WRB—April 1, 2023
blosme breme on eueri bouȝ
The late Colin Gothlymple used to say that Arthur Guffrey was to Clive Staples Lewis what Stanley Levison was to Martin Luther King, Jr.1
Robert Macfarlane reflects in Orion on the life and work of Barry Lopez:
I don’t know whether Barry ever corresponded with the great geographer of the American vernacular landscape, J.B. Jackson, whose essays and lectures were so influential in dignifying and directing scholarly attention onto gas stations, lawns, woodlots, road-layouts, ballparks, and other everyday human structures as part of “the full imprint of human societies on the landscape,” in Jackson’s phrase. Jackson was a vocal critic of the exclusionary wilderness aesthetic as it existed in much mainstream North American conservation and (dread phrase) “nature writing.” He and Barry shared a dislike of any way of seeing that sought dogmatically to exclude human presence from place. Both regarded landscape—to quote from Jackson—as “a complex and moving work of art, the transcript of a significant collective experience.” Both felt that to use language well in speaking of place was to use it particularly: precision of utterance as both a form of lyricism and a species of attention.
They differed in two crucial ways, however. Barry recognized the land to be “home ground” to a community of life which extended far beyond the human species, and Barry also increasingly acknowledged the capacity of humans to damage and destroy the land’s ability to be homely to that broader biota. It is worth recalling here that our word “ecology” comes from the Greek oikos, meaning “household,” “dwelling.” Ecology is literally “the study of home.” Human activity, immensely amplified by technology, is rapidly rendering the entire planet uncanny, unheimlich, unhomely. Aldo Leopold’s famous line about the penalty of an ecological education being that one “lives alone in a world of wounds” came to ring truer and truer in Barry’s work as it proceeded.
At Aeon, James Romm on Plato’s Seventh Letter’s authenticity problems:
The image of Plato we cherish is that of a high-minded thinker who dwelled in the metaphysical realm. In his Republic, Plato described this realm as a place of eternal and perfect Forms, toward which true philosophers would direct every thought, as though beholding the Sun and escaping the ‘cave’ of earthly existence. However, the letters – including the all-important Seventh Letter – often depict a practical man of affairs, a man concerned with reputation, influence, even finance.
In a scene set in a séance early in the novel, the medium predicts the evolution of the emergent marketized world into self-awareness, which will “need no longer to be run by the Invisible Hand, but now could create itself—its own logic, momentum, style, from inside.” In an episode hundreds of pages later, a depressive Argentine smuggler tells Slothrop that his quest for his identity will one day seem quaint: “It’ll get easier. Someday it’ll all be done by machine. Information machines. You are the wave of the future.” These two specters, “synthesis and control”—in the service of “the elect”—are the looming, invisible villains of Pynchon’s vision.
More on the end of the world: For Hazlitt, Jonathan Garfinkel reports on island fashion:
In the film La grande bellezza, director Paolo Sorrentino shows us a two-faced twenty-first century Rome: the lingering beauty of its ancient past and the superficiality of its upper-class residents today. At one party after another, the rich wear the best suits, in the best antique locales, drinking the best wines, spouting vapid philosophy as they struggle for the one thing they can’t buy—a sense of purpose amidst the deluge of hangovers. If you’ve seen the film, you get an idea of what the Brunello Cucinelli party is like, minus the line dancing. It’s both disarming and alluring.
[“Paradise is an island. So is hell.” —Chris]
Twenty years ago, I spent a month backpacking around Iceland. There’s only one main highway that goes around the entire country, and at one point, I got off the bus and I was looking at these green, mossy fields. They weren’t manicured; they were wild and beautiful and unspoiled. Another passenger said to me that this is what the US looked like millennia ago. In Iceland, I was looking back in time at what my own place looked like long before any humans were there. I wonder if, in a way, the early twentieth century in the West also feels something like that for the American project. It is, in theory, one of the last places where you had large groups of people remaking the world.
For The Rumpus, Janet Rodriguez interviews Henri Cole about his forthcoming book of poems (Gravity and Center: Selected Sonnets, 1994–2022, April): “Horses are a nice metaphor for the sonnet’s strength and feeling in motion. Beauty and violent power come together in an animal form. When I write, I have the feeling of being a rider. As the poem gallops forward, I am knocked about.”
Also at The Rumpus, Leanne Ogasawara reviews a recent book of travel memoir from Pico Iyer (The Half Known Life: In Search of Paradise, January):
Known as one of our greatest living travel writers, Iyer’s journeys have long been of a spiritual nature. He traces this interest back to his boyhood boarding school in Oxford, which he writes was much like a monastery. From his visits to a Benedictine monastery in California four times a year to his work and travels with the Dalai Lama, Iyer is an old-fashioned spiritual pilgrim. A wisdom-seeker. In Japan, where he has lived for three decades, he remains a willing outsider. Neither learning the language or trying to become a permanent resident, he has sought a certain critical distance from the world. All the better to see it, hear it, smell it.
“For de Kerangal, translation often serves, as it does in “Painting Time,” as a metaphor for the use of language in general. One of the most striking aspects of de Kerangal’s writing is the vocabulary—while she drops a dictionary-cracker now and then, she also frequently employs the sort of words that are easy to translate, because whatever they describe is so specific that there is only one way to say it.”
A few stories have an anthology effect, containing tales of tales. In the final, riveting “Skinder’s Veil,” a house sitter is regaled with strange, disturbing yarns by his mysterious guests. “The Girl Who Did Not Know Fear” embeds a variation of its precedent (“The Boy Who Did Not Know Fear”) into a brief story told to our protagonist on an airplane; this woman happens to be afraid of a lot of things, especially of flying when the moon is . . . Sorry! I want to say more about all of these, but abundant twists make them difficult to describe without spoilers.
I’ve heard more than one reader compare Link’s work with that other brilliant recreator of the fairy tale—Angela Carter—but that’s as lazily unobservant as comparing Butler to LeGuin. I grew up on Carter’s sharp-toothed tales and, arguably, those stories shaped my own feminism and how I see the world. But Carter and Link are different writers with different goals writing in very different times. So, while I read Link with the foundational experience of reading other writers in mind (Carter, Winterson, LeGuin), the experience of reading Link is more contemporary and often, somehow more disorienting.
New issue of The New Atlantis is coming. [The newest Atlantis.] [For more information about the newest Atlantis, consult the Critias in the original Greek.] [“if we consider the likenesses which painters make of bodies divine and heavenly, and the different degrees of gratification with which the eye of the spectator receives them, we shall see that we are satisfied with the artist who is able in any degree to imitate the earth and its mountains, and the rivers, and the woods, and the universe, and the things that are and move therein, and further, that knowing nothing precise about such matters, we do not examine or analyze the painting; all that is required is a sort of indistinct and deceptive mode of shadowing them forth” —Chris]
[This has all the hallmarks (a Medium essay, about AI, etc.) of something I was going to find tedious reading, but it was actually interesting! —Chris] “AI and the American Smile.”
A common occurrence: “Bob and Edith’s Diner made that all too real for me today.”
“There’s something off about LED bulbs”—Is there? [I don’t mind them as long as you get the right color temperature. —Chris]
Tonight: Struggle magazine Issue 04 launch party at My Dead Aunt’s Books.
On April 22, 2023, “American University Museum at the Katzen Art Center, The Kreeger Museum, Dumbarton Oaks, Jackson Art Center, Addison/Ripley Fine Art, and Klagsbrun Studios collaborate for Do The Loop, a free day of indoor and outdoor art programming complete with shuttle service provided between locations.”
Through May 7, the second annual National Capital New Play Festival, at Round House Theatre.
At the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery of the Smithsonian National Museum of Asian Art, “The Art of Knowing.”
Sunday at the National Cathedral: “In Paradisum: Duruflé’s Requiem and Poulenc’s Motets” 4 PM, $20.
“The Kreeger Museum has a small but significant collection of sculpture from South Asia. While the collection is best known for its modern and contemporary works, these South Asian images deserve some time in the spotlight.” Public lecture April 8, 3–4 PM. Register here.
April 4 | Norton
by Marilyn Hacker
From the publisher: Moving from Paris to Beirut and back, Calligraphies is a tribute to exiles and refugees, the known and unknown, dead and living, from the American poet Marie Ponsot to the Syrian pasionaria Fadwa Suleiman. Award-winning poet Marilyn Hacker finds resistance, wit, potential, and gleaming connection in everyday moments―a lunch of “standing near the fridge with / labneh, two verbs, and a spoon”―as a counterweight to the precarity of existence.
With signature passion and agility, Hacker draws from French, Arabic, and English to probe the role of language in identity and revolution. Amid conversations in smoky cafes, personal mourning, and political turmoil, she traces the lines between exiles and expats, immigrants and refugees. A series of “Montpeyroux Sonnets” bookends the volume, cataloguing months in 2021 and 2022 in which the poet observes a village “in pandemic mode” and reflects on her own aging.
In a variety of tones and formal registers, from vivid crowns of sonnets to insistent ghazals to elegiac pantoums and riffs on the renga, Calligraphies explores a world opened up by language.