"That’s why the more you like the Judy Garland film, the more you might appreciate Oz the Great and Powerful. Appreciate. Enjoy. Admire. Be glad to see. Have fun with … But as for love - well, love will be harder to come by." - Mick LaSalle on Oz the Great and Powerful and also on all the men in my life.
“Jacob and his fiends had prospered in school, and most of all at the university, in a way they never had since then. Now five years had passed and were used. All of them were in some way disappointed as they had not been in school, where each had been able to do what he truly wanted to do. The school had been for them a kind of society very different from the adult society for which it was supposed to prepare them.”—Delmore Schwartz, “The World Is a Wedding” (via suitablesubstituteforwit)
Today, I exhausted my twenty free articles on both NYTimes.com and LATimes.com on all of my devices - my computer, my iPad, and each of the desktops at work. So, don’t ask me about Syria, Trayvon Martin, Health care reform, Rick Santorum, or anything else. I simply won’t know.
For the next four days I will actually be as uninformed as I appear to be.
Today, my LA Times horoscope read: “You will really get the conversation going once you become aware of the difference between a monologue and a dialogue.”
How insulting! How presumptuous! Do I not already know the difference? Am I self-absorbed? To my mind, I may be long-winded when I speak, but in every circumstance, in friendships, in relationships, and in business, I can hardly get a word in! I said to myself.
"I would go a step further: Chekhov is a writer for patient adults who are indifferent to action, color and finality in their fiction."
So wrong, except the finality part. Lives don’t end when a short story ends, they keep going.
"Nor did Chekhov write stories to inspire or buck up: "Helplessness, hopelessness, misunderstanding and defeat are chief among his themes," wrote the essayist Joseph Epstein"
Which great stories are meant to “buck up?” Name one. Chekhov said it best, “How unbearable at times are people who are happy, people for whom everything works out.” He also wisely said, “A writer is not a confectioner.”
"If love crops up in a Chekhov story, it is virtually certain to be mowed down by selfishness or insensitivity or staleness."
Well, isn’t that exactly what happens in, like, life? Although, I’d disagree that those three attributes are what mow down love in Chekhov’s stories. For the most part, it is the societal constraints and mores of the time and place - Russia in the late 1800s and early 1900s. In arguably his most famous short story, The Lady With the Little Dog, his narrator writes: “…and with a burning pain in my heart I realized how unnecessary, how petty, and how deceptive all that had hindered us from loving was. I understood that when you love you must either, in your reasonings about that love, start from what is highest, from what is more important than happiness or unhappiness, sin or virtue in their accepted meaning, or you must not reason at all.” The characters love is doomed not because of selfishness or staleness or insensitivity, but because of just the opposite of those things.
"But he’s not everyone’s cup of tea. His contemporary, N. K. Mikhailovsky, wrote, "Questions without answers, answers without questions, stories with no beginning or end, plots with no denouement…. Mr. Chekhov should turn on his work lamp in his study to light up these half-lit characters and dispel the gloom that conceals their silhouettes and contours." The writer E.J. Dillon thought Chekhov’s characters were "fickle, spineless, drifting people," and the poet Anna Akhmatova criticized Chekhov’s world as a "uniformly drab…sea of mud with wretched human creatures caught in it helplessly."
Who are these people? The writers who cite Chekhov as influences I’ve read. Also, Anna Akhmatova, whomever you are, Chekhov’s world is our world. He is right.
"One way to approach Chekhov might be to listen to audio recordings of his stories; Stephen Fry and Kenneth Branagh, both of whom have beautiful voices, have recorded some of his work."
Really? An approach to Chekhov would be to listen to him on tape? Read by two British actors? The British voice surely would give Chekhov some Shakespearean weight. That’s why Chekhov must be boring - he’s not British enough!
"Readers might also want to come at Chekhov obliquely—through the work of some of the many writers who have been called "the American Chekhov." These include Raymond Carver, John Cheever, Eudora Welty, Peter Taylor and Lorrie Moore."
I love these writers, but, to “come at” Chekhov through them as opposed to them through Chekhov? I’m not even sure how that would work.
I suppose Cynthia Crossen had to write something, and not just answer B.R. from Toronto’s question, “I hate Chekhov…What aren’t I getting?” with “Everything! You idiot!”
And, yet, her entire answer to the article’s question “Chekhov: Brilliant or Boring?” seems to be culled from Wikipedia. Wouldn’t it have been appropriate to include more than one direct quote on writing from Chekhov himself? Because she didn’t, I will:
"Any idiot can face a crisis - it’s day to day living that wears you out."
"The role of the artist is to ask questions, not answer them."
There’s many more, of course.
B.R. from Toronto also states in his question that his very favorite short story writer is Alice Munro - who happens to be the most Chekhovian writer of all the authors name-dropped in the article. The brilliance of Chekhov speaks for itself, but I’ll answer the damn question the article posed, Brilliant or Boring:
“This ride on the metro left me with the recollection of a great sadness. The sadness had nothing to do with my short memory. But something profoundly sad was happening there in the car, with all those people going home to lunch. Very close to me was a great unhappiness, as silent as a real unhappiness can be, beyond all help, unknown, and which nothing could cause to appear. And I, as I felt this, was like a traveler walking on a road in the middle of nowhere; the road has summoned him and he walks onward, but the road wants to see if the man who is coming is really the one who should be coming: it turns around to see who he is, and in one somersault they both tumble into the ravine. Unhappy is the path that turns around to look at the man walking on it; and how much more profound was this unhappiness, how much more enigmatic and silent.”—Maurice Blanchot, Death Sentence (L’arrêt de mort; trans. Lydia Davis)
“Something strange was happening to him. His neck, round which soft, fragrant arms had so lately been clasped, seemed to him to be anointed with oil; on his left cheek near his moustache where the unknown had kissed him there was a faint chilly tingling sensation as from peppermint drops, and the more he rubbed the place the more distinct was the chilly sensation . He wanted to dance, to talk, to run into the garden, to laugh aloud. He quite forgot that he was round-shouldered and uninteresting, that he had lynx-like whiskers and an “undistinguished appearance.”—Chekhov, “The Kiss” (via 30prufrock)