Archive for June, 2009

CONFERENCE/CONGRESO: “POE ALIVE IN THE CENTURY OF ANXIETY / POE PRESENTE EN EL SIGLO DE ANSIEDAD” – ALCALÁ DE HENARES, SPAIN/ESPAÑA, 21-23-V-2009

EDGAR ALLAN POE BICENTENNIAL CONFERENCE –

 

“POE ALIVE IN THE CENTURY OF ANXIETY”,

ALCALÁ DE HENARES (SPAIN), 21-23 MAY 2009

 

Report by Christopher Rollason, Ph.D – Metz, France – rollason54@gmail.com

 

Between 21 and 23 May 2009, the University of Alcalá (Alcalá de Henares, Madrid province and region, Spain) played host to the international conference “POE ALIVE IN THE CENTURY OF ANXIETY / POE PRESENTE EN EL SIGLO DE ANSIEDAD”, the second academic event of this nature to be organised in Spain for the bicentennial of the great American writer’s birth (the first took place at the Albacete campus of the University of Castilla-La Mancha from 3 to 6 February). Now, the torch was taken up by the historic city of Alcalá de Henares, the birthplace of Miguel de Cervantes and a UNESCO World Heritage site. During these days, the Colegio de San Ildefonso and the former Trinitarios convent welcomed Poe scholars from numerous Spanish universities, from other European countries and from the USA, to deliver lectures or papers in either Spanish or English.

 

The event was organised by the host university’s Instituto Universitario de Investigación en Estudios Norteamericanos (University Research Institute for American Studies – IUIEN; now rebaptised as the Instituto Franklin: www.institutofranklin.net), with the support of the US Embassy to Spain. The principal organisers were Prof. José Antonio Gurpegui Palacios and the Institute’s project administrator Cristina Crespo. The present brief note is not intended to replace the official programme, to which those interested are referred (http://www.institutofranklin.net/pdfs_menus/poe_program.pdf); the aim is, rather, to share my personal impressions – which are necessarily incomplete, since, as we know, in an event of this kind with panels organised in parallel sessions it is, alas, never possible to attend everything.

 

The conference included four plenary lectures, of which three offered global readings of Poe’s work. In the inaugural session, Prof. Djelal Kadir (Pennsylvania State University) spoke on “E.A. Poe: America’s Conscience and Epistemic Anxiety”; Prof. Félix Martín Gutiérrez (Universidad Complutense de Madrid) examined aspects of “Edgar Allan Poe: Delirios de un Confabulador” (“Edgar Allan Poe: Reveries of a Schemer”); and, in the closing lecture, Prof. Boris Vejdovsky (University of Lausanne, Switzerland), in “Poe’s Catastrophic Fiction: Judgment and Responsibility in Poe’s Century”, linked the sensations of collapse and disintegration in a tale like “The Fall of the House of Usher” to the repercussions of the present financial crisis. The fourth plenary lecturer, Christopher Rollason (Metz, France), offered, in “Tell-Tale Signs: Edgar Allan Poe and Bob Dylan – Towards a Model of Intertextuality”, an intertextual perspective, examining Poe’s traces in the work of the famous American singer-songwriter and the parallels between the two oeuvres, both of which hover on the borderline between elite and mass cultures.

 

The papers presented in the various panels covered a very wide range of facets, textual, intertextual and theoretical, of Poe’s writing: I will here mention a number of them, without in any wishing to detract from the value of those not named. Those presenting more general views of Poe’s work included: Andrzej Dorobek (Higher State School of Professional Education, Plock, Poland), “Psychedelic Relevance of E. A. Poe for the 20th Century American Culture”; Daniel Taylor Ogden (University of Uppsala, Sweden), “Poe and the Technological Sublime” (on a lesser-known but important aspect of Poe, his role as a questioning pioneer of science fiction); Peter Caverzasi (Lehman College, CUNY, New York), “Animism and Adaptation in Poe’s Short Stories”; Eulalia Piñero Gil (Universidad Autónoma de Madrid), “‘Memento mori’: E. A. Poe’s Rituals of Death and the Female Dead Body”; Maya Zalbidea Paniagua (Universidad Complutense de Madrid), “New Psychoanalytical Readings of ‘The Premature Burial’, ‘William Wilson’ and ‘The Colloquy of Monos and Una'”; and, on the teaching of Poe’s tales in the context of literature and education, Miguel Berga Bagué, Pere Gifra Adroher and María Antonia Oliver (Universidad Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona), “Enseñar Poe en una Facultad de Humanidades: Interdisciplinariedad e Intervención Textual” (“Teaching Poe in a Faculty of Humanities: Interdisciplinarity and Textual Intervention”).

 

Other papers focused on individual works of Poe, including: for the short stories, Luis Girón Echevarría (University of Extremadura), “Cryptography and wordplay in Poe’s ‘The Gold-Bug'”; for Poe’s solitary novel, Marita Nadal (University of Zaragoza), “Unspeakable Effects: Parodic Treatment of Horror and Terror in The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym“; and for the poems, Slawomir Studniarz (University of Warnia and Mazury, Olsztyn, Poland), “Sound and Sense Relation in Edgar Allan Poe’s Poetry: A Study of ‘Ulalume'”, and Carmen Lara-Rallo (University of Málaga), “An Intratextual Approach to ‘The Raven’: Intuitive and Ecstatic Echoes Behind Poe’s ‘Mathematical Problem'”. Intertextual or inter-generic readings were offered by: Juana Celia Djelal (Pennsylvania State University), “Poe and the Ancients – Thresholds of Anxiety” (on Poe and the Greek and Latin classics); Antonio Ballesteros (National Distance Education University [UNED], Madrid), “Edogawa Rampo, el Poe japonés” (“Edogawa Rampo, the Japanese Poe”); Borja Menéndez Díaz-Jorge (Universidad Complutense de Madrid), “Visions of the Avant-Garde in Poe’s ‘Fall of the House of Usher'” (linking Poe’s tale to painting and the cinema); and Santiago Rodríguez Guerrero-Strachan (University of Valladolid), “Comentarios de Poe acerca del realismo pictórico” (“Poe’s comments on pictural realism”). Finally, also featured were aspects of the relationship between Poe and Spanish culture, in: Eusebio Llácer Llorca and Nicolás Estévez (University of Valencia), “La obra literaria de Edgar Allan Poe en la prensa española de Posguerra” (“Poe’s writing in the post-Civil War Spanish press”, i.e. in the earlier years of Francoism); and Cristina Flores Moreno (University of La Rioja), “Circulation and Reception of Edgar Allan Poe’s Poetry in Spanish Modernism: Antonio Machado”.

 

The aspects of Poe analysed in the lectures and papers were, then, infinite in their variety. In addition to the strictly academic part, the event also included: an exhibition, in the cloister of the Trinitarios, of poems by Poe translated into a remarkable range of languages, conceived by the Paris-based artist William Wolkowski; a talk, accompanied by slides, on Amontillado (the variant of sherry immortalised by Poe in one of his Spanish-inspired tales, “The Cask of Amontillado”) and its presence in Poe’s work and its adaptations in other media, given by José Luis Jiménez García, of the Spanish Royal Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters (himself from Jerez, the Andalusian cradle of sherry) and followed by a sherry-tasting session in the Trinitarios garden; and, finally, the closing dinner, held in the imposing and hospitable venue of the Nuevo Parador de Alcalá.

 

This conference succeeded in generating a visible and contagious atmosphere of literary passion and intellectual camaraderie: there is no doubt that it has marked another step forward in the development of Poe studies among both Spanish and non-Spanish specialists. Meanwhile, the bicentennial commemorations continue: in Spain, two more conferences are in preparation, in Cáceres (November) and Valencia (December), as well as less academic celebrations such as the Semana Gótica (Gothic Week) of Madrid, which is scheduled for late October and will include Poe-related activities. Over 2009, Spain has been and is positioning itself as one of the countries making the biggest efforts to recall and promote the still dazzlingly current work of this major American writer: right up to the end of the bicentennial year, we can be sure that there will be plenty of Amontillado in the cask!

 

NB: this report appears with the approval of the conference organisers

 

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Conferencia del dr Christopher Rollason, con presentación de Power Point – Poe y Dylan

Lecture by Christopher Rollason, with Power Point presentation – Poe and Dylan

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Alcalá de Henares: Edificio Trinitarios; Colegio San Ildefonso; Museo Cervantes / Cervantes Museum

 

POE EXPERTS BELOW / ABAJO, EXPERTOS DE POE: Antonio Ballesteros; Borja Menéndez / Christopher Rollason

 

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Photos / Fotos: Christopher Rollason and Ana González-Rivas Fernández

 

 

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CONGRESO DEL BICENTENARIO DE EDGAR ALLAN POE –“POE PRESENTE EN EL SIGLO DE LA ANSIEDAD” –

ALCALÁ DE HENARES, ESPAÑA, 21-23 MAYO 2009

 

Informe por Christopher Rollason, Ph.D, Metz, Francia – rollason54@gmail.com

 

Entre el 21 y el 23 de mayo de 2009 se celebró el Congreso Internacional “POE PRESENTE EN EL SIGLO DE ANSIEDAD (POE ALIVE IN THE CENTURY OF ANXIETY)”, el segundo evento académico de este tipo que se ha organizado en España en el marco del bicentenario del nacimiento del genial autor norteamericano (el primer tuvo lugar en el campus de Albacete de la Universidad de Castilla-La Mancha, del 3 al 6 de febrero). Ahora fue la vez de la muy histórica ciudad de Alcalá de Henares (Madrid), cuna de Miguel de Cervantes y declarada patrimonio de la humanidad por la UNESCO, y allí durante esos días el Colegio de San Ildefonso y el edificio de los Trinitarios albergaron a estudiosos de Poe llegados de numerosas universidades españolas, así como de Estados Unidos y otros países europeos, para dictar conferencias plenarias o ponencias en lengua castellana o inglesa.

 

El evento fue obra del Instituto Universitario de Investigación en Estudios Norteamericanos (IUIEN) de la Universidad de Alcalá (ahora rebautizado bajo la emblemática denominación de Instituto Franklin: www.institutofranklin.net), siendo los principales organizadores el Prof. José Antonio Gurpegui Palacios y Cristina Crespo, gestora de proyectos del Instituto. El congreso contó con el patrocinio de la Embajada de Estados Unidos en España. En esta breve nota, no es mi intención sustituir mis comentarios por el programa oficial, al cual remito a quien se interese (http://www.institutofranklin.net/pdfs_menus/poe_program.pdf), sino compartir unas impresiones más bien personales – y, reconozco, incompletas, ya que, como se sabe, en eventos de este género a nadie le resulta posible presenciar todas las ponencias estructuradas en sesiones paralelas.

 

Fueron cuatro las conferencias plenarias, tres de las cuales privilegiaron enfoques de carácter global a la obra de Poe. Así, en la sesión inaugural, el Prof. Djelal Kadir (Pennsylvania State University, EE UU) habló sobre el tema “E.A. Poe: America’s Conscience and Epistemic Anxiety”; el Prof. Félix Martín Gutiérrez (Universidad Complutense de Madrid) desarrolló aspectos sobre “Edgar Allan Poe: Delirios de un Confabulador”; y en la conferencia de clausura, el Prof. Boris Vejdovsky (Universidad de Lausanne, Suiza), en “Poe’s Catastrophic Fiction: Judgment and Responsibility in Poe’s Century”, relacionó las sensaciones de colapso y derrumbamiento en un relato como “The Fall of the House of Usher” con las repercusiones de la actual crisis financiera. El cuarto orador plenario, Christopher Rollason (Metz, Francia), en “Tell-Tale Signs: Edgar Allan Poe and Bob Dylan – Towards a Model of Intertextuality”, planteó un aspecto intertextual más específico, al analizar las huellas de Poe en la escritura del cantautor norteamericano y los parentescos entre dos obras en las que se solapan elementos de la cultura de masas y otras de la de élite.

 

Las sesiones de comunicaciones abarcaron una amplia gama de facetas, textuales, intertextuales y teóricos, de la obra de Poe: esta crónica destacará algunas, sin pretender de manera alguna minusvalorar las restantes. Entre las ponencias que presentaron aspectos más bien sintéticos de la obra poeiana, destaquemos las siguientes: Andrzej Dorobek (Escuela Estatal de Enseñanza Superior Profesional, Plock, Polonia), “Psychedelic Relevance of E. A. Poe for the 20th Century American Culture”; Daniel Taylor Ogden (Universidad de Uppsala, Suecia), “Poe and the Technological Sublime” (sobre un aspecto menos conocido pero relevante de Poe, su papel como inquietante pionero de la ciencia ficción); Peter Caverzasi (Lehman College, CUNY, Nueva York, EE UU), “Animism and Adaptation in Poe’s Short Stories”; Eulalia Piñero Gil (Universidad Autónoma de Madrid), “‘Memento mori’: E. A. Poe’s Rituals of Death and the Female Dead Body”; Maya Zalbidea Paniagua (Universidad Complutense de Madrid), “New Psychoanalytical Readings of ‘The Premature Burial’, ‘William Wilson’ and ‘The Colloquy of Monos and Una’”; y, sobre la enseñanza de los cuentos de Poe en el cuadro de la didáctica de la literatura, Miguel Berga Bagué, Pere Gifra Adroher y María Antonia Oliver (Universidad Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona), “Enseñar Poe en una Facultad de Humanidades: Interdisciplinariedad e Intervención Textual”.

 

Otros ponentes se centraron en el análisis de obras individuales de Poe: en el género del cuento, Luis Girón Echevarría (Universidad de Extremadura), “Cryptography and wordplay in Poe’s ‘The Gold-Bug’”; para su única novela, Marita Nadal (Universidad de Zaragoza), “Unspeakable Effects: Parodic Treatment of Horror and Terror in The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym”; para su poesía, Slawomir Studniarz (Universidad de Warnia y Mazury, Olsztyn, Polonia), “Sound and Sense Relation in Edgar Allan Poe’s Poetry: A Study of ‘Ulalume’”;  y Carmen Lara-Rallo (Universidad de Málaga), “An Intratextual Approach to ‘The Raven’: Intuitive and Ecstatic Echoes Behind Poe’s ‘Mathematical Problem’”. En el área de lo intertextual y lo intergenérico, hagamos hincapié en: Juana Celia Djelal (Pennsylvania State University, EE UU), “Poe and the Ancients – Thresholds of Anxiety” (Poe y la literatura grecorromana); Antonio Ballesteros (Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia, Madrid), “Edogawa Rampo, el Poe japonés”; Borja Menéndez Díaz-Jorge (Universidad Complutense de Madrid), “Visions of the Avant-Garde in Poe’s ‘Fall of the House of Usher’” (vínculos del famoso cuento de Poe con la pintura y el cine); y Santiago Rodríguez Guerrero-Strachan (Universidad de Valladolid), “Comentarios de Poe acerca del realismo pictórico”. Finalmente, hubo quien eligió destacar aspectos de la presencia de Poe en la cultura española: Eusebio Llácer Llorca y Nicolás Estévez (Universidad de Valencia), “La obra literaria de Edgar Allan Poe en la prensa española de Posguerra” (percepción de su obra en los medios literarios de la primer época del franquismo); y Cristina Flores Moreno (Universidad de La Rioja), “Circulation and Reception of Edgar Allan Poe’s Poetry in Spanish Modernism: Antonio Machado”.

 

No cabe duda, entonces, acerca de la variedad y del valor de los múltiples análisis de Poe que expusieron los conferenciantes y ponentes. Fuera de la parte estrictamente académica, las jornadas se completaron con otras manifestaciones: una exposición, localizada en el claustro de los Trinitarios, de textos poéticos de Poe traducidos en un amplísimo abanico de idiomas, a cargo de William Wolkowski, artista residente en París; una charla acompañada de diapositivas sobre el Amontillado (variante del jerez inmortalizado por Poe en uno de sus relatos de inspiración española, el famoso “Barril de Amontillado”) y su presencia en la obra de Poe y sus adaptaciones en otros medios, ofrecida por el jerezano José Luis Jiménez García, de la Real Academia de Ciencias, Artes y Letras, y seguida por una degustación en el jardín de los Trinitarios; y, finalmente, la cena de clausura, que tuvo como encuadre el muy acogedor e imponente Nuevo Parador de Alcalá.

 

A lo largo de los días del congreso, fue destacable y contagioso el ambiente de pasión literaria y solidaridad intelectual que se fue generando entre los presentes, de manera que, sin lugar a dudas, este encuentro habrá constituido otro hito en el desarrollo de los estudios poeianos entre especialistas, tanto dentro como fuera del ámbito del Estado español. Mientras tanto, seguirán las conmemoraciones del bicentenario del admirado Edgar, hallándose ya en preparación dos congresos más, en Cáceres (noviembre) y en Valencia (diciembre), además de otras celebraciones menos académicas, como la Semana Gótica de Madrid, programada para finales de octubre y con una actividad dedicada a Poe. España sigue perfilándose en 2009 como uno de los países que más se esfuerzan en recordar y promocionar la siempre actualísima obra del gran escritor estadounidense, y así y hasta la expiración del año del bicentenario, ¡podremos tener la certeza de que no se va a agotar el barril de Amontillado!

 

Nota: Este informe aparece con el beneplácito de la organización del congreso.

 

Note/Nota, 12-XII-2009: La ponencia que dicté en este congreso, sobre Poe y Dylan, ha sido publicada –

my paper from this conference has bee published

 

“‘Tell-Tale Signs’ – Edgar Allan Poe and Bob Dylan: towards a model of intertextuality”, Atlantis (Madrid, Spain), Vol. 31, No. 2, December 2009, pp. 41-56; on-line at: www.atlantisjournal.org/ARCHIVE/31.2/2009Rollason.pdf

for more details/ más detalles, see entry in this blog /ver entrada en esta bitácora, 11-XII-2009

 

 

 

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“DON QUIJOTE” REISSUED IN BENGALI TRANSLATION – REEDICIÓN DEL “QUIJOTE” EN TRADUCCIÓN BENGALÍ

23 April 2009 saw the official launch, at the Cervantes Institute in Delhi, of the reissue of a nineteenth-century Bengali translation of the first part of Cervantes’ DON QUIJOTE. This version (an indirect translation via English), by Bipin Behari Chackrabarti, first appeared in 1887. The new edition, which includes a critical introduction, has been prepared by Professor Shyama Prasad Ganguly, of the Centre for Hispanic Studies at the School of Language, Literature and Culture Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi. A special aspect of this edition is that four of the chapters are presented in *two* different Bengali versions: a) Chackrabarti’s own; and b) a contemporary rendition by a distinguished Bengali scholar: this will allow those interested to make a comparative study of nineteenth- and twenty-first-century translational practices.

 

Professor Ganguly is the author of the book "Quixotic Encounters: Indian Responses to the Knight from Spain", which I have reviewed in both English –  http://yatrarollason.info/files/Quijote.pdf; and Spanish –www.embajadaindia.net/docs/revista06.pdf – see also this blog, entry for 15 June 2007.

 

For more on the event, see, in Spanish:

http://www.laregion.es/noticia/90007/india/presentaci%C3%B3n/reedici%C3%B3n/quijote/bengal%C3%AD/instituto/cervantes/

("Se presenta en India la reedición del ‘Quijote’ en bengalí" ["Presented in India: reissue of ‘Don Quixote’ in Bengali"]) – La Región, 5 May 2009)

and in English:

http://www.hindustantimes.com/StoryPage/StoryPage.aspx?id=b42d0225-be0c-45f3-a741-f3e5420777cb

"Bengali ‘Don Quixote’ gets new lease of life" – Hindustan Times, 8 May 2009

 

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El 23 de abril de 2009, fue lanzada, en el Instituto Cervantes de Delhi, la reedición de una decimonónica traducción al bengalí de la primer parte del QUIJOTE de Miguel de Cervantes. Esta traducción, realizada por Bipin Behari Chackrabarti (por la vía indirecta a través del inglés), apareció por primera vez en 1887. La nueva edición, que incluye una introducción crítica, ha sido preparada por el profesor Professor Shyama Prasad Ganguly (Centre for Hispanic Studies, School of Language, Literature and Culture Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi). Como aspecto especial de esta edición, señalamos que cuatro de los capítulos aparecen en *dos* versiones diferentes: la de Chackrabarti y una traducción contemporanea realizada por un eminente estudioso bengalí: esto permitirá el estudio comparativo de las prácticas de traducción características de los siglos XIX y XXI.

 

El profesor Ganguly es el autor del libro "Quixotic Encounters: Indian Responses to the Knight from Spain", el cual ha sido reseñado por mí mismo, en versiones inglesa: http://yatrarollason.info/files/Quijote.pdf

y española:

www.embajadaindia.net/docs/revista06.pdf – véase esta bitácora, entrada 15-VI-2007.

 

Más información sobre el evento – en castellano:

http://www.laregion.es/noticia/90007/india/presentaci%C3%B3n/reedici%C3%B3n/quijote/bengal%C3%AD/instituto/cervantes/

"Se presenta en India la reedición del ‘Quijote’ en bengalí" – La Región, 5-V-2009)

y en inglés:

http://www.hindustantimes.com/StoryPage/StoryPage.aspx?id=b42d0225-be0c-45f3-a741-f3e5420777cb

"Bengali ‘Don Quixote’ gets new lease of life" – ["’Quijote’ bengalí adquiere segunda vida"]- Hindustan Times, 8-V-2009

 

NEW FRENCH TRANSLATION OF VIKRAM SETH, “THE GOLDEN GATE – INTERVIEW WITH SETH IN “TRANSFUGE”, MAY 2009

The French literary magazine TRANSFUGE, No 30 (May 2009), carries an interview with Vikram Seth (‘Vikram Seth: ‘Á San Francisco, la solitude est une mode de vie" [‘In San Francisco, solitude is a way of life’]; interviewer: Marine de Tilly; pp. 39-41), centring on the newly-published French translation of ‘The Golden Gate’, his California-set novel-in-verse from 1986. Details of the translation are: ‘Golden Gate’ [no article], trans. by ‘Claro’, Paris: Grasset, 2009. Only now, after 23 years, does this work of Seth’s appear in French: in the interview, Seth describes the book as ‘tout simplement intraduisible’ (‘quite simply untranslatable’ – p. 41), and expresses his pleasure at nonetheless having it appear in French: he lauds the translation and says it should have been published as co-signed by the translator! Asked on the no doubt still, to some, controversial issue of the ‘non-Indianness’ of ‘The Golden Gate’, Seth argues (p. 39) that roots are not confined to one place: there are trees like the banyan which can be transported and replanted anywhere.

 

TRANSFUGE has a site at www.transfuge.fr, but the articles are subscriber-only.

REVIEW OF BOB DYLAN’s album TOGETHER THROUGH LIFE

BEYOND HERE LIES … NOTHING? – some impressions of Bob Dylan’s album TOGETHER THROUGH LIFE

 

 

If nothing else, TOGETHER THROUGH LIFE (2009) has produced a new crop of firsts for Bob Dylan. It has become his first-ever album to reach number one in both the US and the UK, and has made him the oldest living artist ever to top the British album chart (a feat he had already achieved in the US with MODERN TIMES), and, again in Britain, the artist distinguished, if that is the word, by the longest time-gap between successive number one albums. Indeed, probably only fact-file obsessives will have known that prior to this album Dylan had had four number ones in his home country and/but six totally different chart-toppers across the Atlantic. The new album’s success does, then, suggest there must be a consensus in the air about something.

 

However, in the British case further examination reveals that Dylan’s three previous number ones were NASHVILLE SKYLINE in 1969 and SELF PORTRAIT and NEW MORNING in 1970 – all decidedly minor works. Before those three, he had spent 13 weeks atop the UK chart in 1968 with JOHN WESLEY HARDING, an album generally considered a major artistic achievement but whose commercial success had much to do with the groundswell of sympathy arising from Dylan’s near-brush with death in his famous motorcycle accident. Is the commercial success of TOGETHER THROUGH LIFE, like that of MODERN TIMES before it, a reflection less of the album’s quality than of a comparable sympathy vote, brought on by the artist’s advancing years and the realisation that he won’t be with us forever – that ‘it’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there’?

 

My own feeling at this stage of the game is that we are dealing with a musically agreeable, cleanly produced and perfectly listenable Dylan album, but not one that is saying anything much of interest about anything in particular. Regarding Dylan’s 21st-century output, I was and remain highly enthusiastic about ‘LOVE AND THEFT’ (and wrote at length about that album in THE BRIDGE, No 14), but have yet to be convinced by MODERN TIMES; and intuit that, for all the Latin warmth of David Hidalgo’s accordion, lyrically this new offering will have a hard time winning me over. The fact that all but one of the songs are the product of collaboration with Robert Hunter doesn’t help the evaluation of this as a Dylan album, but as with the earlier joint efforts with Jacques Levy and Sam Shepard, we may suppose the bulk of the writing process to have been Dylan’s own (after all, it is, like ‘Desire’, billed as a Bob Dylan album) while not concluding therefrom that the resultant songs must be a priori brilliant.

 

Simplicity appears to be this album’s hallmark, but, as with NASHVILLE SKYLINE and PLANET WAVES (the latter, incidentally, being another of Dylan’s US number ones), a question mark hovers as to whether this is the simplicity of blissful enlightenment or the naïve simplicity of the banal. Technically, the songs are carefully constructed around clear rhyme-schemes (this may be Hunter’s doing), and they are (mercifully) shorter and more economical than the diffuse, rambling MODERN TIMES songs. Nonetheless, on an actual majority of tracks the writing comes over as thin and gruel-like. ‘Jolene’ is a flat and featureless slice of country blues, and (sorry, Bob) far less memorable than the Dolly Parton song of the same name. ‘Shake Shake Mama’ is a clichéd blues number in the undistinguished mould of ‘The Levee’s Gonna Break’: I fail to see the interest of lines like ‘Shake shake mama like a ship going out to sea’ (where is the resemblance?) or ‘Down by the river Judge Simpson is walkin’ around / Nothing shocks me more like that old clown’ (whoever Judge Simpson may be, he’s a pale shadow of Dylan’s grudge-holding and stilt-walking or false-hearted and web-spinning magistrates from the past). The would-be social criticism on ‘It’s All Good’ is simply anaemic by the side of, say, ‘It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)’ or even, God help us, ‘Slow Train’. As to the most place-specific song, ‘If You Ever Go To Houston’ (the one Dylan chose to bring out first in live performance, in Dublin on 5 May 2009 – and which does look as if it might perhaps be about something), yes, it may be a critique of George Bush’s Texas or the Second Amendment, and it does have a potentially interesting anachronism in the Mexican War reference – but any impact it might have is undermined by the sheer bleating pointlessness of a line like ‘Mister policeman, can you help me find my gal?’.

 

All in all, after a few plays I began to wonder whether Dylan had positioned the album’s opening track, ‘Beyond Here Lies Nothin”, as a warning to the listener, to expect precisely … nothing. Should future listenings sooner or later honour any of the tracks as redeeming this album’s lyrical blight, I might just about hand a nickel or a dime to ‘Forgetful Heart’ and, perhaps, ‘This Dream of You’. In both, we find a sliver of intertextuality interacting with some just-about rescuable writing. In the first, the lines ‘Forgetful heart / like a walking shadow in my brain / All night long / I lay awake and listen to the sound of pain’ recall both Shakespeare’s Macbeth (‘Life’s but a walking shadow’) and the Edgar Allan Poe of ‘The Raven’, and the song also has a Kafkaesque door that may never have existed; the second offers, again, Poe-like imagery – ‘shadows … on the wall / Shadows that seem to know it all’. In these two tracks, there is, perhaps, a faint flickering of the old ‘flames in the furnace of desire’ – and yet, and yet, surely at this stage in Dylan’s career, could we not have been given a bit more to reflect on than whether or not this album is up to the standard of … well, of NASHVILLE SKYLINE?!! Bob, whatever colours you have in your mind, couldn’t you have shown us one or two more of them on this record?

 

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NOTE added 28-VIII-2009:

This review is also on my Yatra site at: http://yatrarollason.info/files/DylanTTL.pdf;

 

It has been published, as part of a critical forum on the album, in the UK Dylan magazine THE BRIDGE:

 No 34 (Summer 2009), 49-51.

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Hay una versión española de este texto, traducida por Carla Vanessa Gonzáles, en la entrada de esta bitácora correspondiente al 25-VI-2009.