Notes on Literature, Film, and Jazz

Howard Eiland


ISBN 978-1-949966-02-2      134 pages        $16.00





Weaving through a host of “classic” texts—literary, cinematic, and musical—these notes of a close reader set up echoes and reflections across signature moments.

More explicitly than most other of Kafka’s fictions, “The Metamorphosis” is concerned with cleanliness, with drawing boundaries and elimination, the unseemly connection between the sacred (the right food) and the obscene. As humorous. Humor was Kafka’s salvation, a gift of writing as the most serious form of play. The marvelously detailed evocation of Samsa’s bug body—leaving aside the fact that the bug himself is more humane than any of the humans—is a great achievement of the moral imagination, like Bloom’s rat.

One of the keys to Sternberg’s style—and it might be said that he and Welles are the great stylists of American film—is the alternation of baroque articulation of spatial depth with plain, barely detailed surface: in Blonde Venus, the nooks and crannies of the bar into which cunning Helen leads the detective alternating with the fine pale mask of Dietrich’s face.

It’s as if, in this moment-to-moment recursive vigilance, making for a virtually composite mode of construction, [Steve Lacy] shifts perspective a little with every phrase, so that each move and each elegant or disconcerting transition brings about an unexpected melodic inflection, as if the song were constantly beginning anew in musical metamorphosis.

Howard Eiland is a critic and translator who grew up in the American South and Midwest, attending college and graduate school at a time when film societies abounded on campus and jazz was resurfacing on radio. He is the author, with Michael W. Jennings, of Walter Benjamin: A Critical Life.