Browsing All Posts filed under »Essays«

Saint John

April 8, 2009


Despite all his militant activities, he remained interested in poetry, and though he only managed to write nine poems while at Cambridge, he did write some polemical essays in which he encouraged the rise of “a revolutionary literature.” For him, the bourgeois ideal of the artist as an impartial observer was to be replaced by the revolutionary artist whose primary purpose was to support “the dynamic and vital forces of society against the reactionary inertial forces.” T.R. Healy on John Cornford.

Smell of female: how a bunch of exploitation directors rolled with some street-fighting girls & created the ultimate feminist icons

March 20, 2009


The power of Faster Pussycat stemmed from the fact that Tura Satana was not wearing a studio-designed costume, but exactly what a real girl gangbanger would have put on to go out for a rumble. No self-respecting female from any era could have contemplated kicking ass while looking like a banana. Cathi Unsworth on Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!

Staring into the abyss

December 9, 2008


The well of transgressive literature is deep and, like the human psyche it reflects, bad things lurk there. Fiction that dares to broach the subjects others flinch at (whether to locate a greater truth, as an act of attention-seeking or just for the hell of it) has a rich if often concealed history. We live in an age where supposed sin is omnipotent, our senses have numbed to it and everything, no matter how debauched, is for sale. The fact is our liberal assumptions are not as solid as we would like to think and every now and then a work can come along that slips under our guarded sense of irony and seen-it-all-before complacency, books that question the consensus and test how genuine our devotion to free speech really is. Darran Anderson on the rise & fall of the literary nasty.

For some, morning never comes

December 8, 2008


As Algren’s second novel, Never Come Morning is a seminal work, an incubator of sorts in which the writer introduces and tries out many of the themes and elements which he would hone to perfection in his next novel, the classic The Man With the Golden Arm: the struggling Polish lower class of Chicago’s Northwest Side, long, near-comic scenes set in police lineups and jail cells, a doomed protagonist blindly pursuing an unattainable dream, and characters who are overwhelmed by circumstance and fate. Peter Anderson on Nelson Algren.

An American nightmare: the US vs Nelson Algren

December 2, 2008


Though his left-leaning beliefs were evident to even the most cursory readers of his fiction and journalism, Algren was no dyed-in-the-wool Bolshevik. His sympathies were instilled at an early age through experience. He grew up in a notoriously rough part of southside Chicago and came of age during the Great Depression. A heavy drinker, he struggled through a series of dead-end jobs and abject poverty. He wrote his first story in an abandoned petrol station in Texas where he was crashing and was jailed for four months for stealing a typewriter from a classroom. Writing wasn’t a career or even a calling, it was a life raft. Darran Anderson on Nelson Algren.

Devils & dust

June 15, 2008


Easily one of the most violent books in mainstream literature, the most shocking aspect of the tale is its adherence to historical truth. It’s mind-blowing to consider that these things really happened, that there was an actual Glanton gang who terrorised northern Mexico and the south-west borderlands of the US, ruthlessly cutting swathes through the population. As it happened McCarthy took the framework for the book straight from the horse’s mouth, borrowing directly from gang member Samuel Chamberlain’s memoir My Confession: Recollections of a Rogue. In what can only be described as a prolonged bloodbath, McCarthy’s use of violence is visceral but authentic. Eye gouging, throat slicing, burning alive, it’s a reconstruction of a time when men kept the shrivelled hearts of the hanged as mementos, when churches lay in ruins, disabled people could be kept in cages and paraded for show and salvation was a form of cruel mockery. Darran Anderson revisits Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian.

The Eurekist

April 10, 2008


“I prefer to write for people untouched by poetry…I would like them to read poems in such a matter-of-fact manner as if they’re reading the newspaper or at a football match,” he once wrote, outlining his own personal creed. His was a simple but surprisingly rare quality in an artform whose practitioners are too often seen, and see themselves, as gatekeepers of some obscure bastion of knowledge. Sure he dealt in fairly esoteric subjects with a great deal of symbolism but he did so in the most free, reachable way possible. Holub was one who opened the backdoors and ushered the world in, one of the ones who might just have saved poetry from the poets. Darran Anderson in praise of Miroslav Holub.

Will the real Bob Dylan please stand up?

January 7, 2008


Even the full-on surrealist passage following his nemesis, the Mr Jones reporter, through hallucinatory visions is remarkable for its emotive power. The character follows Dylan badgering him, constantly questioning his motives. You realise it’s not just square society he represents but Dylan’s apostles and part of Dylan’s own psyche, that nagging paranoia, the voice that asks are you for real? The self-destructive side, the side that demands martyrs and sacrifices. And it makes sense why for all these years he’s been evading the media, dodging questions, answering with riddles. It’s a survival mechanism. When he takes that corner at Woodstock too sharply on his motorbike (depicted here as a screech of tyres just out of shot) and then uses his convalescence to retreat, his is a rare story of an artist stepping back from the brink, one who finally saves himself. Darran Anderson on Bob Dylan & I'm Not There.

Whitman among the corpses

December 29, 2007


In the common consciousness, Tropic of Cancer is known for it’s suppression (due to its graphic sexual content) and, many years later, the court case that would not only free it for publication but would act as a fission moment in the Sexual Revolution of the Sixties. The book thus suffered the curse of becoming a touchstone of sexual politics, an icon more cited than read. I doubt Miller intended it to represent or achieve anything in a libertarian sense. The book was simply a sincere depiction of life and as such ran up against the regulated deceit that is censorship, that denial of life as it is in favour of some dictated way life should be. Miller simply wrote about his life without lying. Darran Anderson revisits Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer.

The lucid rebel

December 28, 2007


Miller is often bracketed along with D.H. Lawrence for the simple reasons that they both challenged the sexual mores of the time and that their obscenity trials occurred virtually in parallel in the early Sixties, Lawrence’s in the UK and Miller’s in the States. Although they have much in common – another thing is their insistence that sex and philosophy be treated on an equal level – and belong somewhat to their age, in many other ways they are very different writers. What Miller did, which Lawrence couldn’t quite manage, is to liberate literature from the plot. He made himself the subject of his work – not just his real life, but an imagined life which makes the real life so much more bearable. Paralleling developments in modern art, such as the dadaism and surrealism which he so loved, he made himself the work of art. David Thorpe on Henry Miller.