WRB—August 2, 2023
His attitude to keeping up with books was something he was perpetually striving to keep from turning into a mania. He had conquered it as far as emails went, because although he still saved all his issues of the Washington Review of Books, he had disciplined himself to read them in batches, working backward from the most recent issue so that tributary pieces in earlier issues could be skipped. This was an old intention of his that had been honored more in the breach before my arrival.
[We don’t endorse, officially, any “one way” of reading the WRB—but if you’re behind, it’s never too late to get back on the horse. —Chris]
In today’s edition:
(working backwards from the bottom):
Julia on mythopoesis and Robert Bly . . . critical notes on publications . . . calligraphy . . . UFOs . . . psalms . . . a bit Chris ripped out of Mating . . .
In New York, Danielle Carr on the triumph of Bessel van der Kolk’s theory of trauma:
In this sense, van der Kolk’s ascent has landed him squarely back in the problem that defined his position in the memory wars: If he were to disavow the excesses of how his work is being popularized in order to preserve its scientific bona fides, it would mean taming its viral uptake. Still, during the retreat in the Berkshires, it wasn’t always clear how van der Kolk’s neurobiological model connects to some of the interventions he champions. Take psychodrama, a treatment in his arsenal that literally restages scenes of family trauma. Groups of patients role-play family members, while the patient stands up for themself in the way they wished they could have done at the time. The justification for psychodrama is the idea that restaging the trauma is a somatic treatment, as opposed to talk therapy. But for all of van der Kolk’s genuinely innovative neurobiological work, does it really follow that defending yourself against someone pretending to be your parent is any more “biologically based” than talk therapy? The core mechanism of talk therapy, after all, is learning to notice when you are reacting to the therapist as if they were your parent. This too is a process that changes the brain.
[“What are you, in / Love with your problems?” —Chris]
In The Dial, Simen Sætre (trans. Siân Mackie) on the appearances of salmon farmers in Norwegian novels:
Rikard is a character in Carl Frode Tiller’s book Encirclement 3 (Aschehoug, 2014). His father, Kåre, has inherited an aquaculture facility on the coast of central Norway, and despite his frugal lifestyle is known as the “salmon king.” Rikard grows up with money and develops different values than his father. He becomes an “aggressive and arrogant ironist,” inspired by the business school environment. He slicks his hair back, reads the business papers, and lives out a yuppie ideal. Eventually, he also becomes a central figure in the capital’s financial sector. His confidence (and money) makes him popular with women. His brother, a more sober sort, describes him as follows: “In his own eyes, he was king and master of the world, and he behaved as if everyone else existed to serve his needs.” After Rikard takes over the company, an unfortunate incident occurs in which he sells eggs and fry infected with a deadly virus to a Latin American country. He then shirks responsibility and downplays the matter. A conflict between Rikard and Kåre lurks beneath the surface. “Have you no shame?” Kåre asks. He is concerned about pollution and environmental destruction, but Rikard dismisses him. “We create jobs. Economic prosperity, growth.”
Borges, however, extracts a new and what may ultimately be called a modern dimension from the compositions. In 1947 he published a short story, “The Immortal,” which evokes an ominous setting. The Palace of the Immortals in Borges’ tale is a terrifying place, built by and for human beings doomed to live forever. After entering the palace, traversing its caverns, descending a ladder, and making his way “through a chaos of squalid galleries” the protagonist concludes: “I am not certain how many galleries there were; my misery and anxiety multiplied them.” The emotional basis underpinning and generating such a structure derives from Piranesi, mediated through De Quincey, as the architect and writer Cristina Grau points out in her book on Borges and architecture. Borges, however, adds a dimension that is crucial in the history of Piranesi in the modern age, and that Grau never addresses: In Borges’ interpretation, Piranesi’s labyrinths of stairs and passages indicate not only a space but also a time prolonged with no end in sight. An architecture unfolding according to no coherent plan corresponds to a life that simply goes on and consequently has lost all meaning. To the infinite spatial sequence, which the “Carceri” seemed to codify, Borges adds an infinite temporal one.
In Tablet, A.J. Berkovitz on the psalms in Jewish liturgy:
The earliest Christians seldom used Psalms for organized religious worship. But by the fourth century, psalmody became synonymous with liturgy. Monasticism, which emerged during those years, encouraged its adherents to read the entire book every day. And other Christians encountered a rotating set of Psalms during both their morning and evening liturgies. If we may believe Jerome (circa 342–420), that father of the early Church who lived in Bethlehem and occasionally conversed with rabbis, the Palestinian countryside reverberated with the sounds of Psalms: “All the rustic villages are silent except for psalmody. Wherever you turn, the cultivator holding a plow handle sings Hallelujah, the sweating reaper distracts himself with Psalms, and the vineyard worker trimming grapes with a pruning knife chants something from David.”