In 1948, from Dublin, where he was staying with his mother, he writes: "The weather is fine, I walk along my old paths, I keep watching my mother's eyes, never so blue, so stupefied, so heartrending, eyes of an endless childhood, that of old age. Let us get there rather earlier, while there are still refusals we can make. I think these are the first eyes that I have seen. I have no wish to see any others. I have all I need for loving and weeping. I know now what is going to close, and open inside me, but without seeing anything, there is no more seeing."
Friday, September 30, 2011
During snowstorms, gusts of snowflakes blew in like a corny comic sketch, and a barricade of coats lay along the bottom of the door in a hopeless attempt to keep out the draught.
What is so enjoyable about Katherine Howell’s books is not just the realism of the paramedics’ jobs as they are called out to many kinds of bizarre, dangerous, sad, repetitive or funny incidents that test the full range of their ingenuity and survival skills, but also the sheer pace and muscle of the stories, which are more common (in my experience) in crime novels by male authors.
Directly after the interview, it was asserted that Rastani must be a hoaxer. It turned out that this was not so, although he is a part-time trader, at best, and something of a fantasist. But what if he is right? Back in April, this space quoted Marshall McLuhan, “Only puny secrets need protection. Big discoveries are protected by public incredulity.” This explains the extraordinary reaction to Rastani’s statements—he spoke the unspeakable.
Perhaps one of the reasons for such effusions is the attractive oddness of the man. He sticks out of English literature like a sore thumb. To the Victorians, his immediate superstar predecessors were Sir Walter Scott and Lord Byron. Dickens admired Scott and, in his youth, adopted the romantic, dandy style of Byron, but he was like neither. Tomalin links him to Chaucer in his creation of characters, and Slater sees Ben Jonson as both an influence and a precursor. “In his amateur theatricals, he chose Jonson rather than Shakespeare, and he was very fond of Every Man in His Humour.”
The authentic Rilkean tone begins to emerge with the first volume of what would become The Book of Hours (most recently translated by Susan Ranson in 2008, an assortment of whose translations are included in the Selected Poems). Written after a trip to Russia in 1899 with Lou Andreas-Salomé, The Book of Monkish Life, a series of poems from the perspective of an icon-painting monk, was followed two years later by The Book of Pilgrimage. These volumes bear the stamp of Rilke's personality in their idiosyncratic conception of God as the supreme manifestation of becoming, rather than of being; Rilke presents Him not through the traditional iconography of the father, but as the son, the guarantor of futurity.
Thursday, September 29, 2011
It is this possibility of absolute nothingness that Rundle is mainly concerned to expose as an illusion. He points out that, in ordinary speech, when we say there is nothing in the cupboard, or nothing that is both round and square, we are talking about an existing world none of whose contents meet a certain description. To say nothing is X is to say everything is not X. We can perhaps conceive of the disappearance of everything in the world, so that there are no things left in it, but even then we are not imagining nothing at all, but rather a void, a vacuum, empty space. Taken literally, the hypothesis that there might have been nothing at all seems self-contradictory, since it seems equivalent to the supposition that it might have been the case that nothing was the case. Is there any way of understanding the possibility that there might have been nothing at all without interpreting it incoherently as a way things might have been -a fact, as Rundle puts it, a possible state of affairs, an alternative possible world? Rundle thinks not, and that therefore the question "Why is there something rather than nothing?" does not call for an answer.
Never before have I seen a film that so brilliantly captures the restlessness produced by the faith that promises peace beyond understanding. Higher Ground, based on the memoir by Carolyn S. Briggs and adapted for the screen by the author, is an extraordinarily intelligent, probing, disturbing, and altogether compassionate look at what it means to believe without seeing. Farmiga and Briggs treat their subject, and their central character, with respect and care, though never noncritically.
On the other hand, who cares about Cozzens today, even if Macdonald is the main reason nobody cares?
Much more than a how-to manual (though it offers plenty of practical advice), Cabin tells the tale of a man who has passed "his own personal equinox" and is reeling from life's blows (divorce, job loss, health scare, and the death of his mother, his only steady parent). Beset by depression and "visitations of panic and loneliness," he takes to the woods to pursue a lifelong dream. Along the way, he does plenty of reckoning, and the cabin becomes both pretext and instrument for redeeming and renewing himself.
Wednesday, September 28, 2011
While I find Epstein's characterization of our 71-chapter volume—which covers everything from the publishing business to Henry James, dime novels to modernist aesthetics—closed-minded and inaccurate, his rant does raise a good question. What is literary history, and how should it be brought to bear on the genre of the novel? The Cambridge History of the American Novel is really a biography of the novel as it intersects with American history. Part of the explanation for the changing shape of the American novel involves individual genius (i.e., great writers), but it also involves the stuff of national history: wars, slavery, emancipation, democracy, territorial expansion, civil rights, women's rights, immigration, and capitalism.
We live in very different times. There is no popular movement against U.S. military engagement overseas, no broad reaction against established authority in American society, no youth rebellion. The public mood in the United States is one of economic uncertainty and physical insecurity. Many Americans want an assurance that their government is willing and able to act forcefully in the pursuit of U.S. interests. In this climate, the incidents revealed by WikiLeaks—spying on United Nations diplomats, covert military action against terrorists, negotiations with regimes that are corrupt or guilty of human rights abuses—might not even be construed as abuses of power at all. On the contrary, they could be regarded as proof that the U.S. government is prepared to get its hands dirty to protect its citizens.
Tuesday, September 27, 2011
Adventure stories usually tell of the adventurer's having accomplished something: conquered the dragon, survived the dark forest, married the princess. Tales of adventurous journalists, however, are at best stories of people who go out to see rather than to do. Their finest accomplishments come when, like daring flies, they manage to sneak in and cling to the wall, eavesdropping while others make things happen.
Are gangster movies different in other countries? Which actor is the most prolific mobster? Is a "gangster comedy" a contradiction in terms?Yes. Robert De Niro. No.
“There are two main justifications for the Cahiers Series. The first is that we publish material that cannot easily be published anywhere else; we can play with form in a way that commercial publishers cannot. The second justification is to make something where the parts, through their relation to each other, add up to more than just that.”
Monday, September 26, 2011
The Lottery was met with much negativity which surprised both the author and The New Yorker, and ultimately caused many subscribers to cancel their subscriptions and send hate mail. It has since become one of the most important American short stories and continues to be analysed, critiqued and taught in schools.
“Is Carlyle himself, with all his Genius, to subside into the Level? Dickens, with all his Genius, but whose men and women act and talk already after a more obsolete fashion than Shakespeare’s? I think some of Tennyson’s will survive, and drag the deader part along with it . . . . And (I doubt) Thackeray’s terrible humanity.”
Tomalin's book, a page-turner, seems to me to be an effective reproof to those who, like Michael Holroyd, believe literary biography to be in its death throes. But what does she think? Are publishers going to dispense with fat lives? "No! I think people are always saying things are over. Fiction has been regularly over since the 19th century. You can't entirely talk about books in groups like that. Some work and some don't. Clearly, we have got a public with a shorter attention span, but there is also this great interest in history. I'm devoted to Michael. He's adorable. But I rather think he's enjoying being Cassandra about this."
“Alyosha’s work has a quality at once ancient and entirely new,” says American poet Michael Palmer, Parshchikov’s friend and translator. “His poems present and project the turmoil of the present in a manner that is entirely his own, a tone of this particular fractured and diasporic moment, where the unsettled is the norm, and where all is in continuous flux.”
Sunday, September 25, 2011
Saturday, September 24, 2011
Friday, September 23, 2011
... the participants took a three-question math test with questions such as, "A bat and a ball cost $1.10 in total. The bat costs $1 more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?"
The intuitive answer to that question is 10 cents, since most people's first impulse is to knock $1 off the total. But people who use "reflective" reasoning to question their first impulse are more likely to get the correct answer: 5 cents.
My mathematical ineptness is legendary, but I've always been pretty good at arithmetic. So what am I missing here? What accounts for the remaining 5 cents? Also, it may well be that there is no one-size-fits-all way to arrive at truth.
... the door to the literary world began steadily to inch its way open for Kazin, and then finally it swung wide, whereupon a life of ever-growing eminence ensued. For more than half a century Kazin wrote, taught, and published; received prizes and fellowships at the highest levels; went to dinner with the great and the near-great; was invited to all the parties that mattered. He also married four times and had many affairs. Life should have felt rewarding—but it didn’t. The parties he went to bored him; the women he slept with left him wanting; the men whose respect he most desired he felt ignored by.
Thursday, September 22, 2011
Concomitant to the Bomb was, of course, the cold war – and clearly that, too, influenced the book. The Soviets were sending writers to gulags and banning questionable books, while in the US McCarthy was persecuting writers and the HUAC was in full swing. And then, of course, the memory of the Nazis still burned all too bright.
Mr. Friedman can turn a phrase into cliché faster than any Madison Avenue jingle writer. He announces that "America declared war on math and physics." Three paragraphs later, we learn that we're "waging war on math and physics." Three sentences later: "We went to war against math and physics." And onto the next page: "We need a systemic response to both our math and physics challenges, not a war on both." Three sentences later: We must "reverse the damage we have done by making war on both math and physics," because, we learn two sentences later, soon the war on terror "won't seem nearly as important as the wars we waged against physics and math." He must think we're idiots.
Over the past two months, The Morning Call interviewed 20 current and former warehouse workers who showed pay stubs, tax forms or other proof of employment. They offered a behind-the-scenes glimpse of what it's like to work in the Amazon warehouse, where temperatures soar on hot summer days, production rates are difficult to achieve and the permanent jobs sought by many temporary workers hired by an outside agency are tough to get.
Solzhenitsyn was always a prose architect of great skill, prone to experimenting with structure and narrative forms. He referred to the stories in Apricot Jam as “binary,” each tale in the book being a juxtaposition of two separate halves, linked by theme or character. However these halves are frequently separated in time and space, or are written from radically different points of view. The gap between the linked stories is crucial to their overall meanings; that which goes unsaid contains as much meaning as that which is written.
... the novel has obviously declined in cultural significance. No one would deny that. The empty-headed distinction between “literary fiction” and “genre fiction,” which continues to be thrown around as if it referred to anything more than an inability to read intelligently, is testament to the novel’s decline. As much as I dislikedFreedom, Franzen’s ambition to write a “big social novel,” to undertake the “job of social instruction,” is admirable. Novelists may not be “color commentators” (my God, what stupid language!), but they are part of the American discussion, the constant back-and-forth over American ideals and values, and they should write as if they are.
Lettered editions are traditionally limited to 26 copies, one for each letter of the alphabet, but it is not uncommon for a lettered edition to be limited to 52 copies with books marked by upper and lower case letters or represented by A to Z followed by AA to ZZ.
There is between sleep and us something like a pact, a treaty with no secret clauses, and according to this convention it is agreed that, far from being a dangerous, bewitching force, sleep will become domesticated and serve as an instrument of our power to act. We surrender to sleep, but in the way that the master entrusts himself to the slave who serves him.- Maurice Blanchot, born on this date in 1907
Wednesday, September 21, 2011
... what we are seeing is the continued triumph of individualism in American life — a force before which both the Christian Right and the Secular Left must bend. The Right sees the advance of individualism and fears that all is lost, that the socialists are about to take over; the Left sees the rise of libertarian individualism in economic life and policy and fears that this is part of an impending total triumph of the Right.
The novel captures something that the film, which stars Ms. Taylor's sexy white slips, utterly discards: the menacing undertone of that end-of-Weimar period worldwide, those two crucial years poised between the Black Monday crash of October 1929 and the middle of 1931, when the novel is set. The months before flickering hopes of recovery were dashed as the worldwide Depression doubled back and sunk us deeper into the black hole of fear itself. We were teetering precariously over the edge of the abyss in 1931, but didn't know for sure. It's often forgotten that during that tense period, there were mixed signals, some signs that a recovery was possible.
Interesting how O'Hara's star continues to rise.
“My interest in biology was pretty much always on the philosophical side,” he says, listing the essential questions that drive him. “Why do we exist, why are we here, what is it all about?
Chandler had originally plotted the killer as Buzz, who is played by William Bendix. Chandler fancied an ending where for psychological reasons Buzz murdered Ladd’s unfaithful wife in a blackout rage. Then, his memory of the incident was to be meticulously pieced together so that he would finally remember what happened and confess to the crime. However, the Navy disapproved of this ending, as it would show Navy personnel in a bad light (these were the War years, after all). So Chandler’s output came to a halt.
Today technology has exacerbated these mechanistic tendencies in writing (there are, for instance, several Web-based versions of Raymond Queneau's 1961 laboriously hand-constructedHundred Thousand Billion Poems), inciting younger writers to take their cues from the workings of technology and the Web as ways of constructing literature. As a result, writers are exploring ways of writing that have been thought, traditionally, to be outside the scope of literary practice: word processing, databasing, recycling, appropriation, intentional plagiarism, identity ciphering, and intensive programming, to name just a few.
Tuesday, September 20, 2011
Mr. Hendricks is best known for what was a comparatively brief period of his life: 1956-61, when he co-led Lambert, Hendricks & Ross. His collaboration with David Lambert stretches for more years on both sides, but in a very short time LHR completely transformed the use of the human voice in jazz. Using Mr. Hendricks's lyrics, the group sang words to iconic jazz instrumentals and solos, and swung harder and with more hip humor than any other vocal ensemble before or since.
Poetry ... asks you to slow down. It runs at a fairly slow gear - for at least two reasons: one is that it causes you to fall into a more meditative, thoughtful state, to stop multitasking. Buddhists would call multitasking monkey-minded, when you're thinking of so many things at once. Poetry gets the monkeys out of our head—or it just leaves one monkey. Poetry offers the opportunity for you to get mentally and emotionally focused.
You stake your belief on the value of the image when it may be memory’s equivalent of a found photo: intriguing, mysterious, ghostly-narrative, vaguely urgent, but ultimately pointless.
In July 1919, Eliot wrote to a Bloomsbury hostess: “Remember that I am a metic — a foreigner, and that I want to understand you, and all the background and tradition of you.” In a 1925 review for The Nation, excerpted in Volume II of “Letters,” Eliot observes that modern poetry is an urban phenomenon: “Here too the metic plays a large part; for the metic, like the Jew, can only thoroughly naturalize himself in cities.”
Soll says he became "almost like a geneticist, following the trail of this crazy DNA." Machiavelli turns out to be a founder of "modern political science, one in which you look rationally and critically at what political leaders do, and see what their real goals are and the means they use to achieve them." Machiavelli's dry-eyed, sometimes coldly rational, even cynical look at real people and real power was an early awakening of the modern.
Monday, September 19, 2011
Sunday, September 18, 2011
In 1925, he wrote Virginia Woolf: "I feel like a shell with no machinery in it, the moment I try to use my mind at all; it's no use." His wording recalls the "voices singing out of empty cisterns and exhausted wells" of "The Waste Land" and the vacuity that gives "The Hollow Men" (1925) its theme.
The bottom line is that memory is essential to constructing scenarios for ourselves in the future. Anecdotal evidence backs this up. Our ability to project forward and to recollect the past both develop around age 5, and people who are good at remembering also report having vivid thoughts about the future.
But would the results be different if the subjects were mystics?
A couple of guys were running along the bank. They could see I was failing and shouted advice. I followed some of it. I couldn’t breathe, but I moved my arms in a pathetic pantomime of a back-stroke. I kicked harder, fully aware that it was the very last chance to do so. Then somehow I was free of the worst of the current. The guys on shore waded out and hauled me in like a dying carp.
Saturday, September 17, 2011
Friday, September 16, 2011
"... you shouldn’t chase public opinion. … Lincoln had a set of principles that were important to him. ‘All men are created equal under God’ is the ultimate. It’s the ultimate principle for America’s freedom. … But Lincoln acted on it in a difficult political environment. People forget that he was in a very tough reelection campaign, and it wasn’t until Sherman makes it to Atlanta that his prospects brightened. Secondly, Lincoln had a strategic vision for the country. One of the great presidential decisions ever was to keep the country intact. … The question oftentimes in history is what would have happened if a different decision were made. We’d have been Europe.”
Your religious beliefs typically depend on the community in which you were raised or live. The spiritual experiences of people in ancient Greece, medieval Japan or 21st-century Saudi Arabia do not lead to belief in Christianity.
Thursday, September 15, 2011
Stoner takes an outwardly nondescript life, the sort of life that many of us want to escape into fiction, and demonstrates that the real drama of human experience is in the daily refusal to escape, the uninterrupted renunciation of extreme situations, the muted decision to stay and do some good. It’s hard to make such a book sound very exciting. That Stoner is exciting — unexpectedly so, and incredibly moving — is the true measure of Williams’s achievement.
... it is fair to argue that America has never, truly, produced an existentialist writer worthy of the term. Our closest attempts can be seen in the works of the Lost Generation, the suburban masters of the 1950s, and in Carverite minimalism of the late 1970s and early ‘80s, but even at their best they lack a certain je ne c’est quoi that permeates Kafka or Kundera or Beckett.
Wednesday, September 14, 2011
“Nazism and Soviet Communism…show us how far things can go in politics, as Masscult does in art. And let us not be too smug in this American temperate zone, unravaged by war and ideology.”
The book contains multitudes, and a critical discussion of it can begin nearly anywhere. What should we most urgently address when reading The H.D. Book? It must be said that writing an essay such as this one does the work a great disservice, limiting us to one or two facets of a seemingly endless array to examine. One could build a university on the learning between these covers. But bemoaning the limits of critical inquiry can only get us so far; it is enough to be aware of them. As such, I would like to focus on what I see as one of the general themes of the text: its engagement and critique of rational modes of thinking, and the place of poetry in critiquing such logic. Following this thematic thread, I hope, will also bring into focus Duncan’s relationship to his poetry.