While the “Russia” shelves of American bookstores groan under the weight of heavy tomes on the horrors of Stalin and the Gulag, the relatively liberal period that followed has attracted little interest from authors, scholars and publishers. This neglect is unsurprising as Khrushchev’s reign included much less slavery and killing, so the story is not all that dramatic.
The Western is the quintessentially American genre. However played out it might seem at times, it offers an incredibly versatile context for near-mythic narratives about good and evil, tales of man against nature, man against man, man establishing civilization in the wild, and the sins man commits when establishing that civilization. From Zane Grey to Cormac McCarthy, even the pulpiest narratives articulate some aspect of America’s sense of self. Perhaps it’s surprising then that Europe also has strong traditions of the Western, including mega-bestsellers that are practically unknown on this side of the Atlantic. But what happens when you feed profoundly American tropes into the psyche of a German or a Frenchman? Do you get something wild and interesting, or derivative dullness? Does the reader receive startling new insights — or merely a glimpse of a distorted looking-glass America?
The other day I was watching a Channel 4 news segment about the now ubiquitous “occupy” facemasks, in which they dragged around the aged hippy & magician Alan Moore, introducing him to various youthful idealists/scrofulous layabouts camped outside St. Paul’s as the “man behind the mask”. As the Channel 4 voice patiently explained, the grinning Guy Fawkes face originated in V for Vendetta, his dystopian graphic novel (in fact, Moore is co-creator as V was a collaboration with the artist David Lloyd.)
What struck me was the intro: “You won’t recognize this man unless you read comics…’ which was then followed by some wittering about how the medium still remains “underground”, at the “cultural margins”. And I thought: Really? Alan Moore? Watchmen? You mean the influential adult graphic novel that in 2005 was (absurdly) put on Time magazine’s list of the 100 greatest novels published since 1923; has sold 2 million+ copies; and which in 2009 was made into a dire blockbuster?
Had he lived, Roy Orbison would have been 75 this year. Here, Daniel Kalder writes about the Big O’s transcendental power…
For me, like most people, memory is intricately intertwined with music. Another Brick in the Wall pt 2 was a hit the year I started school, and so the song always resurrects those early experiences of classroom tedium. Falco’s Rock Me Amadeus,playing on the ferry that brought me from England to Holland in 1986, summons textures of my first trip abroad from the sinkhole of amnesia; while Kraftwerk’s Radioactivity is forever fused with a 6am walk I took around Amsterdam ‘sSchipol airport. Endlessly and subjectively I can listen to a track and landscapes, people, places and moods return.
The private papers documenting his cosmic illumination by a pink laser have long gilded the PKD legend. Published at last, do they shed much light for the rest of us?
Ah, Tony Blair — you can’t keep a good hustler down. One minute he’s singing the praises of formaldehyde at the opening of a methanol power plant in Azerbaijan (£90,000 for a 20-minute talk), the next he’s accepting a gig ‘consulting’ in Kazakhstan. For his advice on ‘issues connected with policy and the economy’, he could reportedly make as much as £8 million a year.
In May, Blair and a gang of his associates were spotted at a meeting of the Foreign Investors’ Council in Kazakhstan. Among them was Lord Renwick of Clifton, vice-chairman of JP Morgan, which (coincidently) pays Mr Blair £2 million a year for advice — and Lakshmi Mittal, Britain’s richest man, a generous Labour donor, and the largest employer in Kazakhstan. Blair praised the nation’s ‘wonderful’ achievements.
How things have changed. Ten years ago an authoritarian leader of an ex-Soviet state would get excited if Vanessa Mae came to town. These days, they find that if they toss enough coins and crank up the organ, former leaders of western governments will dance for them like performing monkeys.
Anyone who has ever strolled into a Barnes & Noble and felt a certain despair at the sight of all those books lying on tables and shelves, many of them not very good, all of them emitting that silent, deathly scream: please decipher our inky squiggles and bring our stories to life, will identify with the central conceit of Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky’s The Letter Killers Club. Set in Moscow in the 1920s, it features a series of tales told among the members of the mysterious, secretive eponymous organization. Each Saturday, seven individuals known to each other by nonsense sounds instead of names (Rar, Tyd, Zez, etc.) meet in an unfurnished room to spin yarns which they are forbidden to write down. Why? Well, says the group’s president: