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WRB—June 18, 2022
Failures, Detectives, a long digression on Ezra Pound
You are not the kind of guy who would be reading a newsletter like this at this time of the morning. [It’s Nine A.M. Do You Know Where You Are?]
To do list:
order a tote bag;
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,
David Mikics writes for Tablet about great American writers and their obsession with failure: “American authors of the early 20th century speculated in failure the way the tycoons of their day bet on stocks. Theodore Dreiser, Willa Cather, Wallace Stevens, Ernest Hemingway, T.S. Eliot, William Faulkner, Robert Frost—these writers find illumination within pessimism, and so they are permanent members of the American canon.”
[I didn’t have time to read this one, but I found the subhead interesting enough to share: “How our toothy modern smile was invented by a confluence of French dentistry and Parisian portrait-painting in the 1780s.” —Chris]
Atlas Obscura has a neat little gallery of some of the world’s oldest cookbooks.
For Public Discourse, Ralph Wood writes about the moralizing detective fiction of P.D. James: “We are drawn to detective fiction because it ensures a sense of personal justice. Even when social evils cannot be conquered, individual crimes can be both detected and requited.” And in the Wall Street Journal, it turns out that Agatha Christie is having a moment.
At UnHerd Mary Gaitskill has an essay (with embedded audio of her reading in illustration) about contemporary reading and writing habits: “Strangely, writers themselves sometimes don’t know what this inner force is in their own work because it is so entwined with our own way of seeing, we barely notice it, any more than we notice our own breath.”
For Plough, Joy Clarkson reviews Emily St. John Mandel’s new Sea of Tranquility: “Yet for a novel that is ostensibly about time travel, pandemics, colonialism, and whether reality is a simulation, the book feels modest, humane, attuned to the particular.”
For TLS, Krishan Kumar reviews a recent book about emperors and world history.
Chris Barsanti reviews the new Penguin Classics Marvel Collection at The Millions: “By teaming with Marvel, Penguin Classics challenges traditional notions of prestige by elevating a collection of work that is crucial to understanding American popular culture as it transitioned from postwar certainties to a time of greyer ambiguities and unresolved conflicts.”
Nevin Martell pans a new history of Italian-American food for our independent cousin: “Red Sauce is a slog, like trying to finish a Never-Ending Pasta Bowl at Olive Garden. It seems like a great idea at the start but soon becomes a pleasure-less chore.” For a positive review of a book about Italian food, check out a WRB reader’s review of Stanley Tucci’s new book from a few months back. And for a negative review of Italians, Ryu Spaeth writes for Gawker with a nice appreciation of D.H. Lawrence’s The Sea and Sardinia: “He brims with English condescension toward the undifferentiated Sicilian masses—‘the most stupid people on earth,’ he says—yet is wounded to the core that they cannot discern the unique individual that lies behind his outward Englishness. ‘I am not the British Isles on two legs,’ he sniffs.”
For Interview Magazine, Lauren Oyler talks with Sloane Crosley about her new novel, Cult Classic.
One of the Managing Editors briefly considered moving into the Watergate, but after seeing how much the door locks cost, he’s not sure he could have afforded it long term.
We couldn’t help feel left out of Publisher’s Weekly’s recent spotlight on publishing in Washington, D.C.
Through tomorrow, NYRB is having a flash sale on their children’s literature offerings, with their typical discount structure.
We hope, however, that the same fate won’t befall James Kirchick’s book talk at P&P on Monday, especially since he’s being interviewed by the great Thomas Mallon.
Bowser as next ‘mayor for life’? She’ll need support of the lukewarm, too. [The only way she takes that title from Barry is if she brings football back to the city. –Nic]
July 12 | Yale University Press
A Cotton Mather Reader
edited by Reiner Smolinski and Kenneth P. Minkema
From the publisher: Cotton Mather (1663–1728) has a wide presence in American culture, and longtime scholarly interest in him is increasing as more of his previously unpublished writings are made available. This reader serves as an introduction to the man and to his huge body of published and unpublished works.
What we’re reading:
Chris is going to spend all weekend reading Ulysses.
He read a few stories from You Think That’s Bad, as he’s been threatening to for months. He did not think they were bad. [I tried giving away a copy of this last week and no one wanted it. Your loss! —Chris] As an educational exercise, he has been looking up favorite Donald Barthelme stories and reading them in the scans in the The New Yorker archives. Yesterday, he noticed a very curious discrepancy between the version of the story “A Shower of Gold” collected in Sixty Stories (1981) and the original printed in the December 28, 1963 issue of The New Yorker. The entire scene where the protagonist is preoccupied by thoughts of “the President” was originally about Charles de Gaul. He doesn’t know what that’s supposed to mean.
Nic is going to be doing the same re: Ulysses. His wife picked up Invisible Cities on Friday night, which reminded him that it’s time for a reread. [Always time for that. —Chris]
June 20, 2022 SHOUTS & MURMURS Review:
“Disappointing Near-Death Experiences” by Jay Martel
This one really works!
“The Jewel Stairs’ Grievance” translated by Ezra Pound
The jewelled steps are already quite white with dew,
It is so late that the dew soaks my gauze stockings,
And I let down the crystal curtain
And watch the moon through the clear autumn.
Note.—Jewel stairs, therefore a palace. Grievance, therefore there is something to complain of. Gauze stockings, therefore a court lady, not a servant who complains. Clear autumn, therefore he has no excuse on account of weather. Also she has come early, for the dew has not merely whitened the stairs, but has soaked her stockings. The poem is especially prized because she utters no direct reproach.
[Pound published this translation in Cathay (1915), distributed as a two-shilling pamphlet in London and recently published in a critical edition for quite a bit more. I found it in the early New Directions self-selected volume Personae.
The title page of Cathay reads “for the most part from the Chinese of Rihaku, from the notes of the late Ernest Fenollosa, and the deciphering of the professors Mori and Ariga.” Kainan Mori and Nagao Ariga, respectively, were the professor and translator of the American art historian Fenollosa as he studied Chinese poetry in Japan, in flight from Boston after a scandalous divorce, in the first years of the 20th century. William Logan: “The notebooks of Chinese glosses and paraphrases lying among Fenollosa’s manuscripts helped change English poetry. Without them, Pound might not have pursued the new style that made free verse, rather than some idiot grandchild of Martin Farquhar Tupper and Walt Whitman, a change of sensibility that used modern language for a modern world.”
Pound came into the journals by gift from Fenollosa’s second wife, who he met “under the roof of Sarajini Naidu, a Hindu nationlist poet” (Hugh Kenner, The Pound Era, pg. 197). “That Li Po should reach Kensington by way of Tokyo, through the intercession of a Harvard-educated enthusiast of Spanish descent, was but a global recapitulation of the steps by which the Arabs transmitted Aristotle to 12th-century Paris, or Francesco da Bologna was set to work cutting Greek dies for Aldus’ printing house as a consequence of the fall of Constantinople” (222).
The most well-known poem from this collection is the one preceding, the commonly anthologized “The River-Merchant’s Wife: A Letter,” but “The Jewel Stairs’ Grievance” is the only one to which Pound appended a note such as you see above. The name of this quatrain is sometimes translated as “Jade Staircase Complaint” or “Jade Step Plaint” or any variation thereon.
Yu-Kung Kao and Tsu-Lin Mei describe the action of the lines: “A lady stands on the steps. After a while, she feels her stockings getting wet, goes inside, lets down the crystal curtain, and gazes at the moon” (“Meaning, Metaphor, and Allusion” 318). Who couldn’t relate?
“Rihaku” is more commonly known in English as Li Bo or Li Po. Pound preferred the Japanese version for essentially affected reasons (Kenner 222).
In a footnote, Paula Versano shares, “a scholar from Hong Kong privately commented that it is better not to analyze Li Bo’s poetry so closely, for what is best about his work cannot be grasped in this way” (Tracking the Banished Immortal 322). —Chris]
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