Wednesday, March 25, 2009

This Week in Reading March 22 - 28

Literary Names of Note This Week

Nobel Prize in Literature: novelist Roger Martin du Gard (1937), playwright Dario Fo (1997).

Humorists, Essayists, Editors, Journalists, Biographers, and Others: Fanny Farmer, Malcolm Muggeridge, Joseph Campbell, Gloria Steinem, Bob Woodward, Chris Hansen.

Mystery / Crime / Suspense Writers: Donald Hamilton, Stephen Hunter, James Patterson.

Fantasy / Science Fiction Writers: William Morris, Thorne Smith, Horace Beam Piper, Rudy Rucker, Kim Stanley Robinson.

Romance / Western / Historical Fiction Writers: Louis L’Amour.

Graphic Novelists / Cartoonists / Illustrators: J. C. Leyendecker.

Children’s / Teen Authors: Kate DiCamillo.

And, as usual, a myriad of events to read about.

This Week’s Questions: There’s quite a collection of poets and dramatists this week. Which of the following are lines of poetry and which are lines from a play?

Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”

Everybody, my friend, everybody lives for something better to come. That's why we want to be considerate of every man— Who knows what's in him, why he was born and what he can do?”

And now the fancy passes by and nothing will remain, and miles around they'll say that I am quite myself again.“

Every day a little sting, in the heart and in the head.”

All pretty girls are a trap, a pretty trap, and men expect them to be.”

The penny candy store beyond the El is where I first fell in love with unreality.”

Answer to Last Week’s Questions: Henrik Ibsen was considered the first modernist playwright who wrote naturalist realism into his problem plays. What do those terms mean?

In this day and age, when we have such terms as Reality TV, (which is, after all, a hyper-romanticized and oft scripted pretense taking its viewers out of their every day reality rather than reminding them of it), it is very easy to become confused about the terms that defined literary and artistic movements in the nineteenth century. Broadly speaking naturalist realism was a step in the movement from divinely centered to human centered views of life, and from escapism to objective depiction of real social and personal issues.

In theatre Henrik Ibsen was one of the first to move beyond the safe well-made play, the generally overblown or staid drama and melodrama of the time. His dramas, (most of which he wrote in Italy instead of his home country, Norway,) caused both controversy and newly liberated interest as they dealt with such things as adultery and sexually transmitted disease. But Ibsen also wrote symbolic and poetic plays.

Though Shakespeare had shown psychological perception in many of his own works three hundred years earlier, the term problem play came to mean those dramas that focused on social and interpersonal conflict rather than philosophical, religious, or comedic experience. Shortly after Ibsen's time writers began to talk of themselves as modern and the modernist movement carried on into the twentieth century where it was met with deconstruction and ultimately postmodernism.

While Ibsen's realism was of his own class,one of this week's playwrights, Maxim Gorky, created political realism focusing on extreme conditions of the lower classes and later German playrwrights made expressionistic plays about realistic political situations. Those were even later turned inside out and called theatre of the absurd. In the mid-twentieth century there were such movements as kitchen sink realism and, in fiction, magic realism. Realism, of course is in the eye of the beholder. It is the artistic depiction of the banal, not the celebration of it as Reality TV seems to do. Realism, yes, say the postmodernists, but always to a different purpose by different authors in different eras. However, as George Bernard Shaw said, “Without art, the crudeness of reality would make the world unbearable.”

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