The Rear-View Mirror: Raymond Carver (1938)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

The most grassroots definition of a writer’s writer, I guess, is one whose writing you love to bits and immediately want to tell your friends about. In other words, somebody really good but still undiscovered. Katherine Dunn. Marisa Matarazzo. Esther Morgan. Sofi Oksanen. Greg Hollingshead. Rick Bass. Please feel free to add your own favourite obscure authors, and you will never run afoul of the definition above. Another, slightly looser definition might be that there is a lot you can learn from a writer’s writer for your own writing, such as dialogue from Elmore Leonard, or cliché-free sci-fi from China Miéville. Continue reading

The Rear-View Mirror: The Waste Land and other poems (1940)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

I’ve just finished Robert Musil’s The Man Without Qualities, a book I would have stopped reading if I’d had to carry it around with me, but there is an excellent audio-book, read by Wolfram Berger, thanks to which I somehow made it through. Did I understand all of the philosophical, political and social musings in there? Of course not – not even half. That is the advantage of novels: you can delve into certain sections and figure them out and read on later, and you can skip other parts. Novels must have some kind of plot, or they are barely novels. There is an obvious red thread, however spurious, that we can figure out and follow. Continue reading

The Rear-View Mirror: The Excursion of the Dead Girls (1944)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

Anna Seghers’ short story The Excursion of the Dead Girls starts with the heroine Netty walking through the Mexican desert as a middle-aged woman, but quickly spirals into past memories, fairy tales and metaphor, all connected to that school trip in Germany many years ago. It’s semi-autobiographical – Seghers, after going through two worlds wars, had to escape Europe, and it was Mexico that seemed to offer a way out, as told in her novel Transit. Plus Seghers calls her protagonist Netty, a name she got called in her youth. Continue reading

Toxic Digitality

I am writing this on a laptop with internet connection. I’ve got another laptop without internet that I use for writing because if I have to research something, it might lead to unbridled surfing. You know how it is. I have owned four or five laptops before, and maybe seven or eight cellphones until now. Then there is all that hardware at work that got upgraded regularly. That must be thirty to fourty units of hardware just because of me. I am a moderate user because the digital superhighway is not my preferred means of communication, but not using laptops or cellphones makes you a hermit without wanting to be one. Even my daughter gets her homework online. So yes, I have my hardware needs, and so have you. But where do our machines go after we dispose of them? Continue reading

The Rear-View Mirror: Brief Encounter (1945)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

David Lean is best known for movies that were anything but lean. Lawrence of Arabia, his longest feature, clocks in at 3 hours and 48 minutes, and Doctor Zhivago, Ryan’s Daughter and A Passage to India are significantly longer than your two-hour standard feature. These movies, however, are from the second half of his career; from 1940 until 1955, he was perfectly able to keep it brief, bringing in two Dickens novels (Great Expectations in 1946 and Oliver Twist in 1948) in well under two hours. He was an editor on much more movies than he was a director, so he knew how long a story had to be in order to be told well. Continue reading

Women of Dakar

There is a gigantic supertower in Dakar, Senegal, and it is almost complete, and the men who work construction there soon have to find other jobs, especially because they haven’t seen their wages for the last three months, but work is scarce, so most of them will pay their passage on a boat for Europe. One of them is Souleiman, and he falls for a young woman named Ada, who is promised to a rich guy named Omar. Next day, word on the street is that Souleiman has left. There is that memorable scene where the women are wearing their best dresses and go to the beach hut where they hang out – and there are no men. Many of them are gone, and most of the women already know they will stay behind. Continue reading

The Rear View Mirror – L’écume des jours (1947)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

Boris Vian was a polymath, a writer, actor and inventor, but he is most remembered nowadays for his novel L’écume des jours (literal translation: froth of days), published in 1947. To say that it is a weird read is an understatement: there are eels clogging water pipes and peeking out of faucets, only coming out of there if you lure them out with pineapple. There are naked men lying on mounds of earth hatching gun parts, a job for the war effort that cannot be done by women because their breasts make even body warmth distribution impossible. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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The Rear View Mirror: My Cousin Rachel (1951)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

Daphne du Maurier’s novel My Cousin Rachel, published in 1951, seems to exist in the spot where the universes of Jane Austen and Agatha Christie touch. On the one hand, the tone of the book is well-mannered, and its characters are not allowed to flat-out say what they passionately would like to say, but have to hide behind the mores of the era. On the other hand, someone dies, and another character is in danger to meet the same fate, so whodunnit? Continue reading

The Rear-View Mirror: Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

What an endearing mess of a movie. Creature from the Black Lagoon is one of the oldest movies I’ve seen that starts with the Big Bang, then creation, then Darwinism (leaving out millenium-long chunks of natural history, but never mind), only to violate that premise five minutes later. There are fossilized limbs of a sea creature that very much look like the arm and hand of its descendant, so its physical shape has not changed in the least.

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The Rear-View Mirror: The Visit (1956)

Each Friday we travel back in time, one year at a time, for a look at some of the cultural goodies that may appear closer than they really are in The Rear-View Mirror. Join us on our weekly journey into the past!

If you grow up around here in the German-speaking part of Switzerland, you will be confronted with the oeuvre of one Friedrich Dürrenmatt, if you want to or not, at some point during your school years. You might read some of his shorts, like The Tunnel (1952), or one of his crime novels, such as The Judge and His Hangman (1950, made into a 1975 film directed by Maximilian Schell and starring Jon Voight, Robert Shaw, Jacqueline Bisset and Martin Ritt). There is Max Frisch with his questions about identity, but it’s Fritz who has a slight advantage of seeing his plays performed in front of droves of school classes.

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