Monday, January 11, 2016

Brief Thoughts 10

Against Nature by Joris-Karl Huysmans

I finally got around to picking this up, thanks to some prodding from how Huysmans factored into Submission.

This book is almost overwhelming in the senses it invokes. The story is relatively simple. A debauched nobleman named Des Esseintes gets tired of his libertine life and cloisters himself away in a castle in a country. He resolves to live a life focused entirely on art and literature.

The details in the book of Des Esseintes's castle, of the art he admires (such as Gustave Moreau), and the discussion of the writers he admires (such as Schopenhauer) are incredible vivid.  One of the most memorable moments is where Des Esseintes has a dream that he's being attacked by a woman who he believes to be syphilis in human form. It's easy to see why this is regarded as one of the best works of the Decadent movement.

Because of how much Huysmans's eventual conversion to Catholicism was a part of Submission, his fixation on religion in this book really stood out to me. Des Esseintes admires many theologians, religious artists, and church music, but he's unconvinced of Christianity.

Despite that, he's even more disgusted with the vacuous modern life of Paris. It's easy to see why, as Des Esseintes is likely a stand in for Huysmans, that he would eventually convert.

This is a beautiful work, and it's easy to see why Houellebecq found so much inspiration in it.

Buy Against Nature by Joris-Karl Huysmans here.

Lump It or Leave It by Florence King

I've been a fan of Florence King since I read With Charity Towards None, a funny and intelligent look at the subject of misanthropy. So I was saddened to hear when she died on January 6th of this year, one day after her 80th birthday.

While I had read some more of her articles online, I hadn't picked up another one of her books since. I decided to grab this one from my library.

Unlike With Charity Towards None, this book doesn't have a central theme. Some of the essays are personal, some are about the hot button political topics of the time, and all of them are entertaining and hilarious.

For example, in her essay on going through menopause, she talks about how the greatest compliment she received from a man was when a pair of obvious purse snatchers decide to leave her alone because "she a mean lady."

She also relates a hilarious story on dealing with a sketchy literary agent that ends with the agent's daughter trying to kill her mother in a bathtub. This is probably the chapter I had the most fun reading. King can tell a great story, and I need to pick up her memoir sooner than later.

On political topics, she shows herself to be an iconoclast. She supports traditional values, but hates traditional value voters because they're all idiots. She's bisexual and hates the gay rights movement, who don't much like her either. She hates feminism, but she can't help but admire the fire and wit that Andrea Dworkin displayed in Letters from a War Zone.

Florence King was one of a kind. One of the best writers of invective since H.L. Mencken. Her death is a great loss to America.

Buy Lump It or Leave It by Florence King here.

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