WRB—Dec. 3, 2022
The only lost time we’re familiar with is how long it takes to write this newsletter
He remembers those vanished years. As though looking through a dusty window pane, the past is something he could see, but not touch. And everything he sees is the WRB.
To do list:
Follow us on Twitter, or Instagram, where Grace, from our recent Children’s Literature Supplement [Issues of which are archived here for ease of access.], has promised to actually post things;
Order a tote bag or now a MUG [Holiday shipping deadlines, according to the service we use, are around December 12th, in case that’s a concern for you.];
If you would like a set of Finite Jest volumes, now in both hardcover and significantly less expensive paperback [Maybe for Christmas?], use this form;
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;
and, now for a greatly (40% or so) reduced price for a yearly subscription through the end of the year,
For The Baffler, Lucy Ives considers the discrete [Sic.] charms of novels that are kind of weird and bad:
The “weak novel” has been with us for a long time. The weak novel is ubiquitous. Indeed, it is possible that no novel exists without its allegedly weak(er) cousins and that no novel is without its own moments of weakness. In this reading, weakness is not a bad thing. Rather, weakness, specifically literary weakness, is enlivening, challenging, and generally has the effect of compelling the reader to move, as we say, outside their comfort zone. Weak novels cause us to attend to fiction as strategy rather than as entertainment. Tristram Shandy is a weak novel. It is a novel that only weakly consents to participate in the conventions of genre, that is always about to—and sometimes does—fail to be a novel at all. This is, I want to show, an important quality for a literary work to have—the quality of weak identification, or even total disidentification, with its own type or genre. This effort, rather than being destined for failure, is in fact fundamental for the flourishing of the novel form.
Elif Batuman in an interview with Maria Dimitrova for The Paris Review this week talked about having “a kind of crisis of faith in the novel.”
And in the LRB, reviewing John Guillory’s forthcoming essays (Professing Criticism, January), Stefan Collini writes about the rise of English literature as an academic field.
For Frieze, Mitch Speed with a “flaws-and-all reappraisal of the late New York art critic” Peter Schjeldahl: “To understand Peter’s purpleness it helps to dwell on the camp dimension of his writing, and his affection for the ‘burlesque’. This word, which he used repeatedly as a compliment in his later writing, describes reverential caricature: a relationship between artist and influence defined by a charged combination of intense sympathy and knowing distance.”
On Wednesday we mentioned the forthcoming final volume in the new Penguin edition of In Search of Lost Time. Rebecca Ariel Porte reviews Ian Patteson’s translation of Le Temps retrouvé (Finding Time Again, January) in the new issue of Bookforum:
The writer Anatole France called Proust “a depraved Bernardin de Saint-Pierre and an innocent Petronius” (Pétrone ingénu) in his generous preface to some of Proust’s early work, a set of sketches that gives little hint of what was to come in the magisterial, four-thousand-page—give or take—sweep of In Search of Lost Time (À la recherche du temps perdu), a fictional reconstruction of a life and a world that moves from the idyll of Belle Époque France to the aftermath of World War I, touching on the Dreyfus affair, anti-Semitism, and French nationalism; winding through the salons and bedrooms of Parisian high society; and exploring arcane permutations of anxiety, jealousy, aggression, attachment, solipsism, possessiveness, loneliness, boredom, coercion, luxury, art, love, class, time, memory, madeleines with lime-blossom tisanes, and queer desire. By comparing Proust to Bernardin (a Rousseauian novelist of the Enlightenment) and Petronius (a decadent writer from an age of decadence), Anatole France meant that Proust inverted Bernardin’s preoccupation with the “civilized” corruption of humanity’s “natural” innocence—in Proust, it is nature that corrupts art—and converted Petronius’s wonderfully gross sensualism into an aesthetic vocation. This ambitious program reaches its highest pitch in Finding Time Again (Le Temps retrouvé), the final volume of the Recherche, which Proust, dead by 1922, would not live to polish with his usual obsessiveness, or to see published in 1927.
Hannah Walhout writes about cooking through Shirley King’s Proust-themed cookbook (Dining with Marcel Proust: A Practical Guide to French Cuisine of the Belle Epoque, 2006) online for Electric Literature:
The Proust scholar James P. Gilroy has described this author’s tendency toward “gastronomical synesthesia”—sensations blend together and gastronomy comes in when other words fail, evoking feelings that sometimes don’t quite make sense, but also, deeply, do. In one of my favorite passages, Marcel recalls walking in Combray in winter, watching the sun set with “a fiery glow which, accompanied often by a cold that burned and stung, would associate itself in my mind with the glow of the fire over which, at that very moment, was roasting the chicken that was to furnish me, in place of the poetic pleasure I had found in my walk, with the sensual pleasures of good feeding, warmth and rest.” The sunset is not so separate from the fire is not so separate from the chicken is not so separate from home, and Combray would not be Combray without any of it.
For The New Republic, Evan Kindley reviews Lyndall Gordon’s recent contribution to the T.S. Eliot publishing-industrial complex (The Hyacinth Girl: T.S. Eliot’s Hidden Muse, November):
The Waste Land was the product of the miserable but artistically fertile “hatred of life” he shared with Vivienne, she posits. After 1923, however, Eliot’s work becomes less pessimistic and more concerned with the possibility of transcendence and renewal, values embodied in an idealized female figure inspired by Hale. “It came to him that an alternative to marital hell could be heavenly perfection as the measure for all things,” Gordon writes, and argues that, in reaching out to Hale, Eliot was deliberately emulating Dante’s unconsummated love for Beatrice in La Vita Nuova.
The new issue of Fare Forward, focused on film, is online. And BFI has updated its list of “The Greatest Films of All Time.”
Engelsberg Ideas is hiring a senior editor and an editorial intern.
[A reader told me last night that he’s very excited for the Georgetown Public Library book sale this weekend, so, here’s a reminder. —Chris]: The Georgetown Library is holding its annual “huge used book sale” this weekend.
January 10 | FSG
Still Pictures: On Photography and Memory
by Janet Malcolm
From the publisher: For decades, Janet Malcolm’s books and dispatches for The New Yorker and The New York Review of Books poked and prodded at reportorial and biographical convention, gesturing toward the artifice that underpins both public and private selves. In Still Pictures, she turns her gimlet eye on her own life—a task demanding a writer just as peerlessly skillful as she was widely known to be.
Still Pictures, then, is not the story of a life but an event on its own terms, an encounter with identity and family photographs as poignant and original as anything since Roland Barthes’s Camera Lucida. Malcolm looks beyond the content of the image and the easy seductions of self-recognition, constructing a memoir from memories that pose questions of their own.
Still Pictures begins with the image of a morose young girl on a train, leaving Prague for New York at the age of five in 1939. From her fitful early loves, to evenings at the old Metropolitan Opera House, to her fascination with what it might mean to be a “bad girl,” Malcolm assembles a composite portrait of a New York childhood, one that never escapes the tug of Europe and the mysteries of fate and family. Later, Still Pictures delves into her marriage to Gardner Botsford, the world of William Shawn’s New Yorker, and the libel trial that led Malcolm to become a character in her own drama.
Displaying the sharp wit and astute commentary that are Malcolmian trademarks, this brief volume develops into a memoir like few others in our literature.
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