WRB—Aug. 20, 2022
Are the Managing Editors in their podcasting era?
When modern devices fail, it is our nature to reach back to the WRB. If that fails, there was the WRB before it. We can reach back for centuries.
To do list:
Order a tote bag;
avail yourself of our world-famous classified ads, now stored on this page for non-paying readers to access, either by placing or responding to one;
Santi Ruiz has a great essay about Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall trilogy, which follows Thomas Cromwell through the 16th-century transformation of English society, and the insights of Marshall McLuhan: “McLuhan claims the medium of the last technological era is always transformed into the content of the following era’s medium. Chatter and gossip are the material conveyed in a completely new format by legal, written text. Cromwell is at first the wielder of this power, and gradually is captured and destroyed by it: he too has made offhand comments, and created enemies who can read them into a transcript as proof of ill intent towards the king.” [Kasia Boddy notes in the review linked below that McLuhan’s early work was published by Donald Barthelme. —Chris]
More Middlemarch! Martin Gelin has notes for Dirt about the BBC Middlemarch adaptation: “The biggest challenge in adapting Eliot is that it’s so hard to fit the novel’s omniscient narration into the screen version. But Davies makes up for that by using an impressive amount of the novel’s original dialogue. When the first screenplay was done, Davies, the director and actors spent four months adding their personal favorite scenes of dialogue from the novel to a revised screenplay that was half an hour longer than the original, a rarity for network television.”
Robert Rubsam recommends eight books about obsession for The Atlantic.
The Library of America put out it’s volume of Donald Barthelme last year (Collected Stories, 2021); it’s finally arrived in England for Kasia Boddy to review in the latest LRB. Worth the wait: “These parodic set-pieces—the New Yorker called them ‘casuals’—were Barthelme’s way in, but he soon began to submit more bizarre and challenging work: collages constructed from snippets of philosophy, pop culture, literary criticism and political theory, meditations on an extended conceit (a city of churches, say, or porcupines at the university), Q&As, fairy tales, even illustrated pieces. He was determined not to bore anyone, especially himself. Although many at the New Yorker were sceptical that readers could cope with his ‘bottomless et cetera’, Barthelme’s editor, Roger Angell, knew that what kept them coming back was the brilliant unexpectedness of the conceit or assemblage.” [This reminded me of John Wilson’s review of the collection for The American Conservative last summer, and his note about “the failure to recognize the extent to which he was a Catholic writer. He was raised Catholic and went to a Catholic high school until he was fed up with the place and left partway through for another school … He rejected the church, but his precocious intelligence and his lifelong sensibility were formed in that setting.” Certainly true, and something that deserves more attention. My notes on his friendship with Grace Paley are in the April 9 WRB. —Chris]
For Prospect, Ferdinand Mount reviews Dominic Lieven’s recent book about the strange lives of emperors (In the Shadow of the Gods: The Emperor in World History, June): “The effort to secure the restless border provinces and to reclaim the territory that ought to be part of the empire—all this becomes a nagging obsession. If Aurangzeb spent the last 25 years of his long life in tented cities trying to secure the Deccan, what about the struggle of his British successors to secure the Punjab and North-West Frontier? Throughout the 19th century, the menfolk of my grandmother’s family in India spent half their lives under canvas, returning to their bungalows and cantonments only when the campaigning season was over. The Great Game was not an invention of the British Raj—it was the game that all emperors played.”
In our most regionally focused sister publication, Taylor Dorrell reviews a book about…what to do about Michigan? (Infra Eco Logi Urbanism: A Project for the Great Lakes Megaregion, 2015): “While RVTR’s book might not possess such powers as to single-handedly bring about a new society, they have succeeded in analyzing the failures of our present and giving birth to the possibility of a new and viable Midwestern future.” [I really enjoyed Phil Christman’s Midwest Futures (2020) when I read it last year. “The Middle West is America aged just right. It’s America in that golden moment we all look toward, when you’ve finally gotten yourself together but have plenty of future left to look forward to. —Chris]
Related: for The New Republic, Rebecca Onion reviews a new biography of notorious dome guy Buckminister Fuller (Inventor of the Future: The Visionary Life of Buckminster Fuller, August): “In explaining the inevitability of ephemeralization, he seemed to assume that all humans wanted to float as free as he did, living in light domes, flying around the world, and learning and working using computers. He often exclaimed that man was born with legs, not roots, for a reason. In the twentieth century, these ideas seemed futuristic and appealing; now, when we have begun to live in a world defined by them, we have much more mixed reviews of their desirability.”
We linked to a review of Olga Ravn’s little science fiction novel (The Employees, February) back in April [I really enjoyed the book. —Chris]. We’re glad to see that John Crowley recently reviewed the book for Boston Review [They get books that far north? —Nic].
Online for Astra, Rosemarie Ho reviews a debut novel in translation from the Japanese (Diary of a Void, August), about a woman who pretends to be pregnant: “Every piece of literature contains within itself a working theory of the capacity for personal evolution, be it in the form of precepts about the immutability of human nature or the requisite historical or social conditions for change. What makes a piece of literature great is its ability to transcend those precepts and arrive at a clearer conception of society’s contours. Diary of a Void ultimately sticks with its premise until the bitter end, hewing so closely to Shibata’s isolation that it lacks insight into broader social life.”
Chris was on a podcast, but doesn’t really remember what he talked about, but does remember that it was a ton of fun.
The “popular blind dating show” UpDating is coming to D.C. next week. You can apply here. Or, you know, place a Classified ad.
Now that we’re staring down an approaching Labor Day weekend, Grubstreet reports that there was no drink of summer in 2022. [On August regrets, see the Poem. —Chris]
September 6 | Counterpoint
The Deceptions: A Novel
by Jill Bialosky
Ed Simon at The Millions: Plutarch claims that an ancient Greek fishermen, out for his day’s catch, heard a thundering proclamation delivered from the heavens – “The great god Pan is dead.” For early Christians it was taken as a sign of the obsolescence of the gods, that the oracles had fallen mute. Except those old gods never died, not really. In Jill Bialosky’s latest novel The Deceptions, her unnamed narrator discovers this only too well in her incantatory, hallucinogenic, and ecstatic perambulations through the white-marble halls of the Metropolitan Museums of Art’s Greek and Roman collections. A soon-to-be-published poet grappling with both the collapse of her marriage and the departure of her child, the narrator finds refuge in the echoing halls of the museum, the wells of Parnassus perhaps running unseen down Fifth Avenue. Poetry and inspiration, obsession and divinity, all come under Bialosky’s purview in her elegantly constructed fable of trying to create while everything else falls apart.
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