Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A new friend, and an old




Today I have the decidedly pleasant duty of introducing you to a new friend … and a very old one.


*

The new friend is Nigel Jones—writer, journalist, BBC personality, historian, independent scholar, and a dozen other things as well. His many books include The War Walk: A Journey along the Western Front (1983); Hitler's Heralds: the story of the Freikorps 1918-1923 (1987); Through a Glass Darkly (1990) a biography of writer and playwright Patrick Hamilton; Tower: An Epic History of the Tower of London, from St. Martin's Press, NY (2012); and 1914: A Path of Honour which is to appear in 2013 from Head of Zeus publishing. (And you can see all these things on Amazon.com. Do a search for Nigel Jones, or Nigel H. Jones, and you'll find them easily.)

He lives in Lewes, which is a town with a great deal of history near Brighton on England's southern coast, where he continues his writing and additional ventures. Among many other things, he leads tours of World War One battlefields for Historical Trips Ltd. (historicaltrips.com/).

He's also a really nice guy.

Oh, I ought to mention one other thing. He's also written Rupert Brooke, Life, Death and Myth, which is considered among the best biographies ever done about Brooke.

Which brings us to our old friend.


*

Who was Rupert Brooke (1887 –1915)?


Well, Brooke was one of the most admired poets of pre-World War I Britain, as well as (in the words of W.B. Yeats)  "the handsomest young man in England." He also knew almost everyone who was anyone in British society. His friends ranged from Winston Churchill to Virginia Woolf, while his romantic liaisons included famed divas of stage and screen…and obscure school chums.

Today, he is known almost exclusively for the sentimental and intensely patriotic poems he wrote just before his own early death in the Great War. He is considered one of the British War Poets of World War I, that is, those (mostly) young men who got swept up in the romantic nationalism of the time and wrote poetry glorifying the great international crusade against the Beastly Hun…and then, mostly, died in the trenches or spent their rest of their lives recovering from the experience.

In fact, his "war poet" status has hurt his reputation for ages. After the 1918, writing poetry that glorified armed conflict seemed a bit ghastly. Quite a lot of critics came to reject him as a brainless bourgeois, a pretty boy of mediocre talent, who was simply too stupid to see that war isn't glorious, and people get killed in it. He himself died of fever in 1915, while he was on the way to Turkey and the disastrous Gallipoli Campaign.

In more recent years, however, people have been able to see a little ways past his war poet status…which was based, really, on only one poem, "The Soldier," which reads as follows:

If I should die, think only this of me:
   That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England.  There shall be
   In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
   Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England's, breathing English air,
   Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.

And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
   A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
     Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
   And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
     In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.


I submit, by the way, that this poem doesn’t really glorify war. It expresses a love of England, yes. But not of war.

It was only later, after he was dead, that his friends and his enemies alike decided he was a warrior bard.

*

But, there's still more to Brooke. He was also a fantastically talented travel writer. In 1913, he toured the United States, Canada, and the South Seas and left his impressions of them in a series of witty and insightful essays that were later collected and published in book form as Letters From America.

Simply put, the letters are wonderful. They're not necessarily an accurate depiction of the places he visited in the two, brief years before his early death  (though they are sometimes right on target). But, accurate or not, they are a fascinating portrait of the mind of the intellectual of the age. In Brooke's thoughts we learn much of what transpired in the heads of everyone from Virginia Woolf to Winston Churchill.

Besides, they are brilliantly written. And the point of belle lettres is not to convey information, but rather to be beautiful.

*

As you know, B&B has just launched the The Lost Classics line. Our intent to find and republish great books and other works which, for some bizarre reason, have been allowed to drop from view. 

What better book to start the series than Brooke's Letters from America?

And what better man to do a new foreward to the work than Nigel Jones?

*

I'm not quite sure how we managed to convince Mr. Jones to do a foreward for us. I suspect we caught him in a weak moment, perhaps late at night, or after a pleasant day in the sun, when he was in a too generous mood, and a request from a very new and very small American e-book publisher would seem whimsical rather than ridiculous.

But, whatever his motives, he agreed. And we woke up one morning to find in our email a fabulous little essay from Mr. Nigel Jones on Brooke, his life, and his Letters.

In a word, Wow.

Or, in three words, Far Freaking Out.


*

Thus, B&B is happy to announce that our newest e-book is Letters From America (Annotated), by Rupert Brooke, with a new foreward by Nigel Jones."

You can see it here:

amazon.com/Letters-From-America-ebook/dp/B00AG3KGLEamazon.com/Letters-From-America-ebook/dp/B00AG3KGLE

When you get a chance, please give it a glance.


*


So, that's what's new with Belfort and Bastion. We've got a new author—Nigel Jones— who is nothing less than world-famous. And we've got a new book, a Lost Classic, from a poet and writer who has been too long forgotten …or, worse, remembered for the wrong things.

And there's more coming, so stay tuned.

Oh, and one last note, when you get a copy of our version of Letters, read the final chapter, "An Unusual Young Man," which recounts his responses to the beginning of World War I, in the short months before his death.

Then tell us…

Was this a war poet? Or a poet who found himself in the midst of war?

~mjt

Monday, December 17, 2012

Lost Classics



Belfort and Bastion's got something new headed your way. Very new. And yet… old at the same time.

We're going to be introducing a new line of e-books which we call "lost classics." These are great works which have, for some reason, dropped out of sight…or worse, stopped being read at all.

What sorts of books are both great and lost? You'd be amazed. You've heard of William Ernest Henley's "Invictus"…the poem that plays such an important role in the movie and book of the same name. It is the one that includes the compelling lines "I am the master of my fate/I am the captain of my soul."

But have you ever read anything else he wrote? Like his strange and beautiful Song of Speed? We'll wager that you haven't. Yet, "Song" is a fabulous work, dated but weirdly modern, and should be explored by any scholar of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Or you've doubtless heard of Thomas Babington Macaulay, particularly if you are Indian (in which case you won't like him, but you will have heard of him). He was, of course, a leading member of the British Raj, and he did everything he could to supplant Indian languages (which he considered inferior) with English. He's thus hardly a man to win the hearts and minds of modern readers. Yet, at one time, his Lays of Ancient Rome was considered one of the greatest poems in the English language.

Or there are a thousand other writers, thinkers, journalists, and intellectuals whose works have been allowed to drop from sight (in the case of Macaulay, maybe justifiably) and whose absence is to be deeply regretted. Some of the Lost Classics are very, very good. And even at their worst, they provide a window into the past—its values, its thoughts, its beliefs.

And so our Lost Classics list. We will find such books, annotate them as extensively as we can, provide a new foreward, and generally make them accessible to today's audience.

Our first Lost Classic?

That's for next time. But don't worry. We'll let you know shortly.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

From Warning...

A scene from Aubrey Tannhauser's new transgressive novel, WARNING: Sexually Explicit Content, which can be found here.



...When I walk back into the basement, everybody is staring at me.  I look at Tony and Eph, and I think “so what's your excuse?”  They're here, at the same party, and clearly just as slutty as I am, but perhaps not so successful because they couldn't get in the right hole (unless you prefer BJs, which I’ve never understood as it relies so heavily on the talent (and jaws) of person whose primary job qualifications are diminished motor skills and judgment).  Tony and Eph are just as smelly, nerdy, and insecure as I am, but it seems to me that they're much worse, possibly only because they aren't me.  Tony's story is easy to figure out: the wealthy father, now on his third wife.  All kinds of family weirdness over the decades, affairs, betrayals, and ultimately a red brick basement with neon Budweiser signs and Saturday nights alone in West Nyack while dad drinks champagne with the vice presidents of various consulting firms.  If there's nothing nihilistic about that, I'll be damned.

     Eph, on the other hand, has two parents on their first marriage.  They buy him all sorts of presents for his birthday, and he has a family credit card he can use to buy gas and pizza for us whenever he wants.  What could be screwed up about this kid, so screwed up, in fact, that he comes to a party like this and just watches, instead of taking the free pussy when it comes?  (He also does things like hold pornography parties with open masturbation, which is completely abhorrent to me.  And the kid will spend forty minutes peeling an apple because he's terrified of the 'toxins' in apple skins, but that's not the root of the problem.)  Two things: his sister and Yale.  His sister: beauty queen.  Goes to pageants around the country.  Two weekends a month his father is off driving her to some county or state pageant or some underage beauty shoot on a beach somewhere.  It's disgusting, and you wonder how he keeps his job as a Wall Street lobbyist, but then you recall that Ephraim is Ephraim Littlestone IV, and numbers I and II were fairly well connected, so III must be secure.  Then you recall that numbers I, II, and III went to Yale and your friend Ephraim IV, though he has an IQ of 156, good grades, and always raced circles around you in math and science classes, was recently rejected by Yale, and therefore by his paternal lineage.  You've been to their house, and you can see in Ephraim III's eyes that there is no despair like that of the parent of the 99.4th percentile child who can't buy his way into the palace of the 99.9th.  And where is Ephraim's mother in all of this?  She's a doctor.  She's working.  She's busy being a success.  She’s writing a book about Parenting for Professionals.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

So the marketing folk told us that people weren't reading the blog entry on transgressive fiction and that we had to have a separate entry on each new book.

Okay...

Here's on one Aubrey Tannhauser's new novel.




WARNING: Sexually Explicit Content by Aubrey Tannhauser is a new and subtly transgressive work. In it, Tannhauser presents us with the life and loves of Jacob Lamdan, a young man who wants nothing more than to be a famed author of well-crafted erotica.

And this should be a snap for Lamdan. He's a decent stylist and he's got scads of personal experience from which to take his material. He is, you see, one of those young men that women perceive as beautiful, no matter how they really appear. Where the rest of us poor heterosexual males (particularly those who are, as they delicately say, of a certain age) must struggle and sweat to gain even the passing attention of women, Lamdan gets it whether he likes it or not. They fall into his arms at the least excuse. They offer him sexual escapades that would embarrass Caligula. Indeed, they demand his attentions with a single-minded fury.

But, Jacob discovers something distressing. To wit, his easily obtained sexual experiences provide no inspiration. They have required no effort, so they are not genuinely rewarding. They satisfy the animal, but they do not nourish the human part of him. He has no muses, only fuck-buddies and "friends with benefits."

In time, he finds that only by withdrawing from the sex may he save himself. In the process, he must confront both great unhappiness and real tragedy, but it is his route to salvation.

Which is, of course, how Mr. Tannhauser commits his own transgression. He takes the climax of every porn film, every romantic comedy, and every advertisement for underarm deodorant…i.e., the moment when boy-gets-girl and vice versa…and says, "It doesn't matter."

Doesn't matter. And maybe should be avoided.

 *

Check out this remarkable new novel on Amazon:

WARNING: Sexually Explicit Content by Aubrey Tannhauser



Thursday, August 30, 2012

Transgressions

Here come the Transgression…

In the next few weeks, we're going to be introducing a new category of works to the Belfort and Bastion catalog. Specifically, we are going to be offering you works of Transgressive literature and art.

Which should, of course, invoke in you a certain response. You should, at this moment, be sitting there in front of your laptop, your hand on that cup of mocha-grande, and be asking yourself, "What the hell do they mean by that?"

A damn fine question.

Unfortunately, we're not too sure ourselves.


*

It seems odd that there should be any question of what "transgressive literature," or "transgressive fiction" is. There's a whole section on it at Wikipedia. That wise source informs us, "Transgressive fiction is a genre of literature that focuses on characters who feel confined by the norms and expectations of society and who break free of those confines in unusual and/or illicit ways. Because they are rebelling against the basic norms of society, protagonists of transgressional fiction may seem mentally ill, anti-social, or nihilistic. The genre deals extensively with taboo subject matters such as drugs, sex, violence, incest, pedophilia, and crime."

All well and good.

But, come, let us be honest. Most of the time, and for most people, transgressive literature has meant just one thing. 

Sex.


*

It used to be that you could say what was "transgressive" without a whole lot of effort. It meant a dirty book. Or, if you prefer, porn or erotica.

And that was a good thing…for publishers and writers. It meant you could be daring and new (and extremely salable) by simply throwing in a few words like "dick" or "cunt" or "boob" or whatever. And, if you weren't particularly talented, well, terrific. Lack a plot or sense of character. No problem. A little sex here and there, plus a lurid and leerworthy cover on the paperback version, and who cared? I mean, really?

And if you could write…if you actually had talent…ah, so much the better. It meant that people like Oscar Wilde, Algernon Charles Swinburne, D. H. Lawrence, Henry Miller, Anne Desclos (a.k.a., Pauline Réage), Anaïs Nin, etc. could (like De Sade) smuggle ideas under the cover of smut into a greater public's otherwise unresponsive intellect.

Of course, it was a dangerous game. The endless court cases, the imprisonments of artists and writers, the unwelcome attentions of the world's Anthony Comstocks great and small…these were real threats.

But, until recently, you knew what was illicit to say. You knew what could not be said. You knew what was considered unspeakable.

Alas, that is no longer the case.


*

Sex was the lodestone of the unspeakable right through the 1970s. But after that …well, the erotic gradually faded from the transgressive. It became less taboo. Less dangerous. Less important.

That was, of course, because sex was no longer quite the problem it had once been. Unwanted pregnancy is a serious thing, and not just for the mother or the child. Societies, particularly but not exclusively pre-modern ones, are not fond of children who must somehow be supported without the co-operation of at least two adults. Preferably more. Hence, again particularly but not exclusively in pre-modern societies, marriage becomes a vital economic institution, and sex outside that institution becomes a sin. And discussion of sex outside marriage becomes a crime.

But contraceptives change all of that. Suddenly, extramarital sex becomes relatively consequence free. Yes, you run risks. You have your share of "illegitimate pregnancies." You have diseases, including quite serious ones, likes HIV. But, on the whole, sex becomes "casual." Even recreational. Indeed, it becomes the norm.

And, in the process, porn looses its sting. It becomes just another middle class industry.


*


Today, of course, there is nothing transgressive about porn. Except for the most obviously wantonly and hideous acts (rape, child abuse), there is not a form of sex that isn't portrayed quite freely in the market. Straight, Gay, oral, anal, group, solo, with dolls, toys or sheep …you name it, it's out there. 

The Dominatrix in her black leather catsuit bounds about superhero movies for the entertainment and titillation of twelve-year-old boys. Her brooding male equivalent, in tight breeches and equipped with a riding crop, is to be found on the covers of bestsellers everywhere. Soap operas and sitcoms, meanwhile, discuss role-play and pegging and mammary intercourse. Talk shows provide tips on the proper methods of bondage and the correct pronunciation of Bukkake.  Oh, and if you have questions about what "tea-bagging" is, or how one performs a "turkey slap," well, these things are nicely covered in the some 85 pages (and counting) of Wikipedia that deal with different sex acts.

Yes…of course, yes…there are still barriers and taboos. There are still places and times where one had better not raise, as it were, the issue. Yet, come! Admit it. This is a new age. And there is no turning back… in spite of the best efforts of moralists and censor of every stripe, ranging from the religious fundamentalist to the radically feminist.

Sex has become all too commonplace. It's depictions are no more transgressive than images of eating, and considerably less so than those of defecation.


*

So, what is transgressive now?

I think there is a short and a long-term answer to that. The short-term answer is that we shall see sex itself questioned. After having been so long taboo, its current dominance in society invites critique. An age, after all, in which the Kardashians and the Real Housewives discuss the intimate details of their bedrooms on Reality TV (and their revelations are considered worthy of front page coverage), is by definition ridiculous.

We shall see, then, a class of literature exploring that fact. We shall see a type of book asking if the insertion of this or the extraction of that is really so exciting. Or, indeed, if it is worth remarking upon at all.

And Belfort and Bastion has two titles about to go online that might be said to fall into this category. The first of these is WARNING: Sexually Explicit Content by Aubrey Tannhauser, while the second is The Pellucid Risen: Book One, Awakening, by Brad Amante.

Both of these mock sex, or rather, they mock our cultural obsession with it. They do so, however, in very different ways.

To explain that, let me take them one at a time.


*

The Pellucid Risen: Book One, Awakening, by Brad Amante, came into us via editor Victor Storiguard, who (as he puts it) "stumbled across" Mr. Amante's blog-based webfiction some time ago (you can see it at bradamante75.blogspot.com, by the way).

Amante writes science fiction and his book is, at first glance, nothing more than a piece of rather conventional space-opera, or rather "time-opera" since the main character visits the future. It concerns a young man, Robert, who has led a pretty wretched life in our own century, but who is then murdered for mysterious reasons.

However, he's frozen, and after five hundred years, he's brought back to life. In fact, he finds himself in a feminist utopia in which the sexes have completely changed roles. Women are tall and masterful. Men are small and delicate.

So far there's nothing here particularly transgressive. Sex-role reversal is a staple of sci-fi, and, indeed, in what passes for public discourse these days (think about the famous Newsweek issue, and the equally famous article in the recent Atlantic).

Ah, but here's where things get interesting. Robert, now a male ingénue named "Bobbi," has rather a lovely time. He's petted and pampered and wooed and won by dozens of beautiful superwomen, all of them desperate for his favors.

Women, on the other hand, well, they discover that being on top isn't quite the bowl of cherries they thought it would be.

And, this, of course, is the transgression. What the author is saying is simply this: the great and much ballyhooed Battle of the Sexes…the battle over sex, the battle during sex…is in the end irrelevant. The victory is uncertain, the victor unclear, the triumph …

Doubtful.



*

WARNING: Sexually Explicit Content by Aubrey Tannhauser, meanwhile, is a more subtle work. In it, Tannhauser presents us with the life and loves of Jacob Lamdan, a young man who wants nothing more than to be a famed author of well-crafted erotica.

And this should be a snap for Lamdan. He's a decent stylist and he's got scads of personal experience from which to take his material. He is, you see, one of those young men that women perceive as beautiful, no matter how they really appear. Where the rest of us poor heterosexual males (particularly those who are, as they delicately say, of a certain age) must struggle and sweat to gain even the passing attention of women, Lamdan gets it whether he likes it or not. They fall into his arms at the least excuse. They offer him sexual escapades that would embarrass Caligula. Indeed, they demand his attentions with a single-minded fury. (We have here something of Amante's Bobbi, do we not?)

But, Jacob discovers something distressing. To wit, his easily obtained sexual experiences provide no inspiration. They have required no effort, so they are not genuinely rewarding. They satisfy the animal, but they do not nourish the human part of him. He has no muses, only fuck-buddies and "friends with benefits."

In time, he finds that only by withdrawing from the sex may he save himself. In the process, he must confront both great unhappiness and real tragedy, but it is his route to salvation.

Which is, of course, how Mr. Tannhauser commits his own transgression. He takes the climax of every porn film, every romantic comedy, and every advertisement for underarm deodorant…i.e., the moment when boy-gets-girl and vice versa…and says, "It doesn't matter."

Doesn't matter. And maybe should be avoided.


*

So those are our newest additiosn. And it is also my suggestion for short-term transgressions.

But what about the long? The other possibility I suggested? The second and more lasting sort of transgression.

That is complicated. And political. And for another day.

But, I will leave you with a clue. I hope it will be appropriately tantalizing.

It is a quote from Voltaire. It is: "To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize."

But let us change it. Let us say, instead, "whom you may not mock."

B&B



Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Hello, hello!

Welcome to the editorial blog of Belfort and Bastion, publishers for this millennium.

Here, we will introduce our titles. We'll introduce our editors. We'll try to explain our motives and goals. And, most importantly of all, we'll ask for your input, your thoughts, and your ideas.

So, stay a while. Read. Comment. Tell us about yourselves and what you want us to publish for you.

We look forward to the beginning of a beautiful, if (now and then) complicated friendship.

~ The Editors
Belfort And Bastion