WRB—Mar. 11, 2023
It was true that he wrote a literary column every Wednesday in the Washington Review of Books, for which he was not paid. But that did not make him a Washingtonian surely. The books he received for review were almost more welcome than the paltry cheque. He loved to feel the covers and turn over the pages of newly printed books. He wanted to say that literature was above politics. But he could not risk a grandiose phrase with her. He continued blinking his eyes and trying to smile and murmured lamely that he saw nothing political in writing reviews of books.
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;
In The New Yorker, an excerpt from David Grann’s upcoming book, The Wager: A Tale of Shipwreck, Mutiny, and Murder:
We all impose some coherence—some meaning—on the chaotic events of our existence. We rummage through the raw images of our memories, selecting, burnishing, erasing. We emerge as the heroes of our stories, which allows us to live with what we have done—or haven’t done.
But these men believed that their very lives depended on the stories they told. If they failed to provide a convincing tale, they could be secured to a ship’s yardarm and hanged.
In The Bulwark, Bill Coberly on Connie Willis, science fiction, and death:
I doubt that Connie Willis is suggesting that Jesus Christ appears to most in the moment of their death as the captain of an aircraft carrier. The point of this final encounter is not specifically about Jesus at all, you could argue; the point is that we do not and cannot know what happens after death. By the time Joanna finds out, she can’t tell us about it—death being, after all, “that undiscovered country from whose bourn / no traveler returns.”
In Plough, Eleanor Parker on the tree, the Cross, and The Dream of the Rood:
But the Cross protests that it loves this Fruit too; it would never have chosen the role that has been given to it, but it must do as it has been commanded. In order to become the remedy for the apple of the Garden of Eden, God chose to become both the fruit of Mary’s body, loved and cherished, and the fruit of the Cross, broken and torn—crushed so that the juices of life might flow.
In The Baffler, Safwan Khatib translates a portion of Suleiman Al-Bustani’s preface to his 1904 translation of the Iliad into Arabic:
Indeed, our language is more deserving of it than those of the various urban societies that have acquired it; for there is nothing in the poetry of the Europeans or in European languages which offers it the means to flourish in as beautiful a dress as that which our language is equipped to provide; for Greek poetry is in a language close to the natural constitution of the world (fītra), much like our own language. And the subject of The Iliad is an inquiry into the Jahiliya of a people much like our own Jahiliya. The verse of our ancestral poets, in its wisdom and poetic description, is more in accord with that of The Iliad than the verse of any other poetic tradition.
In 3 Quarks Daily, Derek Neal reviews a novel by Peter Handke (The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick, 1970):
And what does that mean, anyways—to sound like a robot? It means, I think, to lack consciousness and self-awareness. This is usually seen as negative, but in the context of the consciousness of a narrator, it is a desirable trait as it can allow for a more direct and accurate description of events. A lack of self-consciousness also describes states which are considered the high points of human experience, such as the psychological idea of “flow” or the Buddhist concept of “nirvana.”
In Literary Review, Dominic Green reviews a book by Charles Darwent on the birth of Abstract Expressionism (Surrealists in New York: Atelier 17 and the Birth of Abstract Expressionism):
Charles Darwent’s Surrealists in New York shows that Surrealism, not Expressionism, was the European mode that was truly abstracted in New York. The mistake is understandable. Expressionism, like Surrealism, foregrounds individuality and subjectivity. And the practitioners of AbEx, as it became known, were concerned to prove its legitimacy, even by concealing the facts of its conception and insisting, as the critic Clement Greenberg did when Jackson Pollock (‘Jack the Dripper’) began composing his drip paintings in 1947, that AbEx was ‘uniquely American’.
In the LARB, Scott Korb reviews a new collection of poetry by John Freeman (Wind, Trees):
But Freeman makes no human claims on nature nor even really on nature’s behalf, refusing to speak with any certainty for anything as grandly mysterious and loving as a forest, which speaks its own languages, or that heron, whom Freeman can’t help but wonder whether to mourn or exclaim gladly about. (Offering each as a possibility, the poem, in the end, does both.)
In The Critic, Mathew Lyons reviews a book by Emma Wells on cathedrals (Heaven on Earth: The Lives and Legacies of the World’s Greatest Cathedrals):
Civic authorities meanwhile were ambivalent. Running battles at Santiago resulted in the cathedral precinct being stormed in 1116 and again in 1136. On the latter occasion, the cathedral’s combative bishop, Diego Gelmírez, was forced to hide from the projectiles of his flock behind the grille of the altar shrine. At Amiens, the church bought off the fractious local bourgeoisie with a 25 per cent tax cut known as the “Respite of St Firmin”, named for the first bishop of the diocese, martyred in the 2nd century, whose relics the cathedral held.
Jewish Currents is currently hiring a News Editor and an Art Director.
A [subject] near and dear to the [Managing Editors’] hearts: on brackets:
But isn’t this a little ridiculous? And is it even necessary? Does anyone really have trouble following my nests within nests within nests above? (And if so, isn’t this (forgive me), kind of the point (and part of the (joyful (and ecstatic)) fun of it all?) [Yes. —Chris]
Adam Gopnick pursues the perfect sentence [Maybe he should stop? —Nic]
“They’re a gathering of nerds who want to drink and shit-talk The New Yorker.” [At least it’s an ethos. —Chris]
On tofu: “City by city, village by village, my astonishment gave way to wonder. How were people not talking about these foods?”
In Van, Hugh Morris buys an £1 ticket to the Royal Opera House:
What exactly do you get for £1? For one, there’s a surfeit of surtitles, which feels a little like staring at my Twitter feed, as the same thing flashes up from three different sources at almost exactly the same time. “How tall are you?” I ask my friend while we wait. “5’ 2 and ¾,” she replies, from atop the step at the end of the row. If you’re shorter than 5”4 and stepless, you’re not going to see an awful lot.
[This one mentions Tár. This is a Tár newsletter now. —Steve]
“When the local paper stops reporting, there’s often no one else to take its place. Everyone gets a little less informed about the world around them. And Gannett has increased local ignorance at a scale no other company can match.”
[I like these book covers. I am judging these books by their covers, and saying “it is good.” —Chris]
Today from 10 am to 3 pm, the Friends of Southeast Library Book Sale at the library next to Eastern Market.
At the National Museum of Asian Art through April 28, “Anyang: China’s Ancient City of Kings,” featuring over 200 Shang artifacts. [The Master said, “The Zhou gazes down upon the two dynasties that preceded it. How brilliant in culture it is! I follow the Zhou.” —Chris]
For the entire month of April, the Folger Shakespeare Library and DC Public Library will be celebrating the 400th anniversary of the printing of the First Folio with quite a lot of events.
March 14 | W.W. Norton
The World Behind the World: Poems
by April Bernard
From the publisher: Balancing emotional openness with formal restraint, April Bernard proves once again a poet who “harmonizes the raucous and the classic, the songful and the wry, the courtly and the quick” (Wayne Koestenbaum). Throughout her sixth collection, Bernard searches for “the world behind the world,” a spiritual realm of justice and peace, music and grace. The host of saints present in this parallel world includes poets—John Ashbery, Thomas Wyatt, Gerard Manley Hopkins—as well as folklore spirits, animals wild and domestic, and personal ghosts.
Mystical, daring, expertly crafted, and ironic, The World Behind the World embarks on a wide-ranging journey through memory and loss to reach “that other world, where nothing human can wreck us.” Along the way, the poet conjures lush woodlands and icy oceans, wry conversations with voices from the past, and transformative moments of reckoning and healing. Rising up from despair, anger, and grief, this powerful collection proposes a moving, personal faith.
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