[Work: The Death of Ivan Ilyich, Leo Tolstoy, 1886]
Proximity to Death:

Authentic Living and Authentic Dying in Leo Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilyich

 

Introduction:

Portrait of Leo Tolstoy by Ilya Efimovich Repin - The Death of Ivan Ilyich - authenticity, existentialism

Portrait of Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy by Ilya Repin

The abiding concern of the most controversial and often the most fascinating instances of Leo Tolstoy’s later fiction was the struggle for meaning in the midst of the author’s own existential crisis. Among that later fiction, there is arguably nowhere that struggle attains more pathos nor more honesty than in his novella, The Death of Ivan Ilyich.

Unlike other works by Tolstoy, the novella does not seem to contain an easily discernible, specific answer to the question of how one’s life should be lived. Perhaps a reflection of the author’s own inability to see a definite meaning in life or a definite reason for his own impending demise, or perhaps an expression of the very personal anxiety of reflection at such proximity to death, the physical decline of Ivan Ilyich is characterized by a parallel rising search for reason and meaning.

Though one is not given the particulars of Ivan Ilyich’s final realization, one is provided with the context and effect of that most joyous ultimate epiphany, as well as the particulars of the series of smaller revelatory modes of thinking which lead to it. As Ivan Ilyich passes through phases of thought, he gains more and more insight into his past, his life, and the nature of existence, ultimately concluding that what he has lacked and sorely desires is authenticity.

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[Work: The Death of Ivan Ilyich, Leo Tolstoy, 1886]
Proximity to Death:

Authentic Living and Authentic Dying in Leo Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilyich

was last modified: March 26th, 2020 by Daniel Podgorski

[Work: Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro, 2005]
Til’ Death Soon Us Part:

Love as an Intrinsic Good in Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go

 

Kazuo Ishiguro Sketch by M.R.P. - Never Let Me Go - love, memoir

Caricature Sketch by M.R.P.
[High-res prints available here]

Introduction:

Kazuo Ishiguro is one of the foremost living novelists of memory and regret. Although this was clear when Ishiguro wrote the masterpiece of reflection that is The Remains of the Day, which won the prestigious Man Booker Prize in 1989, it was his 2005 science fiction novel, Never Let Me Go, which cemented his talent in my mind. It may strike you as odd to hear that this writer of poignant literary fiction produced a work of sci-fi, but the work is handled with no less sensitivity than his other subjects, and perhaps—given the stigma against ‘genre fiction’ in literary communities—even more courage.

The nature of this article is such that it requires spoiling basic plot details of Never Let Me Go, so you should only continue reading after this paragraph if you either do not mind spoilers or have already read the book (or seen its 2010 film adaptation).

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[Work: Never Let Me Go, Kazuo Ishiguro, 2005]
Til’ Death Soon Us Part:

Love as an Intrinsic Good in Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go

was last modified: March 26th, 2020 by Daniel Podgorski

[Work: Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad, 1899]
A Controversy Worth Teaching:

Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and the Ethics of Stature

 

Introduction:

Chinua Achebe Sketch - Joseph Conrad - Heart of Darkness - An Image of Africa - racism, writing

Caricature Sketch by M.R.P.
[High-res prints available here]

By far the most enduringly famous of Joseph Conrad’s literary works (with the possible exception of Lord Jim) is Heart of Darkness, a novella that has encountered boundless acclaim and boundless disdain in the century since its release. Its proponents highlight its contemporary progressivism; its impressionistic prose style; and its thematic depth. Its opponents highlight its confusing, vague, and slow-moving plot; its backgrounding of Africa and Africans behind a story about Europeans; and its intermittent direct characterizations of late-19th-century Africa and Africans as primitive and uncivilized.

In my estimation, both camps are correct. Conrad was an English prose master as well as a confusingly vague writer. Conrad was a progressive as well as a racist. Heart of Darkness is a deeply troubled book. So, was professor and novelist Chinua Achebe correct when he wrote that, in light of its flaws, Heart of Darkness should not be so widely taught nor so highly lauded?

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[Work: Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad, 1899]
A Controversy Worth Teaching:

Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and the Ethics of Stature

was last modified: November 21st, 2021 by Daniel Podgorski

[Work: The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas, 1844]
The Electronic Serial:

5 Lessons for Internet Writers from Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo

 

Alexandre Dumas Sketch by M.R.P. - writing advice - The Count of Monte Cristo

Caricature Sketch by M.R.P.
[High-res prints available here]

Introduction:

It would not be too much of a stretch to say that the serialized format for creative writing has made a comeback in the internet age. Blog writers, video essayists, fanfic writers, youtube educators, web comic artists, online journalists, and many other content creators operating in various formats are working on and releasing smaller pieces of content at frequent intervals.

Novelists, especially from 100 years or more back, are no strangers to serialization. One of the all-time masters of the serialized format was Alexandre Dumas, whose international success as a writer has continued into modern day with the enduring popularity of such tales as The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo. Paying attention to one of his works (for our purposes, the epic tale of the Count) provides an internet writer (or artist or videographer) with plenty of good advice. Five pieces of that advice are listed below.

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[Work: The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas, 1844]
The Electronic Serial:

5 Lessons for Internet Writers from Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo

was last modified: March 26th, 2020 by Daniel Podgorski

[Work: The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood, 1985]
The Once and Future America:

Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, and the Consequences of (American) Society Yielding to Fear

 

Margaret Atwood Sketch by M.R.P. - The Handmaid's Tale - America, tradition, conservatism, theocracy

Caricature Sketch by M.R.P.
[High-res prints available here]

Introduction:

One unfamiliar with the novel, or unfamiliar with Margaret Atwood, might be understandably mistaken about what sort of book lies behind the unassuming title The Handmaid’s Tale. The name conjures up images of Victorian romance and understated drama which could not be further from the reality: a brutal piece of mid-1980s dystopian fiction about life in a theocratic America.

A decade and a half before Atwood won the Booker prize for The Blind Assassin, the Canadian author was nominated for the award (and a host of others) for this mid-80s work of considerable power and brilliance. Anyone who prizes the introduction of more traditional ideals into a country’s governance ought to equip an open mind and give this chilling tale a read.

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[Work: The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood, 1985]
The Once and Future America:

Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, and the Consequences of (American) Society Yielding to Fear

was last modified: March 26th, 2020 by Daniel Podgorski