Monday, August 02, 2010
The movie has certain advantages, the book others. Certainly the movie captures some key elements of the book, particularly characterization. It misses a great deal. Some would find the differences an improvement. The movie is more brisk, more exciting, more immediately gratifying and usually more gruesome, not because certain details in the book aren’t equally disgusting, but because the absence of the flashing video vividness and the rather flat tone of the written narrative leaves them less lurid. A flat tone could set them off and make them MORE lurid, but it doesn’t work that way in these books, usually, because things are revealed over a more extended period of reader-time and more gradually.
But I want to recommend the books to you (if you haven’t read them already). I have very little time these days – work (and I do mean work) about a 65 hour week, plus about 12 hours of commuting a week. But I made time to read these.
In case you have NOT read them, here are a few points:
1. They are not exactly slow moving, but they go into detailed and often fascinating revelation of processes (of journalism, hacking, investigatory techniques, disinformation strategies, finances, etc. Larsson knows his stuff. He was, like his protagonist, Michael Blumqvist, an investigative reporter, one who became an expert on right-wing extremism, Sweden’s Nazi sympathizers (especially the eugenicists who sterilized some 70,000 Swedish women) and abuse of women, among other things. And he did receive threats. Per Wikipedia, he never married his lover of 25 years, because marriage in Sweden requires registration of address, and he felt too threatened to have his address in public records. (In volumes 2 and 3, the off-the-map address of the title’s “Girl”, Lizbeth, becomes crucial.)
2. The books are not wham-bam, but an oyster-like secretion of details. (And by mid Vol. 3 the grain of truth in the book starts to acquire that milky opalescence of pearl as the interaction of apparently disconnected threads coalesce around that grain.) The books don’t move slowly, if you consider them as a complicated chess match. The moves are rapid. But the ACTION is not. The movies eliminated most of the REAL action of the book, which is mental, akin to a chess player’s review of possible strategies. The tone (which sets off Lizbeth’s razor-edgedness) is rather bland, conservatively friendly, expository. There’s no “deep, dark” background music.
The trilogy has an overall emotional/logical/ethical curve of its own. The first book is mainly a set-up of characters for the next two. The key passage at the heart of the trilogy, in a sense, is the prologue to volume two, whose meaning is obscure (for most readers, I imagine) until near the end of volume three. The first volume seems complete in itself, but that completeness is shredded in volume two, and by half-way through volume three, the awful Vangers of volume one seem distant and relatively unimportant. And yet, everything in the first novel seems preparation for all that follows, not so much in terms of obvious plot, but in terms of understanding of the two main characters and what’s important to them and the building and straining of trust between them and the increasing schism between what we know about Lizbeth and what other characters (other than her chosen few almost-friends) think she is, and how this schism nearly destroys her, but ultimately proves to be her most effective weapon…and how it all relates to the perhaps legendary “world we live in.”
3. The movie changes the book as all movies change all but the most movie-like books (e.g., Elmore Leonard novels – which I greatly enjoy, don’t mean to denigrate them, but the best movie versions alter little, omit little), simplifying, omitting whole sub-plots and many characters. Some of these changes are improvements for me. For example, Blumqvist’s sex life, in the books (his various affairs) I find a bit unreal in their asserted sanity. These and some unlikely coincidences (Blumqvist happening to witness something) are mostly omitted. Most of those that come up in Dragon Tattoo are left out of the movie.
Other changes are probably necessary -- given what a movie can do in the time allotted and the difficulty of presenting what a character is thinking at length without putting viewers to sleep -- but unfortunate. For example, most movies and television shows make hackers magicians, and require an awful lot of suspension of disbelief, as genius nerds tap a few keys rapidly to get into arcane sites. The Dragon Tattoo movie is little better, but the books are a LOT better. You can actually get some idea how it’s done.
4. I haven’t yet seen the other two movies. I can tell you that if you read the books, what you’ll probably find is that the first book is slow-going for about half-way through (and each book is big – about 600 pages), gets better, gets gripping, goes on past where most books would climax, but still holds interest. The second book moves in many different directions at once and at times seems to disperse attention and repeat itself, but still fascinates, and has a lot more action than vol. one, but by the end, a reader may begin to feel that it’s hard to see a good way to an integrated finish. Then (with Hornet’s Nest) you get something like 600 pages of PAYOFF PAYOFF PAYOFF at a level of intensity and grippingness I’ve seen in few novels. Kind of a record for prolonged orgasm (all in the same bland, analytical style of the first novel). It’s still mostly an intellectual game, not chase scenes, etc. (Not many.) But you do hit the ground (mentally) at high speed, and there’s no let-up, and the court scene near the end is incredibly real and satisfying. I don’t know if it’s what you’d call literature – well, it is, but perhaps not great literature – but it’s a great intellectual thriller, half genre/half “literature,” borderline, but playing the two off against one another in a way that contributes to both. There’s a segment at the almost-end that’s more standard thriller (but true enough to the characters) that amounts to tying up a loose end and is a bit anti-climactic (climactic in terms of action-thriller, but in terms of MENTAL thriller, a let-down), but interesting, then a final scene between the two protagonists that seems to me an excellent, fitting and wise conclusion.
Larsson died before these books were published and supposedly left outlines for more novels (and complete text for much of one of them). Perhaps he planned more novels with these characters, but I’m not sure he could have topped Hornet’s Nest. I’m not saying it’s better than the other two volumes. I’m saying that, however compelling the first two books are, when you see how they feed into the collapsing armies of dominoes in the third book, the earlier books take on an additional dimension.
Is it great literature? Who cares. I’d say no. Too talky, too many voices (at least in translation) that are the same voice. But it’s great SOMEthing. And the author tells us a lot about what we live in -- that’s literature. He knows how a variety of professionals act and, in some cases, how they talk and how they spin things. He knows something about what it takes to survive if you take on the military-industrial-psychiatric-security complex. (And he makes that complex real – this isn’t SMERSH.) And he manages to embody much of what it takes to survive in what appears at first to be (to put it in high-school year-book terms) a “Least Likely to Survive” character (“The Girl…”.), a victim who refuses to be a victim, then almost becomes one from the reflux of the force of her refusal, then manages to transcend that and become, to some extent (and in a real way) something more than “not a victim,” something positive.
Tuesday, July 06, 2010
The trick of much poetry
is to boobytrap the innocent logic of syntax
with nonsense - not a stream of gibberish like
"bubble rats sour oyster foul snot pits
blood summer", but "A bubble of rats bursts
the sour oyster of our foul snot
in deepest pits of blood summer" or "the calculus
of winter" or "in the frayed easy chairs of
incontinent autumn" or "a calculus of rats
bursts the snot moon of..." (or even "...snots
the burst moon of...") - it MUST make sense,
because the power of syntax (A [noun] of [plural noun]
[verb]s the [adj.] [noun] of our [adj.] [noun]...)
carries it along, as heedless of its cargo
as a speeding train, which, whether carrying
vacationers, businessmen, potatoes or corpses,
gets where it's going. Not much wrong
with this: millennia of sheer plod cut
these logical grooves into our language, dry beds
for flow of even gibberish. Why NOT use them
to make us know bubbles of rats, the bursting
of sour oysters, etc.? We read such lines
as if blindfolded and asked to touch
whatever is put before us. Logical syntax
is our inviter's confident glibness
that lures us to plunge our hands into the bowl
of spaghetti, worms or bleeding guts, at worst
an adventure. I lament only the sapping
of syntax, the cheapened status of sentence
position, the dulling edges of our fine all-purpose
diamond-tipped tools: Of, the, a, our,
in, to .... Honed delicate tools should
not be used to slice up old cardboard. Syntax
is a miracle of complex agreement.
If we waste it - too often treat the ancient
aristocracy of articles, prepositions,
pronouns and conjunctions as mere pimps
for the perverse rompings of jaded, ill-
associated, ostentatious, nouveau riche words
like bubble, sour and calculus - then the
little words that bear it all upon their
shoulders will sicken from the shame of it,
look for ways to lighten their load by
cheating us, lose meaning - and then,
without our razor-edged the , our handy-dandy
slicer/masher/ricer/dicer of , our whole
tool chest full of elaborately defined
and compartmented if, to, and, on, as -
O how shall we talk to one another!
Wednesday, June 30, 2010
your whole world is here.
Here are the places in the world
where you can't go because
they are dangerous. Here are the
people who hate you because
you are an American. Here are
the things that will run out or cost
too much for you to have in the
near future (the distant future
has already run out, and you
can't have it). Here are the things
you can get in trouble for. Here
are all the things going wrong
with the world that you can't do
anything about. Probably no one
can do anything about them. Experts
and reliable sources agree that
there are no simple solutions and that
only time will tell. In any case,
it's certain that you
can't do anything about these matters,
but nonetheless, beyond the call
of duty, we keep you well-informed.
("We are now dropping the cyanide
into your cell....") Meanwhile,
if you can afford to drive
your car, there's a good chance
you too will be killed, maimed or sued,
but there's a good chance of it
even if you walk. That's the
sort of world you live in, but
fortunately for you, your friend,
the daily news, is looking out
for you--on the inside pages
our columnists tell you how
to deal with stress (per expert
shrinks with CIA contracts)
and our funny pages bring out
the humorous aspects of the Decline
And Fall of Practically Everything.
We present all reliably authorized
sides of every issue from our
Viewpoint. We let you get a very inside
look at what goes on all over the
world. When you are done reading
the papers, you can extrovert
by inspecting your breasts or rectum
for cancerous growths.
by Dean Blehert
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
admiring (as one would say politely
to the hostess, "Delicious!") a loveliness
that once tore you out of yourself,
left the empty shell of you vibrating
with a music that hummed long after
your return. You walked home that day,
ignoring the glad tears that gave you away,
knowing yourself too transparent
to be noted.
Now, admiring, you are solid.
You try to feel by looking harder,
spotting details, stilling the voices
in your head. For a moment you think
something is about to happen,
because you feel teary, but no tears flow--
the source is muddied. And the sting
is not of gladness. For several moments
you stand there trying to put something
back where it belongs, not knowing what,
while the dog trots and sniffs
farther and farther afield. You move on,
thinking, "I've lost it", hoping someday
it will turn up.
Nothing has been lost.
It is what has been added that thickens
the day. It is always with you, a clenched
headache you won't know has held you
until it vanishes. Then you will know
the mass of it--and the masquerade:
That when you strained to see,
the strain was not yours; when you thought:
"I've lost it", the thought belonged
to your burden; when you cried:
"There is no freedom!",
it was your shackles crying.
by Dean Blehert
Friday, June 18, 2010
and they dart away, except once I held
too long the eyes of a dapper man,
who smiled too winningly.
Counselling people, I can look at them
without being expected to make a pass.
With my wife, often, it is permitted
just to look. With friends across restaurant tables
looking at each other is not strictly forbidden,
though always after an acceptable instant
one must ask (meaning "Is something wrong?"),
Why is it better to let two sets of eyes wander
in intricately interlaced choreography
from table to food to napkins, mine sweeping
(mine-sweeping indeed) past the face
three feet away only when it faces
elsewhere, catching eyes only a casual second,
as if eyes were slippery to the touch
of eyes? Why is it better, when eyes meet,
that inner gaze be elsewhere?
Even the dog knows that when I am giving orders
I am head of the pack and must not be faced.
People who look right at you
are about to lie to you, on the make, eerie
(Rasputins, pod people, zombies)--Oh
there is no good reason ever for eyes
to fix upon eyes. Movies dote on closeups,
pornographically huge luminous eyes
harmlessly sating our cravings.
Not that we are our eyes,
but they are where, craving raw light,
we've let ourselves be located--what could be
more dangerous? They've become our signature,
identity badges in the swarming lobbies
of the Humanoid Convention--the eyes
or other cherished features:
a mustache, "striking" cheekbones, the migraine
that somehow justifies all failures,
not much to be, but better than a billfold
crammed with credit cards, a sex organ,
a gun, a compendium of opinions
and all the other things we become
when we've lost, even, face.
by Dean Blehert
Saturday, June 12, 2010
writhing on the sidewalk while three men
lifted his motorcycle out of a puddle
of oil by the curb.
I was going somewhere and decided
I didn't have time to stop.
No doubt he'd felt the same way
until the crumpled rear end of that car
persuaded him otherwise--
though he may still be in a big hurry,
answering petulantly his pain's questions
so that pain must ask them over and over,
haggling, wringing from him each detail--
I, too, have found since then
more time than I thought I had
for answering questions--not posed
by any pain of mine,
but by the tiny gap torn
in where I thought I was going to
by my maybe passing right by--
in my hurry to get there--
part of it.
Today another accident: The front of his tiny car
nearly cut off by a left-turning truck,
he's slouched in the front seat, bleeding
from his face (nose? mouth?)
onto his once-white shirt, dazed.
I park and bring over a box of Kleenex
to catch blood and to make amends
for driving past the broken motorcyclist.
I feel okay about it now if you do, Lord,
so you can stop damaging people
and machines for me.
by Dean Blehert
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
at your pace), I worry: What if an alien craft
were to beam you up, just you. I'd be walking along,
turn back - you'd be gone
So I slow down to walk beside you. Still, with a
narrow beam, they could pick off you alone,
so I put my hand on your shoulder,
but maybe they'd take you and just
my hand, and you'd worry, what happened to the
rest of me - did I bleed to death, or did the beam
cauterize my stump? - you'd never be certain.
Would you save my hand? Would they let you
remember me? I'd never be certain.
Our old dog would be barking like mad,
snarling at the empty sky, inconsolable.
They'd put me away, too--
In jail if I had no explanation,
or in an asylum if I tried to tell the truth.
How nice to walk along, (the dog nuzzling our hands
then falling behind to sniff at the grass)
kicking the autumn leaves, beside you.
by Dean Blehert
Friday, May 14, 2010
what with cereal boxes and CDs sliding off the branches,
shopping carts catching on roots and overturning, skidding
on ice, water leaking through the leaves, making a
soggy mess of the movie popcorn, shrimp lo mein sliding off
root-tilted tables into customer laps, having to shake
snow off the videos to read the titles, all the books
at Borders mildewed and cobwebbed, kids vanishing
into the upper branches, poison ivy in the men's room,
birds splatting into bright-skied movie screens,
pushing faces through itchy spider threads to
reach the pharmacy, squeezing between saplings to
get green cream cheese (with ladybugs) smeared on
your bagel, branches snapping in your face as you
moved to the counter for your large hazelnut mocha
with a little green caterpillar thread-dropping
into the whipped cream, no place to park, thorns
snagging and tearing nylons and shopping bags,
all those CREATURES underfoot and overhead as if
they owned the place and not very clean either -
mangy deer nibbling the vegetables, foxes, squirrels,
skunks, moles, woodpeckers making their messes
right in the aisles, scary rustlings
and crashings behind the canned goods,
raccoons in the bakery, snakes in the Place
for Hair, that huge moth spreading its wings
on the fresh lettuce, bees swarming the Baskin-
Robbins Pralines and Cream, just the tops
of Boston Chicken and First Columbia Bank
showing where the beaver dam submerged them,
a lightning-felled branch spilling silk scarves
and handkerchiefs, shattering a cosmetics
display case, gallons of perfume wasted
on old dead leaves, clouds of gnats
kamikazing your eyes so you can hardly read
the prices, things plopping into your soup
in all seasons - yellow leaves, branch-loads
of snow, acorns, winged whirling seedpods,
silky puffballs drifting into everything,
trying to separate your salad-bar pickings
from dead leaves and seeds in all that rush
of wind and rain, huge black wet creaky
tree trunks looming up on all sides and in
the leaves overhead a sudden crackle and WHOOSH!
as a thousand grackles swirl upwards shrieking -
HEADS UP! - yuchhh! They've been gorging
on blackberries! Oh, it's so much more
convenient now that everything is flat and
air conditioned and asphalted and concreted and
glassed and roofed in, sleek floors, straight
wide aisles, level shelves and tables, nothing
alive but us and some adorable puppies in a
window and lovebirds in cages, all we need
so easy to reach, so CLEVER! I don't know
why we didn't think of this sooner!
by Dean Blehert
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
Of mirrored chocolate domes and creamy turrets
And tessellated plazas, cherry-studded, with gardens
of emerald kiwi, descends, hovers, whisks away,
Hovers near again—I feel tractor beams
Reaching out to me, probing, searching
For intelligent life to pervade, and now,
All purpose, all sense of proportion
Vanished, I am being pulled in, closer...
Closer—suddenly before my glazed eyes
The pecan pie is about to speak to me,
I know it...
And that's all I remember.
by Dean Blehert
Sunday, May 09, 2010
8 May 2010
I no longer have my own words.
They’d been alive and hard to maintain,
pitted and yellowing. In each word, the nerve
was deteriorating. Having them removed
was painful, but necessary.
With my false words,
I just leave them in a glass by the bed each night
in a solution of remembered admiration
and sugar in sparkling water, and each morning
they fill my mouth with dazzling highlights.
My smile is fresh, new, authoritative,
but years after the extraction,
I remain numb.
14 April 2010
Worrying poetry like a ragged cur,
nagging her bone
the poet seeks out meat, hidden
bits she can crack with teeth worn down
by critics and dentists
She wonders now if a workshop with
eager young writers
might fit her with dentures,
give her a new bite
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
of no feeling to that which cannot but feel
is endemic in Twentieth Century Literary Criticism.
Here is a common example: A young man
goes strolling after the first spring shower,
feels in every vibrant budding tree,
each whistling robin, each droplet on each petal,
in each salvo of tender and fiery greens -
feels a surging joy as vivid as his own
and writes a poem that says so. A critic who,
with little life of his own, is unable to feel
the life that surrounds him (only enough
to suspect it may be disruptive) - a critic
long sequestered in theories of biochemical
mechanics that comfortably anaesthetize
lacerations he's inflicted on himself and others -
and to whom even the young man's joy
is a possibly contagious rash,
such a critic, reading the young man's poem,
proclaims (as student pens wag busily),
"See how the poet attributes his emotion
to birds, trees and flowers? That
is the PATHETIC FALLACY!" (Students
circle these words for the next quiz.)
The critic's proclamation is a perfect example
of the Apathetic Fallacy: Feeling nothing himself,
he ascribes his absence of feeling
to all life. He assumes, for example,
that birds and leaves cannot feel joy
and that the young poet cannot feel
the joy of others. He does not say
(but cherishes the secret thought)
that even the young man's joy
is brain circuits on the fritz
or good digestion.
But this is unfair, calling it a fallacy,
for after the lecture, the critic
walks to his mud-spattered car
past dull grey-green bushes,
mite-ridden sparrows that jitter and hop
like wind-up toys - he is right:
it is a joyless world.
by Dean Blehert
Monday, April 19, 2010
to see, no tiniest trace of the others,
that we are all here, all reachable,
not one of us ever irrevocably lost.
Otherwise we each become a child who plays
hide and seek so cleverly that none can find him
and we think we'll just stay hidden,
but at last wonder where everyone's gone
(we want to brag about the cleverness).
By then the seekers, deciding there must be
holes in the universe, become persuaded
that one can be utterly lost.
Then (innocent yet of death) we fear
for the persistence of play, invent lies
and compulsions to prevent others
and ourselves from leaving, say
WE ARE ALL ONE, so that there will be
no leaving, or say WE ARE EACH
UTTERLY SEPARATE AND ALONE, so that
there is no one else to leave.
Thus has our play been protected
out of existence, leaving us stuck
with each other in the barriers of the game
(turbulences, distances, rocks, bodies, aeons)
to the point where, even if we recall
our separateness, we can no longer
reach out to one another.
Like wind over water, we are perceived
only in what we create. In the quick, rippling
cross-currents, all perceptions flow,
come in question like the changing faces
behind the face in the mirror.
No creation can hold its creator, not
soft eyes nor hard poetry; no perception
can replace knowing you are here
and knowing I know.
by Dean Blehert
Friday, April 16, 2010
One day the Professor showed us how Hemingway idles in neutral when his imagination is disengaged: He has his protagonist do things. Instead of just coming home, Jake or Nick lifts the cab door handle, leans his head forward and levers himself to the curb (but in three sentences), stands there a moment, eyes shaded beneath hat brim, facing the house, turns, walks around the cab, reaches his left hand into his left pants pocket (which jingles), etc. And there are so many things to be done with cigarettes and shot glasses.
The sentences maintain that hollow Hemingway beat that could be numbness after pain or boredom or something taut about to snap or nothing at all (but we know it is Hemingway and it is good), and at some point the imagination engages and the story progresses.
Every writer (says Hopkins) has his Parnassian style, his fallback voice for riffing on and on when he has nothing to say.Some writers have nothing else, just the carrier wave, all cadenza, all jazz, variations on the theme of me talking that talk.
Some writers play hide and seek: Find me in my style... - no, good guess, but that was just a bit of crescendo or a reflection of your own silly mug, Reader; I'm over here...no here! (That old Nabokov Kafka Tristram Shandy Borges Melville slipperiness.)
Sheer nothing to say, persisted in, becomes something to say, Beckett hopes.
Well, why not? The style is the man. Ultimately, there's no escaping what we are. But ultimately there's nothing to escape. Imagination disengages when we neglect to decide to be what we are being. Then we are no longer where art is, before the beginning, pure cause, or at the beginning of what is, the decision to be. We have become the effect of old decisions inadequately recycled.
And what if, idling, we cannot find ourselves to decide newly to be? See Hemingway in his later work struggling - numb with the shock of cold - against the current back up that stream - not making it, having trouble remembering now what it was - losing hope of ever rejoining the beginning, where he can make new decisions...
Wednesday, April 07, 2010
at Washington and Lee, saying that my wonderful talent
deserved to be represented in the new collection
of Virginia poets they are creating — and
eventually they might even have funding
to PAY poets for their work. So would I
send them, please, all my published books.
In the margin a handwritten note — looking
just as personalized on each of the 200 letters
(or 1000 or 10,000) sent out — says that it
would be great if I'd autograph them too.
I was tempted. But I wondered about a,
no doubt, form letter from someone
who'd never read a word of mine (I
suspected), yet began by telling me what my
talent deserved. I wondered too if I was
obligated by my address to become a
The letter included an e-mail address (for questions),
so after letting the letter ferment for three days
(not a word of it changed), I e-mailed her.
Why? Must have felt embarrassed at my cheapness,
felt a need to justify. I said thanks, but I'd given away
hundreds of copies of my books and never, that I knew of,
had that expanded my audience; that I found
people willing to pay for my books, who then
actually read them; that I'd written my books
to be read by people, not archived, but that
I'd be glad to sell them as many copies as
they pleased to buy. (I mentioned two other
universities that had purchased my work.)
The response, next day, was from the professor —
(I must have been too much for the interne.)
"Thank you for your thrifty and candid response.
I'm certain your decision is the best one possible
for all concerned."
(I could hear the gentle nudge on "all".)
Ooh, that venomously genteel snideness —
I remembered why I'd hated faculty meetings
during my brief academic career.
I thought of a dozen sharp answers,
but knew that ANY answer would just
make it worse. The whole exchange
stuck in my throat until, thinking of
Monte Python, I evoked an answer
so good that I didn't need to send it:
Dear Professor [name],
in your general direction.
Will this get to him somehow, perhaps
by spiritual telegraph? With what professorial
rapier thrust will he respond?
I am waiting for the other silken stocking
Monday, March 22, 2010
I think I think; therefore, I think I am?
Or therefore I am I am?
I think, "I think, therefore I am";
therefore, I am "I think, therefore I am."
The little Descarte engine chugs up the hill
chanting, "I think I am...I think I am...".
I think, therefore I am...NOT!
I am there, for I think I am.
I think what I think; therefore, I am what I am.
I eat spinach; therefore, I yam what I yam.
I think; however, I am.
I think; moreover, I am.
They are; therefore, I think.
You are; therefore, I am.
You are there, for I think.
I write sonnets; therefore, Iamb.
THINK; therefore, IBM.
We THIMK; therefore, we err.
I am; air go; I am not.
Cogito; ergoes the neighborhood.
I shrink; therefore, I'm.
I am, but I think.
I think, therefore I damn.
I fink, therefore I lam.
I think not; therefore, I am not.
I think; therefore, I am...I think.
You think; therefore, you are...or so YOU say.
Cogito; Here goes: ZOOM!
— Dean Blehert
(posted by Pam)