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Original Essays | September 15, 2014

Lois Leveen: IMG Forsooth Me Not: Shakespeare, Juliet, Her Nurse, and a Novel



There's this writer, William Shakespeare. Perhaps you've heard of him. He wrote this play, Romeo and Juliet. Maybe you've heard of it as well. It's... Continue »
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    Juliet's Nurse

    Lois Leveen 9781476757445

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This title in other editions

Rising Up and Rising Down: Some Thoughts on Violence, Freedom and Urgent Means

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Excerpt

Three Meditations on Death
Catacomb Thoughts

Death is ordinary. Behold it, subtract its patterns and lessons from those of the death that weapons bring, and maybe the residue will show what violence is. With this in mind, I walked the long tunnels of the Paris catacombs. Walls of earth and stone encompassed walls of mortality a femur's-length thick: long yellow and brown bones all stacked in parallels, their sockets pointing outward like melted bricks whose ends dragged down, like downturned bony smiles, like stale yellow snails of macaroni — joints of bones, heads of bones, promiscuously touching, darkness in the center of each, between those twin knucklespurs which had once helped another bone to pivot, thereby guiding and supporting flesh in its passionate and sometimes intelligent motion toward the death it inevitably found — femurs in rows, then, and humeri, bones upon bones, and every few rows there'd be a shelf of bone to shore death up, a line of humeri and femurs laid down laterally to achieve an almost pleasing masonry effect, indeed, done by masonry's maxims, as interpreted by Napoleon's engineers and brickmen of death, who at the nouveau-royal command had elaborated and organized death's jetsam according to a sanitary aesthetic. (Did the Emperor ever visit that place? He was not afraid of death — not even of causing it.) Then there were side chambers walled with bones likewise crossed upon bone beams; from these the occasional skull looked uselessly out; and every now and then some spiritual types had ornamented the facade with a cross made of femurs. There had been laid down in that place, I was told, the remains of about six million persons — our conventional total for the number of Jews who died in the Holocaust. The crime which the Nazis accomplished with immense effort in half a dozen years, nature had done here without effort or recourse, and was doing.

I had paid my money aboveground; I had come to look upon my future. But when after walking the long arid angles of prior underground alleys I first encountered my brothers and sisters, calcified appurtenances of human beings now otherwise gone to be dirt, and rat flesh, and root flesh, and green leaves soon to die again, I felt nothing but a mildly melancholy curiosity. One expects to die; one has seen skeletons and death's-heads on Halloween masks, in anatomy halls, cartoons, warning signs, forensic photographs, photographs of old S.S. insignia, and meanwhile the skulls bulged and gleamed from walls like wet river boulders, until curiosity became, as usual, numbness. But one did not come out of the ground then. Bonewalls curled around wells, drainage sockets in those tunnels; sometimes water dripped from the ceiling and struck the tourists' foreheads — water which had probably leached out of corpses. A choking, sickening dust irritated our eyes and throats, for in no way except in the abstract, and perhaps not even then, is the presence of the dead salutary to the living. Some skulls dated to 1792. Darkened, but still not decayed, they oppressed me with their continued existence. The engineers would have done better to let them transubstantiate. They might have been part of majestic trees by now, or delicious vegetables made over into young children's blood and growing bones. Instead they were as stale and stubborn as old arguments, molds for long-dissolved souls, churlish hoardings of useless matter. Thus, I believed, the reason for my resentment. The real sore point was that, in Eliot's phrase, ?I had not thought death had undone so many?; numbness was giving way to qualmishness, to a nauseated, claustrophobic realization of my biological entrapment. Yes, of course I'd known that I must die, and a number of times had had my nose rubbed in the fact; this was one of them, and in between those episodes my tongue glibly admitted what my heart secretly denied; for why should life have to bear in its flesh the dissolving, poisonous faith of its own unescapable defeat? Atop bony driftwood, skulls slept, eyeholes downward, like the shells of dead hermit crabs amidst those wracked corpse timbers. This was the necrophile's beach, but there was no ocean except the ocean of earth overhead from which those clammy drops oozed and dripped. Another cross of bone, and then the inscription — SILENCE, MORTAL BEINGS — VAIN GRANDEURS, SILENCE — words even more imperious in French than I have given them here, but no more necessary, for the calcified myriads said that better than all poets or commanders. In superstition the carcass is something to be feared, dreaded and hated; in fact it deserves no emotion whatsoever in and of itself, unless it happens to constitute a souvenir of somebody other than a stranger; but time spent in the company of death is time wasted. Life trickles away, like the water falling down into the catacombs, and in the end we will be silent as our ancestors are silent, so better to indulge our vain grandeurs while we can. Moment by moment, our time bleeds away. Shout, scream or run, it makes no difference, so why not forget what can't be avoided? On and on twisted death's alleys. Sometimes there was a smell, a cheesy, vinegary smell which I knew from having visited a field morgue or two; there was no getting away from it, and the dust of death dried out my throat. I came to a sort of cavern piled up to my neck with heaps of bones not used in construction: pelvic bones and ribs (the vertebrae and other small bones must have all gone to discard or decay). These relics were almost translucent, like seashells, so thin had death nibbled them. That smell, that vinegarvomit smell, burned my throat, but perhaps I was more sensitive to it than I should have been, for the other tourists did not appear to be disgusted; indeed, some were laughing, either out of bravado or because to them it was as unreal as a horror movie...

Product Details

ISBN:
9780060548193
Author:
Vollmann, William T.
Publisher:
Harper Perennial
Author:
Bozza, Anthony
Author:
by William T. Vollmann
Author:
Slash
Author:
, William T.
Author:
Vollmann
Subject:
Political
Subject:
Political Freedom & Security - General
Subject:
Violence in Society
Subject:
Entertainment & Performing Arts
Subject:
Politics - General
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Trade PB
Publication Date:
20051031
Binding:
TRADE PAPER
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Pages:
752
Dimensions:
9 x 6 x 1.45 in 27.02 oz

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Related Subjects

» Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z
» History and Social Science » Politics » General
» History and Social Science » Sociology » General
» History and Social Science » Sociology » Violence in Society
» History and Social Science » World History » General
» Humanities » Philosophy » General

Rising Up and Rising Down: Some Thoughts on Violence, Freedom and Urgent Means Used Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
$7.95 In Stock
Product details 752 pages Perennial - English 9780060548193 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "This edition of Vollman's treatise on political violence, 20 or so years in the making and completed before 9/11, abridges the 3,000-plus pages of the McSweeney's edition, an NBCC Award nominee last year. As he notes in a beautifully composed introduction, Vollman assumes political violence to be a human constant and thus addresses his attention to finding out when people use violence for political ends, how they justify it and on what scales they undertake it. Following 100 or so pages of expansive definitions, a nearly 300-page section titled 'Justifications' culls an enormous number of texts and commentary, from nearly all recorded eras and locales, with all manner of excuses for killing. These Vollman brilliantly distills into 'The Moral Calculus,' a set of questions such as 'When is violent military retribution justified?' — followed by concrete answers. The book's final quarter offers 'Studies in Consequences,' featuring Vollman's gonzo reportage from southeast Asia, Europe, 'The Muslim World' and North America (represented here primarily by Jamaica). An appendix cites the longer edition's entire table of contents. This book's rigorous, novelistic, imaginative, sonorous prose treats a fundamental topic on a grand (and horrific) scale; there is nothing else in literature quite like it. Agent, Susan Golomb. 8-city author tour. (Nov. 5)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review A Day" by , "Rising Up and Rising Down is a novelist's version of scholarship, full of highly wrought acts of empathy and detailed description. Vollmann makes no apology for this; in a note on the literary language of his study he explains why a work which is organized on a theoretical basis indulges in so much 'ornate description'....There is a heroic bathos about Vollmann's reformism which finds its formal echo in the voice he brings to his journalism, the very opposite of gonzo cool..." (read the entire Times Literary Supplement review)
"Review" by , "Vollmann...abridged his epic study into a single volume without losing its essence or power....As rich in feeling as in history and analysis, Vollmann's masterful synthesis illuminates the most tragic realities of the human condition."
"Review" by , "Such writing should be read and marveled over again and again. And this writing, in which knowing our past is a consolation, offers some hope for our future."
"Review" by , "[A] literary accomplishment in the tradition of Edward Gibbons' Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire..."
"Review" by , "[A] monumental achievement....It can be an exhausting, depressing read, but with the ever-growing role of violence in our lives, it is an essential one."
"Review" by , "[V]ivid and penetrating....Vollmann is the real thing, a writer who cares deeply about his subject and the world."
"Synopsis" by , A labor of seventeen years, Vollmann's first book of non-fiction since 1992's An Afghanistan Picture Show is a gravely urgent invitation to look back at the world's long, bloody path and find some threads of meaning, wisdom, and guidance to plot a moral course. From the street violence of prostitutes and junkies to the centuries-long battles between the Native Americans and European colonists, Vollmann's mesmerizing imagery and compelling logic is presented with authority born of astounding research and personal experience.
"Synopsis" by , When is violence justified? This abridged version of Vollmann's 3,000-page, seven-volume opus is a meditation on this age-old conundrum.

"Synopsis" by , William T. Vollmann's abridgment of his 3,500-page, seven-volumemagnum opus

An odyssey through the history of violence, Rising Up and Rising Down combines William T. Vollmann's voracious appetite for the details of history with a disregard for his own safety, examines the actions of historical figures, scrutinizes the thinking of philosophers and finds Vollmann posting personal dispatches from some of the most dangerous and war-torn places on earth. The result is his Moral Calculus, a structured decision-making system designed to help the reader decide when violence is justifiable and when it is not.

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