Literature is the art of discovering something extraordinary about ordinary people, and saying with ordinary words something extraordinary.
— Boris Pasternak, who died on this date in 1960
George Orwell and Aldous Huxley wrote speculative fiction in the first half of the 20th century, and Doris Lessing and Margaret Atwood wrote it in the second half. Nevertheless, in 1996, when David Foster Wallace published Infinite Jest, the fact that book was set in a not-too-distant future in which northern New England has been rendered a toxic waste dump was viewed as an eccentricity (as well as rather tiresomely broad satire). By the mid-2000s, dashes of dystopia had begun to appear in novels such as David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, but it was Cormac McCarthy’s 2006 novel The Road that made futurist fiction fully legit in MFA circles.
In the 1927 poem whose famous final six words are “Bury my heart at Wounded Knee,” Stephen Vincent Benét had spoken as much for a Roosevelt-reared Jewish boy like me as for a wellborn Yale graduate like himself with the poem’s guilelessly Whitmanesque opening line: “I have fallen in love with American names.” It was precisely in the sounding of the names of the country’s distant places, in its spaciousness, in the dialects and the landscapes that were at once so American yet so unlike my own that a youngster with my susceptibilities found the most potent lyrical appeal. That was the heart of the fascination: as an American, one was a wisecracking, slang-speaking, in-the-know street kid of an unknowable colossus. Only locally could I be a savvy cosmopolite; out in the vastness of the country, adrift and at large, every American was a hick, with the undisguisable emotions of a hick, as defenseless as even a sophisticated littérateur like Benét was against the pleasurable sort of sentiment aroused by the mere mention of Spartanburg, Santa Cruz, or the Nantucket Light, as well as unassuming Skunktown Plain, or Lost Mule Flat, or the titillatingly named Little French Lick. There was the shaping paradox: our innate provincialism made us Americans, unhyphenated at that, in no need of an adjective, suspicious of any adjective that would narrow the implications of the imposingly all-inclusive noun that was—if only because of the galvanizing magnum opus called the Second World War—our birthright.
… being an author yourself, you must know how big a role chance is playing while you compose the book. Chance and intuition; my ideal for such a book is somewhere midway between a closely knit structure and a chaotic ensemble of notes, observations, motifs. Some parts of the book were written orderly — I mean their order corresponds to the order or writing, but many were juxtaposed later. My idea is usually not to bring similar motifs together but to disperse them.
It is absurd for the Evolutionist to complain that it is unthinkable for an admittedly unthinkable God to make everything out of nothing, and then pretend that it is more thinkable that nothing should turn itself into everything.
— G. K. Chesterton, born on this date in 1874
Famously cold and frighteningly massive, Lake Superior contains 10 percent of the world's surface freshwater, holds the remains of 6,000 shipwrecks, and offers a lifetime of adventure.
“What makes it even more bizarre is that one of these journals has actually asked Ollie to review an article. It’s entitled Malignant peripheral nerve sheath tumours and their management. Some poor soul has actually written an article on this theme in good faith, and the journal has sent it to a dog to review.”
Cavanagh began translating in graduate school at Harvard University. Her professor, Stanislaw Baranczak, asked for help translating from Polish to English because Cavanagh’s English was superior to his. Almost immediately, Cavanagh was hooked. “We started and we couldn’t stop,” she says.
I think it is impossible to explain faith. It is like trying to explain air, which one cannot do by dividing it into its component parts and labeling them scientifically. It must be breathed to be understood.
— Patrick White, born on this date in 1912
A strange part of all this leaning toward shapeliness is that a writer is also made, enlarged, changed and transformed. She may fly into ethereal realms or trudge through the underworld, may die on the phoenix pyre many times. She experiences redemption, loss, debasement, courage, all wax and wane--a whole gamut of ways of being. She loves the unloveable as well as the much-loved. Like a fantasy object, a writer becomes bigger on the inside through making poems and narratives.
His most famous piece by its greatest interpreter:
The post went viral, to vast ridicule. “I don’t know if Lou would be cracking up about this or crying because it’s just too stupid,” Reed’s producer Hal Willner told The Guardian.There really is something profoundly ludicrous about Lou Reed falling victim to PC nonsense.
Ask journalists when they were last in a truck stop on an Interstate, last in Boone, North Carolina or Barstow, California or any of thousands of such towns across the country. Ask whether they were in the military, whether they have ever talked to a cop or an ambulance crewman or a fireman. Ask whether they have a Mexican friend, when they last ate in a restaurant where a majority of the customers were black. Whether they know an enlisted man, or anyone in the armed services. Whether they have hitchhiked overnight, baited a hook, hunted, or fired a rifle. Whether they have ever worked washing dishes, harvesting crops, driving a delivery truck. Whether they have a blue-collar friend. Know what the Texas Two-Step is, have been in a biker bar.But what he says is not only true of journalists. And it used to not be true of journalists.
It’s pretty bleak stuff, too. In Philly overdoses and Narcan use are so common in the library that “They have been using the spray so often that they can tell the type of overdose simply by the sound coming from the lavatory: Heroin victims slide sluggishly into unconsciousness, the librarians have found, while victims of deadly fentanyl collapse instantly, with a thud that resonates through the entire building.”
Of the 28 poems he wrote in Ireland, the six known as the Terrible Sonnets are the most arresting. For anyone who has known depression, the gut-wrenchingly bleak No worst, there is none, which ends with the crumb of comfort that “all life death does end and each day dies with sleep”, is the poetic equivalent of Munch’s The Scream. It’s hardly complimentary to his adopted home, and the best we can say is that Hopkins’ misery was literature’s gain.
The TV adaptation gets Waugh’s humor exactly right: pugnacious and genteel, shocking yet understated, viciously deadpan, awash with fondness and cruelty.
The state incurs debts for politics, war, and other higher causes and 'progress'. . . . The assumption is that the future will honour this relationship in perpetuity. The state has learned from the merchants and industrialists how to exploit credit; it defies the nation ever to let it go into bankruptcy. Alongside all swindlers the state now stands there as swindler-in-chief.
— Jacob Burckhardt, born on this date in 1818
Aesthetics, she says, seems to be the great factor disregarded by the modern mind. A close attentiveness to the original texts reveals that these words were carefully chosen and artfully deployed. So what would happen if we were to be just as careful and artful in the way we choose to present these words today? Ruden is asking translators to wrestle with more than meaning. She is making the case for doing the intense and challenging work of digging as deeply as possible into ancient worlds so we can once again feel the Bible, not just know things from it. Again and again she asks, “What was it like?”
"But as to one result of this merely mechanical extending of an horizon I am clear, and clear that it is spiritually injurious to man. The growing tendency of a world where means of instantaneous communication and rapid transit and the ever-widening ramifications of commercial interests more and more make everybody's business everybody's business, is to breed a shallow and aimless cosmopolitanism in all of us at the expense of an exact and intimate growth in our knowledge of ourselves and our neighbours and the land of our birth."
From time to time I was reminded of Robert Burton’s The Anatomy of Melancholy, similar in its baggy, overstuffed, eccentric, encyclopedic qualities, with the author by no means restricted to his alleged subject. Theroux’s book has something of the magnificent folly about it. He tells us Brief Lives, John Aubrey’s gorgeously chaotic collection of biographies, is one of his favorite books: no big surprise there.
Mysteries have always been around and always been popular, but they haven’t always been respected. Otto Penzler has had a significant hand in that transformation. He’s probably the most important figure in the history of mystery fiction who’s never written a mystery story.
The material in this collection trades in mature topics, no less serious than the death of a child. Intelligent teenagers are marooned without jobs or the means to attend college during the Great Depression, poverty sits next to great affluence in New York City, there is despair and divorce and premarital sex, when marriage thereafter began to collapse as a norm. But Fitzgerald’s precision and fineness, even at the depth of his powers, exceeds contemporary writers by miles. If Saunders thinks Trump is no Lincoln—and what president is a Lincoln?—George Saunders is no Scott Fitzgerald.
Mill’s nickname, given him by Gladstone, was “the Saint of Rationalism.” He had a reputation as England’s gentle philosopher, whose school, if it erred, did so only in assuming that the rest of mankind was as decent and benevolent as himself. But the more we examine him, the less plausible it is that Mill was too good for this world. Instead it begins to appear that Mill was unable to tell his readers how to become decent, benevolent people—because he wasn’t one himself.
Mariani’s concluding chapters resonate with something different, something about that austere and ethical conscience: “… the figures in the street,” Stevens had written in his homage to Santayana, “Become the figures in heaven, the majestic movement / Of men growing small in the distances of space, / Singing, with smaller and still smaller sound, / Unintelligible absolution and an end.” There’s a celestial possibility being limned here, “happiness in the shape of Rome,” prefigures a soul waiting to be released. Meditating on Santayana, Stevens is reading his own mind near the end of his own life, and a peaceful and tranquil Catholic even in his own mind.
One of the silliest claims made by those who do not share my affection for them is that devotion to Michael and Gabriel, as with the Seven Dolours or poor neglected St Aloysius, smacks of grandmotherly piety. This is entirely true, and speaks very much in its favour. Heaven, one suspects, will be full of grandmothers, and angels keeping them company.The older I get, the simpler my piety becomes.
As a citizen of a British colony, [Franklin]took immense pride in the comedic sensibilities of his motherland. More importantly, as an eighteenth-century publisher, he considered the inclusion of unattributed knowledge well within the bounds of fair use. “Writers [back then] didn’t have the modern sense of plagiarism that today’s professors pound into the heads of our students,” says George Boudreau, history professor at La Salle University. “There was certainly no shame in lifting someone else’s words or ideas, whether it was for a personal letter, a newspaper article, or a government document.”