WRB—Apr. 27, 2022
Petronius, Proclus, Piranesi, Phones, Potlucks, &c.
“It would have been a good newsletter,” the Managing Editor said. “If there had been somebody there to open its links every Wednesday and Saturday morning.” [Hard to find. —Nic] [You never were much of a New Yorker. —Chris]
To do list:
The WRB has just crested 500 subscribers, and its future is secure. For The Nation, however, Kyle Paoletta ponders where another august outlet of letters is heading.
No less an authority than Triple-A has a history of the tow truck.
In the Dublin Review of Books [I can’t think of a cute moniker for this one. —Chris] [I can only think of insulting monikers. —Nic] [That was my problem! —Chris], Dawn Miranda Sherratt-Bado reviews a new novel of Northern Ireland magical realism by Jan Carson.
For The New Criterion, Victor Davis Hanson considers the Satyricon of Petronius in its context and our own.
Annie Levin revisits the anticommunist agenda which produced American creative writing programs and the literature they continue to promote in Current Affairs. Over on his Substack in response, Lincoln Michel takes issue with her description of the classic advice “show, don’t tell.”
Briefly, Bill Coberly compares 2020’s wonderful hit novel Piranesi to a video game.
Here’s a neat little thing on Armenian food manuscripts. What are you, going to pretend you’re not a tiny bit interested?
For The Ringer, Lex Pryor explores the Great Dismal Swamp, which is not, in this case at least, the District of Columbia.
Brian Allen in National Review argues that the Smithsonian should improve its art galleries by simply ditching the bad paintings. [Would that it were so simple. —Nic]
During a period of (relative) unemployment, the Managing Editors had a Friday tradition of meeting for a true three martini lunch. It appears we were ahead of the curve on that trend. [Don’t forget to write off those drinks come tax season! —Nic]
Publisher’s Weekly is 150 years old, and has for your perusal a feature “anatomy of a magazine.” At three months, the WRB has no anatomy to offer.
At least a few subscribers may get a kick out of this, or keep it for reference purposes: “An Incomplete Survey of Fictional Knitters.”
[I, as many, live in horror of repeating a word, but I’m glad there’s a Twitter account keeping an eye on this particular writerly neurosis. —Chris]
Automat aficionados will be pleased to hear that the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception has reopened its cafeteria. [Best hot wings in the city, we are told. —Nic] [In the nation, I’d venture. —Chris]
Email newsletters would be impossible without this keyboard shortcut, which we’re happy to see getting some recognition.
What we’re reading:
Chris is enjoying The Name of the Rose. It’s a novel with a mystery at its center: “Are friars annoying?” It seems like they might be, but you’ll have to read the book to find out.
He went down a brief rabbit hole out of the novel trying to figure out exactly when it was accepted that the Book of Causes was not Aristotelian. Aquinas says in the prologue to his commentary that “it seems that one of the Arab philosophers excerpted it from this book [The Elements of Theology] by Proclus, especially since everything in it is contained much more fully and more diffusely in that of Proclus.” One mystery sorted.
Another mystery is whether Chris is really sold on the idea of a medieval Sherlock Holmes. [I’m not. —Nic]
The library just sent him a notice that a Clarice Lispector book he placed on hold is now available. He can’t remember why he wanted to read it, besides that whenever he looks at his copies of The Hour of the Star and Água Viva he thinks “Maybe I liked that?” [Also, the way the New Directions paperback covers line up for ÁV, The Passion According to G.H., Near to the Wild Heart, and A Breath of Life is really neat. —Chris]
If he gets around to it, he may solve this mystery too.
Nic did exactly what he said he would do last week: he’s reading The Recognitions and not much else. [Essential preparation if you want to tackle The Corrections, of course. —Chris]
May 31 | Knopf
Musical Revolutions: How the Sounds of the Western World Changed
by Stuart Isacoff
From the publisher: The invention of music notation by a skittish Italian monk in the eleventh century. The introduction of multilayered hymns in the Middle Ages. The birth of opera in a Venice rebelling against the church’s pious restraints. Baroque, Romantic, and atonal music; bebop and cool jazz; Bach and Liszt; Miles Davis and John Coltrane. In telling the exciting story of Western music’s evolution, Stuart Isacoff explains how music became entangled in politics, culture, and economics, giving rise to new eruptions at every turn, from the early church’s attempts to bind its followers by teaching them to sing in unison to the global spread of American jazz through the Black platoons of the First World War.
The author investigates questions like: When does noise become music? How do musical tones reflect the natural laws of the universe? Why did discord become the primary sound of modernity? Musical Revolutions is a book replete with the stories of our most renowned musical artists, including notable achievements of people of color and women, whose paths to success were the most difficult.
from “American Tryptich”: “3. Potluck at the Wilmot Flat Baptist Church” by Jane Kenyon
We drive to the Flat on a clear November night. Stars and planets appear in the eastern sky, not yet in the west.
Voices rise from the social hall downstairs, the clink of silverware and plates, the smell of coffee.
As we walk into the room faces turn to us, friendly and curious. We are seated at the speakers’ table, next to the town historian, a retired schoolteacher who is lively and precise.
The table is decorated with red, white, and blue streamers, and framed Time and Newsweek covers of the President, just elected. Someone has tied peanuts to small branches with red, white, and blue yarn, and set the branches upright in lumps of clay at the center of each table.
After the meal everyone clears food from the tables, and tables from the hall. Then we go up to the sanctuary, where my husband reads poems from the pulpit.
One woman looks out the window continually. I notice the altar cloth, tasseled and embroidered in gold thread: Till I Come. There is applause after each poem.
On the way home we pass the white clapboard faces of the library and town hall, luminous in the moonlight, and I remember the first time I ever voted—in a township hall in Michigan.
That same wonderful smell of coffee was in the air, and I found myself among people trying to live ordered lives . . . And again I am struck with love for the Republic.
[This is part of the penultimate piece in 1975’s From Room to Room, Jane Kenyon’s first collection. People have been begging me to read Kenyon forever—at least beyond that poem—and they were right! I’m excited to read the rest of her work.
Kenyon seems to excel at accurate and evocative nature scene poems (waking up and looking at the sky, a-mountain-looms-and-I-think pieces, There Is An Important Bird, etc.), and I was really looking to include a springtime verse here. (Man, I hope The Week makes it through the spring. —Nic) (I have been listening to “That’s Where I Am” and “Chaise Lounge” a lot this week. —Chris) (For what it’s worth, I’ve been obsessed with the other big Wet Leg song. —Nic) (Real Heads are stuck on “Loving You.” —Chris)
If she has them, they’re not in From Room to Room. I think that’s for the best though, because the only time I can really imagine white clapboard “luminous in the moonlight” is when enough moisture has left the air and the chill has set in for the dim hours of the year.
In “The Comforts of Home,” at least some of Flannery O’Connor’s characters try to live ordered lives, and her Thomas, the star, is “president of the local Historical Society.” It’s all about a certain kind of being struck with love.
When I lived in Michigan, I did not vote, but took every chance to spend time digging through files at the local historical society. Ideally, I think, I’d like to know everything that has ever taken place on the ground I spend my life around.
Aristotle says, in a work which scholars allow us to still attribute to him:
Herodotus might be put into verse, and it would still be a species of history, with meter no less than without it. The true difference is that one relates what has happened, the other what may happen.
The historian of love for the Republic, however, is not Herodotus, and this poem is not in meter.
Related: Gregory Nagy, in a book he almost certainly wrote:
the preoccupation of Greek poetry with the application of the past to the here and now is in itself an exercise of political power. Moreover, there is a side connotation of the poet’s “possession,” or inspiration, by the spirits of the heroic past. In using the word (possession) this way, I have in mind the celebrated passage retelling the ecstatic “seizure” of the composer in Diderot’s Le neveu de Rameau—a seizure that activates a panorama of musical, poetic, and dramatic performance.
The ancients did not have Time or Newsweek or the smell of coffee. Peanuts are, however, sometimes called “pindar nuts.”
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