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Author Archive: "Cara Hoffman"

Paint it Black: Louis-Ferdinand Celine, Lover of Humanity

I've been reluctant to write about Louis-Ferdinand Céline as one of my favorite writers for all the obvious reasons. Céline has a well-deserved reputation as an anti-Semite for tracts that he published after the book that is in my opinion the best anti-war novel ever written, Journey to the End of the Night. I make no excuses for Céline's anti-Semitic writing, nor do I have to point out that at the time his pamphlets appeared he was in the company of men like Ezra Pound and Henry Ford in his sentiments. Journey stands on its own, and if I were to fail to mention Céline as one of my biggest influences I would be lying. I unabashedly love his novels... all of them.

Céline makes the case for anarchism in Journey to the End of the Night by revealing the hypocrisy of heroism. The black comedy about a World War I soldier named Bardamu begins with war and continues to show how the seed of war — self-absorbed delusion — is found in all forms of authority, whether practiced by individuals or institutions. ...


The Self as Seen from a Distance: The Work of Jane Bowles

We are all familiar with Paul Bowles, that expat icon who gave us Let It Come Down and The Sheltering Sky. Bowles is one of my heroes. During times in my life when I was alone and very down and out I would read a book of his interviews over and over and it would always make me feel all right. It seemed that no one possessed the detached clarity and poetry of Paul Bowles. Except maybe his wife — whose work most of us don't know because she burned nearly all of it. If people are aware of Jane Bowles, it is usually as the inspiration for some of her husband's characters. But her prose, what remains of it, stands on its own.

Jane Bowles's writing is disturbing. Her stories have little if no plot. They hint at broader psychological meanings or subtle epiphanies. In the collection My Sister's Hand in Mines, Bowles uses close third-person narration, making the thoughts of her protagonists, the tones of their dialogue, and their often bizarre psychological motivations drive the narrative.

I particularly love the way ...


Smell the Flowers While You Can

David Wojnarowicz writes about the many different layers of rage and grief that are born from repressive American social structures and the joy in transcending them by experiencing beauty, pleasure, and a kind of sacred profane.

In Close to the Knives, Wojnarowicz follows individual and intimate acts of ignorance and cruelty back to their sources. He is able to "X-ray" the body of the single oppressor and find his skeleton, which carries the distinct marks of the state: a history of violence, intolerance, and homogenizing control.

Each public disclosure of a private reality becomes something of a magnet that can attract others with a similar frame of reference; thus each public disclosure of a private reality serves as a dismantling tool against the illusion of the ONE TRIBE NATION.

While the book's title refers specifically to a bull — being taunted and eventually killed in a ritual of power by a matador, the metaphor is extenuated throughout the book as the narrator is driven by grief and rage, compelled, close to committing violence and close to having violence done to him. This is illustrated in a passage in which ...


Walking Hand in Hand, a Look at “Schopenhauer’s Telescope”

During Women's History Month we celebrate the accomplishments of those who have struggled for equality, but it's also important to remember the role misogyny plays on a global level. Women's History Month needs to be 30 days of action, not 30 days of commemoration. I can think of no better author to illustrate the corrosive power of misogyny and also the deep solidarity and love many men have for women than Gerard Donovan, whose 2004 debut novel, Schopenhauer's Telescope, is easily one of my favorite books of all time .

The absence of women in Schopenhauer's Telescope functions as an absence of hope and later an absence of God.

The novel begins as the story of a baker digging a hole in an empty field in mid-winter while a history teacher smokes and talks to him. Little by little the horrific events that brought these characters together are revealed to the reader. Eventually truck loads of men and boys are dropped off, and soldiers show up with machine guns. The hole is to be a mass ...


A Girl among the Anarchists

In 1903, two adolescent sisters, Helen and Olivia Rosetti, published a novel under the pseudonym Isabel Meredith in which they chronicled their lives as radicals, propagandists, and key figures in the European anarchist movement. A glimpse of true intellectual freedom, the novel, A Girl among the Anarchists may be one of the most critically untouched and unacknowledged feminist works of the 20th century.

The book was unprecedented for the scope of its political content, a rare coming-of-age tale that called for complete sexual equality and the violent destruction of religion and state rule. It was revelatory of day to day life in a Victorian-era underground movement, and a keen study of radical and active responses to the universal feelings of rage, boredom, and resignation that to this day remain at the heart of experience for many adolescent women.

The protagonist, Isabel Meredith, is an intelligent, highly capable, sexually active teenage girl with a sense of humor and a sense of pride. She is an orphan living on inheritance who fights beside, organizes, and leads mostly adult men in the struggle ...


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