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'Breakfast at Tiffany's', Truman Capote

Breakfast at Tiffany's 1 by Truman Capote is a book of 3 short stories and a novella.  'Breakfast at Tiffany's' is the novella. The others are ' House of Flowers', 'A Diamond Guitar', and 'A Christmas Memory'.
      Portraiture is the book's conceit with a theme of - fiction by which Capote articulates a psychological dynamic, mostly his own. The book reads like fiction, but interpreting it seems to reveal an awful lot of Capote's personal psyche, more like a memoir.   Of course I can't prove the subtext is of Capote's traits but it is what I believe is going on.  My argument - which follows - is that the stories evidence an authorial pathology in addition to the author's - at times - epiphanous literary sensibility.
     Ottilie and Holly Golightly are two of the main characters of the book. Holly of 'Breakfast at Tiffany's' and Ottilie - no surname - of 'House of Flowers'.  Their stories are forms of parallelism.   Both abandon previous kinships for a peregrination, both seem imperviable at times but are latter shown to be more assailable.
     Holly's peregrination takes her from being a rural pinion of Tulip, Texas to New York and a Hollywoodesque insouciance. She is, it seems, iconic and desired by almost everybody she meets including the narrator of the story.  The trouble is Capote - apparently because of some pathology - decides to bludgeon Holly,
figuratively speaking.  Her peregrination seems at times to be nothing but a continuous punishment.  Holly's journey - created by Capote - includes; An alimentary necessity of prostitution;  Fiduciary reasons for being involved with a mobster;  An accessory to an international drug ring - Holly is sarcastic upon being arrested then slapped by the arresting policewoman causing Holly to suffering a miscarriage;  Holly eventually bail jumps from the U.S. to South America; [At this point in the book I can't blame her for fleeing the U.S.  Its like she's being chased by Jason Vorhees.]  Eventually news of her whereabouts reaches the States and she is thought to be shacking up with "mud hutted" africans.  [This is not my prejudice at work, the situation is described as such in the book.]  Now, if you as a reader can explain all that, as 'life predicaments' rather than an authorial battering of his/her characters then, I believe you are reading twentieth century literature as if it were one of Aesop's fables.  While having sincere feelings for what Holly represents, still the suffering or romacabre (portmanteau of romanticism/macabre)  which exists is under the control of Capote the author.  That characters profess love and concern doesn't negate the macabre.  Supposedly, the narrator's love is advanced by the hobbled nature of Holly's peregrination.  How is it that a succession of abusive sustenations becomes the foundation of a nonpathological love? Well, maybe if the sustenations were shared which they aren't.   I interpret the peregrination as a string of events constituting some kind of authorial pathology.  
     The  suffering or romacabre contained in the stories is under the control of Capote.  I don't believe he can 
escape the volition of debasing the characters by claiming that societal indifference is at work.  The idea that such a maring of Holly Golightly by a disembodied society just doesn't hold under the evidence. 
     'House of Flowers' parallels 'Breakfast at Tiffany's'.  In 'House of Flowers' Capote skirts but doesn't totally evade being the bludgeoner himself as Ottilie's heretofore loving but somewhat neglectful husband, suddenly and randomly,  seems on the verge of becoming the bludgeoner.   Nothing previously written depicted the husband as a threat to Ottilie;  There was  just a lot of love and some neglect.  Yet Ottilie ends the story tied to a tree, apparently ignorant to the husbands ominousness.  Unfortunately, the husband hasn't shown any abusiveness, only a spiritually motivated scolding.  Yet doom seems headed for the tree-tied Ottilie .  Really the only doom awaiting Ottilie is Capote's free hand to create such doom, battering Ottilie as he battered Holly Golightly. 
      It becomes apparent that a facile peregrination of yearning and hope, as in Holly's case, and the facile, earthy desire for love without an obstacle of analyticism, as in Ottilie's case, are enough for Capote to charge both Holly and Ottilie with the crime of facileness and of not having a proper reverence for frills and trinkets.   It seems fair to say Holly and Ottilie are anathemas to a baubled, materialistic existence which Capote admires.  The following is said of a character but I think it applies to Capote himself and helps explain what seems like Capote's contempt for a facile, unornamented life.

"Yearning. Not stupid.  He wants awfully to be on the inside staring out."2

      Well, Capote seems 'in' with a nonfacile, ornamented group, his nose 'pressed against the glass' looking out, contemptuously, at those not on the inside.   
       The stories 'A Diamond Guitar' and 'A Christmas Memory' can, both,  be similarly interpreted.  'A Christmas Memory' has the added benefit of Capote disclosing some basis for the pathological backhands of the adult Capote.
The story is the beginning- in time - of these stories.  It is a representation of a sensitive child character experiencing conflict in the form of some ridicule and the loss of his dearest friend whom he loves.  The loss;
". . . servering from me an irreplacable part of mysef, letting it loose like a kite on a broken string.  That is why . . . "3   
     Capote has a well-developed literate empathy and fluidity of expression. Holly is for the first part of the story unbearably vain. She seems senseless, as if society - or street life at least - couldn't be baneful or nocuous towards her.  She is unassailable in her insouciance.  It is as if she could walk off her apt. balcony, land safely 2 or 3 stories below, not  even needing to straighten her wide-brimmed straw hat or dark rimmed sunglasses.  She is insufferable, unbearable. She seems imperviable. Fortunately, Capote reveals some very concise pathos under the celebrity facade.  Holly misses an audition for a possible career changing hollywood movie part.  Her agent wants to know why.  Despite the plasticity she presents - the going about life teeming with an obeisance to frivolity - she answers her agent truthfully, as if finally fatigued by it all;

  "I don't want it."4

     I am not the most proficient with pop psychology.  If asked to add 'Oedipus' and 'Rex' together, I might very easily come up with something like 'Oedipus Mex' or 'Epochal Rant' or even 'Ma'am,  If I'm the one smoking the cigar then, I assure you, the cigar is just a cigar.'  So,  I'm quite certain this book review with its pop psychology is off-track by a few hundred thousand miles. But my argument is not entirely unsupported.  Contradictions can easily underlie what seem a union; facades sit atop truths, truths sit atop mistakes,  falsities sit alongside truths, etc.;  All presented as some kind of singular entity. An aesthetic is revealed in the book, yet
I can't ignore the comparable esoteric loathings and antipathies which also exist.  Thus, to me, an argument that the book contains both literature and pathology doesn't seem necessarily wrong. 

1Breakfast at Tiffany's, Truman Capote ©1958, The Penguin Group, Penguin Essentials, London and New York
2 Ibid, pg. 43
3 Ibid, pg. 158
4 Ibid, pg. 29
'The New York Trilogy', Paul Auster
     The New York Trilogy1 by Paul Auster is a grouping of 3 mystery novellas; "City of Glass", "Ghosts", and "The Locked Room" into a single book.  Two of the novellas have a version of a literary minded narrator working a case on a 'for hire' basis, the third has a literary minded narrator helping a childhood friend's apparent widow.  
     The narrators also ruminate about Thoreau, Don Quixote, Milton's Paradise Lost, a fictional academic work, and more.  
The ruminative literary monologues - in their percipience and good conscience - have a spellbinding effect.  They made for interesting reading.
   Although the novellas are something of an homage - pastiche might be more correct - to the detective, mystery novel, it is wordplay - which I'll also refer to as lexical paradoxes - which is an important characteristic of the book.   
"White wants Blue to follow a man named Black and to keep an eye on him for as long as necessary.  While working for Brown . . . "2
"Fate in the sense of what was, of what happened to be.  It was something like the word 'it' in the phrase 'it is raining' or 'it is night'.  What the it referred to Quinn had never known.   [Boldface mine] 
Toward the bottom of the same page;
"And so he had received the call - which anyway had been destined for the wrong man.  It all made perfect sense."3  [Again, boldface mine] 
      One moment the 'it' is indeterminable, the next 'it' makes perfect sense.  The contexts are such that the 2 'its' refer to different things, but don't be fooled;  I feel fairly certain that the author is aware of and motivated by the seemingly paradoxical claims regarding 'it'.
     The lexical paradoxes had such an effect on me that when I read;

"Blue reaches for his hat, his coat, his muffler,  and boots . . . "4

     My first thought upon reading  'muffler' was that Blue had grabbed along with his hat, coat, etc. a 10 or 12 ft. long piece of bent metal tubing which sits under a car and channels exhaust gases.  Generally that would not have been my first thought.
     Two aspects of the book were problematic for me.
     Occasionally, the logic of the narrative seemed poorly founded. That is to say, the events weren't in keeping with the preceding narrative but were simply possible.   An 'anything is possible' school of suspense seemed to take over.   Yes, anything can happen but not every 'anything' is plausible and an 'Anything can happen' suspense leads to a verisimilitude of plausibility.  An obligation of plausibility in fiction was, occasionally, jettisoned for the easy suspense of possibility.  These occasional events seemed to suggest a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde were at work as authors.   Things would seem to proceed rationally as I read - the Dr. Jekyll author -  and then, all of a sudden, something unfounded and rather unbelievable popped up - the Mr. Hyde author.    
     The book's conceit seems to be subjectiveness lacks certainty.
This conceit is made somewhat illogical as each novella ends with the protagonist portrayed, melodramatically, as
trying to retain, heroically, some semblance of understanding despite the seeming indifference of detective noir . . . er, I mean . . . of life or fate.
     My attempts to find a theme among the many motifs i.e. lexical paradoxes, literary sublimity,  plot mystery, etc. left me bedeviled and in a state of uncertainty.   The trilogy seems best suited for someone with an affinity for the puzzling aspects of life.
     Let me end with a digression;
     Post-modernism - which this book can claim as a literary style -  can seem to be eschewing classical, romantic, and modern literary styles.  The    'experiments', 'alternatives',  can seem to be attempting to supplant the classical, romantic, modern styles. It could be a useless struggle in which post-modernism is engaging badly, like a spoiled child.  Post-modernism seems to be insisting upon its version of poetic justice; It insists on being lauded beyond the classical, romantic, or modern styles.  You know,
those classical, romantic, modernists are dastardly fellows. 

1 The New York Trilogy; City of Glass, Ghosts, Locked Room, Paul Auster, ©1985, 1986, Penguin Goup, ©1987,1988, New York, New York,U.S.A.
2 Ibid, pg. 133
3 Ibid, pg.109
4 Ibid, pg. 138

'Oliver Twist', Charles Dickens
      Charles Dickens has the unfortunate luck of having been allocated with both Late Modern English and a nascent, utilitarian industrial revolution.   Shakespeare had  poetic, lyrical, Middle English and  a strong monarchy.   This utilitarianism which characterizes Dicken's era can hamper . . . whoa, whoa, whoa!  On second thought  bemoaning Dickens bad historical luck is equivalent to bemoaning despotism's bad luck at coexisting with humanism.  Stuff happens as we used to say in the '80s.  In the case of Charles Dickens - thank goodness stuff happened; Had he not been burdened of the utilitarian he, probably, wouldn't have been as great an author.  As it is, despite the era, he is more Shakespearean than some others considered Shakespearean.  His writing should be considered ineluctable by anyone with some literary interest.
     Orphaned child Oliver  - the title character of Charles Dicken's Oliver Twist1 - survives life as a ward of the state then becoming an unwillingly aid of the thief Fagin and his abettors .  The life of these characters occurs during the beginnings of the industrial revolution and the events serve to comment on those conditions as well as an individuals shouldering their responsibilities.  However, in being labeled as social critique or social commentary the book's literary aspects are being done a disservice.
     For me, the characters are the most significant element.   They are impassioned, ardent, fiery, stimulated, enthused, selective.  Most importantly, they are prideful of  their respective selves; By this I mean that within circumstances of a societal setting the characters stand up for themselves with a fully engaged loquaciousness. They rarely if ever present a tight-lipped concealment.  Rarely is a character silent in a way which 'speaks volumes'.  Instead they let the effects of their dialogue fall where it may:
     "Juries" said Mr. Bumble, grasping his cane tightly, as was his wont when working into a passion:  "juries is ineddicated, vulgar, grovellng wretches.
     "So they are," said the undertaker.
     "They haven't no more philosophy nor political economy about 'em then that," said the beadle, snapping his fingers contemptuously.
     "No more they have," acquiesced the undertaker."
     "I despise 'em," said the beadle, growing very red in the face.
     "So do I," rejoined the undertaker.2

      The dialogue of the beadle and the undertaker is not - in my opinion - of acquiescence;  It is of supporting an impassioned response.  The undertaker avoids giving a contrary view - which he may or may not hold, but he doesn't acquiesce. Instead he mollifies.  The undertaker is never taken aback by the beadles 'working himself into a passion.'  The undertaker quickly and rather forcefully rejoins with the likes of  "No more they have"  and  "So do I.", refusing to let the beadles passion rule without a respectable seconding.  Such backing requires a great deal of character by the undertaker himself.  Thus both characters are strongly autonomous, as are all the book's characters.
     The undertakers calm, in addition to being a powerful contrary to the beadles 'very  red in the face' expression is also somewhat comical. The undertaker is agreeing with the beadle as if to say "Yeah, let 'em have it beadle!  They'll wish they'd suffered a cannon shot from 2 or 3 feet away rather than the wrath of the beadle!'  This comicality softens the potential sharpness of the beadles passion;  It creates a moderating and relaxing effect.  It is not infrequent
with Dickens that this kind of moderation occurs.   Dickens seems so respectful of the character's autonomy and passions that  'silence which speaks volumes' will not suffice for his characters.  Neither will intimations be good enough to pass as suspense, nor hints good enough to pass as inter-character tension. It could be said that Dickens authorial judgement is one in which discourse, even if frightfully impassioned, is civil and he (Dickens) will not put up with any of his characters shrinking from an obligation of discourse, regardless of the passions involved.

Another example:
"By what authority am I kidnapped in the street, and brought here by these dogs?" asked Monks, looking from one to the other of the men who stood beside him. 
     "By mine,"replied Mr. Brownlow, . . . If you complain of being deprived of your liberty - you had power and opportunity to retrieve it as you came along. . . ."
     "Is there -," demanded Monks with a faltering tone  "is there - no middle course?" 
    "This is pretty treatment, sir," said Monks throwing down his hat and cloak, "from my father's oldest friend."3

    Mr. Brownlow is straight-forward and non-concealing with his committal.  Monks, despite the demurral,  is not entirely appeasing of Brownlow's forcefulness. Even facing judgement Monks stands aside his choices rather than meakly abiding or acquiescing to Mr. Brownlow.  Thus, Monks too is given an amount of strength and credibility.  In fact, part of the books marvel is Dickens demanding of his characters admirableness - despite the potential impracticality of their being admirable.  I would go so far as to say that all of the book's dialogue can be just as  revealing and discerning as these examples.
     A frequent criticism of the book is that Oliver always seems the suffering innocent.  His innocence is great, his wrongs are nill.  This impossibly good depiction can seem exaggerated but, eventually, the reader is persueded that the innocence is hyperbolic for the sake of representing a factuality.   Decency - which is too often obfuscated by the base - in order to be
presented as achievable and existent, needed to be exaggerated.    Probity is an equal player in the game of life.  Too often it lacks respect as legitimate. Probity has been severely banged around by latitudinal values yet Dickens insists on wholesomeness as being the equal of the abject, though the wainscoting of the abject may seem the embedded, default condition of our existence.
     The depiction of the setting adds claustrophobia
to an already ominous late 18th century England;  As if  the soot and grime of a nascent
, growing, and ponderous industrial revolution had - in its utilitarianism - engulfed the country's literature as well as the country's commerce. The plot moves along well and maintains suspense.
     Dicken's  disquisitiveness regarding the English language is amazing and, in all probability, unparallelled.  Dickens authorship - discerning, admonishing
, caring - is a bulwark of the literary.  Dickens loftiness requires his superintendence which he humbly and admirably provides.  All this and a plaintive style which serves as the icing of a truly formidable, literary cake . . . er, I mean . . . personage.

". . . but Oliver's thoughts, like those of most other people, although they were extremely ready and active to point out his difficulties, were wholly at a loss to suggest  any feasible mode of surmounting them . . ." 4

Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens, Published by Bantam Dell, A Division of Random House Inc., Bantam Classic reissue, ©2005.

Ibid, pg. 26
3 Ibid, pg. 396 - 397
4 Ibid, pg. 54

A Tenet of Aesthetic
     Harold Bloom postulates a principal footing of aesthetic value.  I tend to agree.

    "The cardinal principle of the current School of Resentment can be stated with singular bluntness: what is called aesthetic value emanates from class struggle.  This principal is so broad that it cannot be wholly refuted.  I myself insist that the individual self is the only method and the whole standard for apprehending aesthetic value."1

     It seems to me the idea of class struggle creating the particulars of an aesthetic is a case of mistaken identity;  A block of agreement has been mistaken for an aesthetic.  More than one individual valuing an aesthetic does not bring into existence the aesthetic but rather produces an agreement.  Alternative aesthetics are not negated by a lack of agreement. The particulars of alternative aesthetics - whether held communally, individually, or by any other manner of modification distinguishing the aesthetic as alternative - still exist as an aesthetic.  The lack or presence of  a supporting mob whether that mob is elitist or high brow, common or low brow, popular or avant-garde, neither defines nor negates an aesthetic and its facets.  
     It's not unlike the admonition, 'Throwing the baby out with the bathwater.'  A grouping of baby with bathwater - no distinguishment between the 2 - leads to throwing the baby out with the bath water.  Likewise, group support of or aversion to an aesthetic
- which a group support seems endemical to aesthetics defined by class struggle - is not in and of itself the aesthetic.  Rather, group support or aversion relates to the idea of agreement or disagreement with aesthetic and not the aesthetic itself.

The Western Canon: The Books and School of the Ages, Harold Bloom
Pg. 22  Riverhead Books 1995, New York, New York,

'The Road', Cormac McCarthy

     In Cormac McCarthy's The Road©1, a father and child negotiate a dystopic land in order to escape the coming winter.  Day by day, tin of food by tin of food, they travel southward. 
     The Road© was disappointing.  Plotwise, An occasional nihilist survivor appears only to seem more enervated than threatening.  Themewise, the protagonist's greedless integrity seems more a luck of the draw than a choice for he is stuck in an environment lacking  things of which to be greedy thus the non-covetous with it's embedded integrity becomes a default condition.  Stylewise,  the narratives melancholic pinings miss a sense of perspicaciousness.  The cumulative effect of the pinings is one of decoration. The desiderations seem as necessary to a post-apocalyptic land as decorative Santa Clauses and decorative snowflakes are necessary to Christmas.  The effect of these disappointments was to give the book the ill luck of seeming sentimental and something of a didactic fable.
     I had been looking forward  to the dystopic setting but it was less adventuresome than I'd hoped.  McCarthy's dystopia is characterized by the freely mobile, lack of enforcing authorities, and the negation of a status-quo.  Wandering,  hunger, exposure to the elements - none of which are necessarily boring or false - mark  the day to day existence.  Under this set of conditions, the mannered civility of the protagonists seems too far-fetched. To some degree, the characters - both major and minor - are portrayed as peons to a physical universe.  Their autonomy, as well as most of the qualities which are part of the living human condition, are dulled by suffering.  Admittedly, staying fed - and preferably warm - are understandable demands of a post-apocalyptic portrayal but the kinetic potential of the anarchical setting deflates with each grudging step of the the characters journey toward warmth.  Pampering the reader with a didactic saw of civilized melancholy as the means by which fearsome facts of a post-apocalyptic land can be successfully negotiated seems at best sentimental and almost certainly not literary.  The saw dowily pokes the readers' dire concerns with an heedless urging of civilized sensibleness in a time when civilized as a modification equates with disaster.  McCarthy's replacing aesthetics with a morality play doesn't seem to me as literary . . . except possibly as literary disaster. 
     Nor does McCarthy's tools and techniques for creating and enhancing a dystopic mood save the unfortunately weak story.  The Road becomes, at best, a story for courses about stories rather than a story for courses about the human condition.  The tools, the analytics, the skilled representation become the 'story' to be talked about. 
     In the end - what  I had expected would be an adventure novel with a literary bent - seemed, instead, a product by a contemporaneous author attempting a modern day fable written on, of all things, parchment paper.  Maybe the book started out as a writing prompt which got out of control. 
     Had the movie Mad Max©'s plot been as didactic and fortuitous as The Road, the whole of post-apocalyptic, dystopian fiction, probably, would have ended before it had ever begun.

     1The Road, Cormac McCarthy,
Vintage Books, ©2006 M-71, Ltd.
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