WRB—May 3, 2023
It is important to subscribe — but what if it’s not enough?
The result of all this diligence was an enormous newsletter, which as we shall see later, was publicly burned on a beautiful Spring morning in the great square. But there was a secret copy and after a great many years and without much notice it found its way to the library of Georgetown University. There it lies collecting dust in a cupboard. It deals with one after another of the book reviews and essays, cataloguing thousands of little facts and anecdotes and testimonies, and concluding with a dignified passage describing why God had settled upon that magazine and upon that day for His demonstration of wisdom. Yet for all their diligence the Managing Editors never knew the central passion of Bookforum; nor of Astra, not even of Gawker. And I, who claim to know so much more, isn’t it possible that even I have missed the very spring within the spring?
This is a crazy lede. (Rebecca Rukeyser in The Believer) [I’m obsessed with the fact that Carmel-by-the-Sea used to be a “rowdy artistic epicenter.” —Julia]
In Zócalo Public Square, David McCarthy on Guernica:
Initially, “Guernica” didn’t enjoy the burnished reputation it has today. It worried some critics who targeted the painting’s apparent ambiguity, noting that its imagery fell somewhere between personal symbolism and overt propaganda. Was Picasso again exorcising personal demons in a cubist style understood, and appreciated, solely by cognoscenti? Was he really willing, or even capable, of serving a cause beyond himself? To be fair, without the painting’s title, or its inclusion in the pavilion, it was not necessarily clear that Picasso was addressing a particular event, or even the Spanish Civil War.
In The Common Reader, Jeannette Cooperman with a lengthy meditation on the kiss:
It is a significant part of the human tragedy that desire and repulsion are parceled out so differently. What one craves disgusts the other. Can love coexist with such dissimilar needs? A seventeen-year-old boy told Phillips, “You can’t really love someone that you don’t love kissing.” Which seems unfair. What about all the accidents of fate—breath, salivary output, height, angles? I want to think romance capable of transcending idiosyncrasy. But could I have fallen in love and not yearned to be kissed?
“Only floor plans have given my memories of movement a tangible form, a shape for the routine motions that made up my days.”
In the NYRB, Susan Tallman on Piranesi:
Returning to the series a decade after he first published them, he added two new plates and reworked the old ones for darker, more muscular drama. Shadows were strengthened and huge spikes grace beams and bollards, as if to fend off gargantuan pigeons. De Quincey’s account of “wheels, cables, catapults, &c., expressive of enormous power” wasn’t quite true, but it captured the mood and helped establish the images as metonyms for the irrational mind. Their special architectural-psychological trick was to appear simultaneously claustrophobic and infinite. More than a century after De Quincey, Aldous Huxley saw their “colossal pointlessness,” which “goes on indefinitely, and is co-extensive with the universe” as revealing the “subterranean workings of a tormented soul.” Later, nihilist aesthetes of my own generation meditated on posters of the Carceri through fugs of dorm-room pot smoke. Susanna Clarke’s recent novel of elliptical captivity and captivation is titled simply Piranesi. “All considered,” Tschudi writes in Piranesi and the Modern Age, “the mind itself as an infinitely extending entrapment is perhaps Piranesi’s most lasting legacy as an architect.”
For the Southwest Review, Cory Oldweiler (“an itinerant writer”) reviews Sophie Hughes’ translations of Fernanda Melchor and the newest issue from New Directions (This is Not Miami, April):
With the exception of graphomaniac marvels like John Grisham, Danielle Steele, or Stephen King, authors don’t generally publish three books in four years. Rebecca Makkai did it in the early 2010s (though she doesn’t want credit for it). Rick Moody and Anne Carson did it in the 1990s. And I’m sure others have too, although they didn’t show up in the Google search that returned the names listed above. It would theoretically be more feasible for authors to have multiple books appear in translation in rapid succession. After all, the books have almost always already been published in their original language, and thus can be acquired, translated, and published—an unquestionably time-consuming process—on whatever schedule is desired. Don Bartlett’s translations of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s six-volume My Struggle, which came out between 2013 and 2018, presumably benefited from such logistics, as the originals were published from 2009 to 2011. And Ann Goldstein’s translations of Elena Ferrante’s four Neapolitan novels, which were published from 2012 to 2015, lagged their originals by only a year. Regardless of the machinations, for one translator to have three titles by one author hit the shelves within four years is remarkable and, when the books aren’t part of a series, incredibly rare. Yet that is exactly what Sophie Hughes has done with the work of Mexican author Fernanda Melchor.
For the Washington Free Beacon, David Skinner reviews a recently released anthology of American language compiled by Ilan Stavans (The People’s Tongue: Americans and the English Language, February):
Dictionaries continue to loom large in The People’s Tongue, maybe too large. Stavans includes two essays that comment at length on the great controversy over Webster’s Third, the unabridged dictionary published by Merriam-Webster in 1961. They are, certainly, the two most widely read pieces of lexicographical criticism in the half century that followed. (Allow me to out myself here as the author of a book on Webster’s Third and one who has read and reread both essays.) The first, "The String Untuned" by Dwight Macdonald, first published in the New Yorker and collected in Against the American Grain, is the truer of the two, as it provides a good description of how the dictionary was made and a caustic account of the thinking behind it, based in part on Macdonald’s visit to Merriam-Webster, where he interviewed its editor Philip Gove. Macdonald committed elementary errors, though. He misread cross-references at knowed and masses and made a hash of the dictionary’s handling of disinterested and uninterested. These errors plus Macdonald’s unfailing condescension add up to a not fair hearing for this important but beleaguered dictionary. Macdonald did, however, spend significant time reading pages and pages of Webster’s Third, which cannot be said for David Foster Wallace.
On Sunday, Liberties journal will host an online [Boo, hiss. —Chris] salon discussion between Celeste Marcus and Benjamin Moser as part of a new series [Which I am assured will, one day, expand to in-person events. —Chris]. Anyway, the code to sign up for free is libertellect.
New issue of Current Affairs is coming soon. It has some quirky birds on the cover.
The first issue of Commonplace, the journal of the Catherine Project, is now available. It has some bees on the cover.
“We joked about calling this issue the Daddy Issue, because of how frequently parents crop up.” There are, however, no discernable critters anywhere in the new issue of n+1.
“The new sites are called things like Semafor, Air Mail, Punchbowl News, Puck. Puck? What is one to make of these names, which have the unsettling, archaic quality of early Tintin translations?”—new “The Intellectual Situation” just dropped.
“I’ve begun to feel that LSD may just be the lazy man’s form of Finnegans Wake.”
- has a useful little roundup of publishing commentary, specifically about the Internet Archive case.
Brad Bigelow from the Neglected Books Page is running an online reading group all year highlighting publishers who publish new editions of, well, neglected books.
On Thursday, Solid State Books on H Street will host John Whitworth Kropf as he talks about his book about crayons (Color Capital of the World, 2022).
The Canal boats are back (starting Friday).
The National Arboretum is hosting the Bonsai Festival this weekend.
On Saturday afternoon, the third installment of “Jazz at The Kreeger” will feature The Dominique Bianco Organ Trio at, well, The Kreeger Museum.
May 9 | David Zwirner Books
Hilma af Klint: Tree of Knowledge
Introduction by Julia Voss. Texts by Susan Aberth, Suzan Frecon, and Max Rosenberg. Helen Molesworth and Joy Harjo in conversation. Julia Voss and William Glassley in conversation. New poetry by Joy Harjo
rounded up some Klint reading the other week. She’s “All the rage.”
From the publisher: One of the most inventive artists of the twentieth century, af Klint was a pioneer of abstraction. Her first forays into nonobjective painting preceded the work of Kandinsky and Mondrian and radically mined the fields of science and religion. Deeply interested in spiritualism and philosophy, af Klint developed an iconography that explores esoteric concepts in metaphysics, as demonstrated in Tree of Knowledge. This rarely seen series of works on paper renders orbital, enigmatic forms, visual allegories of unification and separateness, darkness and light, beginning and end, life and death, and spirit and matter.
Published on the occasion of the exhibition Hilma af Klint: Tree of Knowledge at David Zwirner, New York, in 2021 and David Zwirner, London, in 2022, this book features a text by the art historian Susan Aberth examining af Klint’s spiritual and theosophical influences. With a conversation between curator Helen Molesworth and the US Poet Laureate Joy Harjo discussing connections between Tree of Knowledge and Native theories, the publication broadens the scope of philosophical interpretations of af Klint’s timeless work. Also included is a newly commissioned essay by the celebrated af Klint scholar Julia Voss, a contribution by the artist Suzan Frecon, and a text by art historian Max Rosenberg that further develops the conversation around why af Klint’s work was not recognized in its time.
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