WRB—April 22, 2023
Now sponsored by General Dynamics
The Managing Editors’ estates have jointly authorized a new edition of the WRB that the publisher hopes will make it more palatable to modern readers. [It doesn’t have any of this funny business. —Chris]
In Tablet, Theodore Gioia [different from Ted Gioia] on how one 9-year-old gave us plastic straw bans:
The year is 2011, and Milo Cress is in fourth grade in Burlington, Vermont. In the spirit of personal conservation, the 9-year-old launches the “Be Straw Free” campaign to persuade neighborhood restaurants and “concerned citizens to reduce the use and waste of disposable plastic straws.” Due to the lack of reliable figures on the issue, the fourth-grader decides to conduct a phone survey with three national manufacturers and averaged the results to reach the estimate that the country consumes 500 million straws each day. Our fledgling activist promptly earns adoring local and national coverage.
Two in the Times:
Mark O’Connell on the microplastics in our bodies:
Microplastics have established themselves in the cultural bloodstream, and their prevalence in the zeitgeist can partly be accounted for by our uncertainty as to what it means, from the point of view of pathology, that we are increasingly filled with plastic. This ambiguity allows us to ascribe all manner of malaises, both cultural and personal, to this new information about ourselves. The whole thing has a strangely allegorical resonance. We feel ourselves to be psychically disfigured, corrupted in our souls, by a steady diet of techno-capitalism’s figurative trash — by the abysmal scroll of inane TikToks and brainless takes, by Instagram influencers pointing at text boxes while doing little dances, by the endless proliferation of A.I.-generated junk content. We feel our faith in the very concept of the future liquefying at broadly the same rate as the polar ice caps. The idea of microscopic bits of trash crossing the blood-brain barrier feels like an apt and timely entry into the annals of the apocalyptic imaginary.
Graham Bowley and Tom Mashberg on a kylix cup whose fragments were all found and reassembled:
But law enforcement officials and a dozen archaeologists and art historians said in interviews that they believe that other, less serendipitous forces may also have been at work. They suggest that the individual shards of the kylix, which had likely been found together, were knowingly dispersed among dealers who sold them separately to the Met, their small size deflecting the kind of attention a complete cup would have drawn.
For The White Review, Kristian Vistrup Madsen on women and the ’00s:
Where in Nabokov it is the perverted and punishable Humbert who is society’s mirror image and Lolita mere collateral damage, in the 00s we were all both Britney and her perpetrators: her father, her lawyers, Paris and Lindsey and Kevin and Justin and her two children she went to court to get back and whose pictures were sold to People Magazine for several million dollars. Ethically speaking, it was a zero-sum game in which everyone was a loser and a sell-out. And while this has not changed, back then no one would claim to have been either empowered or victimised by it. Rather, everyone involved—from the paparazzi to the lucky girl inside the SUV who cried cried cried—was just doing their job.
Two in Engelsberg Ideas:
It wasn’t the anthology Larkin set out to collect. In a letter to his friend Judy Edgerton, he explained that he had ‘always vaguely supposed that the by-ways of twentieth century English poetry were full of good stuff hitherto suppressed’ by the arrival of Yeats and Eliot. In conversation with Thwaite this became ‘an English tradition coming from the 19th century with people like Hardy, which was interrupted partly by the Great War…’ The best candidates for this opening were the so-called ‘Georgians’, a group of early twentieth century poets writing in traditional forms and on romantic, often pastoral, themes. Yet, Larkin conceded, having done the research: ‘I find that this isn’t so.’ It was Eliot and Yeats (‘even Pound’) who had ‘sharpened up the language’, while certain Georgians, like Lascelles Abercrombie, hadn’t, he thought, written a single decent poem (though he still felt compelled to include a few of them in the final selection).
An anonymous author on the anonymous canon:
It is true that in an age of printed pamphlets and books anonymous texts were rarer, but print culture did not change overnight. For a long time, print publication was synonymous with an undesirable form of public display and carried an ineradicable “stigma.” Instead, texts were either circulated in manuscript—sometimes anonymously, if the text was scurrilous or liable to get its author into trouble; and sometimes with the author’s name in ink. In recent years—with our modern insistence upon identities and scholarly edited texts—this means of literary exchange has caused havoc with trying to attribute poems to the likes of John Wilmot, the Earl of Rochester, and John Donne.
For the JSTOR blog, Adrienne Raphael on chess as an artistic device:
Simic’s poem “Prodigy,” from 1977, addresses chess directly. Each stanza is a single sentence—that is, a single chess move—until the penultimate, where the speaker’s mother checks him: “I remember my mother / blindfolding me a lot.” He ducks the period, only to be blindfolded again: “She had a way of tucking my head / suddenly under her overcoat.” The under / over gesture folds the past and the present together. As a child, the speaker only saw the underside of the overcoat coming down to shield his vision. Now, from the vantage point of an adult looking back, he sees the scene in the mother’s eyes, over the coat, to the horrors of war his mother wanted to protect him from seeing.
Turner’s assertion is certainly possible—to his point, the dearth of scholarship on Comedy-as-theology and Dante-as-theologian is such that there isn’t much to dispute the idea. But it seems a bit of a stretch to think that Dante wrote the Comedy primarily as a redemptive act. Perhaps this is merely the unfamiliarity of the idea of that Dante is a theologian and the Comedy his theological treatise, and that settling into that conception of the poet will enable us to consider how his own faith and spiritual opinions shaped his poem. But Turner is perhaps too extreme in his insistence that the writing of the Comedy constituted its own kind of harrowing journey akin to Dante-narrated’s trek through hell (although it is a sentiment towards which, as a writer, I find myself increasingly sympathetic); that only by writing the Comedy can Dante-narrator become worthy of paradise.
Kang’s characters find freedom and fulfillment through their choices, though of a painful kind, and her work is so well-done that it’s difficult to argue with. In the face of the ecstasy of a woman standing on her hands and fantasizing that she has flowers growing out of her vagina, it seems churlish to point out that moans and cries aren’t as communicative as speech spoken at a volume other people can hear, or that children should play, or that starving yourself to death is not a victimless crime. Yet in some ways, her books feel like castles in the air, lovely, but founded on misapprehensions.
[The WRB has been collecting little things we really vibe with for quite a while now. It’s okay if someone else wants to do the same thing though.]
For Frieze, Bailey Trela reviews Brian Dillon’s latest collection of essays (Affinities: On Art and Fascination, April):
On one level, the book is a tour of lesser-known artists and works, like the Dadaist photomontages of Hanna Höch, or the dance performances of Marie Louise Fuller, whose intricately lit and voluminous costumes—more like “ectoplasmic effusions,” as Dillon writes—call out for comparison. The affinity—a connection, a resemblance, a mood; a slight, sub-critical impulse: a feint in the general direction of analysis—is the book’s ruling conceit. Throughout, Dillon layers these connections carefully, and there’s deep pleasure in following along as he underscores certain biographical, stylistic or formal connections, or merely hints at some eerie resemblance.
And, for the local Post, Becca Rothfeld reviews the same:
There is little theory in Affinities, but there is a delicious glut of affinities, both between images and between Dillon’s many vibrant characters. The astronomer who produced an image of wispy nebulae reappears as the friend of an eccentric Victorian photographer in the habit of walking “her houseguests to the railway station with a cup of tea in her hand”; the French philosopher who had an affair with a surrealist photographer returns to print eerie pictures of sea creatures in his journal. Even Dillon’s words chime with each other. When he notes that a sensuous prose stylist “wants subject and style to be allied and affianced,” he reenacts the very resonances he praises. What is alliteration but sonic affinity?
“Barnes & Noble CEO James Daunt has announced plans to ‘revitalize’ the company’s membership base with a new Premium Membership.” Why not subscribe to the WRB instead?
Buzzfeed News, R.I.P.
The third issue of the European Review of Books is coming. “It’s fuchsia.”
The Spring issue of Dissent is coming on May 8: “ What’s Next for the Climate Left?”
The April 2023 issue of the Capitol Hill Citizen is now available: “The Capitol Hill Citizen newspaper is about getting back to it. Print only. Distributed through the U.S. Mail. Handing off the physical paper to our fellow citizens.”
Coming to the Kennedy Center this fall, sponsored by General Dynamics: a new opera that asks the question we’ve always wanted an answer to about drone warfare: “Mother. Soldier. What if both are at war?”
A reader texts as we write: “Huge used books sale happening at the Arlington central library rn!”
Next weekend in Petworth: Petworth Porchfest.
“This Gas Station Restaurant Is Serving Up Some Of The D.C. Region’s Best Taiwanese Food” [In Rockville, natch. —Chris]
The NoMa business district and D.C. DoT are taking suggestions for the new name for Dave Thomas Circle.
Metro’s plan for a revamped bus system would be a lot more compelling if there were any funding for it.
At Atlas Performing Arts Center, opening tonight: “the first fully-staged American production since its premiere John Adam’s ‘song-play’ I Was Looking at the Ceiling and Then I Saw the Sky.”
April 25 | NYRB Poets
by Antonella Anedda, translated By Susan Stewart and Patrizio Ceccagnoli
From the publisher: Tacitus, the brooding historian of the Roman Empire, supplies the title of Antonella Anedda’s Historiae, in which she grapples with a legacy of Mediterranean displacement and violence that stretches from antiquity to the present day. In this bilingual edition, Anedda writes about the aftermath of centuries of colonization, about the ongoing European immigration crisis, and about the wild Sardinian archipelago of La Maddalena and the teeming Roman neighborhood of Trastevere—places between which she has divided her life—in a wonderfully various collection where poems of community frame poems of private life, among them a moving elegy for her mother. With wit, insight, and economy, Anedda reminds us that history is plural and that our perspectives, too, are constituted by pluralities—by events both present and past, both world-shaking and exquisitely mundane.
Reviewed in Poetry here: “In indexing natural and human laws—of light, proximity, time—Anedda’s observations are bifurcated by her ‘political mind,’ focused on the structural causes of death and dominion, and her ‘mathematical mind,’ which seeks to measure, project, and protect ‘the childish dream of a theorem, / a graft of the world slipped into a segment of root.’”
April 25 | Yale University Press
Into the World’s Great Heart: Selected Letters of Edna St. Vincent Millay
by Edna St. Vincent Millay, edited by Timothy F. Jackson
From the publisher: Throughout her life, Edna St. Vincent Millay wrote hundreds of letters, which together create a colorful tapestry of her inner life. This selection, based on archival research, represents Millay’s correspondence from 1900, when she was eight, until 1950, the last year of her life. Through her letters, readers encounter the vast range of Millay’s interests, including world literature, music, and horse racing, as well as her commitment to gender equality and social justice.
This collection, edited by Timothy F. Jackson, includes previously unpublished correspondence, as well as letters containing early versions of poems, revealing new dimensions in Millay’s creative process and influences. It is enriched by Jackson’s thoughtful introduction and notes, plus a foreword by Millay’s literary executor, Holly Peppe.
Millay’s observations on her inner life and the world around her—which speak to contemporary concerns as well—add to our understanding of American literature in the first half of the twentieth century.
The diaries (Rapture and Melancholy: The Diaries of Edna St. Vincent Millay, 2022) are coming out in paperback this week too.
What we’re reading:
Steve finished Rossetti's translation of The New Life and immediately started re-reading it. (Mostly he watches movies these days.)
Chris agrees. Reading is over. Sorry! [I’m thinking of starting Catherine Pickstock’s book about Derrida (After Writing: On the Liturgical Cosummation of Philosophy, 1999) this afternoon. —Chris]
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