Sunday Morning! “The Book of Disquiet” by Fernando Pessoa

Rufus F.

Rufus is an American curmudgeon in Canada. He has a PhD in History, sings in a garage rock band, and does many things. He is the author of the forthcoming book "The Paris Bureau" from Dio Press (early 2021).

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10 Responses

  1. Saul Degraw
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    says:

    I tried watching the Queen’s Gambit on Netflix because it got good reviews. I gave up after a few minutes. Even though it is based on a novel, the whole thing felt like it was designed based on an algorithmic cliche of Prestige TV. The formula seems to be:

    1. Mid 20th-century setting for glamour and gorgeous design;

    2. Somewhat dysfunctional set sympathetic anti-heroine with drop dead gorgeous looks. In this case, she is a young woman in her early 20s who is a chess genius. Her tragic backstory (revealed in the first few minutes) is that she was orphaned as a young child when her mom committed suicide via car crash. She was sent to a kind of weird orphanage where the girls are given “vitamins” for their deportment/character development but these pills seem more like stuff to drug people out. Now as a young women, she is a hot mess who pops pills and chases them down with booze and then runs to her matches.

    3. Improbable yet trendy casting. One of the teachers at the orphanage is a trans actor. I don’t think there is anything wrong with this but it is obvious and I am not sure to what end of commentary. On the other hand, the Orphange is integrated and one of the three people in charge is a Black Man. There is no way an orphanage in 1950s Kentucky is going to be integrated. There is also no way an orphanage in 1950s Kentucky would let black people be in charge of white girls. I actually got into an argument with people about whether historical vermisilitude like this matters or not. I took the unpopular stance that it does.Report

    • LeeEsq in reply to Saul Degraw
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      says:

      From what I’ve read point three is also problematic because they are going with a warts and all approach to the mid-20th century. This is something you can’t really have your cake and eat it to with. If you want to depict the bad parts of the past like misogyny, racism, homophobia, and sexual repression then you can’t do trendy colorblind casting. If you are doing the SCA approach to the past, the past as it should be rather than it was, you can do this type of casting. When going for a warts and all approach, this type of casting seems to miss the point.

      Nearly all historical fiction or fiction set in the past has this problem. People like historical settings but don’t like the things that make modern audience queasy. Nearly every period piece dealing with Queen Elizabeth I ignores the fact that she like many of other subjects found sports involving animal cruelty really good clean fun. Nobody wants to deal with a Good Queen Bess that liked herself some bear-baiting and cock fighting. So naturally, all productions try to blunt the past. The wider the audience, the more rough edges will be smoothed down. Making the protagonists more modern than typical seems to be an unavoidable temptation.

      Visual media has a much tougher time with this than novels because of a wider audience. There is a very cheesy Canadian police procedural I like called the Murdoch Mysteries that is a pretty good example of this. The early seasons really try to pay close attention to the past is another country aspect of late 19th century Canada. A season one episode involves the protagonist investigating the gay male community in Toronto. The cops at the station he works with, these are recurring characters, are shown to be really homophobic as one would expect. In more recent episodes, you have gay cops and non-Whites working at the police station and everybody is fine with it. That would be all well and good in a SCA approach but not when they depict the extras and minor characters as having the prejudices of the early 20th century. The idea that this one police station in Toronto is more enlightened than everywhere else stretches thew willing suspension of disbelief.Report

    • Aaron David in reply to Saul Degraw
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      says:

      I have actually read The Queens Gambit. Walter Tevis, whose other books include Mockingbird, Man Who Fell To Earth, and The Hustler.

      Not a bad book, but not great either.Report

    • Rufus F. in reply to Saul Degraw
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      says:

      I’m not a big series watcher because I don’t have the attention span or patience. I did watch Lovecraft Country and enjoyed it. Looking at your list, I’d say it has #1 for sure. The 1950s clothes are fantastic. Yeah on #2, the heroine’s a bit dysfunctional and definitely gorgeous. #3 is harder to say. Racism is a huge theme and I’m not sure the trans subplot worked. But I’m still a sucker for real life history meets multidimensional monsters, so it was okay. But, again, I don’t watch series, so it could have been one cliche after another and I wouldn’t have known.Report

  2. Stillwater
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    says:

    This is a delightfully written essay, Rufus, about a fascinating person. Thanks for sharing it.Report

  3. Slade the Leveller
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    says:

    I started watching a show on PBS called Roadkill. It stars Hugh Laurie and a junior minister in the British cabinet who has a corrupt secret. The first episode made me want more.

    Also, we’ve been devouring the Great British Bake Off. It’s so genteel. It makes a great antidote to all the political nonsense that continues to saturate our airwaves.Report

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