Thursday, April 30, 2009
To the extent that he has a secret to happiness, it resides in slowing down enough to pay attention to what you might call the grammar of experience. When you take the time to examine the world around you, parsing what you see, hear and feel -- Mr. Spiegelman likens the approach to the parsing of a sentence in Latin class -- you find that the plainest occurrence is surprisingly rich.Sounds familiar (nothing like a little shameless self-promotion).
Were the Inquirer run by someone like this, it would probably not have seen a 13 percent drop in its circulation over the past year.
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
And in the other corner ... Defending Academe.
(Hat tip to Dave Lull for both links.)
The critic Dwight Macdonald, a friend and fellow Exeter alumnus who had helped Agee land the job at Fortune, later wrote that “for a writer to be given the run of Time [was] like a collector of sculpture being offered his pick of wax figures from Madame Tussaud’s Museum.”
No wonder Agee was “always looking for a way out”: Guggenheim grants (he was turned down twice), leaves of absence, freelance arrangements. But he stayed at Time Inc., writing for Fortune and Time and Life, until after the Second World War—as it turned out, the majority of his adult life. Of course, working for Time was hardly a creative death sentence to all writers. Archibald MacLeish, LL.B. ’19, Litt.D. ’55, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1933 for his long poem “Conquistador” while working as Fortune’s star writer. But while MacLeish helped Agee publish his own poems, he could not teach the younger writer the secret of balancing art and commerce so resiliently. Nor, on the other hand, did Agee have the resolve to quit, as the radical Macdonald did when he got fed up with Luce’s conservative politics. Looking back, Macdonald decided that while Agee had been terribly grateful for his help getting a job on Fortune, “I didn’t do him a favor, really.”
Quite an old-boys network, actually.
I think I agree with this completely, but I single this out:
John Updike, John Cheever, and Richard Yates may be famous for nailing mid-century America, and especially the upper-middle-class Northeast. But -- though his style is dizzy and satirical where they were solemn and literary -- Patrick Dennis was as acute as any of them. That's merely my judgment, of course, but what the heck: If a young friend expressed interest in this era, I'd tell him to read Patrick Dennis (and John O'Hara) before Updike, Cheever, and Yates. He'd get as vivid a picture as he would from the LitBoys, and he'd probably have a much better reading time of it.Remember: Auntie Mame was published in 1955, right smack in the middle of those oh-so-dour- and conformist '50s - and was a smash!
Then, among the bonus links that follow, is one to the incomparable Joseph Pujol (I'm not going to link to it from here, though). Do read about this extradordinary figure. I learned about him from his grandson Henry, who is a friend of ours.
Finally, right in the middle of this piece is a link to a piece by Chip McGrath about John O'Hara. It's a good read, though I wonder about this: "The O'Haras lived on Mahantongo Street, the town's fanciest address, in a mansion that formerly belonged to the Yuengling brewing family ..." Here is the house. Mansion doesn't seem the right word. The true mansions are on the other side of the street. That aside, McGrath's judgment of O'Hara's work is altogether sound.
But enough. Go read about Patrick Dennis.
I would wish people to live without superstition, to govern their lives with reason, and to conduct their relationships on reflective principles about what we owe one another as fellow voyagers through the human predicament – with kindness and generosity wherever possible, and justice always.Any reason why, other than personal preference?
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
From the concluding pages of Return of the Soldier (1918):
"...he would go back to that flooded trench in Flanders, under that sky more full of flying death than clouds..."
... the self-descriptions of the people who place the personal ads are revealing of the tastes, worldview, and ideals of a sector of the population that is important well beyond its demographic size. Readers of the Review are, of course, likely to be members of the liberal intelligentsia. Their ads give a powerful impression not so much of hypocrisy as of lack of self-knowledge. The ads’ authors claim to be profoundly individual, yet there is an underlying uniformity and conventionality to everything that they say about themselves. Their desire to escape convention is deeply conventional. ... Contented with, and even complacent about, their position in the world, they somehow see themselves as enemies of the status quo. They are ideologically egalitarian, but psychologically elitist: Lord, make everyone equal, but not just yet.
While no amount of money could buy Paul a new right arm, he could buy an entire repertoire of left-hand-only piano works. Today, we hear in Hindemith's Klaviermusik mit Orchester logically molded musical ideas, plus a gorgeous slow movement with one of the most beautiful wind solos this side of the still-to-come Ravel Piano Concerto in G. As the Curtis recording shows, the world was deprived of significant loveliness during the piece's 79-year eclipse. Paul worked long and hard, Waugh reports, before declaring it incomprehensible. And that's not the worst.
As the distance between a science journalist acting as a kind of translator to the general public of science and scientists doing that translation narrows, maybe science itself will be reshaped by a feeling of urgency to communicate findings to the public. Maybe science itself will become more journalized.
That's the stop-press news about American theater. You don't have to go to New York to see first-rate shows. You can see them in the place where you live, or in a city not too far from your home town--but save on the rarest of occasions, you can't read about them in Time or Newsweek or the New York Times. You've got to pick up a copy of the Friday Journal and see where I went last week.
In a post on Wednesday at Savage Minds, an anthropology blog, Alex Golub, an assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Hawaii-Manoa who does field work in New Guinea, suggested that this affair was emblematic of “a fundamental ethical issue that anthropologists will have to face for decades to come.” The rise of the Internet means that whatever scholars write about their field informants—no matter how remote those people might seem—will inevitably be read by the communities they have described.
Well, yeah. Otherwise, what you have is an academic version of colonialism.
“A critic who does his job,” Logan observes, “must be a good hater if he’s to be a good lover, because if he likes everything he reads he likes nothing well enough.”
Monday, April 27, 2009
Others have wondered whether Kleinzahler, whose father worked in real estate and sent his son to the elite Horace Mann school in New York, assumes a bad-boy mask shaped for the authentically pock-marked features of Charles Bukowski or Gregory Corso. To Kirsch, the "roughneck persona" appears to be "the product of a persistent American neurosis about poetry and art being unmasculine. To compensate for their presumed loss of masculine status, certain writers make alcohol and fighting part of their literary persona."I don't know. Low places also have an appeal all their own, and friends in low places are at least valuable as those in high places, and often more trustworthy.
I think I have mentioned here before that my family moved to the Torresdale section of Philadelphia a few years after Wilfrid Sheed moved away. I wonder if his memories of that lost world are as fond as mine. By the way, I just ordered a copy of Essays in Disguise.
A materialist Darwinian was having dinner with me a few years ago and we laughingly alluded to how, as years go by, one forgets names. Eager, as committed Darwinians often are, to testify on any occasion, my friend asserted: “It is because when we were simply anthropoid apes, there was no need to distinguish between one another by giving names.”
This credal confession struck me as just as superstitious as believing in the historicity of Noah’s Ark. More so, really.
It just seems silly to say that all aspects of this rich variety of human activity have direct analogues in the behaviour of other animals. Next time the evolutionary biologist lights their bunsen burner, they might reflect that even chimps don't light fires.Indeed.
... I lay inhaling the warmth and sweetness of the pillow upon which her dark head had been resting: watching the long bereft Greek face, with its sane pointed nose and candid eyes, the satiny skin that is given only to the thymus-dominated, the mole upon her slender stalk of the neck. These are the moments which are not calculable, and cannot be assessed in words; they live on in the solution of memory, like wonderful creatures, unique of their kind, dredged up from the floor of some unexplored ocean.- Lawrence Durrell
Sunday, April 26, 2009
... Office affairs.
... The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work by Alain de Botton: review.
... A difficult business.
... Philosopher king: Alain de Botton finds glamour and drama in the world of work.
Anne Fadiman, the author, was relieved to learn that her essay collection, “Ex Libris,” was not available on Kindle. “It would really be ironic if it were,” she said of the book, which evokes her abiding passion for books as objects.I would think it was paradoxical.
Nicholson Baker, who writes fiction and nonfiction books, feels much the same way, even though he defines himself by the contents of his (physical) library. Years ago, he walked into a temporary job with a copy of “Ulysses.” “I wanted people to know I wasn’t just a temp,” he said, “but rather a temp who was reading ‘Ulysses.’ ”Pathetic. And what's with this thing about identifying Fadiman as an author and Baker as writing fiction and nonfiction? Who the hell do they think would read this piece?
... Poet Laureate Andrew Motion laments burden of recession in new poem.
(Hat tip to Rus Bowden for both links.)
... Little glamour in this gangster saga.
... Engrossing action full of surprises on the city's gritty side.
... Historical novel of social taboos and enduring art.
... Two tales, sharp-eyed, hilarious.
... Tracking down Eichmann.
It seems that an essential condition for crises is to be found in the existence of a highly developed system of communications and the spreading of a homogenous mentality over vast areas.But when the hour and the right material are at hand, the contagion spreads with the speed of electricity over hundreds of miles, and affects the most diverse populations, which hardly know each other. The message flies through the air and they all suddenly agree on that one issue, if only a sulky admission that "there's got to be a change."Talk about prescient. Burckhardt died in 1897.- Jakob Burckhardt
Saturday, April 25, 2009
Friday, April 24, 2009
One truly great Kurosawa film that is not mentioned in this piece is Dersu Uzala. Dreams is another great one. Then there's Ikiru. Yes, a great director.
Soon, I won't have to turn on my TV to watch what's on. I'll be able see it right here on my desktop - or on my laptop. The process of change regarding media and information is far from over. I suspect that those who end up making money in spite of or because of the changes that are taking place will do so because they have simply pursued an interest for its own sake and hit upon a quality product people can't get from another source and are willing to pay for. If everybody can make wine, but one guy and one guy only can make a particularly fine vintage, that guy is going to be able to charge. And people will buy. Amazon is making great strides toward controlling the book market - and other markets. But such control, it seems to me, contains within it an inherent instability. If Amazon charges more than people are willing to pay or imposes restraints people do not like, someone will come along and challenge Amazon and the challenge will pay off. In the book field, I'd keep my eye on ABE.
I have no idea. I've never seen The Wire, and probably never will. (This is not snobbery. I dropped my HBO subscription years ago and doubt if I will ever subscribe again. I just don't spend enough time watching television to care.)
... The Next Generation of eReaders.
(Hat tip to Dave for both links.)
More and more Western Europeans, recognizing the threat to their safety and way of life, have turned their backs on the establishment, which has done little or nothing to address these problems, and begun voting for parties—some relatively new, and all considered right-wing—that have dared to speak up about them. One measure of the dimensions of this shift: owing to the rise in gay-bashings by Muslim youths, Dutch gays—who ten years ago constituted a reliable left-wing voting bloc—now support conservative parties by a nearly two-to-one margin.
A civilization is a heritage of beliefs, customs, and knowledge slowly accumulated in the course of centuries, elements difficult at times to justify by logic, but justifying themselves as paths when they lead somewhere, since they open up for man his inner distance.- Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Thursday, April 23, 2009
I agree with correspondent Nick Chadwick about the Vaughan Williams letters. The price really is prohibitive. And I believe that Chadwick is right - the audience for such a book may be larger than OUP may think.
[I]t is evil that men anywhere be forced to depend, for the information on which they govern their lives, on the caprice of anyone at all. There should be a great, free, living stream of information, and equal access to it for all.
If you are glib you end up merely following the latest fashion among teenagers who always have to have a lingo of their own, but should not carry it past seventeen without seeming silly. The good writer has to grasp the lasting quality, rather than the passing changes, of the language.
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
And here's something about last lines: Connections.
The only account that I have been able to devise that subsumes all the different selections of prestigious works made at different times and in different places by different critics is this: Literature is good writing, where by definition ‘good’ yields no fixed definition.
If David subscribes to this account - and it has much to recommend it - he is definitely an existentialist, not an essentialist (as am I) on this question. As for what is literature and what is not, I'm still thinking.
(Politically, though I am often thought to be conservative, I like to think of myself as more of a 19th-century liberal. I am suspicious of concentrated, centralized power. As Lord Acton observed, "The danger is not that a particular class is unfit to govern: every class is unfit to govern." That, of course, could regarded as a conservative sentiment. I definitely do not look to the government - which makes nothing and sells nothing - as the principal means of ameliorating society's discontents. I think of it rather as another - and major - factor contributing to those discontents.)
I have a warm spot in my heart for readers as reviewers. There are passionate, common readers who are quite capable of providing a lucid, insightful account of their reading experience.With its privileging of print, the NYTBR has tended to assign books to authors rather than to critics; if the NBCC is to be believed, however, there's now a great untapped pool of the latter out there, just waiting for the next call to arms.
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Join the Rosenbach Museum & Library in celebrating National Poetry Month as we honor the life and work of poet Elizabeth McFarland.
Rosenbach poet-in-residence Nathalie Anderson and internationally-recognized poet Daniel Hoffman will read from Over the Summer Water by poet and editor Elizabeth McFarland. Ms. McFarland was the poetry editor of Ladies' Home Journal from 1948 to 1962, publishing such poets as W.H. Auden and Marianne Moore. Much of her correspondence with Moore, thanks to Mr. Hoffman and Ms. McFarland’s generosity, is preserved in the Rosenbach’s renowned Marianne Moore Collection. Mr. Hoffman is a former Poet Laureate & the Felix Schelling Professor Emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania.
An exhibition illustrating Ms. McFarland’s career will be on display from April 18-26, 2009.
The event is FREE with museum admission.
Click here to RSVP or call 215-732-1600, ext 123
Of course, what Aquinas meant was that they are real because they are thought by God. Pieper points out that this thesis won a good measure of support from of all people Jean-Paul Sartre: Both Aquinas and Sartre, Pieper observes, "start with the same 'major premise,' namely ... things have an essential nature only in so far as they are fashioned by thought." Only, for Sartre, "because there exists no creative intelligence which could have designed man and all natural things - and could have put an inner significance into them - therefore there is no "nature" in things that are not manufactured and artificial." Sartre himself puts it this way: "There is no such thing as human nature because there exists no God to think it creatively."
Discussions of God as creator usually have to do with an event several billion years ago that got the world going. But that actually misses the point. As Aquinas understands it, God as creator is creating now. There is being because God is creatively thinking it. This would include one's own being.
Before assenting to or dissenting from a proposition, it is not simply useful, but actually necessary to make sure you understand what that proposition entails. So I have found it interesting to imagine that my being here, doing what I am doing, feeling and thinking as I am, takes place because God is imagining me. That is the thought experiment referred to in the title of this post.
The title of Pieper's book, by the way, refers to Aquinas's self-imposed silence toward the end of his life. The Summa Theologica is not finished because Aquinas chose not to continue writing it: "All that I have written seems to me nothing but straw ... compared to what I have seen and what has been revealed to me."
What is literature? Jesuit product that I am, I would start with particulars we can all agree upon. Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, Dickens - I think everyone would agree that what they wrote is literature. I suspect Plato, Montaigne and Charles Lamb would make muster, too, though they all wrote nonfiction. So it is easy to see how The Origin of Species could be accounted literature. It's well-written and accessible. I would say that Nietzsche's Also sprach Zarathustra and Schopenhauer's Die Welt als Wille und Vorstellung are also literature. Kant and Hegel, on the other hand, I don't think brought a literary dimension to their philosophical writing. So their writing qua writing lacks some quality evident in Nietzsche's, Schopenhauer's and also Kierkegaard's.
Daniel Green's Rieff review I rather like. I am not sure if I would agree with his conclusions were I to read the book, and his review would not dissuade me from reading it. But I can see why he didn't like it. I do think a writer's work should be judged on its own terms and not in terms of the writer's biography, though I see nothing wrong with learning as much as one can about the author of books one finds interesting. Often, it is the work that helps explain the author, rather than the other way around.
Disputes like this would proceed better, I think, if the disputants first laid out what it is they agree about. For if they do not agree at all on certain key points there really is no basis for discussion.
Update: I have bumped the post to draw attention to the latest comments.
DURRELL: I think part of it I may have got from my heroes of that time—Lawrence, as I said, and Aldington, and so on—but it’s more than just a fashionable thing. I think that, as I say, in England, living as if we are not part of Europe, we are living against the grain of what is nourishing to our artists, do you see? There seems to be an ingrown psychological thing about it; I don’t know why it is. You can see it reflected even in quite primitive ways like this market business now—the European Common Market. It’s purely psychological, the feeling that we are too damned superior to join this bunch of continentals in anything they do.
For the complete interview, see: The Paris Review
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
I gather that tomorrow is Earth Day.
Regarding which, Dave sends along (in the comments) this: To Hell with Earth Day; Long Live Arbor Day!
... Earth Day has become a bloodless holiday for pallid urbanites, the sort of technology-dependent yuppies whose rare encounters with the unregulated outdoors usually end in paralyzing fears of Lyme disease. Earth Day is about as green as a $100 bill.
"The danger is that people will just get lost in a morass of addictive pleasures and not ask themselves the questions about the meaning of their own lives and not make the effort to make themselves interesting to others, so that human relations begin to crumble. I think we’re actually seeing that. If you look round the society in which we are, it’s not in a happy state. Although it has everything materially, people are finding it very difficult to make themselves interesting to each other.”
Color me skeptical, too.
Monday, April 20, 2009
Searching may be preferable to finding because finding may make it necessary to decide.
I remarked recently that Siddhartha was the Hesse novel I liked least. This quote makes me want to give it another look.
Justice Stevens mentions that Lord Burghley, guardian of the young de Vere, is generally accepted as the model for the courtier Polonius in "Hamlet." "Burghley was the No. 1 adviser to the queen," says the justice. "De Vere married [Burghley's] daughter, which fits in with Hamlet marrying Polonius's daughter, Ophelia."I don't think the Burghley-Polonius connection is at all "generally accepted." It would certainly be an odd tribute, given that Polonius is a garrulous fool.
"But brains just are semantic engines; they have the intentional power!" If the materialist can get away with that little outburst, then the religionist can get away with imputing to a plastic icon on a dashboard the power of averting automotive mishap.
Maybe it's the J-School model that is outmoded. Maybe the academicization of all and sundry is a bad idea. Here is something Gide said:
It is certain that the man who wonders as he takes up his pen: what service can be performed by what I am about to write? is not a born writer, and would do better to give up producing at once. Verse or prose, one's work is born of a sort of imperative one cannot elude. It results (I am now speaking only of the authentic writer) from an artesian gushing-forth, almost unintentional, on which reason, critical spirit, and art operate only as regulators.
Sunday, April 19, 2009
When Valparaiso Poetry Review was begun in 1999, I imagined universal acceptance of online literary journals would take a number of years, and I considered the possibility that a decade might pass before electronic literary magazines would come of age. With the general recognition today, by almost all poets and most short-fiction writers, of such journals as satisfactory locations for publication, as well as the nearly universal presence of print journals in some online form, perhaps the maturation of online journals has happened just as I had hoped would occur.
... Kingston Readers' Festival 2009.
... Michael Walters on series of books.
... Narnia Code revisited.
... The science of stealing. (Always good to know.)
... Chinese twhispering. (Great post title.)
... Suffer the Children by Adam Creed.
Compared to Maxine, I am slothful.
"I don't expect journalists who track the church to agree with everything she teaches. But I do think reporters should have a working knowledge of her traditions and teachings," he said. "I do think editors should have the basic Catholic vocabulary needed to grasp what we're talking about and why we're talking about it."
Most artists, of course, are perfectly happy to leave well enough alone, secure in the knowledge that they got it right the first time (even if they didn't). On the other hand, revised versions of well-known works of art are quite a bit more common than you might suppose, and it turns out that more than a few great artists were near-compulsive tinkerers.
... 'The guy who coached Wilt' looks back.
... Lyrical poetry in which death lives on. (Once again, a bizarre editorial change has been made in my text. The second sentence should read: One not only feels as if one is overhearing the speakers in these poems; one also feels like an invisible presence shadowing them.)
... Stories of American Indians told with gorgeous absurdity.