WRB—September 2, 2023
The ‘romance-for-neurotics’ genre
Holla, ye pampered Jades of Asia:
What, can ye read but twenty words a day,
And have the WRB at your heeles,
And such a Coachman as its editors?
In today’s edition:
(working backwards from the bottom):
College Republicans…Lionel Trilling…Mating…pizza…bugs…Louise Glück…Ulysses…North Korea…fungi…
For the Cleveland Review of Books, A.V. Marraccini meditates on Americana. [Always near the heart of the WRB. —Chris] Ansel Adams, Lana Del Rey, Walt Whitman, things of that nature [Two-thirds of this list is California. Who will end the tyranny of California over the national imagination? “Stevie you write the literal Film Supplement” yeah OK. —Steve]:
When she’s desperate, Lana looks for God, and the market looks for the invisible hand to move and I look for throughlines, leylines in poetry and art and sound. Is it really any different, any better, my need for art to mean something despite or maybe even because of its invariable capitalization? This too, sings America, this conflictedness, this wanting a greater arc of purpose and meaning, all Carnegie Stout libraries and industrialists’ court philosophies. I want to think that there is a myth of a greater thing we hold in common good—the oeuvre of Ansel Adams photographs, the National Parks, the coastlines and mountains to the seas, this spent and dubious democracy.
WRB readers go nuts for fungi. [This is my impression, at least. —Chris] In Noema, here’s Joanna Steinhardt on those shrooms:
The power of fungi comes from the proximity they have with dark truths: the abject, the mess we need to face, mortality, vitality, kinship. In other contexts, this proximity elicits wariness, but in our current crisis, it holds the possibility of a healing power—a pharmacological power. Fungi can take on the mess and the junk, break it down and transform and incorporate it rather than ignore it.
“To a Western reader, such plots might seem ludicrous.” At Ars Technica, Andrada Fiscutean writes about North Korean science fiction:
“Science fiction is about anticipation, and this is a big problem,” said Antoine Coppola, a filmmaker who has studied cinema in both North and South Korea. “Society is perfect in North Korea; the hierarchy is perfect, so why dream about the future? How to imagine the future when society is perfect?”
In the new NYRB, Karan Mahajan revisits, on the occasion of the documentary film adaptation, an old WRB favorite (Meet Me in the Bathroom: Rebirth and Rock and Roll in New York City 2001–2011, 2017):
Strokes’ confusion about why they didn’t go further after the success of their first album. Valensi, the lead guitarist, remembers: “We had conversations that went along the lines of ‘Gosh, I think our songs are better than “Mr. Brightside” by the Killers but how come that’s the one everyone is listening to?’” He concedes, though, that “being the leader of the herd, you’re probably going to die.” Casablancas is shown to be a perfectionist and heavy drinker who hates touring because it keeps him from writing, and who refuses to “play the game to get further” (much like Richard Hell, a self-sabotaging downtown figure of the 1970s). Hammond, the Strokes’ other lead guitarist, gets hooked on heroin, allegedly aided by the alt-country star Ryan Adams, who prances through the book like a demented, self-obsessed bohemian merry prankster. Do the Strokes think of themselves as failures? In some ways they are.
“Annotations to James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’ by Sam Slote, Marc Mamigonian and John Turner takes on board all the research and scholarship done since Don Gifford’s groundbreaking Notes for Joyce (1974, revised and republished in 1988 as Ulysses Annotated by Don Gifford with Robert J. Seidman). It shows Joyce as both systematic in his approach to fact and at times struggling, and often failing, in his effort to avoid error. And it makes clear that Ulysses has a mundane source book—Thom’s Directory—to match The Odyssey, its elevated one.” For LRB, Colm Tóibín has notes on Ulysses scholarship.
First in PN Review, and now on Substack,reviewed Louise Glück’s latest (Marigold and Rose, 2022):
But rejecting happy endings does not mean simply affirming the power of time. Within Marigold and Rose’s sprightly narrative of growth, of challenges encountered and surmounted, there runs a deeper strain that rejects the dominance of what merely occurs—and, perhaps, what merely happens to dominate. ‘Marigold was absorbed in her book’, the opening sentence tells us, ‘she had gotten as far as the V.’ The alphabet is not a narrative, of course; its arbitrary sequence is there to be mastered and recombined in meaningful order. Life, though lived forward, is likewise susceptible of being transformed—even if only by the minimal gesture by which Marigold, racing ahead of her own experience, proposes to write what she knows (that is, her parents’ lives), then change the names.
And indeed, it is during these interrogations that Ravn’s book displays its greatest power. She writes to her other self, attempts to kill her other self. The aspects of mother, of intellectual, of wife—they take on nearly physical form under Ravn’s lens. Anna becomes a sort of holy trinity, selves scattered and desperately trying to come together again, or to jettison each other for good. “When a mother gives birth to her child,” writes Ravn, “something radical happens to her…she could neither be with nor without the child and also be Anna.” The self is forever split, and the new creature that emerges must be renamed, their relationship with the world renegotiated. And for Anna, who has always been split from herself in another way by her depression and anxiety, this task is both more familiar and yet also more fraught than it is for others.
[I loved Ravn’s last book (The Employees: A workplace novel of the 22nd century, 2022) from ND; I’m really looking forward to this one. —Chris]
In the NYRB, Lily Meyer reviews a selection of the work of Rachel Ingalls:
Ingalls’s female protagonists share an instinctive faith that, no matter how disappointing their men are, better ones are out there. For them, men are often a dream, a repository and symbol of hope that goes far beyond the sexual. Crucially, that hope is often met, though rarely in the way one would expect (or, in some cases, want). Patricia Lockwood writes in her foreword to No Love Lost that the word “man” “shines in her writing the way the word ‘shop’ does: a place to walk into, spin around till your skirt flares and at last get everything you want.” Lockwood’s description captures the 1950s tenor of Ingalls’s work, but the truth is, nobody in an Ingalls story is longing for stuff. For her women, getting everything you want is an emotional prospect. They long for pure and sustained male attention paid equally to their bodies and their minds. When they get it, it brings them back to life.
[This one mentions Mating (1991), which has really been having a moment this year, in the first paragraph. Chris has some more on that in What we’re reading. —Steve]
In The Washington Examiner,reviews Sarah Ruden’s new biography of Vergil (Vergil: The Poet's Life, August):
One thing we know about Vergil from Suetonius is that he was frequently ill and rarely “appeared in public in Rome.” We're told this was because his fame made it difficult for him to move about freely in the capital. Ruden claims (and I think she is right) that he also avoided going to Rome because he was shy and committed to his work. But she suggests that he may have even faked illness to avoid social contact and was something of a misanthrope. “I am convinced,” she writes, “that his characters tend to fall short in differentiation and believable thoughts and feelings because he did not like other people much or find their minds reliably interesting compared with his own.” Her further evidence of this misanthropy is that he wrote a lot about nature.
Bugs are our friends. Sometimes.
“The one unalloyed delight of CVS, though, is the soundtrack.”
“Is Post-Branding a Thing?”
4Columns has released their fall preview.
Full Bleed is looking for submissions.
As is The Yale Review.
The local Post attempts to determine the best pizza in the area based on reader feedback. [Chris was feeling very generous to you, our readers, and decided to take a break from the usual coverage of bagels. —Steve]
The building housing Kelly’s Irish Times is for sale. [I mourn the passing of “The Dubliner for people whose thumbs aren't up their asses.” —Jude]
The National Symphony Orchestra’s free annual Labor Day weekend concert takes place on the West Lawn of the Capitol at 8 p.m. tomorrow.
An exhibition of Frank Stewart’s photography at the Phillips Collection closes Monday.
The DC Jazz Festival runs through tomorrow.
Hillwood is showing an exhibition of its collection of glassware until January 2024.
The National Portrait Gallery is showing “Kinship”, an exhibition which features the work of eight contemporary artists who illuminate the complexities of our closest interpersonal relationships through portraiture, until January 2024.
A football game between the Maryland Terrapins and the Towson Tigers will be played at 3:30 p.m. today at SECU Stadium. [A true cultural event. While I’m here this is a college football newsletter. —Steve]
“Self-Pity is a Kind of Lying Too” by James Schuyler
Vision days and
Mas is coming, like
A plow. And in the
Meat the snow. Strange,
It reminds me
Of an old lady I
Once saw shivering
Naked beside a black
Polluted stream. You
The train didn’t
Stop—so. And the
White which is
Some other color or
Spins on itself
And so do the Who
At Leeds I’m playing
To drown out the carols
Blatting from the
Steeple which is
The same as fight-
Ing fire with oil.
Cold—one day we’ll
Just have snow
To wear too.
[I got this poem from Schuyler’s Collected.
I love how skillfully Schuyler makes use of these narrow lines. He does it in a way that gives off the sense that they were improvisational, and quickly written—something he and his friend and fellow New York School poet O’Hara have in common—but they’re clearly so intentional. The moment where he says Strange, is a great wind-up to something that, to our poet, clearly isn’t a really strange thing to be bringing up at all: it’s the center of the poem, what he wants to show us. That image of the old woman shivering by the water, and then the insertion of the second-person pronoun, is a deft move. And the movement of the train, paired with the conversional movement that happens in the tone when he says The train didn’t / Stop—so. It’s an incredible turn. Here’s David Wojahn commenting on this moment in the March 1st, 2010 edition of The American Poetry Review:
Can you imagine a more piercing statement about the world's cruelty? Yet Schuyler pointedly leaves it undeveloped. We shift to a few lines devoted to the nature of whiteness—not whiteness as some Melvillean symbol of the inscrutability of the universe, but whiteness as further evidence of the speaker's uneasy emotional state and solipsism. Then we shift once again to the comic scene of the Who vs. the carols "blatting" from the Presbyterian church… Schuyler seems to want to write the vision of the old woman by the stream out of memory, through deflection, through denial, through wisecracks. Yet the closing of the poem is quietly triumphant because Schuyler finally allows her to return: one day we'll just have snow to wear too… The gesture is all the more moving because it is made with such reluctance, almost involuntarily.