WRB—Feb. 11, 2023
I’m reading D.C. papers / Although I don’t know why
The source from which we should be able to derive the Managing Editors’ interpretation of books is none other than the newsletters in which, even when they seem not to bear any relation to the subject, they expose their own thought.
To do list:
order a tote bag or now a MUG;
avail yourself of our world-famous classified ads, either by placing or responding to one;
Daisy Dunn for Engelberg Ideas writes a little argument for Virginia Woolf’s somewhat-neglected dog book (Flush, 1933).
On the Verso blog,introduces the life and work of “Lucien Goldmann, the tearaway son of a Romanian Rabbi who would become one of the greatest Marxist sociologists of literature and culture”:
“No man ever believes with a true and saving faith unless God inclines his heart” runs an aphorism of Pascal’s: “and no man, when God does incline his heart, can refrain from believing.” In one of his final public lectures, Goldmann reflected on the uprising, unforeseen and unprepared, of young people in countries and continents spanning the globe. Left and right, states and parties, bureaucracies and institutions: none of them saw it coming. The reason, he thought, was simple: the powerful looked at the world, but they didn’t see it; they read but they couldn’t understand. They listened to newspapers and radio and the speeches of politicians. The young people, wherever they were, listened to the walls. Posters were going up, Goldmann said, on walls all around the world. They wouldn’t, he thought, be coming down.
[A lot of this reads like that hilarious cafe scene around the beginning of My Night at Maud’s where Jean-Louis and Vidal talk about math and Communism and Pascal. “The deeper meanings of these events will be whatever I choose to endow them with.” Cf. the subheading Life–style notes below. —Chris]
“‘Wallace Stevens Comes Back to Read His Poems at the 92nd Street Y,’ which The New Yorker purchased in 1994, is published for the first time in the magazine’s Anniversary Issue.”
For TLS, James Fenton reviews a forthcoming translation by Dan Veach of Spain’s national epic (Songs of The Cid:; The Epic Poem, the Romances, and the Carmen Campidoctori; February):
The almost-uniqueness of the poem’s survival is one of the most striking things about it. Veach, with an eye to assembling a useful kit for the student, has added a selection of the romances or ballads that overlap, using the same material. The effect is to remind us of the wealth that once existed: the feeling one gets from the extant fragments of the Old English poem “The Battle of Maldon”, or from—switching media—the Bayeux Tapestry. If this magnificence once existed, how much more can we imagine once existed as well? What we have in these three separate volumes are, first, texts in the original spelling; second, texts in modernized Spanish and, third, an English translation.
- : “British journalism is far richer, more varied, and more substantial today than it was 20 years ago. I think we’re living in a golden age of copy, and it’s only going to get better.”
People were unfair about that Ottessa Moshfegh thing. [If it had been trimmed a little on both sides, I don’t think anyone would have complained. —Nic]
“The Colonization of the American Landscape” [I’m reminded incidentally of Catherine Kuiper’s wonderful defense of America and her driving apparatus a few years ago in The Lamp: “Take Highway 16 in Wyoming from Sheridan to Lander, and you embark on a six-hour meditation on beauty’s power.” —Chris]
“an oversocialized, too mediated cage” “Only tradition can salvage love from modern indignities and the early-morning commute.” [“this spirituality re-insinuates the most remorseless protestantism . . . If you lead a normally unhappy life, you are predestined to eternal damnation, you will not live.” —Chris]
“Real life, life at last laid bare and illuminated—the only life in consequence which can be said to be really lived—is literature.”
Matters of taste [taking their talents to Substack edition]:
[Lots of people told me last night that they hadn’t gotten around to reading the new Guillory book (Professing Criticism: Essays on the Organization of Literary Study, December). Instead of linking to this NYT piece about “the declining cultural capital of literature in a wildly expanded media universe,” here’s a bunch of more interesting thoughts on the topic:
- : Literary world, where are you?: “How odd that the New York Times assumes its readers don’t read books…The virtuousness of reading is overblown in our culture, and most bestsellers are pretty trashy.”
Then: More snobs please: “the overwhelming fealty to poptimism and the concurrent indulgence in grievance culture”
A reader comments (on Twitter, locked): “criticism is ultimately democratic work: it’s secular evangelism. you invite people to look closely, to bring their attention somewhere new so that they can discover something. it only works by attraction: you have to convince people that it’s worth it to look deeper”
Finally,: “there is a good kind of criticism or even dunking on of other people’s things, but that to perform it would require some practice of attention.” [For more on paying attention, see the Poem.]
[OK, one more:: “core to poptimist discourse is the idea that the commercially dominant point of view is an oppressed discourse” —Chris] [And of course: : “But the world had become a tough place for literary critics. Young readers just look at the average star ratings on Goodreads and Amazon, and when all the criticism is an algorithmically weighted average, all the literature ends up being smooth and featureless and average too.” —Nic] [O.K. I forgot about this one: : “High culture is difficult, demanding, and often off-putting. It requires single-minded focus in a world where single-minded focus is, along with silence, the rarest of commodities.” —Chris]
TONIGHT: Krzysztof Urbański is conducting the NSO for The Rite of Spring.
On March 1, the Spring issue of the Hedgehog Review, “By Theory Possessed.”
Winter issue of Spike: “After Beauty.”
Lent 2023 issue of The Lamp. [Nic says this will be online soon. I have a fun little column in the back exploring the question of whether books are good or not. —Chris]
March issue of First Things.
On March 16: Autumn 2023 issue of Meanjin.
Winter 2023 issue of Granta: “Definitive Narratives of Escape.”
February 28 | Liveright
New Selected Stories
by Thomas Mann, translated by Damion Searls
From the publisher: A towering figure in the pantheon of twentieth-century literature, Thomas Mann has often been perceived as a dry and forbidding writer—“the starched collar,” as Bertolt Brecht once called him. But in fact, his fiction is lively, humane, sometimes hilarious. In these fresh renderings of his best short work, award-winning translator Damion Searls casts new light on this underappreciated aspect of Mann’s genius.
The headliner of this volume, “Chaotic World and Childhood Sorrow” (in its first new translation since 1936)—a subtle masterpiece that reveals the profound emotional significance of everyday life—is Mann’s tender but sharp-eyed portrait of the “Bigs” and “Littles” of the bourgeois Cornelius family as they adjust to straitened circumstances in hyperinflationary Weimar Germany. Here, too, is a free-standing excerpt from Mann’s first novel, Buddenbrooks—a sensation when it was first published. “Death in Venice” (also included in this volume) is Mann’s most famous story, but less well known is that he intended it to be a diptych with another, comic story—included here as “Confessions of a Con Artist, by Felix Krull.” “Louisey”—a tale of sexual humiliation that gives a first glimpse of Mann’s lifelong ambivalence about the power of art—rounds out this revelatory, transformative collection.
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