Waggish

David Auerbach on literature, tech, film, etc.

Tag: humor

Demolition Derby: Jonathan Barnes

It stinks.

"This movie gets my highest rating, 7 out of 10."

This is the funniest vicious review I’ve read in a while, from this week’s TLS. I’m excerpting the best bits, but it’s all of a piece. The nastiest parts are…the quotes.

Glen Duncan THE LAST WEREWOLF 346pp. Canongate. £14.99.

by Jonathan Barnes

Bitten by a werewolf when Queen Victoria was on the throne, Jacob Marlowe (just “Jake” to his friends) has grappled with his lycanthropic inheritance for more than a century-and-a-half… “I really can’t stand it any more”, he tells us, “the living and the killing and the wandering the world without love.” Only when he finally accepts the inevitability of his own extinction does he discover a reason to survive – and to take the fight to his pursuers.

So stark a synopsis does little to suggest the considerable pleasures and occasional disappointments of Glen Duncan’s eighth novel, The Last Werewolf. While much of the cheerfully pulpy subject matter is familiar from numerous comic books, roleplaying games, television series and movies, the voice that the novelist assumes is arrestingly original. Told (at least until a late and slightly unconvincing switch) in the firstperson by Jacob Marlowe himself, Duncan’s monstrous narrator makes for memorably rambunctious company.

Nonchalant about his place in the food chain (on people: “when you get right down to it they’re first and foremost food”) and full of macho swagger (“I’d fucked her six times with preposterous staying power”), he is also philosophical (“snow makes cities innocent again, reveals the frailty of the human gesture against the void”), aphoristic (“total self-disgust is a kind of peace”) and topically droll (“two nights ago I’d eaten a forty-three-year-old hedge fund specialist”).

…Curiously, he also indulges in some literary criticism (“Graham Greene had a semi-parodic relationship with the genres his novels exploited”)….

…Invention flags in the book’s second half as a series of very similar situations are described in almost identical ways: “it happened very fast”; “then several things happened very fast”; “what happened next happened … very fast”; “what happened happened very fast”. While the conclusion appears to gesture towards the possibility of a sequel, one cannot but hope that Duncan can triumph over the temptation to make The Last Werewolf the first instalment in a series.

I can’t imagine how the sops to the book’s virtues made it into the second paragraph.

Philosophical Bumper Stickers

Clever idea on the part of Professor Nightspore: truncate bumper stickers to philosophical slogans. I think Parmenides turned out especially well.

A few of mine:

  • I brake. (Schopenhauer)
  • If you don’t. (Kierkegaard)
  • Visualize. (Berkeley)
  • Objects in mirror are. (David Lewis)
  • Don’t be. (Eduard von Hartmann, or maybe E.M. Cioran)
  • If you lived. (Nagarjuna)
  • Honk. (Harpo Marx)

To quote Stanislaw Lem in Golem XIV (with typical modesty, speaking in the voice of a transcendent genius supercomputer): “Philosophers are also occupied with keys and locks, except that they make locks to fit the keys, since instead of opening up the world, they postulate one which can be opened with their key. That is why their errors are so instructive.”

And speaking of which, I meant to put up this Lem interview a while back, in which he condemns Spain withdrawing troops from Iraq, dismisses today’s space programs in general, and concedes Tarkovsky’s “great talent” before slamming Soderbergh’s Solaris.

Lem has declared his allegiance with Bertrand Russell philosophically, which I always took to mean that he sided with Russell’s engagement with practical issues while respecting his absolutist rationalism, versus the more pragmatic tradition that took a more detached stance from science. (I have to wonder what Lem thinks of Charles Peirce, the least characteristic and most rigorous of the batch.) Lem condemned Wittgenstein for running in circles and presumably has little patience with most modern metaphysics and certainly continental philosophy.

Yet the philosopher that pops up most often in Lem’s work is not Russell but Schopenhauer, who, while more easily reduced to a bumper sticker than most, doesn’t seem to have obvious characteristics that would endear him to Lem. Lem’s elaboration on Schoepenhauer, particularly in Golem XIV and His Master’s Voice, replicates Schopenhauer’s pessimism while reducing his outrage to a trivializing, defeatist voice. I suspect that it is this voice, grown older, more brittle, and more certain, that we are hearing in the interview. I still find it compelling in its focus and consistency.

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