WRB—Feb. 15, 2023
So is it true love, or...
[On Radiopaper, which is a new platform I don’t really understand but think looks neat (visually and conceptually), David Schaengold asked me to address the question: Is the WRB good, or is it rather not? I tried to give a compelling response. —Chris]
[Since it’s becoming a bigger and bigger preoccupation, I’m going to sock away any notes on criticism down below the What we’re reading section so N.B. doesn’t get clogged up with whatever little points I want to make (see Critical notes below) aboutThe New Criterion. This will hopefully return N.B. to its original purpose of being for little stuff that amuses us. I’m also giving Local its own subhead. —Chris]
[We just about have a Supplement for every Monday of the month now. I’ve split each into its own section, so you can subscribe to and unsubscribe from each according to your pleasure, at the “manage my subscription” dropdown. You’ll figure it out. —Chris]
“So is it true love or a ‘project’?” Cathy Young for the Bulwark on a rather French novel: “Les Liaisons Dangereuses offers an unflinching, timelessly incisive look at the sexual battlefield and its vagaries of love, hate, desire, and deceit—as well as an irresistible opportunity to get inside the heads of two depraved but dazzling protagonists.”
Stephen Marche on “One of the Most Influential Essays of the 21st Century”: “We are still trying to decide how nasty to be, or how nice, on whose terms and by what methods and under what justifications. We are still trying to figure out what nastiness and niceness mean, what their ultimate effects are, who benefits, who loses.”
“While Byron features often, there is no Shelley, no Keats, confirming their limited circulation among general readers in the decades after they died. On the other hand, ephemeral poems by ‘L.E.L.’ occur disproportionately, indicating her popularity.” A note on William St Clair’s collection of commonplace books and what they tell about literary culture, by Lucasta Miller for TLS. [“The early poetry, like the soupy epic Endymion, expels an unfortunate phrase every couple of lines: ‘well-wooing sun,’ ‘night-swollen mushrooms,’ ‘fire- tailed exhalations,’ and so on. This kind of writing disgusted contemporary reviewers, who called it ‘puerile’ and ‘effeminate,’ ‘unhealthy’ and ‘unclean’; ‘In Wordsworth,’ one sniffed, ‘there is no such unhealthy lusciousness.’” (from Keats’s Odes: A Lover’s Discourse) —Chris]
“I wish he’d been here to see the Chinese spy balloon.” Ann Beattie on Don B.: “One of the many delights of reading Barthelme is his flexibility, his ease with words and concepts that clash, his ability to paint the perfect still life, in effect by intruding an unexpected, sometimes rude detail whose inclusion makes you see through the pretense.” [Yes! —Chris]
@Henry Oliver recommends Dana Gioia’s new book of poems: “This sort of writing has the light and dark, the careful touch, and the joyous immersive observation of a writer like Seamus Heaney. When he stretches out like this, Gioia sounds more like Robert Frost. But always, always, he is a poet of the West Coast.”
In City Journal, Alberto Mingardi reviews a new translation of Manzoni’s The Betrothed: “Umberto Eco used to say that the best way to make Italians appreciate I promessi sposi would be to make it illegal, so that people could rediscover reading it as a guilty pleasure. For some of us, reading The Betrothed now becomes the ultimate pleasure, many years after we suffered through it in high school. If a novel ought to be ‘the one bright book of life,’ Manzoni’s certainly is.”
[Reading this just made me think about Saint Sebastian’s Abyss: “Where does the modern locate ‘value’ in the sense of ‘meaning’? How does an artistic heritage rooted in symbolic tradition respond to a disenchanted world? Clark’s Cézanne does so with a violent dialectic which, we’ll see, holds in productive tension the illusory and the material.” Okay. I’d rather just reread the Merleau-Ponty essay. —Chris]
You should read the Eagleton review of Brooks’ story book in LRB. [I’m not going to quote it. Just click the link.]
Pablo Neruda poisoned?
N.B. on NB (from):
NB, short for the Latin imperative nota bene, was a cool, spiky miscellany of literary observations and curiosities. International in scope but unmistakably written from London (if not so obviously penned by a Scot), NB kept an eye on little magazines from all over, literary prizes and festivals, literary feuds, literary ethics, eccentric anthologies, questions of English usage, and the history of the TLS itself. NB came to the end a few years ago, when J.C. found himself among several editors downsized by News Corp., owner of the paper since 1981. Now Campbell is publishing a collection, NB by J.C.: A Walk Through the Times Literary Supplement, this spring with Paul Dry Books.
“Up to 75 percent of books published before 1964 may now be in the public domain, according to researchers at the New York Public Library.” [This is big news for WRB Classics!]
Negative capability. [Another perspective: “any serious appreciation of Keats’s poetry begins with the section on ‘Private Property and Communism’ from Karl Marx’s Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844” (Anahid Nersessian, Keats’s Odes: A Lover’s Discourse, 2021). —Chris]
After a train derailment, Ohio residents are living the plot of a movie they helped make [It’s a more dour story than in the book. —Nic]
A new play, performed at and by the Catholic University in Brookland: Rejoicing in Broken Pieces, February 23–26.
Performance tonight: [I have no capacity to evaluate the quality of this, but why not check it out? Here’s the ad copy: —Chris] Following a “subtly nuanced” Kennedy Center debut in 2018, the Calidore String Quartet returns with a program featuring works by Beethoven, George Walker, Leoš Janáček, and a new Kennedy Center commission by Grammy®–nominated composer Anna Clyne.
February 28 | Columbia University Press
by L. Gibson
From the publisher: Few writers rankle like Jonathan Franzen. Despite popular acclaim, robust sales, and august literary laurels, Franzen’s polarizing persona shares the spotlight with—and sometimes steals it from—his tragicomic novels of Midwestern family life.
In this reconsideration of Freedom (2010), L. Gibson explores the difficulty of coming to terms with Jonathan Franzen. Freedom Reread considers the author’s distinctive narrative technique in light of the contradictions for which he is renowned: widely read curmudgeon, tweeted-about luddite, self-proclaimed partisan of fiction who frequently announces the novel’s death. Bookended by autofictional forays into the process of—and resistance to—taking a definite stance on Franzen, this book places Freedom in conversation with a playful, idiosyncratic array of interlocutors, including Middlemarch and You’ve Got Mail, Amitav Ghosh on climate change and Susan Sontag on metaphor, speculative fiction and Succession.
Avowedly ambivalent about Franzen, Gibson offers both a fresh appreciation of the author’s work and a searching critical analysis of his pronouncements on the novel’s fate. Wide-ranging and stylistically ambitious, Freedom Reread delivers an assured, artful inquiry into Franzen’s novelistic technique and public persona.
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial