Tuesday, July 19, 1994


by Jean-Paul Sartre
translated by Paul Aster & Lydia Davis

A collection of philosophical essays. I came away with a split opinion: either I was awed by Sartre's brilliance & clear vision, or turned off by his faux "arguments" (simply laying down a few comments & then pretending the issue had been established). And then, there's the fact that most of the references went over my head. It contained:

"Self Portrait at Seventy," an interview, taking up almost half the volume. What I understood, I really liked.

"Simone de Beauvoir Interviews Sartre," a conversation about feminism & the struggle.

"On The Idiot Of the Family," a good academic analysis of his work on Flaubert.

"The Burgos Trial," a strong argument for Basque independence.

"The Maoists in France," just what it says.

"Justice and the State," an essay repeating much of the previous one, on Marxist, or popular, justice, what he calls the only true justice. Here, he says he's a contradiction because he writes bourgeois books but urges Marxist revolution. I think one sees a contradiction only if one sees everything in such black and white, bourgeois-popular, either-or terms. There are gems of brilliance in this essay.

"Elections: A Trap for Fools," in which he argues that universal suffrage serializes us and gives us a false sense of power. It is true, voting delegates no authority: we are choosing people with authority, but we have no power to give (we couldn't represent ourselves, for example). This was the feeblest essay, in my opinion: anyone can work for any case he wants, and if he can't convince others to vote his way, that means they have their own causes. I just don't think voting is as serialized as he says.

three stars

Tuesday, July 5, 1994

Euripides V: Electra, The Phoenician Women, The Bacchae

by Euripides
405-410 BC
translated by Emily Townsend Vermeule, Elizabeth Wyckoff, William Arrowsmith

"Electra": Very good, though not as good as Sophocles' work. I thought Electra was a self-pitying, hypocritical whiner, and apparently that's just what Euripides wanted me to think. Orestes wasn't so bright either. The intro really clued me in to Electra's sexual frustrations, envy of Clytemnestra and jealousy/hatred of her mother's lover Aegisthus. Electra & Orestes' shock at everything still being bad, even after killing their mother, was well done – it brought the point home dramatically: No one's in the right, no one's all bad or good, and violence rarely solves things, even in god-sanctioned "justice." A powerful piece.

"The Phoenecian Women": It was very good, holding my interest despite my familiarity with the plot. The character development, again, didn't quite hold up to Sophoclean standards, but the drama and dialogue were superb. The ending (when Creon takes charge) was especially gripping. Oedipus played a minor role, but his lines were pure poetry, with quite a bit of clever use of "light" and "dark" metaphor (he being blind and all).

"The Bacchae": Before I read the insightful intro by W. Arrowsmith, I was going to pan the play, but now I see the meaning and message of the play that I missed (although I still think character development is lacking). I now see the conflict between Pentheus and Dionysius is central as person vs. person, not merely hubris vs. a god. And what I thought was disorder and sloppiness – Dionysius' transformation from the traditional Olympian in disguise to something like a force of nature – I now see is intentional. I did like the way, minutes after the reader's sympathy has shifted from Dionysius to the torn-apart Pentheus and Agave, the Chorus also shows its humanity by ceasing its ecstatic reveling at Pentheus' death and pitying Agave, gently helping her regain her sanity. A good play, and even though this is my second read, perhaps it bears even further investigation.

[read twice]

four stars