about love, and more about obsession -- obsession is less multi-diemnsional than love, and works better as an explanation for an adult's relationship with a pubescent child. i don't think HH loves lolita -- though he would protest -- i think he's in love with an image of her, that perfect moment when the three of them are in the garden and she's nearly sitting in his lap. it's that moment, that fleeting second, that he's in love with, not the person, thus i think obsession is a better word.

you'll notice that Humbert, though he's telling the story, can't control Lo or Charlotte -- they die, and through death, the reader understands their humanity independent of Humbert's storytelling.

anyway ... it's an astonishing book. in my mind, it sits right next to _Great Gatsby_ as the great American novels of the 20th century (though it was written by a Russian ... that would be a very interesting dissertation -- just how and why Conrad and Nabokov, a Pole and a Russian, stand stylistically head and shoulders above their British and American contemporaries).
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Old 01-22-2005, 06:09 PM   #10
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I really enjoyed lord of the flies....the symbolism and sheer savagry the boys end up partaking in.
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Old 01-23-2005, 03:00 PM   #11
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Most of the books I have to read for school are on the "ban" list.

To Kill a Mocking Bird
Merchant of Venice
Lord of the Flies
Romeo and Juliet, etc...
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Old 01-23-2005, 04:04 PM   #12
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anyway ... it's an astonishing book. in my mind, it sits right next to _Great Gatsby_ as the great American novels of the 20th century (though it was written by a Russian ... that would be a very interesting dissertation -- just how and why Conrad and Nabokov, a Pole and a Russian, stand stylistically head and shoulders above their British and American contemporaries).

Interesting observation. I've always found so many of the Russians and other Slavic countries to generally be far ahead of their American counterparts in so many of the arts--writing, dance, male figure skating, even. There are the Russians and then almost everyone else. Cold climate, oppressive society, better love of life, who knows? I think it is because there is a celebratory amorality about their art. (I will also include some French writers here) So many Americans are afraid of passion. Even American sexuality is bland. Blatant, but bland. We don't do sensuality very well. We do not do nuance very well. We are afraid of controversy. (Obviously, I am not including all American artists here)

That being said, I don't know if all this says as much abou tAmerican artists as it does about American audiences or
readers. We don't seem to want much challenge anymore. We had great artists in the twenties, the forties, the sixties when the audiences/readers were more daring in their thinking.

I was always grateful to a friend of mine who introduced me to Russian writing (although I still hate Tolstoy) and Russian dancers and Russian male figure skaters.

Art reflects the culture, I guess. When we demand more, maybe we will get it.
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Old 01-24-2005, 06:45 AM   #13
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I remember in Junior High begging my english teacher to let me me borrow The Catcher In The Rye. I knew at the time there was some sort of "stigma" around it but I didnt know why. She was very apprehensive about it but in the end relented. I never returned the book... ended up reading many times and just recenetly ended up have to toss it cause the cover was destoyed.

Ive read J.T. LeRoy's books as well... i can never look at a truck stop the same.
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Old 01-24-2005, 10:31 AM   #14
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I remember in Junior High begging my english teacher to let me me borrow The Catcher In The Rye. I knew at the time there was some sort of "stigma" around it but I didnt know why. She was very apprehensive about it but in the end relented. I never returned the book... ended up reading many times and just recenetly ended up have to toss it cause the cover was destoyed.

Ive read J.T. LeRoy's books as well... i can never look at a truck stop the same.

the contraversy around TCITR had to do with Holden's language, and the fact that an adolescent was speaking very bluntly about drinking and his desire to have sex. shocking, i know.
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Old 01-24-2005, 01:02 PM   #15
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wow. yeah. so unadolescent
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