Monday, January 22, 2007

Relevant to Malcolm Lowry - a "Literary Drunks" Movie

Pace my lecture around Malcolm Lowry's "Gin & Goldenrod " on the mythologisation of drunkenness, here is Roger Ebert's review of a 2005 movie on a related topic: http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20050127/REVIEWS/50113006/1023

Ebert, by the way, is in my opinion a superlatively skilled writer and literary critic.

I want be sure that I was compleatly clear regarding my expression of hatred of "Gin & Goldenrod." First, it is an example of my critical judgement that both love & hatred of literature are ideal responses: indifference is the only vice. Second, although I hate the story, you yourself don't have to. If you love it, say, you simply need to be able to articulate clear and objective reasons for the textual source of your Love ... as I gave clear and objective (indeed, compelling) reasoned analysis for my hatred.

11 comments:

Adam said...

I must be alone in enjoying Gin and Goldenrod. Oh well..

But, really, the best literary drunk was Dylan Thomas. The man proclaimed "I've had eighteen straight whiskies; I think this is a record." Next thing he knew, he'd passed out, and died in a New York hospital six days later.

audacity said...

sir, when will midterms be assigned? right after wilson's book? just want to know so i can polish-up my side notes. thanks.

Akshay said...

I think that maybe your irritation or hatred for Lowry influenced the way you thought of the story. I thought it was relatively good actually. I think that you went a little over the top in trying to find the negatives and when there were some positives in the grammar used, you tried to justify it by saying that his withdrawal (detox) resulted in his intense description of detail.
What I'm trying to say is, if you did not know that this was written by Malcolm Lowry, would you feel such strong hatred towards it? I'm sure you would dislike it to a certain degree and there are things to dislike (as you said, the attempt to glorify human failing), but maybe your hatred for Gin and Goldenrod stemmed from hatred of Lowry.

Dr. Stephen Ogden said...

Regarding mid-term, please read the post "Mid-Term Essay: Schedule"!

Dr. Stephen Ogden said...

On my expression of hatred for "Gin & Golderod" -- do you remember what was said in lecture about hatred of literary texts?

I said, brutally condensed, that hatred of a text is a form of enjoyment! Hello-o!

So, perhaps this was a missed encounter with a case of teaching-by-example ;--)
(PS: Ask your TA about this....)

Dr. Stephen Ogden said...

PPS: thanks for the comments, by the way -- keep me on my toes .....

Sam said...

I'm going to agree with Akshay, and go even further. I think you've misinterpreted the story. I see Sigbjorn as flawed, yes, but I think Lowry is all too aware of it himself. Of course he paints some of his own attributes into Sigbjorn; who doesn't empathize with that one character in a story they're writing? However, my limited knowledge of Lowry's biography aside, he adds in Sigbjorn's disgust of civilization and love of nature. We can see civilization slowly destroying him and his besotted liver, but he can't quit and doesn't even see the connection between alcohol and the civilization he so derides. Also, his surname can only be self-given. This isn't literary pretension, it's cementing his self-image for the reader: the wild, natural man. What's heart-wrenching about the story is that only we know what a fool he is, a tragic fool.

Dr. Stephen Ogden said...

Hmm....cogent argument.
Response: Sigbjorn's name is given by .... Lowry, to his own (in my view) idealised self-portrait in fiction. "Victory bearer" - great victory, Malcolm buddy. What a hero. And whinging about people coming to live ... where you live? Pure bourgeois possessiveness and selfishness. Disgust at civilisation? Yeah, antibiotics, anaesthetics, educatation, dentistry, sanitation: who needs it? (Bootleggers apparently are a piece of civilisation he can't do without.) He is misanthropic: why should that be praised?

So, as I said in lecture, I have three responses to G&G. One, Lowry is a brilliant literary technician. Two, I love the stunning reversal where he ruthlessly anatomises his own lies, self-deception and insincerities -- his "esemplastic medium of half-lies." Three, I simply find his mythogisation of abuse and destruction (such as of Primrose & the First Nations men) unappealing.

How do the three things go together? As I said, they don't ;--)

Your serve ....

Sam said...

I've had another look at the story, and you're right: Sigbjorn is an awful man. His love of nature, however, is practically irresistible to our romanticized view of the wild (it certainly suckered me). In many ways, the city dweller sees Sigjborn as living the good life, the life of the noble savage. As the Europeans eventualy found out, the noble savage isn't so noble after all. The point Lowry seems to be making is that it's very hard, if not impossible, to live that "pure" lifestyle, especially with civilization on ones doorstep. As for his "mythogization of abuse and destruction," I'd argue that it's crucial to give the reader a clear picure of Sigjborn: an abusive, destructive man.

Dr. Stephen Ogden said...

Fair point: I don't disagree at all with your analysis of the point Lowry is surely making about what is lost as civilisation grows -- and it is great to be reminded about what is destroyed when something is created.

And it's hard to argue against the evident skill of successfully drawing a powerful portrait of abusiveness & destructiveness. What gives me my strong response, though, is the fact that it is not just a literary portrait --- it is a autobiographical attempt to aggrandise and nobilise the real-life behavior of the writer: behaviour which causes a lot of real people a lot of real pain in real life.
I don't say we should go around berating people like Lowry -- but when I see unctuous self-indulgence ... yeuch! ;--)

But, again, you make really fair points & admirable concessions.

Kurtis said...

Speaking of the "mythologisation of drunkenness," I stumbled upon film critic Jonathan Rosenbaum's article on writer/director Sam Peckinpah's "Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia" (1974). Rosenbaum compares the film to Lowry's "Under the Volcano;" having not read the story, I can't comment on the similarities, but given Peckinpah's reputation for drunken rage, there's bound to be some truth in Rosenbaum's insight.