Review: Weil and Bespaloff’s War and the Illiad

I’m going to start by giving you a little hint: if you’re wandering through a used bookstore and you see a book published by the New York Review of Books, buy it. Don’t worry if it isn’t something you’ve heard of, or is about a subject matter you’re not particularly interested in. It doesn’t matter literally everything I have read from this publisher, everything from horror to experimental fiction has been absolutely top notch.

No surprise then that this book is remarkable. It collect two essays ostensibly on the Illiad by Simone Weil the other by Rachel Bespaloff, two Jewish women, caught in the snare of Nazi era Europe. These are essays about the Illiad, for sure, by writers who have read the text closely, but they are much more than that. They are meditations on the attraction and repulsiveness of war and the nature of narrative.

I’m in the midst of a long term engagement with Homer, and I found these essays illuminating not only for the insights they give to the poem itself, but also in how they show how Homer speaks to us across the ages, giving context and (perhaps) solace to two women fleeing the Nazis, or a father in Brooklyn terrified of what the next four years will bring.

Recommended.

 

Review: Eagleton’s Figured of Dissent

Note this review was orginally written for a now long defunct livejournal.

Figures of Dissent: Reviewing Fish, Spivak, Zizek and Others

Terry Eagleton

I like Terry Eagleton well enough. I haven’t read many of his works (I’ve only read three, actually, the brilliant memoir The Gatekeeper, Literary Theory, and now Figures of Dissent) but I think I’ve dipped my toe in enough to be able to opine on his work. Literary Theory was a pretty important book for me. It was the first thing I read that explained a lot of the theoretical concepts that I would be interested in during my twenties including feminist theory, post-colonial theory, post-structuralism, post-modernism, and all else that falls under the broad tent of “theory”. I’ll do a full review of Literary Theory when its time comes, but for now, let’s just say Figure of Dissent is no Literary Theory.

This is a book of Eagleton’s reviews and thought pieces on various literary and cultural figures. It’s kind of fun if not particularly serious. His piece on Zizek is great and while it doesn’t explain Zizek’s overarching theory all that well (a perhaps impossible task as I’m not convinced Zizek is anything other than a huckster), it does do a good job of explaining a lot of Zizek’s pop culture appeal. Some of the other essays, I barely remember, which shows you the deep impact they had on me. Like mine, I imagine your time is limited. This is one of those books you can skip without missing much, but also isn’t a waste of time.

Recommended (really only) for the enthusiast.