WRB—July 8, 2023
“The countless, grueling hours”
Why do we blame a “decadent society” for the decline of literary criticism but we never question if literary critics have bad vibes? Or if they’re just unpleasant to be around?
Marisa Libbon on the wind of the North Sea reflected in art and technology in the European Review of Books and now out from the paywall [I finally got the latest issue last weekend from the one shop I always go to in New York that imports it. —Chris]:
Two human burials: one Roman, the other medieval, with remains surrounded by a dry moat. Coins, combs, brooches, knives and nails; salt-making sites, medieval and slightly later; Bronze Age pottery, from a village called Holton-le-Clay; Old English settlements, and older ones too; bone pins and spindle whorls. These are some of the approximately 28,000 artifacts that archaeologists excavated between 2015 and 2018 from the forty-kilometer stretch of land running parallel to the coastline. The involvement of archaeologists in the building of offshore wind-farms is not an aberration: renewable energy projects are a major business sector for Wessex Archaeology, the company Ørsted hired for Hornsea One.
Thalia Williamson on shortened attention spans and the Extremely Long Paragraph (ELP) [Her acronym. “Welcome back, my friends, to the show that never ends.” —Steve] in the LARB:
If a reader, therefore, wants to succeed—and hopefully enjoy—a book that has no or very few paragraph breaks, they’re incentivized to read it in sizable chunks. Regular breaks present an obstacle to reading, since they could trap a reader in a cycle of backtracking and rereading in order to get up to speed. Moreover, if the reader wants to engage with complete ideas, they have a strong incentive to keep on reading, since it is hard to be sure—unless the author, again, makes it explicit in the content—when an idea, event, or description is complete. I won’t go so far as to say that this is the only way to read the ELP; for some readers, it may be necessary to find alternative strategies. Still, the assumption that this method represents a common approach to reading the ELP is far stronger than the assumption that the modes of attention required for this approach are, owing to technology, no longer possible. The ELP, at a minimum, demands that we put technology aside, at least enough to avoid getting lost. At best, it offers an opportunity for a reader to do exactly what the critics of twenty-first–century reading capacities say we can no longer do: leave distractions aside and commit to the text. This is one—although certainly not all—of the reasons I keep coming back to the text: first, because I know I have to turn my devices off if I’m to have any hope of enjoyment, and second, because the nature of the paragraph, through the mechanisms described above, locks me in.
Ed Luker on the book as self-improvement in Tank:
Truly great novelists like Gary Indiana can strike a resonant truth into our hearts: what if what’s good for me isn’t what’s good for you, or is even what hurts you? What if knowledge of the most inhumane acts of violence was not edifying in the slightest, but deeply melancholic and barely sufferable? The violence wielded by the Slotes is reframed by the state violence experienced by Norma. The weight of human history and experience is so intolerable that our memory is punctured by distortions and repression. The novel is one of few art forms that can hold heterogeneous materials in place without needing to make them all fit together.
James K. A. Smith interviews Christopher Beha in Image:
I try not to think in generalizations, including ones about novelists and their responsibilities. I’ve lived almost my entire life in New York. I’ve worked for close to twenty years in the New York media and literary world, and I have a lot of friends doing various cultural work in New York. When I sit down to write about situations, that’s what’s there to me; that world is the given. In Index, I did not set out to write a satire of the New York media world. There’s nothing wrong with doing that, but it wasn’t my goal.
Calvin B. DeWitt on John Muir’s relationship to the text of the Bible in Plough:
But the book of creation and providence is not only a book for reading or beholding. It also is a book for listening, for it is speaking, even proclaiming, Muir insists. “We seem to imagine that since Herod beheaded John the Baptist, there is no longer any voice crying in the wilderness,” he writes. “But no one in the wilderness can possibly make such a mistake, for every one of these flowers is such a voice. No wilderness in the world is so desolate as to be without divine ministers. God’s love covers all the earth as the sky covers it, and also fills it in every pore. And this love has voices heard by all who have ears to hear.” Like John the Baptist announcing the coming of the Lord, the mountains echo angelic strains in joyful praise: Gloria in excelsis Deo! So also does John Muir of the mountains hear heaven and nature sing—above, around, and o’er the plains—and he exuberantly echoes its sounding joy.
Jordan Telcher on the decline of the sports book (and other print writing about sports) in Esquire:
The recent documentary boom has fueled a lot of formulaic sports projects, as production companies and streamers race to churn out more movies, sometimes in just a few months. That approach clashes with the long runway that writers like Herring and Lewis need to interview hundreds of people and shape their books. Deol described documentaries as “landmines to navigate,” because there’s always a chance that a movie with the same thesis might premiere before an author finishes their book.
[I am once again asking for the book that will reveal to all the truth: only college football fans really understand the United States of America. —Steve]
“In the Romantic tradition,” Hatlen comments, once we arrive at subjectivity we generally stay there, so the sudden deflection away from overt subjectivity is startling, and marks this poem as distinctly ‘modern.’” Readers of the twenty-first century, regardless of whether or not they are well-acquainted with Imagism, are free to access H.D.’s poetry and formulate their own opinions. In that sense, the countless, grueling hours that H.D. spent in the Reading Room refining her craft and making history will not have gone to waste.
Jack Hanson reviews a collection of essays by Mario Vargas Llosa detailing why he left the Left (The Call of The Tribe, January, trans. John King) in The Nation:
So why disillusionment? It’s a narrative mode with obvious religious connotations; it is a story about the revelation of the true religion, the smashing of false idols and the embrace of pure faith, at which point “religion,” as such, becomes the enemy, or at least a danger to be wary of. This same structure played out in colonial encounters—colonists described natives first as having no religion and then, once European Christianity gave way to secular humanism, as being slaves to it. So it is perfectly consistent to point to Marxism or leftist politics generally, as Vargas Llosa does (drawing especially on Popper and Raymond Aron), as primitive, tribal, religious. “Religion,” in this tradition, is what other people do.
[It’s only “religion” if it comes from the religio region of Italy, where Romans first bound themselves by oath to the infernal gods. Otherwise it’s just a sparkling set of metaphysical commitments. —Chris]
Johnson reads recipes as closely as she would any other text, including the Odyssey, versions of which she is poring over for her Ph.D. Her chapter “consider the sausage!” (a play on M.F.K. Fisher’s 1941 book Consider the Oyster) is a clever critique of psychoanalyst D.W. Winnicott’s dismissive treatment of those who follow recipes. In a 1970 essay, Winnicott derided the use of recipes as “slavish,” the antithesis of living creatively. His case study was Mrs. Beeton’s method for cooking sausages from her 1861 Book of Household Management, perhaps because it is so straightforward. (Johnson refers to her as the “mother of all recipe writers” and sees in Winnicott’s choice an attempt to undermine her long-established authority.)
Anahid Nersessian reviews two new translations of poems by Antonella Anedda (Historiae, trans. Susan Stewart and Patrizio Ceccagnoli, April) and Stéphane Bouquet (Common Life, trans. Lindsay Turner, February) in the NYRB:
The keyword of Historiae is suffering, or, as Anedda says, male, dolore, pena. These words have different connotations, and Ceccagnoli and Stewart are bold to translate them all as “pain,” a choice that might have flattened the book’s descriptive textures and thus its ethical complexity. In this case the effect is productive, highlighting the economy of Anedda’s language and making sure that those who read only the English translations won’t neglect her preoccupations. More importantly, the reduction of pain’s varieties to a monosyllable captures its stupefying surplus, the certainty that every day, like every century, will only offer more of the same.
Cormac McCarthy as a freelance copy editor. [He was truly just like us. —Chris]
Christmas Tree Shops is expected to liquidate its stores.
Roman graffiti. [All of this stuff would be in the twentieth percentile of tweets, at best. —Steve] [It’s a book about Roman paintings. It will help you. —Chris]
“When Domenic Broccoli set out to expand his IHOP empire upstate, he didn’t expect to find a grave site—or start a war.”
[New England once again winning on the drinks front, this time with seltzer. —Steve]
New issue of Liberties. [In a wonderful green! —Chris]
New issue of The Point coming soon, with a symposium on beauty.
New issue of Image. [A gilded “soul boat” on the cover. —Steve]
A new design for driver’s licenses coming to the District.
Jennifer Ackerman will be speaking about her new book (What an Owl Knows: The New Science of the World's Most Enigmatic Birds, June) at Politics and Prose Monday at 7pm. The event is free, and seating is first come, first served.
Simon Worrall review in The Guardian: “One of the most fascinating chapters is on the cultural significance of owls, from their first representation in France’s Chauvet cave to ancient Indian folklore, where they feature as symbols of wisdom. But in many cultures, they are considered bad omens: in Zambia, the appearance of an owl on your roof presages bad news or death.”
The Smithsonian is putting on an all day lecture/seminar on Virginia Woolf by Joseph Luzzi Saturday the 15th from 10am to 3pm. Tickets $80 for members, $90 for non-members.
The Shakespeare Theatre Company annual rotating repertory goes until the 22nd. Tickets are only $15.
July 15 | Rowman and Littlefield
Running Up That Hill: 50 Visions of Kate Bush
by Tom Doyle
From the publisher: Kate Bush: the subject of murmured legend and one of the most distinctive musicians of the modern era. Running Up That Hill: 50 Visions of Kate Bush is a multi-faceted biography of this famously elusive figure, viewing her life and work from fresh and illuminating angles. Featuring details from the author’s one-on-one conversations with Kate—as well as vignettes of her key songs, albums, videos, and concerts—this artful, candid, and often brutally funny portrait introduces a refreshingly real Kate Bush. Tom Doyle also intertwines vivid reconstructions of transformative moments in her career and insights from the friends and collaborators closest to her, including her photographer brother John Carder Bush and fellow artists David Gilmour, John Lydon, and Youth.
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