There’s a palpable sense of excitement at the Ramblings as I get ever closer to the end of my reading of the Penguin Moderns box set! I have now reached books 47 and 48, which means that there are only two more to go after today’s post! How exciting! Anyway, lets take a look at the penultimate pair and see what they’re like! 😀

Penguin Modern 47 – Fame by Andy Warhol

Andy Warhol began his journey into the public eye as an artist; first producing drawings for advertising and then moving on to create his own pop art during the 1960s. As well as visual art, he also made films, managed The Velvet Underground, and became a celebrity superstar in the 1970s and 1980s. A number of books were released under his name, and the pieces included in this Modern are drawn from his 1975 release “The Philosophy of Andy Warhol”; they were selected by the editor of the PM series and had not previously been issued separately.

The biggest price you pay for love is that you have to have somebody around, you can’t be on your own, which is always so much better. The biggest disadvantage, of course, is no room in the bed. Even a pet cuts into your bed room.

Divided into three sections, Love (Senility), Beauty and Fame, the book draws together a number of aphorisms and thoughts by Warhol on what constitutes those three things. He’s a humorous commentator and I couldn’t help but hear his distinctive voice in my head as I read this little book. Although his writing is often light and humorous, he sees the darker, sadder side of things and his thoughts on drag queens, poverty and the advantages/disadvantages of love are very pithy. He may have put on an inarticulate, vague persona when on film, but I suspect there was a lot more to Warhol than appeared on the surface. A really interesting read.

Penguin Modern 48 – The Survivor by Primo Levi

In complete contrast, PM48 is a selection of poetry by Primo Levi, translated by Jonathan Galassi. The author of “The Periodic Table” amongst many others, the blurb on the reverse of the book describes his as a writer “who bore witness to the twentieth century’s darkest days”. If I remember correctly, he may have rejected that witness status; but there’s no denying the incredible power and sadness of these poems.

I wouldn’t disturb the universe.
I’d like, if possible,
To get free silently,
Light-footed, like a smuggler,
The way one slips away from a party.
(from “Still to Do”)

Inevitably, many of the verses featured are informed by Levi’s experiences as a Jewish chemist in a Nazi concentration camp; and I often sensed a ferocity creeping in here that was absent from his prose about the same incidents. I’ve always felt he tried to be neutral in tone when describing what happened in the camps, but the horror of what happened and the tragedies he experienced are very clear here. Of particular note is “Shema”, which contains the line “if this is a man”, later used for one of his memoirs. Powerful, too, is the title poem which explores the survivor’s guilt which haunted Levi from after the war until his death. And “Still to Do” hints at his wish to be done with living despite the commitments he had. Levi died in 1987 in what was officially a suicide but this has been debated; however, he left behind him a compelling body of work which should remind us to remember the past and learn from it. Alas, despite his best efforts, it doesn’t seem that we’re doing so.

*****

Such a different pairing of moderns, yet both explored, in different ways, the darkness of living and the problems of being human. Although the authors are poles apart, both most definitely deserve to be read and are worthy entries in the list of Moderns. And now – only two more to go. How will I find them? And what will I do when I’ve finished the box???!!!