Mischievous Muse

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Location: Austin, TX, United States

Scholar, Writer, Mother, Dreamer. Editor of Luminarium, an online library for English Literature of the Middle Ages and Renaissance.

Friday, March 31, 2006

The Myth of the Great American Novel

As you know, I read Mark A.'s HyperLiterature blog faithfully.  One of Mark's recent entries discusses the elusive and perhaps mythical "Great American Novel."

Mark quotes J. W. DeForest who defined the would-be-GAN as "the picture of the ordinary emotions and manners of American existence" (The Nation, 1868). Mark astutely points out that such an ideal cannot be sustained, since literature is static — one can capture an impression of a nation's psyche in the moment the novel is written, but as society keeps changing, any description soon becomes outdated.  Citing Huck Finn and Moby Dick as examples, Mark illustrates how these books have turned almost into museum pieces — they are works that capture the zeitgeist, to use Mark's word, of a specific time period, but which to a modern reader seem far removed.

Another reason that I feel there cannot be a definitive GAN is that the population of America is so heterogenous — very hard for one novel to cover it all. I think Mark is on the money when he suggests we compile for ourselves a list of what we consider to be some American novels which we consider truly great. Mark has a refreshing list which is sure to make one think about the subject with new eyes.

Here are a few novels I consider worthwhile — some of them are a part of the popular academic canon, and justly so. This list is not intended to be definitive or complete — please consider this only as books on this blogger's "Great American Novels" List:

 The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. (1939)
The story of the Joad family's exodus from the Oklahoma Dust Bowl in the 1920's to the 'promised land' of California. Steinbeck is a master of describing both the inner and outer workings affecting people's lives. Rife with social commentary that still resonates today, engaging characters, deft symbolism, and passages of divine eloquence, not the least of which is Tom's last speech to Ma. This is one of the staples of American lit, and one that deserves its place in university curriculi.

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov. (1955)
On the face of it, the tale of a man's obsession with nubile girls, the story transcends its subject matter. Nabokov's prose is rich, his narrator magnetic, the psychological portrayals so multifaceted and deep that the characters breathe themselves to life off the page. Rich in language and so enwrapt in symbolism that unlocking it all on a first read is not possible — yet this is not a "Ulysses" by Joyce; not a book that is at all a difficult read, and enjoyable even on a surface level. It is telling of Nabokov's mastery of storytelling, that by the end of the book the reader can understand the narrator's psyche and emotional world to the point of feeling grief and tragedy, and a brush with the sublime on the final pages, for a fictional character that on a very basic level is a human monster.

Beloved by Toni Morrison. (1987)
The story of an ex-slave mother, her family past and present, and the ghosts that haunt. It is the story of one particular "Beloved", and all the beloveds who were the casualties of slavery, of man's cruelty to man. This novel, in my opinion, is nearly flawless. Morrison writes with such an inspired voice, everything is superbly crafted without seeming so, the language in both prose and dialogue is almost tactile, sensory. The story is eerie and grounded at once, the characters unforgettable, this is a novel the reader will carry in active memory for a long time and will never be able to forget. Please do not ever watch the horrid movie made of this book.

American Gods by Neil Gaiman. (2001)
Academia still for the most part eschews and belittles the genre of Science Fiction. This is a grave injustice to a genre that I would call the Great American Genre of the 20th Century. I think I shall do a whole post on that topic very soon. Back to the novel at hand. American Gods is an absolutely ingenious story of the gods of various cultures who arrived to this continent with their respective immigrant cultures, but who over time grew forgotten, and now can barely eke out an existence. New gods, the gods of Internet and Credit Card and so on, have arisen, and a war is coming between the ancient and the modern gods. Told from the point of view of Shadow, a mortal caught in the midst of it all, the book is inspired. Gaiman writes prose that is electric and sinuous, weaving in mythology and folklore, while keeping the story very visceral. This is a book that I think comes very close to the parameters of a GAN — it covers so many time periods and so many cultures' deities, that it is fictionally representative of much of what it means to be an American. It is also written with delectable references to literature past. My favorite part of the book has to be when the main character asks one of the Norse god Odin's ravens:

"Say 'Nevermore,'" said Shadow.
"Fuck you," said the raven. It said nothing else as they
went through the woodland together." (158-9).


So that's my two cents on the subject of "The Great American Novel." By no means an exhaustive or all-encompassing treatment of the subject, but a start nonetheless. And I guarantee you will be enriched by reading any or all of the above.

Tags: Books | Literature


Thursday, March 30, 2006

"Firefly" Kind of Day

Hehehe, that last post was like... "Bitter much?" Sorry about that.

On the positive front, today was a beautiful day, warm and sunny, and when I got home I had a surprise waiting for me — my friend David from El Paso sent me a presie, for no reason at all, except that he is SUPER sweet! And the best kind of present too: the entire season of "Firefly" in a 4 DVD set!

For those of you who are wondering why I keep jabbering on about "Firefly" and its follow-up movie, "Serenity", you just have to see them for yourself to know why I'm so crazy about them.

Basically, "Firefly" was a sci-fi television show about a ragtag crew of misfits in a junky spaceship at the far edges of civilized space 500 years from now. A fascinating mixture of space, cowboy, pirate movie, comedy, and drama, with brilliant writing and enjoyable actors, it's sort of like the story of what Han Solo might have been before Star Wars.  Or what the last several Star Treks should have been like, except they didn't have the luminous Josh Whedon as creator. It doesn't hurt that the captain and crew are on not-so-friendly terms with the Alliance of Planets that wants all of the 'verse to conform to norm.... Those of us who are on the side of the underdog and the dissenter can appreciate that.

"Firefly", the show, was cancelled after one season, but its loyal fans, who call themselves 'Browncoats' (after the Independents who fought against the Alliance) kept the hope alive. They believed, as the captain of Serenity, Malcolm Reynolds, that the Independents' side "maybe have been the losing one — I'm still not convinced it was the wrong one."   Joss Whedon fought tooth and nail and finally got "Serenity", the movie, made.   It just proves what 'Captain Universe' in "Serenity", the movie, says: "They can't stop the signal, Mal. They can never stop the signal."

"Serenity" has gone to gross a huge amount of money, far beyond anyone's wildest dreams, and the sales of both movie and tv show DVDs is phenomenal. This is the 'little show that could.'

So if you haven't seen these yet, do it. You will not be disappointed.

David, thank you for the DVDs. I love you too :)


Tags: Firefly | Serenity | Movies

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The Sherman Act

Okay, I have to bitch.


In my area, if you want broadband internet access via cable, you have no choice of providers. Thus, the bastards get to charge you outrageous fees for a service that can go down for 24 hrs without notice, and your "refund" is $1.40.
A WHOLE $1.40!!!

I'm done. Just once more:


Where the hell is the Sherman Act when you need it? Oh yeah,
I forgot, we're in George Bush's America. We have no rights.


P.S. Sorry for all the cursing.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Movie Monday 1

With the state of Hollywood declining — fewer movies produced and most of them not worth writing home about, or indeed even blogging about — I thought I'd write about a few films from Australia.  You may have missed some or all of these gems when they first came around, since they did not have the publicity budgets nor wide releases of American studio pictures.  They are worth noting, and certainly worth renting on DVD or (*shudder*) VHS.

  Muriel's Wedding (1995)
Muriel is an awkward young woman who wants to fit in with the popular girls. That she is overweight, has no job, no dress sense, and loves Abba does not endear her to them, however, and they tell her they no longer want to have anything to do with her. Muriel has always dreamt that a princess wedding would prove that she is "good enough", but through various turns of the plot she discovers that family, friends, and accepting oneself are what really matters. Funny, poignant, and entertaining with delectable acting performances by Toni Collette (Sixth Sense) and Rachel Griffiths (Six Feet Under).

  Cosi (1997)
'Cosi' is about what happens when a man who graduates from theatre school cannot get hired as a director, and accepts a post at a mental home to direct the drama therapy group. The inmates soon decide they want to do Mozart's opera "Cosi Fan Tutte" — only problem is none of them know how to act or how to sing, and to boot, they are all, well... crazy! I know, it sounds like it could be really bad, and had it been an American film, it would have been full of schtick and unbearable "ha ha, now you should laugh" moments. But the script, the direction, and most of all, the acting are so subtle and nuanced that the film is actually mad genius. A lovely turn by Toni Collette.

  Angel Baby (1997)
The story of two schizophrenics who meet in therapy and fall in love. A beautiful, multi-faceted script and luminous performances, this movie will stay with you for a long time. Not recommended if you're already feeling down...

Tags: Movies


Sonnetsday 7

My True-Love Hath My Heart
by Sir Philip Sidney

My true-love hath my heart, and I have his,
By just exchange one for the other given.
I hold his dear, and mine he cannot miss:
There never was a bargain better driven.
His heart in me keeps me and him in one;
My heart in him his thoughts and senses guides:
He loves my heart, for once it was his own;
I cherish his because in me it bides.
His heart his wound received from my sight;
My heart was wounded with his wounded heart;
For as from me on him his hurt did light,
So still, methought, in me his hurt did smart:
Both equal hurt, in this change sought our bliss,
My true love hath my heart and I have his.

Working forward in time, Sir Philip Sidney followed in the footsteps of the tradition established by Wyatt and Surrey. Sidney was the paragon of a Renaissance courtier; soldier, scholar and poet, he excelled in all he did and was well loved. Among his most notable literary contributions are the sonnet cycle "Astrophil and Stella" and the essays "In Defense of Poesy", as well as his translation of the psalms together with his sister Mary Herbert.  When Sidney died at the battle of Zutphen, the whole of London grieved.

Tags: Sonnets

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Sunday, March 19, 2006

Sonnetsday 6


by Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey

aLAS ! so all things now do hold their peace !
Heaven and earth disturbed in no thing ;
The beasts, the air, the birds their song do cease,
The night├Ęs car the stars about doth bring.
Calm is the sea ; the waves work less and less :
So am not I, whom love, alas ! doth wring,
Bringing before my face the great increase
Of my desires, whereat I weep and sing,
In joy and woe, as in a doubtful case.
For my sweet thoughts sometime do pleasure bring ;
But by and by, the cause of my disease
Gives me a pang, that inwardly doth sting,
       When that I think what grief it is again,
       To live and lack the thing should rid my pain.


Before Shakespeare, before Spenser and Sidney, came Sir Thomas Wyatt and Sir Henry Howard, the fathers of the English Sonnet.  Their sonnets were published in printer Richard Tottel's Songs and Sonnets written by the Right Honorable Lord Henry Howard late Earl of Surrey and other in 1557. Until modern times it was called simply Songs and Sonnets, but now it is generally known as Tottel's Miscellany.

Tags: Sonnets

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Thursday, March 16, 2006

Mind-blowing Photoshop Art

OMG!  I like to think I can do stuff with Photoshop. I'm wrong.  I know like *zip* compared to these wicked geniuses who took part in the "Worth 1000" Photoshop Contest "Modern Renaissance 5". The premise of this one is to put modern celebrities into classic works of art.  I wish I had a super printer — Johnny Depp would soooooo go on my wall. *MEGA-DROOL*


Oh, I could die!  Now if I could do something like this, I'd be a happy camper.  Mark and Madeline, stop lurking and post a response, dying to know what you two think of these.

*mwah* A


Haiku on the Ides of March

On the Ides of March
a full moon travels the sky.
I wait without hope.

Tags: Anniina's Poetry | Haiku


Zombified Ramblings

Okay, so still a zombie — lines coming along well for both MacB and Proof. Not enough sleep.

Feeling a little melancholy today.  Nothing major, just so many things adding up.

1. No word on Mark Rylance's future projects.  Getting worried.  Was so hoping to go to London this summer and revel.

2. Finished "The Return of Nightfall" — sequel to "The Legend of Nightfall" by Mickey Zucker Reichert.  The original is a book I consider one of the best fantasy books written.  The sequel was good, although did not achieve the luminosity of the original.  I don't have much time to read right now, as you can imagine, but I like to read a little before bed, and a good book ending is like a friend leaving; bittersweet.

3. Looks like I might not be making the vampire film after all.  The production was originally supposed to be Jan-Feb, which I had clear — now that it's been pushed to April, I doubt it will work. I'm booked every day except Fridays, and once MacB opens, even Fridays will be out.  Oh well, their loss for futzing and klutzing with the production dates. Would have liked to have played the lizard queen though (;_;)

4. Cold, windy weather. Always affects me. I'm too comfort-loving, and can't take the chill. Okay, I can take it, just don't wanna.

5. Missing my family. Missing my best friend Katja so much it hurts.

6. The muse has not visited. Haven't written a thing in a few weeks. Alarming. Miss her. Come back, you ornery wench!

7. I've fallen head-over-heels for "Firefly"/"Serenity", and it jars me that the show was cancelled. Hollywood studio execs are big poopheads.

8. Corr and I have had a rift but there seems no fixing it at the moment, since I think he's avoiding me.

Just one of those days. I'm sure the excessive tiredness is aggravating the situation.

Loving my play rehearsals though. Feels so good to be working on worthwhile projects. I wish I had the money to do a second season for CSC.  Dying to direct more Shakespeare. So many crap productions out here, and now that Dominic Dromgoole is murdering the Globe, the world is in dire need for unadulterated, unslaughtered Shakespeare. Would love to direct Hamlet or Lear.

Alright, yeah, I'm a zombie and I'm whining over inconsequential matters, coming off as a total twerp. Forgive me. Going to bed. I promise a cheery post one of these days. Until then, take good care. Thinking of you.


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Monday, March 13, 2006

Sonnetsday 5

by Sir Thomas Wyatt

MY heart I gave thee, not to do it pain,
   But to preserve, lo, it to thee was taken.
   I served thee, not that I should be for-
                                    saken ;
But, that I should receive reward again,
I was content thy servant to remain ;
And not to be repayed after this fashion.
Now, since in thee there is none other reason,
Displease thee not, if that I do refrain.
Unsatiate of my woe, and thy desire ;
Assured by craft for to excuse thy fault :
But, since it pleaseth thee to feign default,
Farewell, I say, departing from the fire.
        For he that doth believe, bearing in hand,
        Plougheth in water, and soweth in the sand.


Before Shakespeare, before Spenser and Sidney, came Sir Thomas Wyatt and Sir Henry Howard, the fathers of the English Sonnet.  Their sonnets were published in printer Richard Tottel's Songs and Sonnets written by the Right Honorable Lord Henry Howard late Earl of Surrey and other in 1557. Until modern times it was called simply Songs and Sonnets, but now it is generally known as Tottel's Miscellany.

Tags: Sonnets

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Well, beloveds, it is official — after working 25 hrs in the last 48, I am now officially a zombie.  Perhaps I didn't quite realize what I signed up for when I took on two intense plays at once.  At least, I'm enjoying myself thoroughly, and delight in being challenged. Will give a status report after I have had some sleep.  Posting our sonnet for Sonnetsday, and then directly to bed.


Thursday, March 09, 2006

Quiz: Which Firefly/Serenity Character Are You?

Haha, I'm the hot chick. Also, I'm a whore. LOL.

"The Ambassador"

Which Firefly character are you?
brought to you by Quizilla

Tags: Firefly | Serenity | Movies | Quizzes

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Conan O'Brien in Finland

Okay, so Conan O'Brien went to Finland earlier this year, and the craziness he got up to there will be on TV tomorrow, Friday night. Originally hailing from Finland myself, and being that my dad is a huge fan of Conan's, I am absolutely watching it. If it is dorky or humiliating (betting on it!) don't tease me :P

I remember '60 Minutes' did a segment on Finns and Tango in the mid-1990s, and for YEARS people asked me if I loved to tango. Hello, it would be like Europeans asking every American they run across, "Do you square dance?" So no, I don't tango.

Although, I would love to learn someday - the Argentinian, sexy kind Jamie Lee Curtis and Arnold do at the end of "True Lies", or the Gomez and Morticia Addams "Cara Mia"-kind, not the pudgy middle-aged Finnish hick-kind....

So watch Conan, but remember, no teasing me after :)

Video Preview of Conan's Finland Trip


Things I Will Not Do When I Direct Shakespeare....

Mark A.'s HyperLiterature always has delish links worth visiting — case in point, Angevin2's Livejournal entry:

The Things I Will Not Do When I Direct
A Shakespeare Production, on Stage or Film

This list, at present 426 items, is still growing.  Hmm, I can think of a few I could contribute....

A few of the choice entries on this list:

 9. I will not assume I know the play better than Shakespeare did, despite apparent evidence to the contrary.

20. I will not costume anyone such that the first thought raised in the minds of the audience is "merry elf," unless he is playing one of the fairies in A Midsummer Night's Dream."

27. If I am running an annual Shakespeare festival, I will acknowledge that there are plays beyond A Midsummer Night's Dream and Twelfth Night.

30. As much as I enjoy his films, I will not steal from Kenneth Branagh. It's not like people won't notice.

36. Keanu Reeves will not be allowed near the production.

63. Sir Andrew Aguecheek shall never be a young, lean, attractive man whom no one in the audience can understand why Olivia turned away.

151. Having Shylock pour blood on a prayer shawl and ululate in Hebrew while waving a curved knife during the trial is just overkill.

173. I will not let Leonardo DiCaprio near the production.

219. I will not decide that Helen of Troy in Troilus and Cressida is actually a sports car, nor will Pandarus do lines of cocaine off of her. (I will especially not do this if I can't afford a real sports car and have to make do with a small toy Ferrari, set on a table).

347. I will not decide that the best way to portray "Exit, pursued by a bear" is to have the rest of the cast dressed in brown and do some sort of modern-dance amoeba thing to absorb the character.

But, go read the list for yourself, it's well worth it.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Out of Sight, Not Out of Mind, yet Out of My Mind

Well, rehearsals have started for both 'Macbeth' and 'Proof' and I am running ragged to New Jersey.  Nothing wrong with Jersey, per se — okay, lots wrong with Jersey — it's just the driving home for over an hour when you've had 14 hours of rehearsal.  Exhaustion. I haven't had the energy to blog, for which I hope you will all kindly forgive me.

I should not be complaining at all though, because I am the luckiest dog in the galaxy.  Both shows have excellent casts and astute directors, and being an overworked actor, as we all know, is a rare and wonderful affliction.

'Macbeth' has proceeded through its "table work" — the part of the process when you sit around a table reading and discussing the text, agreeing on meanings, pronunciations, themes, characters, etc.  This coming weekend we proceed to rough the blocking, i.e., where everyone should be standing and moving in the scenes, and generally figuring how not to bump into the furniture.  The rest of the cast have started fight rehearsals, of which I am not part, since Lady M does not get to wield a sword.  I know!  Ah, well.  I've worked with fencing rapiers before, but never with a broadsword, so that would have been sweet.  As for Lady M, I love her.  I am relishing every word.   Shakespeare really went out of his way to give her some really tasty words and such visceral lines, such powerful emotions and motivations.  I must have done something good in the past for the universe to grant me the opportunity to inhabit her for a while.

'Proof' has just finished table work as well and we move to blocking tomorrow night.  The play has a four-person cast and it could not be stronger — everyone is talented, skilled, and intelligent both in the sense of intellectual acumen and emotional intelligence.  The work is invigorating and challenging.  The text of the play is superbly written from the aspects of plot, character, and fluency of the dialogue — our challenge as actors for this one is being able to stay real, not to do too much 'acting'.  The author, David Auburn, has an impeccable ear for speech and his lines read as if you were looking in on people having real conversations and real arguments.  It will take a lot of emotional finesse and honesty to do it justice — the audience has to believe they are looking in on real people, forgetting they are in a theatre, as much as is possible within the medium.  I think with the cast and director we have, this is an attainable goal.

Tomorrow, or rather today I guess, I have a photoshoot for new headshots.  I can't use the screaming blonde ones and I intend to stay brunette for now at least.  As fate would have it, however, my body has decided that we need to revisit puberty, and I am sporting several hideously disfiguring zits.  No, I'm not exaggerating — these are not cute little reddish 'pimples' but modern relatives of buboes from the Black Death era.  All I'm missing are angry villagers chasing me with pitchforks and torches, else the trolldom is complete.  I sure hope he does airbrushing — the last set were not retouched at all, but one would think a pro would know what to do.  Ha!  If not, I will take my Princess Leia shot to Walmart and have them print me those for headshots, tee hee!

Ariel had her surgery last Thursday and is doing well.  She's wearing her Elizabethan collar, because she tried ripping her stomach open a few nights ago, and she looks like the RCA doggie with her own satellite dish.  Quite adorable she is, too.

Well, I must to bed. Maybe with the help of Clearasil, some fabulous miracle will take place, and I will wake up with flawless, radiant skin.  Ha, yeah, right!  I do profess to be a dreamer, but I'm not THAT deluded to actually believe it!

Goodnight munchkins.  Thinking of you with love.

Katja, when are you coming? Saw the perfect new Converse sneakers for you.

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Sonnetsday 4


 Farewell! thou art too dear for my possessing,
And like enough thou know'st thy estimate:
The charter of thy worth gives thee releasing;
My bonds in thee are all determinate.
For how do I hold thee but by thy granting?
And for that riches where is my deserving?
The cause of this fair gift in me is wanting,
And so my patent back again is swerving.
Thyself thou gavest, thy own worth then not knowing,
Or me, to whom thou gavest it, else mistaking;
So thy great gift, upon misprision growing,
Comes home again, on better judgment making.
     Thus have I had thee, as a dream doth flatter,
     In sleep a king, but waking no such matter.


Tags: Sonnets

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Wednesday, March 01, 2006

In a Galaxy Far Far Away...

Ahh, Mark A. from HyperLiterature has, in his own words 'thrown down the gauntlet' for a Photoshop joust between the two of us.  He put up a 'shopped pic where he gave himself a new body — well, mister, two can play this game :P

Here you see two pictures of me in a galaxy far, far away...

So Mark, what do you think of that?