I have on various occasions charted Salman Rushdie’s frequent use of Bob Dylan references in his writings (the most recent one being on this blog regarding Rushdie’s memoir of 2012, Joseph Anton – entry for 21 October 2012)

Rushdie’s penchant for Dylan allusions continues in his novel of 2015, Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights (US: Random House; UK : Jonathan Cape). While far from being its author’s best work of fiction, this Thousand and One Nights pastiche does in its text evoke three Dylan songs, and this time and by contrast to the references in Joseph Anton, none of them from Bob Dylan’s celebrated 60s period, thus pointing to something resembling an in-depth knowledge of the songwriter’s oeuvre (as in fact Rushdie had already demonstrated in the multiple Dylan allusions in his novel of 1999, The Ground Beneath Her Feet).

In the new novel, Jimmy Kapoor, a graphic artist of Indian origin living in New York, is the creator of a cartoon character called Natraj Hero. We are told that ‘Natraj’s superpower was dancing’, and his name immediately evokes Shiva Natraj, the Hindu god in his manifestation as cosmic dancer. The key sentence here for hawk-eyed Dylan-watchers is: ‘Natraj dance to the bulbul tune’ (p. 65 – reference to UK Kindle edition), which, can only be an echo of the line from Dylan’s’ song ‘Jokerman’ (Infidels, 1983), ‘Jokerman dance to the nightingale tune’, Easternised with bulbul replacing nightingale. The Dylan echo is confirmed two sentences later, when Natraj is described as ‘Aka Jack of Hearts’, recalling the character whom Dylan listeners will immediately recognise from ‘Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts’ (Blood on the Tracks, 1975).

Later in the novel, Dylan is explicitly namechecked, and indeed quoted, via a song from New Morning (1970), in an episode in which another New York resident, Blue Yasmeen, hosts regular epic story-telling sessions: ‘She was something of a downtown celebrity, world famous on twenty blocks, she said, at the story-slam sessions run by the ‘Day of the Locusts’ people, who took their name not from Nathanael West’s novel (which was locust singular) but from the Dylan song (locusts plural): the locusts sang, and they were singing for me’ (p. 106). So Dylan gets mentioned along with his literary antecedent, for ‘Day of the Locusts’, a song which indeed only hardcore Dylanites are likely to know or remember (and which he has never performed live).

So in this novel too, and irrespective of its merits or demerits as fiction, Rushdie keeps the Dylan flag flying .. .



Me complace reportar que mi ensayo sobre Walter Benjamin y las galerías de París, ‘The Passageways of Paris’, publicado en India en 2002 y en Chile en 2009 (véanse entradas en esta bitácora del 25 y del 27 de septiembre 2005), ha sido citado, de forma substancial, en un artículo sobre el cristal en la arquitectura en el último número (N° 29, noviembre 2014 – marzo 2015) de una revista que se llama nada menos que .. BITÁCORA y es órgano de la Facultad de Arquitectura de la UNAM (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México), en México, DF. El tema del número es ‘Arquitectura, Ciudad y Luz’.

El artículo (pp. 100-107), de Marieke van Rosmalen Farias, se intitula: ‘Crystal Clear City of Glass : La construcción invisible del imaginario urbano’ .

El número entero se puede descargar en :

Revista Bitacora No 29 portada

BITÁCORA es una revista de muy buena presentación  y gráficamente impresionante, con un alto impacto visual, y es un honor tener mi trabajo citado allí.

Detalles de mi propio ensayo:

 ‘The Passageways of Paris: Walter Benjamin’s “Arcades Project” and Contemporary Cultural Debate in the West’, en Modern Criticism, ed. Christopher Rollason y Rajeshwar Mittapalli, New Delhi: Atlantic Publishers and Distributors, 2002, 262-296; en linea en:;

versión en español, ‘El Libro de los pasajes de Walter Benjamin, la historia no lineal e Internet’, Mapocho: Revista de Humanidades (Santiago, Chile: Ediciones de la Dirección de Bibliotecas, Archivos y Museos), N° 66, julio-diciembre 2009, 13-31; en línea –


I am pleased to report that my essay on Walter Benjamin and the París arcades, ‘The Passageways of Paris’, published in India in 2002 and in Chile in 2009 (see entries on this blog for 25 and 27 Sept 2005), has been substantially cited in an article on glass in architecture in the latest issue (No 29, Nov 2014 – Mar 2015) of the journal BITÁCORA (a name which, curiously, means ‘blog’), of the Faculty of Architecture of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) in Mexico City. The theme of the issue is ‘Architecture, City and Light’.

The article (pp. 100-107), by Marieke van Rosmalen Farias, is entitled: ‘Crystal Clear City of Glass : La construcción invisible del imaginario urbano’ (‘Crystal Clear City of Glass: The invisible construction of the urban imaginary’).

The entire issue can be downloaded at

BITÁCORA is an extremely well-produced, graphically impressive journal with a strong visual impact, and it is an honour to have my work cited there.

Details of my own essay are:

 ‘The Passageways of Paris: Walter Benjamin’s “Arcades Project” and Contemporary Cultural Debate in the West’, in Modern Criticism, ed. Christopher Rollason and Rajeshwar Mittapalli, New Delhi: Atlantic Publishers and Distributors, 2002, 262-296; on-line at:

Spanish version, ‘El Libro de los pasajes de Walter Benjamin, la historia no lineal e Internet’, Mapocho: Revista de Humanidades (Santiago, Chile: Ediciones de la Dirección de Bibliotecas, Archivos y Museos), No 66, July-December 2009, 13-31; on-line at:


Published earlier this year, ‘Flood of Fire’ (London: John Murray, 2015, ISBN [hardback] 0978-0-7195-6900-5, 616 pp.) is the final volume in Amitav Ghosh’s long and ambitious sequence of three historical novels known (after the books’ fictional vessel) as the ‘Ibis Trilogy’, the first two being ‘Sea of Poppies’ (2008) and ‘River of Smoke’ (2011).  Set in 1839, the new novel does not disappoint, charting the linked lives of its multiple characters against the backdrop of the interaction between Asian cultures, primarily Indian and Chinese, in the phase of British imperial expansion known as the ‘Opium Wars’, culminating as the narrative concludes in the capture of Hong Kong.

Flood of Fire cover

Here as in the other volumes, the language dimension – an aspect which I examined for ‘River of Smoke’ in an earlier post on this blog (23 September 2011) – is of major importance, and now the trilogy is complete it would be of great interest should a suitably qualified scholar, or team of scholars, be willing to embark on a study of the ways in which Ghosh’s writing embeds Indian and Chinese terms within an English-language narrative (also to be noted incidentally is the welcome circumstance that Ghosh  – when a character founds a translation/interpretation bureau in China – actually – and unlike many novelists -gets the endlessly confused  difference between translator and interpreter right, at least most of the time!). A downloadable glossary corresponding to the first two volumes is to be found on the author’s official site (, and it is to be hoped that this resource will soon be updated to embrace the third volume.

The ‘Ibis Trilogy’ offers abundant proof that the historical novel is still alive. It is a piece of classical realist fiction, eschewing magic-realist temptations, whose twin themes – the dynamics of empire and the interaction of Indian and Chinese cultures – are testimony to the connectedness of nineteenth-century history to today’s world. Appended to ‘Flood of Fire’ is an ample bibliography which makes it clear that the trilogy is also the result of solid historical research.  Meanwhile, Ghosh’s particular model of ‘Asian English’ – grammatically standard but spiced with lexical ‘Asianisms’ – may also offer a potential blueprint for the future of English as a global language: even beyond the spell cast by the narrative, this may yet prove to be the trilogy’s most important legacy. Ghosh’s readers await the scholars!


El cuervo y otros poemas

Los estudiosos de la recepción de Edgar Allan Poe en el mundo hispano pueden disponer ahora de un recurso de gran valor, hecho disponible, por un precio accesible para todos, en Amazon Kindle. Se trata de ‘El Cuervo y otros poemas’, un libro publicado en Montevideo en 1919 y consistiendo en una recopilación de poemas del autor estadounidense, incluidos todos los más conocidos, vertidos al español por 3 traductores diferentes y presentados por esa gran figura de las letras hispanas (y admirador de Poe) que era el nicaragüense Rubén Darío. La reedición en formato electrónica fue realizada en 2012 y se debe a la editorial 519 Editores.

Los traductores son: el uruguayo Alberto Lasplaces; el colombiano Carlos Arturo Torres; y (para ‘The Raven / El cuervo’ únicamente) el venezolano Juan Antonio Pérez Bonalde. El tratarse  de un proyecto con participantes de 4 países le confiere cierto brillo panlatinoamericano. En su prólogo, Darío se muestra como gran conocedor y apreciador del poeta norteamericano. Las traducciones, si bien reflejan filosofías diferentes (las de Torres son menos literales que las de Lasplaces, mientras el ‘Cuervo’ de Pérez Bonalde, excelente, reluce por su esmerada atención a los pormenores textuales), en su globalidad son francamente de calidad, e incluso merecerían estudio detallado.

Este volumen está mencionado en algún recurso bibliografía o estudio crítico, y el ‘Cuervo’ de Pérez Bonalde incluso tiene cierta fama, pero hasta ahora disponer de un ejemplar, para fines de estudio o placer, hubiera sido como mínimo muy difícil. El libro electrónico tiene la gran ventaja de hacer disponible este tipo de material ‘olvidado’, así alargando el campo del conocimiento de una forma que el propio Poe, siempre alerto a la modernidad, seguramente hubiera aprobado.


Students of the reception of Edgar Allan Poe in the Spanish-speaking world now have at their disposal a resource of great value, made available on Amazon Kindle at a price accessible to all. This resource is the book ‘El Cuervo y otros poemas’ (‘The Raven and other poems’), originally published in Montevideo (Uruguay) in 1919 and consisting of a selection of poems by the American author – including all the famous ones – translated into Spanish by three different hands, with a prologue by a major figure of Hispanic letters (and admirer of Poe), the Nicaraguan poet Rubén Darío. This electronic version was produced in 2012 by the publisher 519 Editores.

The translators are: the Uruguayan Alberto Lasplaces; the Colombian Carlos Arturo Torres; and (for ‘The Raven’ only) the Venezuelan Juan Antonio Pérez Bonalde. The presence of participants from four different countries confers a certain pan-Latin American sheen on the project. Darío’s prologue reveals his close knowledge and deep appreciation of his fellow poet. The translations reflect different philosophies (those of Torres are less literal than those of Lasplaces, while Pérez Bonalde’s excellent ‘Raven’ is particularly attentive  to textual detail), but all in all are of a quality which would merit close study.

This volume is mentioned in bibliographies and critical studies, and Pérez Bonalde’s ‘Raven’ even has a certain fame,  but until now to get hold of a copy for purposes of study or pleasure would have been quite a feat. E-books have the great advantage of making ‘forgotten’ material of this kind available, thus enlarging the field of knowledge in a way which Poe, ever alert to modernity, would certainly have approved.


The Internet age has given new value and impetus to the notion of a universal library of literature. In the past we have had Everyman’s Library, which at one point actually reached its goal of a ‘library of a thousand volumes’, Penguin Classics, and, at a price less accessible for most, the French Pléiade library and the Library of America. Today, with e-readers and notably the Kindle, for the first time and by a miracle of literary nanotechnology, an individual can own a multitudinous library of classics, portable, searchable and all in one place.

The most salient example, at least in English (French has a similar venture in the Arvensa series) is offered by Delphi Classics, whose collection now runs to several hundred volumes, all Kindle-readable and downloadable at knockdown prices. This post is not intended as advertising for Delphi: it will offer, rather, a critical overview of the existing collection. However, there is no point in not divulging that their website is at and that their e-books can be ordered through Amazon.

Delphi is based in the UK, although the prices on the website are in dollars. For copyright reasons some titles are available in, e.g., Europe but not the US and viceversa. However, the vast majority of titles are universally available, and since I live in Europe this article will concentrate on e-books available there. Copyright also means that Delphi’s list can only feature writings that are in the public domain in whatever market, a circumstance that entails certain limitations going beyond the list itself: since nothing originally published later than around 1920 can be included, this means that non-English works can only feature in older translations, and also that Delphi’s admirable practice of including a selection of critical texts at the end of most volumes is constrained by the similar non-availability of any criticism less than a century old.

The range of titles is continuously expanding. Not all are in English: there are currently 38 volumes in other languages, the best-represented being German (25 titles), with French standing at 9 and Italian and Spanish at 2 each (5 of the German volumes and one of the French are translations). Some of the English-language volumes are wholly or partly bilingual, with at least the author’s most important works (in some cases everything) appearing in both original and translation. This is particularly the case with Greek and Latin classics such as Plato, Aristotle, Homer or Sappho, and also enriches the volumes devoted to major European writers including Dante, Cervantes, and Victor Hugo.

For a collection of this kind the selection of texts can never be completely neutral and will inevitably reflect certain criteria and not others (although of course the criteria can be changed for future additions). Copyright is of course the most binding criterion of all, meaning that the most recent authors present are (for European readers) the likes of D.H. Lawrence, Virginia Woolf, Katharine Mansfield and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Women writers are fairly represented, as are children’s literature and genre fiction (with perhaps surprising inclusions such as E. Nesbit or George Macdonald). The most strongly represented period is the nineteenth century, not only its novelists and poets – both British and American – but sages such as Ruskin, Morris, Carlyle and Darwin (but not their European contemporaries such as Marx or Hegel). By contrast, there is a visible paucity of philosophers and thinkers from other periods (no Hobbes, Locke or Machiavelli), with the salient exception of the Greco-Roman world, whose literature and philosophy are copiously represented.

One important point needs making: there is a conspicuous lack of texts from outside the Western/European world: the compilers’ sights seem not to extend further than Russia. The only scriptural text to be found is the King James Bible, so no Koran, and no Ramayana, Mahabharata or Bhagavad Gita; and no Confucius or Lao Tzu either. Perhaps surprisingly, also absent is the Thousand and One Nights; nor does the range of poets extend to Omar Khayyam or Rumi. This could lead to charges of ethnocentric bias, which sooner or later it may prove in Delphi’s interest to rectify.

Allowing for the above implied criteria, omissions of individual authors are by now relatively few, and it is worth noting that Delphi’s site includes a ‘forthcoming’ section which allows us to know that certain omissions (Bunyan, Petronius, Ariosto) will be made good soon. One might cavil at the absence of, say, Henry Vaughan, Thomas de Quincey or J.M. Synge, but most important, surely, is what is there rather than what is not.

Not every volume is 100% complete (that for P.B. Shelley lacks his translations of Plato; that for John Donne does not include his prose works). On the other hand, many are remarkably inclusive: George Eliot scholars will no doubt be delighted to be able to access her rarely found translation of Ludwig Feuerbach! Certain volumes are particularly well enriched. The e-book for Shakespeare includes an apparatus containing not only criticism but apocryphal plays, extracts from the sources, Charles and Mary Lamb’s prose ‘Tales from Shakespeare’, a glossary and more. The Dickens volume has peripheral matter including contemporary stage adaptations, a continuation of ‘Edwin Drood’ and the Forster biography. Homer is honoured with multiple translations of both ‘Iliad’ and ‘Odyssey’.

The volumes are well-presented (with apposite illustrations), searchable, user-friendly and informative. They can only encourage e-generation readers to venture into the world of the literary classics. The verdict has to be, at least, ‘almost perfect’, though it is to be hoped that Delphi will soon start to look beyond the Western world. I do, however, have a question regarding the critical apparatuses. Copyright means that these have to be confined to nineteenth- and early twentieth-century critics: the likes of George Saintsbury might not seem the most attuned to contemporary critical movements, from deconstruction through gender criticism to eco-criticism. Paradoxically, the availability of the Delphi editions could lead to a revival in criticism directed on the literary text rather than interpreting it in the light of ideology of whatever kind. A collection like this may yet exercise a shaping hand, in unexpected ways, on the future of reading and literary study.

*Note added 19 Jan 2016: see additional comments in entry for 18 Jan 2016


The decline of the compact disc has been well-chronicled, and its absolute demise predicted (there is an interesting article in The Guardian of 28 May 2015 – Dorian Lynskey, ‘How the compact disc lost its shine’ – The medium which triumphed over vinyl and cassette has now all but surrendered, first to mp3 downloads and now to streaming.

However, pockets of resistance remain. The CD is fast disappearing from high-street outlets, but is still available by mail order from the likes of Amazon. When moving house recently I realised I needed dedicated housing for my CD collection. This I duly ordered from a furniture chain, only to be advised at the last minute that ‘we don’t sell CD supports any more’. However, a copy of BBC Music magazine threw up the address of a firm in Yorkshire, England, from whom I ordered a handmade mahogany rotating CD tower, now duly delivered and installed. There are ways …

The Mp3 download as a model has much to be said for it. It enables a more organised music collection, by genre and artist, than CDs ever could. Mp3s take up minimal space: today’s technology can house all of Bach’s cantatas on a single USB stick. They also share with CDs the advantage over streaming that one can actually own the music, instead of visiting a collectivist cloud.

However, music in digital form, whether as track, album or collection, lacks the physical presence of a disc seen and grasped as a palpable object. A CD, to those who still know what they are, is surely a more attractive present or souvenir than a computer file: some musicians still sell their discs at concerts. Of those of us who have amassed CD collections over the years, some at least will not wish to abandon them for a digital-only utopia: as it rotates, my mahogany tower whispers to me that not all is over …



Bob Dylan and the late Frank Sinatra might seem like the most unlikely musical pairing. To a superficial observer, the two could appear to have nothing in common other than being famous, American and from migrant groups (Dylan Ukrainian-Jewish, Sinatra Italian).

Nonetheless, Dylan has always been a Sinatra admirer, covert or otherwise. At a tribute concert for Sinatra’s 80th birthday in 1995 Bob’s contribution took the form, on Frank’s request, of a 1964 song he almost never performs – ‘Restless Farewell’, a song which may have touched Sinatra since its lyric bears some stray resemblance to that of his own rather better-known ‘My Way’.

‘My Way’, however, does not show up on ‘Shadows in the Night’, Dylan’s tribute album released in 2015, 17 years after Sinatra’s death in 1998. Nor should the curious expect to find ‘New York, New York’ or ‘Strangers in the Night’.

shadows in the night

The best-known songs on the 10-track album are ‘Autumn Leaves’ and ‘Some Enchanted Evening’, plus a standard not necessarily associated with The Voice, the much-interpreted ‘That Lucky Old Sun’ (associated with, among many others, Ray Charles and Johnny Cash).

The other tracks are: ‘I’m a Fool to Want You’, ‘The Night We Called It a Day’, ‘Stay With Me’, ‘Why Try To Change Me Now?’, ‘Full Moon and Empty Arms’, ‘Where Are You?’ and ‘What’ll I Do?’. None of these are among Sinatra’s best-known numbers, although ‘I’m a Fool to Want You’ and ‘What’ll I Do?’ have both been covered by Linda Ronstadt. In particular, ‘Stay With Me’, from the soundtrack of a 1964 film, ‘The Cardinal’, was surely positively obscure until Bob Dylan laid hold on it. Taken as a whole, Dylan’s Sinatra harvest reveals a subtler and more nuanced side of the great vocalist than many might be familiar with.

Surprise though it may have landed as, this album is not totally without links with Dylan’s past. He has performed ‘That Lucky Old Sun’ live 25 times between 1985 and 2000 (though no-one knows if – some enchanted evening ? – his new arrangement of the song will show up on stage) Nor is the concept of a covers album new to the Dylan catalogue : this is his fifth release consisting entirely of interpretations of others’ songs, the last being ‘Christmas in the Heart’ from 2009.

Dylan debuted ‘Stay With Me’ live on 26 October 2014, at Hollywood’s Dolby Theatre. He has performed it at every concert since, in the encore slot. None of the other songs (eight remain unperformed in the Dylan annals) has yet shown up live, but we may live in hope.

The album has achieved both commercial and critical success. It reached No 7 on the US chart, and in the UK actually gave Dylan his eighth number one. Reviews have abounded, mostly favourable and some wellnigh ecstatic, arguably the best (and most musically erudite) being that by Ben Greenman in the ‘New Yorker’ (‘Bob Dylan’s Sinatra Album’, 3 February 2015 –

Praise does, however, been somewhat less unqualified within Dylan’s hardcore fan circles: this suggests, though, that ‘Shadows in the Night’ may have appealed more broadly to the listening public than much of Bob Dylan’s recent output. Dylan and Sinatra both have big fan bases that do not always coincide – but adding the two fan bases together looks to have propelled the album up the charts.

That, however, can only have happened because this is a good album, if not indeed a remarkable one. Comparison validates its quality: Sinatra’s originals can all be downloaded, and listening to Bob’s and Frank’s performances one by one and side by side reveals both the carefulness of Sinatra’s vocal articulations and the tremendous effort Dylan has made, confessedly by dint of multiple listening, to replicate – but not imitate – them. Equally, to download the Sinatra tracks in Dylan’s sequence is to create … dare one say it? – a shadow album for ‘Shadows in the Night’, or indeed a ‘lost’ Sinatra album conjured into existence by Dylan’s magisterial gesture.

Many say today that Dylan’s voice is ‘shot’. Not on this album : this material suits the septuagenarian state of his voice, better perhaps than his more recent originals. On one song at least, ‘That Lucky Old Sun’ (a number of long-suffering lament more suited to Bob’s world than Frank’s), there is no doubt that Dylan outshines Sinatra – and on the rest it can reasonably be called a draw.

‘Shadows in the Night’ will shine in the Dylan canon as a totally unexpected, yet remarkably successful, late-career manifestation of the great songwriter’s intimate connection with his native popular music tradition. Dylan sings Sinatra Dylan’s way – and that late-Dylan voice does the Voice proud!