Tuesday, October 21, 2003

A few words about excerpts...

The New Yorker is my favorite magazine--has been for a long time. I am especially glad that Philip Gourevitch and Victor Erofeyev are writing for it now. But I have one major pet peeve--it probably says a lot more about me than it does about The New Yorker--which is that many of the magazine's fiction pieces are excerpts from novels but are not labeled as such.

See, one of my great faults in life is that I have never learned how to skim. And although I know, rationally, that to skim is often necessary and good, I still find it vaguely morally repugnant. Somewhat like leaving food on your plate (a sin that is currently seeing a societywide revision). It is, I suppose, a personal tick, that when I read an excerpt from a novel (or simply start to read one) I almost always feel I must read the entire book.

So I should not blame The New Yorker, but since it is not usually made clear whether a story is just a story or part of a novel, I feel tricked when I realize what I've read is "only" an excerpt. Sometimes I successfully avoid reading the excerpt until I can get the entire book--Austerlitz and You Shall Know Our Velocity come to mind. Other times, however, I don't learn until too late that I have accidentally read an excerpt. This happened with Middlesex, and again now with Jonathan Lethem's The Fortress of Solitude. And then I want to check the book out of the library, but it isn't available. So now I'm reading the ubiquitous Lethem's Motherless Brooklyn to tide me over until I can get The Fortress of Solitude.

Motherless Brooklyn concerns a detective with Tourette's. In this context I can see my personal no-skimming rule for what it is--an annoying tick, but one that soothes more than annoys me. (Another such tick of mine is the need to remove every subscription request from magazines before I read them).

Saturday, October 18, 2003

After watching the first two episodes of Bortko's "Idiot" (out of ten total), I am happy to report it lives up to the hype. To see the story so faithfully rendered is a bit like rereading the book. The actors all do a great job, particularly the role of Prince Mishkin, which must be an actor's dream role, like the role of Hamlet. The epileptic prince is naive and tactless, but also sensitive, and passionate about ideas and morality.

Friday, October 17, 2003

The new four-DVD set of "The Idiot" just came in the mail, along with Nikita Mikhalkov's "Oblomov", which I've seen before. According to the Slavic department email list at UC Berkeley, the new adaptation of Dostoevsky's "The Idiot" caused a sensation in Russia: "This ten-part miniseries premiered in Moscow less than six months ago and was widely acknowledged as a major event of Russian cultural life. The production, the director [Vladimir Bortko] and two leading actors were recognized with Teffi awards (the Russian equivalent of Primetime Emmy Awards)". They are screening the series in Berkeley this semester, but since I now live in DC, I decided to order it online.

The Idiot is my favorite Dostoevsky novel, perhaps because it is his most Tolstoyan work, especially the early parts of it. This series is supposed to be the most faithful to the text, including subplots usually omitted from film adaptations. This is possible, of course, because the new series is 500 minutes long. ("Oblomov," on the other hand, I remember as being altered considerably from Oblomov the book, by Ivan Goncharov.)

I can't wait to pop the first disk of "The Idiot" into my playstation.

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Welcome to the brand-new Black Square web log, which will be devoted to Russian
literature, with occasional forays into other cultural pursuits.

"Black Square"

As you probably know, the name of this website refers to the revolutionary 1915 painting of a black square on a white background by the Russian painter Kazimir Malevich (1878-1935). "Black Square" began several years of intense productivity in a geometric style Malevich termed Suprematism. This was one of the first experiments in abstract painting, and influenced art in Russia and the rest of the world.

Here is a page with a bit more about Malevich and the Black Square.

Kazimir Malevich's "Black Square" (1915)