Claudia Moscovici

Confessions of A Would-be Salonnière: My Favorite Twenty-first Century Salons

When I openened a twitter account a few months ago, it wasn’t difficult to find the phrase that best captures me: “Born in the wrong century, a would-be salonnière.” Ever since college, when I first learned about Marquise de Rambouillet–the refined hostess who led the most talented artists and writers of her day in scintillating intellectual discussions in the elegant alcove of her drawing room–I knew that I had missed my opportunity and true calling in life. Sure, women may be able to be and do whatever they want today. Society is less sexist, more democratic. But in an era when entertainment news outdoes even socio-political news in popularity and readership, what hope is there for placing art, literature and philosophy at the center of public attention again?

The main problem I encountered in being a contemporary salonnière was: Where are the salons? Most academic discourse struck me as too technical and specialized to draw a large audience. Fortunately, while an undergraduate at Princeton University, I had the enormous privilege to study with scholars who epitomized the salon tradition of worldly intellectuals: Professor Robert Fagles, translator of Homer’s epic poems, and Professor Victor Brombert,  a regular contributor to The New York Review of Books, who encouraged my love for world literature and culture to the point where I decided to pursue Comparative Literature for both my undergraduate and graduate studies. Many years later, I discovered quite a number of online salons, where writers, artists and intellectuals converge to discuss their works, in a clear, interesting and sophisticated fashion. I’d like to share with you some of my favorite contemporary salons. 

Litkicks.com. I discovered Litkicks ( http://www.litkicks.com/) in October 2009, when I found on the internet an article about a fellow Romanian-born writer, Herta Müller. The article was called “Herta Who?” by Dedi Felman and it was about the dissident writer’s recently awarded Nobel Prize in Literature. At that point, the founder of Litkicks, Levi Asher, also wrote a brief note on the blog about my recently published novel on similar themes, Velvet Totalitarianism, 2009/Intre Doua Lumi, 2011. We got in touch by email and I became a regular reader and occasional contributor on the blog. Litkicks features articles on literature, poetry, art, philosophy, music, cinema and politics.

Levi was a software developer (and culture lover) on Wall Street when he started Litkicks.com in 1994, which became, along with Salon.com, a pioneer culture blog. The website was originally launched to support Beat Generation poetry and experimental fiction. Over the years, it has expanded its scope to include contemporary literature in general, essays on nineteenth and twentieth-century French poetry and fiction (including Michael Norris‘s excellent essays on Proust), lively political articles, and Levi’s top-notch Philosophy Series. Litkicks includes articles on established authors published by the big publishing houses as well as reviews about talented independent writers published by smaller presses. The blog has thousands of readers a day, but thanks to a loyal following of regular contributors and commentators, it retains the intimate feel of a community of friends engaged in intellectual discussions and debates.

Catchy.ro. Founded in 2010 by the Romanian journalist Mihaela Carlan, Catchy.ro (http://www.catchy.ro/) is quickly catching on as Romania’s premier blog. Discussing all aspects of art, entertainment, politics and culture, Catchy.ro is inspired by the highly successful The Huffington Post, founded by Arianna Huffington in 2005 and recently acquired by AOL for a whopping 315 million dollars. Part of The Huffington Post‘s enormous success stems from Arianna Huffington’s pull and connections with wealthy investors. To offer just one notable example, in August 2006, SoftBank Capital invested 5 milliion dollars in the company. However, its success can also be attributed to the high quality of its articles and the popularity of its over 9000 contributors. Without question, The Huffington Post gathered some of the best bloggers in every field it features. Moreover, the blog has not merely adapted, but also stayed one step ahead of the curve in its use of technology, recently introducing “vlogging“–or video blogging–which is taking off and making journalism even more multimedia and interactive.

If I mention Catchy’s precursor in some detail, it’s because I believe these are also some of the features that have helped the Romanian blog grow so quickly during the past year, since its inception. Catchy “like a woman” targets primarily a female audience. But ultimately its panel of excellent journalists–with expertise ranging from art, to literature, to philosophy, to music, to fashion to pop culture and, above all, to the most fundamental aspects of human life itself, like health, love and marriage–draws a much broader audience of both genders and every age group. Like The Huffington Post, Catchy.ro also treads perfectly the line between intellectual writing and pop culture, providing intelligently written articles for a general audience. As some of the more traditional Romanian newspapers have struggled and a few even collapsed, the up-and-coming blog Catchy.ro shows that in every country adaptation is the key to success.

Agonia.net.  Started by the technology expert and culture promoter Radu Herinean in 2010, Agonia.net (http://english.agonia.net/index.php) is a rapidly expanding international literary blog. It includes sections on prose, screenplays, poetry, criticism and essays. Agonia.net has the following assets: a) it publishes well-regarded writers and intellectuals, b) it’s contributor-run so that it can grow exponentially and internationally (with sections in English, French, Spanish, Romanian and several other languages in the works) and c) it has a team of great editors that monitor its posts and maintain high quality standards. Agonia. net improves upon the model of online creative writing publishing pioneered by websites like Wattpad.com, which are contributor-run but have no editorial monitoring. Because of lack of editorial control, Wattpad.com has not been taken seriously by readers and publishers despite its vast popularity with contributors. Any literary blog that has a chance at being successful has to have the capacity for handling a large number of incoming contributions while also maintaining reliable editorial standards. Agonia.net seems to have mastered this delicate balance.

In participating in these exciting artistic, literary and intellectual forums, I’m starting to feel like my calling as a 21st century salonnière might not be an anachronism after all. I invite you to explore each of them and see which ones fit your talents and interests best. 

Claudia Moscovici, postromanticism.com

November 9, 2011 Posted by | Agonia.net, Agonia.ro, Arianna Huffington, book review, catchy.ro, Claudia Moscovici, communist Romania, Confessions of A Would-be Salonnière: My Favorite Twenty-first Century Salons, contemporary fiction, culture blogs, Diana Evantia Barca, fiction, Intre Doua Lumi, Levi Asher, literary criticism, literary fiction, literature, literature salon, literaturesalon, litkicks.com, Mihaela Carlan, Princeton University, Radu Herinean, salon, salonnière, salons, The Huffington Post, Velvet Totalitarianism, Victor Brombert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

The Seducer: A Novel

I have just finished my second novel, The Seducer, a psychological thriller about dangerous love and psychopathic seduction. Please find below a more detailed description of The Seducer:

My native country, Romania, is best known for a fictional character, Dracula, which is only loosely based on a historical fact: the infamous legend of Vlad Tepes. Novels that draw upon this legend—ranging from Anne Rice’s genre fiction, to the popular Twilight series, to Elizabeth Kostova’s erudite The Historian–continue to be best sellers. Yet, ultimately, no matter how much they may thrill us, the “undead” vampires we encounter in novels are harmless fictional characters that play upon our fascination with evil. However, real-life vampires, or individuals who relish destroying the lives of others, do exist. We see them constantly featured in the news and, if we don’t know how to recognize them, sometimes we even welcome them into our lives.

What do O. J. Simpson, Scott Peterson, Neil Entwistle and the timeless seducers of literature epitomized by the figures of Don Juan and Casanova have in common? They are charming, charismatic, glib and seductive men who also embody some of the most dangerous human qualities: a breathtaking callousness, shallowness of emotion and the fundamental incapacity to love. To such men, other people, including their own family members, friends and lovers, are mere objects or pawns to be used for their own gratification and sometimes quite literally discarded when no longer useful and exciting. In other words, these men are psychopaths.

My novel, The Seducer, shows both the hypnotic appeal and the deadly danger of psychopathic seduction. It traces the downfall of a married woman, Ana, who, feeling alienated from her husband and trapped in a lackluster marriage, has a torrid affair with Michael, a man who initially seems to be caring, passionate and charismatic; her soul mate and her dream come true. Although initially torn between love for her family and her passion for Michael, Ana eventually gives in to her lover’s pressure and asks her husband for divorce. That’s when Michael’s “mask of sanity” unpeels to reveal the monstrously selfish psychopath underneath, transforming what seemed to be the perfect love story into a psychological nightmare. Ana discovers that whatever seemed good about her lover was only a facade intended to attract her, win her trust and foster her dependency. His love was nothing more than lust for power, fueled by an incurable sex addiction. His declarations of love were nothing but a fraud; a string of empty phrases borrowed from the genuine feelings of others. Fidelity turned out to be a one-way street, as Michael secretly prowled around for innumerable other sexual conquests.

To her dismay, Ana finds that building a romantic relationship with a psychopathic partner is like building a house on a foundation of quicksand. Everything shifts and sinks in a relatively short period of time. Seemingly caring, and often flattering, attention gradually turns into jealousy, domination and control. Enjoying time together becomes isolation from others. Romantic gifts are replaced with requests, then with demands. Apparent selflessness and other-regarding gestures turn into the most brutal selfishness one can possibly imagine. Confidential exchanges and apparent honesty turn out to be filled with lies about everything: the past, the present, as well as the invariably hollow promises for the future. The niceness that initially seemed to be a part of the seducer’s character is exposed as strategic and manipulative, conditional upon acts of submission to his will. Tenderness diminishes and is eventually displaced by perversion that hints at an underlying, and menacing, sadism. Mutuality, equality and respect—everything she thought the relationship was founded upon—become gradually replaced with hierarchies and double standards in his favor. As the relationship with the psychopath unfolds, Dr. Jekyll morphs into Mr. Hyde.

The Seducer relies upon the insights of modern psychology and sensational media stories to demystify the theme of seduction we find in classic literary fiction. In its plot and structure, my novel deliberately echoes elements of the nineteenth-century classic, Anna Karenina. In its style and content, it fits in with contemporary mainstream psychological fiction such as Anna Quindlen’s Black and Blue and Wally Lamb’s I know this much is true. As much a cautionary tale as a story about the value of real caring, forgiveness and redemption, The Seducer shows that true love can be found in our ordinary lives and relationships rather than in flimsy fantasies masquerading as great passions.

You can view The Seducer online on the links below:

Claudia Moscovici, Notablewriters.com

December 20, 2010 Posted by | bitlit, books, Claudia Moscovici, contemporary fiction, David Israel, David K. Israel, domestic abuse, domestic violence, fiction, literature, literature salon, literaturesalon, love story, Neatorama's Bitlit, new fiction, novel, novels, online fiction publisher, psychological fiction, psychopath, psychopathy, publishing opportunities, salon, seducer, seduction, social predators, sociopath, sociopathy, The Seducer, The Seducer: A Novel | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

It’s Worth Traveling to See The Tourist

Depending upon where you live, you may be stuck in the season’s first snow storm. But it’s worth tracking through the snow to see the new thriller, The Tourist, starring Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie. The spectacular scenes of Venice, complete with opulent parties, palatial hotels and simmering erotic tension between Depp and Jolie, may be sufficient to make this movie worth seeing. Frank (Johnny Depp) is an American tourist on vacation in Venice. He’s trying to mend his broken heart after having been left by his girlfriend. Jolie plays the role of Elise, a gorgeous, mysterious femme fatale (with a classic sense of fashion). Elise uses Frank, the slightly awkward math teacher from Wisconsin, to mislead those following her former lover, Alexander, who is wanted both by an evil gangster (for stealing two billion dollars from him) and by British intelligence.

No doubt, this is a standard spy thriller. But The Tourist had a few surprises up its sleeve: and I’m not talking just about the plot twist at the end, which I won’t reveal. The first pleasant surprise is that they used real French and Italian actors, filmed on scene, not American actors with bad foreign accents. This may have something to do with the fact that the movie, directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, is a remake of a 2005 French film, directed by Anthony Zimmer.

Second, Johnny Depp’s acting was impressively nuanced and believable. Jolie, though spectacularly beautiful, sticks to her persona of the mysterious and alluring femme fatale. But Depp’s acting reveals vulnerability, awkwardness, fascination, coyness, lust, fear, courage and, ultimately, love. His character expresses a whole range of emotions that aren’t overplayed and that are rendered all the more appealing by the comic relief he adds to what might otherwise have been a standard genre movie with very hot actors.

Claudia Moscovici, Notablewriters.com

December 12, 2010 Posted by | Angelina Jolie, Claudia Moscovici, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, Johnny Depp, literature salon, review of The Tourist, salon, secret agents, seduction, spies, spy fiction, spy thriller, The Tourist | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on It’s Worth Traveling to See The Tourist

David Israel’s Behind Everyman: Let’s Hear it for the Good Guys!

 

They say that behind every man is a good woman, yet so much contemporary fiction features the devastation caused to women’s lives by bad men. David Israel’s novel, “Behind Everyman,” offers a refreshing counterpoint voice, on behalf of all the good men out there. With candor and wit, this novel sketches a vivid portrayal of contemporary life and true love, from a good guy’s perspective.

As you read “Behind Everyman,” you will smile and remember that decent men are more common than their dysfunctional counterparts. Whatever challenges life presents–and there are many depicted in “Behind Everyman”–this novel will make you feel that there’s hope for real relationships and true love. For the film directors out there, this novel also provides perfect fodder for a romantic comedy. Let’s hear it for the good guys!

Claudia Moscovici, literaturesalon

December 10, 2010 Posted by | Behind Everyman, book review, Claudia Moscovici, contemporary fiction, David Israel, literary criticism, literary fiction, literature, literature salon, literaturesalon, love, mainstream fiction, salon | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on David Israel’s Behind Everyman: Let’s Hear it for the Good Guys!

Book Review of Wally Lamb’s I know this Much is True: The Best of Psychological Fiction

Wally Lamb’s second novel, I know this much is true, sets the bar very high for contemporary psychological fiction. Today’s readers have little patience with this genre. The best-known authors of psychological fiction, Henry James and Marcel Proust, have become relegated to the pages of literary history. Sure, we regard them as giants in the literary canon. But from that to actually having the patience to read them… Few contemporary readers take the time to appreciate all the nuances of James’ minute descriptions of gestures, gazes, hidden undercurrents and how each movement reflects the depth of human feelings and desires. Yet fewer take the time to follow all of Proust’s minute analyses of human motivations and page-long, tortuous sentences.

In his first two novels, Wally Lamb makes this now arcane genre palatable to contemporary readers. “I know this Much is True” traces the lives of two twin brothers: the narrator, Dominick Birdsey, an English teacher who has suffered through a troubled family life, an abusive stepfather, a failing marriage, a pathological relationship with his younger girlfriend (and her lover), and, above all, the burden and duty of taking care of Thomas, his fraternal twin who develops paranoid schizophrenia at the age of 19.

This novel is a psychological tour-de-force, both in its vivid characterizations (even Dominick’s sleazy friend and foil, Leo, is completely believable) and in its detailed descriptions of mental illness and how it affects both the individual who suffers from it and those who care about him. To describe mental illness in a way mainstream readers have the patience to read is no easy task.  Lamb does a masterful job of giving us a multidimensional picture of paranoid schizophrenia both from within Thomas’ deteriorating mental state and from without. He describes not also Thomas’s suffering but also Dominick’s struggles to save him from the illness that overtakes his life and protect him from the reactions of others. By showing us a before and after schizophrenia picture of Thomas, we can relate to him as a human being and follow the painful challenges he and his family face in dealing with his mental illness. Finally, Lamb’s style–accessible yet sophisticated–renders the lost genre of “psychological fiction” what it really should be: mainstream literature of the highest caliber.

Claudia Moscovici, literaturesalon

October 13, 2010 Posted by | book review, Book Review of Wally Lamb's I know this Much is True, Claudia Moscovici, contemporary fiction, fiction, I know this much is true, literary criticism, literature, literature salon, literaturesalon, mainstream fiction, psychological fiction, salon, Wally Lamb | , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Book Review of Wally Lamb’s I know this Much is True: The Best of Psychological Fiction