Sunday, December 11, 2005

You Wanna Listen to What on C'mas Eve?

Hello Drieser Fans!

Sorry I haven't made any posts lately. I know it's difficult to navigate the early years of the 21st Century without seeking insight about a chronicler (Mr. Dreiser, not me) of the early years of the last century. I guess I could claim that I've just been too busy! That's a good excuse, plus you could infer that I have really important things to do. My blog adviser - one of the best in the business, and I mean that, this chap actually gets paid for writing a blog - tells me that one shouldn't let a blog get stale, that posts should be frequent. That's advice I try to follow.

So, a few things first: RE on Christmas eve... take note of a note that was sent to me a week or so ago. Don't want to listen to "Here Comes Santa Claus" or one more rendition of "Up on the Rooftop"? Well, try something happy - tune into the Metropolitan Opera's performance of the new opera - "An American Tragedy!"

The opera will be broadcast on the radio on Dec. 24 at 1:30 p.m. Check the Met's Web site to see if your local public radio station will be carrying it. If you live in the Cincinnati area, I'm told that WGUC will broadcast.

You know, I can't help but think about how Clyde ignored Roberta on Christmas eve. Was there ever a more heartbreaking telling of someone being stood up, abandoned? Roberta, completely alone, with a present for Clyde, waiting, hoping that what was happening wasn't really happening at the rich people's holiday soiree. Roberta peering into the dark night and winter, trying to avoid a crushing but inevitable sense of having been used. I don't have a copy of the novel and it's a good thing. I don't know if I want to be reimmersed in the pitiful sense of hope that fills Roberta with life - for a while. Remember, it's just a novel. But that's what makes D so great - you have to keep telling yourself that. CLYDE AND ROBERTA ARE JUST MADE UP! THEY DON'T REALLY EXIST!

Among family members who pretend to stay interested in my Dreiser commentary I have said that much of D's writing - particularly Tragedy - makes me think of a Mahler symphony. Kind of difficult, you know? A lot going on. Not too happy for a long time. But then suddenly some magical melody jumps out of a dark muddle of twisting gloomy tones; it can be a dance or a folk tune or birds whistling in the woods. And then the rest of the instruments catch up and pure bliss races along until, well, you know it's gonna happen - some tuba signals that the devil and all the mean people are back and poor melody gets slammed and trapped by fate and whatever else just makes people want to cry. Now that I think about it, D and Mahler were writing/composing at about the same time... Hmmm, I think there's a link; those fellas might have been IMing each other.

I finished The Titan. A great second part of the Cowperwood trilogy. The last 100 pages or so were brilliant. Characters, color, conversation, reporting, places, politics, commentary jump out of the text. I don't think it's all under control, though. The final events of the novel seem somewhat random, almost disconnected.

And - I hate to write it - but I think the final drama, as Frank tries to get the Chicago City Council to extend his transit franchise for 50 years, is dated. Think about it: Cowperwood is trying to take over the entire Chicago transit system. The image is good - the Titan will control how everyone moves around and through the city. That movement will influence commerce and industry and land values. From the top of a skyscraper, the people and machines move like ants through a controlled and predictable pattern, with wealth and power ascending to one person - Frank Cowperwood.

But most people today have never been on a bus - deliberately. A few cities have light rail and subways. Street cars? Come on, just urban gadgets for tourists - they don't carry power or the powerful. Frank's power is really last century. That's not D's fault. My comment is just that readers of today - especially young readers outside of Chicago or New York or San Francisco or Portland - might find it hard to accept that the guy who owns the bus sytem could be the equivalent of George Soros or Bill Gates. Anyway, who owns bus or rail systems? They're public entities (to a certain extent because of people like F.Cowperwood). Now, if you live in New York City and you're wondering about getting around in case the transit workers do strike... Well, there are always exceptions.

Frank's work to rebuild the tunnels under the Chicago River is very 21st century - more on that latah!

Remember, if you want a notice when this this blog has new material, send your e-mail to I'll keep all addresses confidential. But if the agent of a certain someone offers me 20Gs for the e-mail string... well, we all gotta get by...


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Quite a book, THE TITAN! Frank Cowperwood is a character who inspires many emotions. His desire to satisfy his thirst for a life filled to the brim makes for highly entertaining reading.

Cowperwood was an avid art collector. I think this section is interesting. Must say I was surprised to read it. In my edition this quote begins on page 382:

"His art collection, in which he took an immense pride, had been growing, until it was the basis if not the completed substance for a very splendid memorial. Already in it were gathered paintings of all the important schools; to say nothing of collections of jade, illumined missals, porcelains, rugs, draperies, mirror frames, and a beginning at rare originals of sculpture. The beauty of these strange things, the patient laborings of inspired souls of various times and places, moved him, on occasion, to a gentle awe. Of all individuals he respected, indeed revered, the sincere artist. Existence was a mystery, but these souls who set themselvesto quiet tasks of beauty had caught something of which he was dimly conscious. Life had touched them with a vision, their hearts and souls were attuned to sweet harmonies of which the common world knew nothing. Sometimes, when he was weary after a strenuous day, he would enter--late at night-- his now silent gallery, and turning on thelights so that the whole sweet room stood revealed, he would seat himself before some treasure, reflecting on the nature, the mood, the time, and the man that had produced it. Sometimes it would be one of Rembrandt's melancholy heads--the sad 'Portrait of a Rabbi'--or the sweet introspection of a Rousseau stream. A solemn Dutch housewife, rendered with the bold fidelity and resonant enameled surfaces of a Hals or the cold elegance of an Ingres, commanded his utmost enthusiasm. So he would sit and wonder at the vision and skill of the original dreamer, exclaiming at times: 'A marvel! A marvel!'"

To read the words "gentle awe" to describe Frank Cowperwood offers an unexpected peek into yet another aspect of this fascinating character.

8:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dreiser creates wonderful characters with names that are delightful in and of themselves. One character that was epecially interesting was Peter Laughlin. Cowperwood meets Peter at the beginning of THE TITAN. Laughlin's personality is revealed by Dreiser with the use of colorful dialogue. Laughlin's drawl and his homey backwoods-style of talking are expertly portrayed by Dreiser.

And then this sentence catches me and is a reminder that Cowperwood is ever on the march:
(Pg. 25 - in my edition) "His limitations were so marked that to a lover of character like Cowperwood he was fascinating--but Cowperwood only used character. He never idled over it long artistically."

Nothing homey and friendly here! Frank Cowperwood IS a master at "using" people. And when someone became useless to him, he moved on. But not without consequences that make for a fascinating story.

8:30 PM  

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