Monday, May 21, 2007

Nach Westwood zum Haarschneiden

I don't know why I'm so intrigued by certain topics (they say "it's a good thing everybody likes something different"), but maybe I should be embarrassed to admit that I practically get sexually aroused when I see books published with titles like the following: Weimar on the Pacific: German Exile Culture in Los Angeles and the Crisis of Modernism.

However, here's the really embarrassing part of it all: How likely am I to actually ever read, or even attempt to read, this book? Not very. And that's being generously optimistic.

I really do get off on reading book reviews and newspaper or magazine articles that reference a great deal of interesting work that I could probably research further or read firsthand. But the review or article is where my interest and enthusiam end probably more than nine times out of ten. And somehow, that makes me feel a little bit like a lazy slob.

If I happen in the near future to be chatting with a professor of German at a cocktail party (which, really, happens more often that you could ever imagine), I'd be proud to be able to bring up Bahr's book, but any real knowledge of the subject matter would be based merely on the LA Times book review and is that really any kind of "adequate" knowledge at all? Am I a freak for even worrying about things like this? How likely is it that I'll ever have an opportunity to discuss this book with another person anyway? Thus, why don't I just accept that my dilletante-level knowledge of a variety of topics is good enough? ("Good enough" for what? is the next question. Yes, I know no one is keeping tabs, ok?) I guess that's the point of this: the issue of having stored a trove of relatively shallow information about thousands of subjects in my arcana-addicted brain.

The alternative is actually reading this book and wading through what the LA Times calls "two dense chapters" on "the theoretical and critical writings of" someone I, ever the philistine, have never heard of named Theodor W. Adorno "and his collaborator, Max Horkheimer." Whatever. As if I'd put up with that! If I bought this book, I could already see it on my "Started, Never Finished" list.

I find so much information packed into the review that the text almost seems to me (again, I'm embarrassed) irrelevant at this point. It's interesting to find out via the review alone that Los Angeles in the 1930s and 1940s was a crucible of art and thought churned out by giants of the German-speaking diaspora, including Thomas Mann and Bertolt Brecht, who is quoted as stating, "emigration is the best school of dialectics." (The title of this post, by the way, is one of Mann's Los Angeles journal notations, which sounds both mundane and — from a figure like Mann — bizarre due to its geographic setting: "Gone to Westwood for a haircut.")

In the end, I'll stop worrying. Some knowledge is better than none (it is, right?), and even though I really am intellectually lazy in a lot of ways, I'm content with the idea of being what Huntington and I have always referred to as being "well-browsed."

Are we just kidding ourselves?


Junk Thief said...

You probably have more discipline or honesty than I do, on this topic a least. I already fear I am going to order this book to add to my library of all things Weimar. I do have a copy of the documentary “Brecht in Exile,” which gives a narrow window on that era. A great aunt of mine had a nasty incident with Brecht on one of the old red cars when she was on the way to her job at Bullock’s Wilshire. We’ll just say they shared very different world views.

I'm trying to see that in many cases I am better off with just the LA or NY Times reviews of many things. There are a number of works out there that I read glowing reviews of, I run out to get them and am sorely disappointed. Then there are books or movies that I recall reading about and let them keep gelling in my brain, and I savor actually devouring them years later. I suspect knowing one more fact about Brecht is not going to advance my career or sense of worth, but it might present some unknown perspective that I can’t imagine at the moment.

In the meantime, I’ll manage to let this book be a part of the blue of the distance, but I’m glad I came across it for the future.

Steven said...

You could read the book, but, if you're like me, a few weeks later you won't remember much more of it than the few tidbits you picked up from the dust jacket.

I have to admit, that title gave me a charge, too.

George said...

Skip this book and read Horkheimer and Adorno's chapter "The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception." It's realy dense but is still incredibly insightful 60 years after it was written.

Changed the way I thought of things, really.

OCH said...

Oh my, what a fascinating book subject. I love those little bits of culture, those particular time capsules, that bubble back up to the surface, reformed for our examination. What an interesting setting and moment.