WRB—April 19, 2023
If we went on a cruise, you’d never hear about it.
“You have to be very strong to live close to Washington, D.C., or you’ll turn a little mad.”
We were supposed to deliver to you the April 2023 Children’s Literature Supplement on Monday afternoon. That obviously didn’t happen, and we’re sorry for that. Sarah and Grace will have that for you this coming Monday, and we hope it will have been worth the wait.
We’ve gotten a lot of requests for someone to do more history and classics content here at the WRB, and keeping with the typical model for a Supplement (something Chris may have the inclination but certainly lacks the learning or time to deliver properly), the History Supplement ought to be reaching you on the second Monday of every month going forward. Check out the first issue here:
Alexandra Barylski on getting some peace and quiet: “The desire for a single hour alone is the soul’s desire to be safe with itself and to feel itself without worry or care, if only for some small measure of the day.”
In the local Post,on a topic near the the heart of the WRB, the love, and current sorry state, of magazines:
I was the boy who loved magazines. At home, my parents would confiscate the copies of Mad, Ray Gun and Spin that came in the mail, forbidding me from so much as looking at them until I finished my homework. My appetite for glossy pictures, for clever cartoons, for punning prose—for all the intelligence I couldn’t find in my small town or on television—had to be suppressed, lest I fail out of school. (So thought my mother.) Even now, the arrival of the latest issue of The Baffler or New Left Review feels like an event: a new vision of the world as seen by many minds, wedged between two covers.
But the American magazine is in a state of decay. Now known mostly as brands, once sumptuous print publications exist primarily as websites or YouTube channels, hosts for generic scribblings, the ever-ubiquitous “take.” Meanwhile, a thousand Substacks bloom, some of them very good, with writers in the emancipated state of being paid directly by their readers. Yet even in this atomized, editorless landscape, perverse incentives apply. Are you thirsty for another post about cancel culture or wokeness? Me neither. Yet culture war still largely rules the day.
Online for The Point, James Harkin writes about nonprofit journalism and its discontents:
What we need now is greater awareness of the new additives in our news diet, and institutional structures that allow genuinely independent journalism to reassert itself. That doesn’t always mean refusing the foundation money—someone needs to pick up the check if journalism is to survive—but it does mean that we establish inviolable new walls, akin to the traditional separation between advertising and editorial, between these skittish, whimsical billionaires and the reporters who know what journalism is and can achieve.
Issue 42 of nonsite.org is devoted to “the underexamined writings of literary critic Hugh Kenner,” specifically The Pound Era (1973) (F.A.Q. here). Here’s Walter Benn Michaels on art and Kenner’s reading of Borges:
even though the phrase “ontology of the work of art” never appears in it and even though—or just because—his account of that ontology would be diametrically opposed to Nelson Goodman’s, Kenner’s treatment of the Menard has increasingly seemed to me a useful way of thinking both about the history of theory and of theory’s relation to modernism, especially to that moment in modernism marked by the emergence of the postmodern.
More on art:
Michael Glover in Hyperallergic on ugly paintings:
They make we creatures of the present moment feel very uncomfortable because they make blindingly apparent that these lofty Renaissance masters were well practiced at the art of misogyny; of mocking the old and the poor; of spitting on a hag; of burning the witch and sparing the wizard. How vulgar they seem, consumed by impotent savagery and pathetic lusts. It is all very nasty indeed.
Virginia Seymour at the JSTOR blog with a guide to how to look at art.
- on her Substack about a new Georgia O’Keeffe show up the coast:
art is a mode of seeing, a way of knowing, for some people. But the miracle is that, as opposed to some other ways of seeing and thinking, those who don’t make art in order to apprehend the world can “borrow” the eyes of those who do. There’s a human meeting ground in art that doesn’t quite exist for other ways of knowing and being.
Two from The Nation:
Gerald Ford on John L. Williams’ biography of C. L. R. James from last fall (CLR James: A Life Beyond the Boundaries, 2022):
In addition to being a historian, philosopher, novelist, playwright, and revolutionary, James was also a cultural critic. His memoir Beyond a Boundary, which includes a sociopolitical analysis of cricket along with its indictment of colonialism and is often characterized as one of the most insightful books on sports ever written, later became a foundational text for cultural studies, serving as an exemplar of the field’s interdisciplinarity and its project of exploring the political dynamics of contemporary culture—especially popular culture.
Strangely, as with many of the books by James discussed in Williams’s biography, readers won’t glean much about why Beyond a Boundary was so important. Instead, we learn more about the author’s private life than his public one.
And Jennifer Wilson on a forthcoming novel by Emma Cline (The Guest, May): “In The Guest, Cline has written a thriller about trying to get by, a summer read for the precariat. It’s a novel driven by the suspense of what it takes to survive—a suspense that can take the pleasure out of anything, even a day at the beach.”
And in the new issue of The American Conservative, two Managing Editors on more themes close to the heart of the WRB:
Where has this left the contemporary novel? It’s hard to say. To assess the state of things, Epstein quotes with horror from reviews—he confesses that he limits his exposure to skimming the Times Literary Supplement. To illustrate the effect the internet might be having on literature, he attempts to quote (unattributed) from recent novels by Lauren Oyler and Patricia Lockwood, seemingly by pulling from Gemma Sieff’s double review for Harper’s, though he gets confused about which book he’s talking about.
The closest he gets to opening any of these recent novels is a long quote from The New Yorker’s latest Sally Rooney excerpt. He concludes, “I suppose this all comes under the rubric of The Way We Live Now. But why does it all seem so arid, so less than enticing?” Evidence of wokeness is outsourced to Becca Rothfeld in Liberties. Maggie Doherty in The Nation handles the heavy lifting, and reading, to illustrate how boring he finds campus novels. It is a remarkable coroner who can keep himself so far away from the body.
Neither author seems to be aware of his aim. Remnick presents his collection as a portrait of a generation meditating on the vagaries of fame, a dramatic “grappling, in music and in their own lives, with their diminishing gifts and mortality.” Gopnik shies from admitting to the genre of self-help, instead describing his work with a bizarre word salad. He claims that it is “self-help book that won’t help” but also that it will “help you better see yourself as a self, a constructed self, made out of appetites turned into accomplishments.” Taken together, Remnick and Gopnik typify the criticism that Hilton Kramer directed at The New Yorker more than sixty years ago: “I don’t see how we can avoid concluding that the principal reason for The New Yorker’s method is ignorance: the ignorance of writers first of all, and ultimately the ignorance of readers.”
In the Washington Free Beacon this weekend,didn’t like a novel by Charles Frazier (The Trackers, April): “None of the characters sound like they are living in the 1930s, except perhaps Faro, but even at his most distinctive, he sounds second-hand, stitched together from other Western characters in American literature, at once too old and too contemporary.”
At Tablet, house poetry critic Jake Marmer recommends Victoria Redel’s latest book (Paradise, 2022): “There is a gorgeous abundance of everything in this book.”
In the Sydney Review of Books, Angelita Biscotti on the work of Bella Li (Argosy, 2017; Theory of Colours, 2021): “Li’s scenes are composed with such casualness, one could almost forget that they might be imagined any other way, which is probably how the original images dawned on the original spectators. This is the seductive power of photography, or of any representational visual media.”
Keep doing this. [It’s really funny.]
A new issue of n+1 is coming: “Attachment Issue,” [That’s what we should call the heading when we note a lot of new magazines. —Chris] including fiction from Jenny Erpenbeck.
- is taking their talents to Substack.
Belt Publishing has its spring sale right now: 50% off.
Our Dancing Daughters (dir Harry Beaumont, 1928) is showing at Atlas Performing Arts Center on Sunday afternoon, with live musical accompaniment by pianist Andrew Earle Simpson, as part of their “Sounds of Silence” Film Series.
Also at the Kennedy Center, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, Gianandrea Noseda conducts “the world premiere of Songs of Separation by Carlos Simon with ‘knockout’ mezzo-soprano J’Nai Bridges.”
More readers on bagels [If you email us something sufficiently amusing or edifying we will put it in the newsletter. Try it!]:
I try to check my food-related criticism, but, as a D.C. native and now long time NYC resident, I do believe that it is almost a sign of diminishment and deprivation for anyone to point toward some sort of bagel renaissance in D.C. Call Your Mother’s bagel was flat, doughy but not chewy in any way that might be pleasing, and lacking in the sort of rich, crusty, even sometimes shiny texture that characterizes a good bagel (and, as your reader aptly points out, the bagel was just too expensive). If a bagel the quality of even a mediocre New York City bagel landed in D.C., people might not know what to do with it. I think they would deny its existence and turn away.
April 25 | Macmillian
by Christina Sharpe
From the publisher: A singular achievement, Ordinary Notes explores profound questions about loss and the shapes of Black life that emerge in the wake. In a series of 248 notes that gather meaning as we read them, Christina Sharpe skillfully weaves artifacts from the past—public ones alongside others that are poignantly personal—with present realities and possible futures, intricately constructing an immersive portrait of everyday Black existence. The themes and tones that echo through these pages, sometimes about language, beauty, memory; sometimes about history, art, photography, and literature—always attend, with exquisite care, to the ordinary-extraordinary dimensions of Black life.
[I like the cover Daunt Books is using for the U.K. edition. —Chris]
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