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Blog entries for 'March 2007'

Friday 30 March 2007

All Whom I Have Loved review

My review of Aharon Appelfeld's All Whom I Have Loved appeared in the Daily Telegraph t'other day. Its been cut. Annoyingly, that happens! I'll put a much fuller, unmangled review online here at RSB in a day or so, but in the meantime my Telegraph review will have to suffice, although it doesn't even begin to explain how moving I found Appelfeld's latest work, and its lack of substance as a piece rather embarrasses me. How slight, awkward and flimsy next to Appelfeld's lambent rigour.


Indeed, reading the latest Maurice Blanchot collection, A Voice From Elsewhere (wonderfully, unfussily translated -- as ever -- by our friend Charlotte Mandell), I've been wondering again about the worth of the kind of evaluative reviews one reads here on RSB and in the broadsheets. Blanchot has this astonishing ability to think along with (to abide with) the writers about whom he is writing. There is the assumption of good faith, and the shared endeavour of communication and its attendant impossibilities. But Blanchot, quite rightly, only spends his time thinking along with and writing about writers who deserve a reader as astute as he was. In the first eponymous essay from A Voice From Elsewhere, Blanchot references Giacometti, Henry James and Mallarmé, to help him think/write about Louis-René des Forêts; later, "trying to understand the Lyotard text called The Survivor, while continuing to meditate on the poems [of...] Louis-René des Forêts", Hegel, Proust and Levinas aid in the enquiry.


Under the profundity of a gaze like Blanchot's most writing withers. The majority of what gets published today is shockingly trite. Reading Blanchot reminds us of the challenge of being a good reader, but that has to start with having decent things to read. Aharon Appelfeld is 75. I hope he has many years of writing ahead of him. Authors are ten-a-penny, but there are precious few writers in the world.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Friday 30 March 2007

How fast do you read?

A friend says to me, "you must read really quickly." I don't. Truly. Actually, it seems to me that I'm quite a slow reader. I read a lot, for sure, but I don't think I read very quickly. On average, about 30 pages an hour. Isn't that really quite slow?

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Wednesday 28 March 2007

Too busy!

Sorry y'all! Things are a wee bit hectic around here. But think me not idle! I've been working away on things Book Depository-related. And reading piles of great stuff (including Negri on Negri). I need to write up more of my thoughts on Goldstein's fabulous Betraying Spinoza and the book that does so much to inform its argument, Steven Nadler's Spinoza's Heresy. (Actually, if you want to know more about either of these click on over to The Existence Machine for a great review of Betraying Spinoza and over to Anecdotal Evidence for more on Nadler.) I've also been arguing about the value of internet booksellers over on Richard Charkin's blog and on the Guardian's book blog. Not enough hours in t'day!

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Friday 23 March 2007

Tanya Reinhart RIP

I've just heard the sad news of Tanya Reinhart's death. This, below, is verbatim from a press release sent by her UK publisher Verso:


Tanya Reinhart has died March 17 2007 in Long Island, New York.

Tanya was a tireless voice against the Israeli state’s oppression of the Palestinian people. In the articles she wrote for the Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot as well as Counterpunch and Znet, she argued passionately and with an unequalled rigour that Israel should leave the occupied territories.

Her books were similarly sharp and scholarly analyses. She wrote the acclaimed Israel/Palestine: How To End the War of 1948 (2002) of which Edward Said said: “The most devastating critique now available of Israel’s policy toward the Palestinian people.” Last year Verso published her The Road Map to Nowhere: Israel/Palestine Since 2003 (2006), which detailed the grim logic behind the erection of Israel’s wall but also the hope engendered by the increasing resistance of both Palestinians and Israelis to Sharon and Olmert’s brutality.

Tanya was a Professor of Linguistics at Tel Aviv University, her Ph.D having been supervised by Noam Chomsky. She had recently taken a position as Distinguished Global Professor at New York University.

We are shocked and saddened to hear of Tanya’s death. The Palestinian cause has lost a great voice.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Thursday 22 March 2007

Editor's Corner blog

My blog over at The Book Depository website, Editor's Corner as I've styled it, hadn't really got going over the past couple of weeks. I've posted some interesting links, but the blog hadn't really got an identity. Well, hopefully that is beginning to change. Over the past couple of days, I've blogged Waterstones goes lowbrow, What use copyright? and How can publishers influence blogs and bloggers? Each of these posts could happily also have been posted here, but I want to keep RSB for more literary (and personal and political) matters and over at Editor's Corner just deal with stuff that is affecting the publishing industry. Obviously, there will be the occassional overlap, but the intention is to keep the two fairly much apart.


Update: The comments facility on my Editor's Corner blog wasn't working. It now is. I thank you! 

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Thursday 22 March 2007

Paul Griffiths in Handcuffs

The excellent writer and music critic (and RSB contributor) Paul Griffiths (whose The Substance of Things Heard I heartily, nay vigorously, recommend) is featured in the latest Golden Handcuffs Review. The issue features two chapters from Paul's latest novel let me tell you (the full work is out next year with Reality Street Editions). As Steve noted, Paul explains that the novel is "a narrative in which the Ophelia of Shakespeare's Hamlet tells her story in her own words – literally, in that she is restricted to the 481 different words she speaks in the play (including both quartos as well as the First Folio text). Where other characters from the play speak, they are similarly confined to the words Shakespeare gave them."

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Wednesday 21 March 2007

Yellin wins big money prize

Back in January, I noted the five finalists of the Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature, administered by the Jewish Book Council of America. Well, the winner has just been announced: Tamar Yellin, author of The Genizah at the House of Shepher (Toby Press), and one of the two British finalists, has won the $100,000 prize (the largest-ever Jewish literary prize, and one of the largest literary prizes around). Congrats Tamar. The pints are on you!


Any of you good folk read this? After my Spinoza-fest, should this be next? And, by the way, have you seen my copy anywhere!? I can't find the darn thing!

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Wednesday 21 March 2007

Defamiliarisation

Victoria, over at Tales from the Reading Room, takes a look at "defamiliarisation":


Well, of course, when I started to think about this, all that came to mind were examples of people getting very upset over the issue of dashed narrative expectations. Back in the 50s and 60s in France, a new literary movement developed in reaction to the socio-political realism of Existentialism, and it was called the ‘nouveau roman’ or the new novel. What was new about the new novel was that it tried not to look like a novel at all. Rather in the way that modern art stubbornly refuses to draw pictures of things we might recognise, so the new novel attempted to dispense with character, plot, and often punctuation, to see how far you could bend the rules and still have something like representation. And, my God, did people hate it!

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Tuesday 20 March 2007

Alice Oswald Reading

Short notice I know, but this evening at 6pm, in Lecture Theatre 6 of the Geoffrey Manton Building, at MMU, there is going to be an Alice Oswald reading.


Alice is the author of Woods etc. and Dart. She is a past recipient of the Forward Poetry Prize and The Eric Gregory Award, and has been short-listed for the T.S. Elliot Prize. She was named one of the Poetry Book Society's Next Generation poets in 2004. This event is hosted by the Writing School, is open to the public, and is free of charge to students and staff of MMU, £5 (£3 concessions) to the rest of us.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Tuesday 20 March 2007

A Kibitz on Pure Reason

Via Patrick Kurp's Anecdotal Evidence, I note that a fascinating debate is taking place between Rebecca "Betraying Spinoza" Goldstein and Michael Weiss. The two writers are conducting "a sort of epistolary book review and kibitz on Spinoza’s life and philosophy" over at A Kibitz on Pure Reason.


I loved Goldstein's Betraying Spinoza -- a very special book indeed to my mind. And last night, with my growing affection for Spinoza happily spiralling out of all reasonable control,  I started reading Spinoza's Heresy: Immortality and the Jewish Mind (OUP):


At the heart of Spinoza's Heresy is a mystery: why was Baruch Spinoza so harshly excommunicated from the Amsterdam Jewish community at the age of twenty-four?

In this philosophical sequel to his acclaimed, award-winning biography of the seventeenth-century thinker, Steven Nadler argues that Spinoza's main offence was a denial of the immortality of the soul. But this only deepens the mystery. For there is no specific Jewish dogma regarding immortality: there is nothing that a Jew is required to believe about the soul and the afterlife. It was, however, for various religious, historical and political reasons, simply the wrong issue to pick on in Amsterdam in the 1650s.

After considering the nature of the ban, or cherem, as a disciplinary tool in the Sephardic community, and a number of possible explanations for Spinoza's ban, Nadler turns to the variety of traditions in Jewish religious thought on the postmortem fate of a person's soul. This is followed by an examination of Spinoza's own views on the eternity of the mind and the role that that the denial of personal immortality plays in his overall philosophical project. Nadler argues that Spinoza's beliefs were not only an outgrowth of his own metaphysical principles, but also a culmination of an intellectualist trend in Jewish rationalism.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Monday 19 March 2007

New Scarecrow

After a good, long while of waiting, a new Scarecrow (no.45, Offbeat & Brutalism...) has hit the web. For all your post-Beat, cult-lit needs!

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Monday 19 March 2007

Being Arab

Last week, on the 14th March, Being Arab by Samir Kassir (described by his publisher as a "Lebanese journalist, historian and radical democracy activist") won the Index on Censorship T.R. Fyvel Book Award 2007. I'm told: "Controversially, Kassir documents what he regards as the stagnation of the Arab world and its descent into nationalism and Islamic fundamentalism as a response to modernity." The book has an introduction by Robert Fisk in which he examines why Kassir was assassinated by unknown forces with a car bomb in Beirut on June 2nd 2005.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Friday 16 March 2007

Josipovici talk

I attended a fascinating, wonderful, incisive (just think very positive adjectives!) talk by Gabriel Josipovici on Wednesday evening -- entitled Whatever happened to modernism? -- at the Commonwealth Institute, Russell Square, Big London. And I wasn't the only one: excellent report on the evening from Ellis Sharp and also from Steve at This-Space.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Tuesday 13 March 2007

New York Tribute to Carcanet Press

A 30th birthday celebration of Manchester-based poetry publisher Carcanet Press (The Sunday Times Millennium Small Publisher of the Year in 2000) and its Editorial and Managing Director, the poet and critic Professor Michael Schmidt FRSL OBE, will take place at 7.30pm tonight at The Grand Gallery, The National Arts Club, 15 Gramercy Park South, New York. Hosted by the Poetry Society of America, the event will feature an incredible programme of readings by John Ashbery, Eavan Boland, Mark Doty, Marilyn Hacker, Stanley Moss, Kei Miller, Paul Muldoon, Maureen O'Hara, Marie Ponsot, John Peck, Susan Wheeler and David Yezzi. Admission is $10 / $7 for PSA members and students. Visit poetrysociety.org to book tickets.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Tuesday 13 March 2007

On Ayaan Hirsi Ali's Infidel

Chandrahas, over at The Middle Stage, has a great post on Ayaan Hirsi Ali's Infidel (including lots of links to a "crackling discussion of the questions raised by Hirsi Ali's book ... on the European website Signandsight here, with pieces by Pascal Bruckner, Ian Buruma, Timothy Garton Ash, Necla Kelek, Paul Cliteur and Ulrike Ackermann among others. Another piece, by Christopher Hitchens, is here").


I was vaguely aware of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, but it was only reading Ian Buruma's excellent and measured Murder in Amsterdam this last weekend that I really began to understand what a controversial figure she is. Buruma's argument is a little light on the wider global and historic context of Amsterdam's recent difficulties, and whilst its even-handedness might be judicious, a strong opinion would occassionally be appreciated; regardless of this, it does a good job and I'd commend it. I've not read Ali's book Infidel (nor the follow up The Caged Virgin) but they are on their way to me ...


Infidel is subtitled: "The Story of My Enlightenment". And "enlightenment" is, here, not used innocently. It refers partially to The Enlightenment, of course. This is interesting. Regularly, Enlightenment values are held up as what we should be fighting for (against what exactly? and fighting for whom exactly when/if we do this?) So, I'm keen to read Daniel Hind's The Threat to Reason (Verso) which is due in May:


Today's media commentators and politicians constantly enlist the language and prestige of the historical Enlightenment to defend western science and rationality from its irrational enemies — Evangelicals, post-modernists, and Islamists, are on the march, they say.

Yet, in exploring how the Enlightenment continues to operate as a powerful guiding principle in Western politics, The Threat to Reason reveals how the truly pressing threats to free inquiry reside within the allegedly enlightened institutions of state and corporation. In their hands, the potential of Enlightenment ideas is implicated in the maintenance and furthering of neoliberal market values, while the permanent war envisaged by American state planners transforms the Enlightenment into a resource for establishing information dominance. By default science becomes what corporations want, and progress becomes what the US military can impose on the world.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Monday 12 March 2007

On Baudrillard's relationship to Heidegger

Over at Ghost in the Wire an interesting post on Baudrillard's relationship to Heidegger.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Monday 12 March 2007

The Independent Foreign Fiction Prize

On Friday, the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize shortlist was announced. The shortlisted titles are:


  • The Book of Chameleons, by José Eduardo Agualusa, trans. Daniel Hahn
  • The Story of Blanche and Marie, by Per Olov Enquist, trans. Tiina Nunnally
  • Four Walls, by Vangelis Hatziyannidis, trans. Anne-Marie Stanton-Ife (Mrs Book read this when we were on holiday last year. I recall her being underwhelmed.)
  • Your Face Tomorrow, 2: Dance and Dream, by Javier Marías trans. Margaret Jull Costa
  • Vienna, by Eva Menasse, trans. Anthea Bell
  • Shyness and Dignity, by Dag Solstad, trans. Sverre Lyngstad (a very fine book, this one)

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Friday 09 March 2007

Transmission Weblog

A note from the good folk at the Manchester-based literary magazine Transmission:


That’s right folks, the new Transmission Weblog is here! It has taken the place of our previous news page and with it we will be keeping you up to date with the goings on at Transmission HQ, as well as reporting on the wider literary world.

As we gingerly dip our toes in the cyber waters of the 21st Century, visit our blog and let us know what you would like to see develop there and on the rest of the site.

http://www.transmissionhq.org/blog

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Friday 09 March 2007

The Trouble with Physics

There is an excerpt of Lee Smollin's The Trouble with Physics over at FT.com. Smollin was briefly interviewed on the BBC's Leading Edge yesterday. The book, in case you don't know, is an attack on the ubiquity of String Theory in physics (cf. Peter Woit's Not Even Wrong). String Theory is the attempt, within physics, to find a unifying Theory of Everything. The very idea, to me, is wrong-headed, but A New Theory of the Universe ("Biocentrism builds on quantum physics by putting life into the equation") has, nonetheless, just been proposed by Robert Lanza.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Thursday 08 March 2007

Betraying Spinoza

T'other week I read Rebecca Goldstein's Betraying Spinoza (Schocken; part of the excellent Jewish Encounters series co-published with Nextbook) which was an absolute joy -- if you have any interest at all in Spinoza, get yourself a copy. Today, I did a wee review of the book over at The Book Depository:


Rebecca Goldstein's quite wonderful Betraying Spinoza is an absolute delight. So, why does the author think she might be betraying the great philosopher? Well, as Wikipedia tells us: "Benedictus de Spinoza or Baruch de Spinoza (lived November 24, 1632 – February 21, 1677) was a Dutch philosopher of Jewish origin, considered one of the great rationalists of 17th-century philosophy and, by virtue of his magnum opus the posthumous Ethics, one of the definitive ethicists." As a great rationalist Spinoza eschewed the biographical and the personal, but Goldstein thinks that that very silence in his work can be traced to his belonging to the embattled Portuguese Jewish community of Amsterdam (whose history Goldstein admirably and fluently traces). After first describing her own (Jewish) upbringing, and how she -- an analytic philosopher by training -- became entranced by Spinoza, Goldstein goes on to recount the fascinating history of the Jews who called themselves La Nacion, Spinoza's excommunication from them, and the studies he undertook to come to his positions on a post-Descartian philosophy. You will not read a better introduction to this still vital thinker; Goldstein's book is a triumph.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Thursday 08 March 2007

Curing Bloom Syndrom

Sandra, Mrs Book World to you, thinks she has Bloom Syndrome:


I think I have Bloom Syndrome: a condition in which the sufferer is unable to read any work of literature unless it is deemed Significant by Harold Bloom and which often results in the reader losing the will to live/read, crushed under the weight of canonical imperatives. The Syndrome develops gradually with the sufferer firstly accepting the notion that some books are better than others, placing undue emphasis on books which have won prizes or been favourably reviewed by The Clever People in newspapers. This begins the descent into genre deprecation in which all romance/chick lit is dismissed as unreadable, followed gradually by an inability to stomach any fantasy, sci-fi, thrillers and finally, mystery novels (these are the last genre to be abandoned because Clever People occasionally admit to reading them as a guilty pleasure). Thereafter sufferers quickly develop Classic monomania, a state of mind in which the literary tastes of the now emaciated reader have become so distorted that she can take only small doses of books endorsed by His Bloomness as being Works Of Genius. If left untreated, the Syndrome can result in a fatal loss of the love of reading.

Her suggested self-cure is reading "a book for pure pleasure irrespective of the name on the cover or what The Clever People think of it." But I don't understand this. I'm with Steve, I only ever read for pleasure, and I don't understand this talk of "guilty pleasures". Further, I don't understand how and why "engaging fully and thoughtfully" with a book is deemed to be synonymous with that book being difficult or arcance and the reading of it a source of displeasure:


Of course, this philistine drivel flows from the assumption that Great Art is a Platonic realm and good for you like a sermon, while "guilty pleasures" are what we'd all prefer to engage in instead. When I read litbloggers on this subject, for example the otherwise excellent LitKicks just the other day, it's like they've been taken over by the Nick Hornby hypnotoad. It isn't about snobbery but making the distinction between an ephemeral need and what is needed at the deepest level. How many times does it need saying? If a mass-market, blockbuster paperback offers to fulfil the latter need, then please tell us about it!

This is why I read litblogs, to find the books I need to read on a very personal level. As I don't read mass-market, blockbuster paperbacks, I'm open to convincing suggestions. I'm not a snob you see. I'm happy to "confess" that I watch lots of trash TV. Top Gear and Most Haunted are among my favourites (even though I don't drive or believe in ghosts). But if I'm going to write here about what I watch, I'd prefer to write about Eloge de l'Amour. Not because I'm "ashamed" of the others or because I'm trying to put up an intellectual front, but for the same reason restaurant critics write about eating the finest food and not about shitting it out.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Wednesday 07 March 2007

Josipovici lecture

Gabriel Josipovici will be giving this year's James Coffin memorial Lecture, sponsored by the Institute of German and Romance Studies. His subject is "What Ever Happened To Modernism?" The lecture takes place next Wednesday, 14th March, and starts at 6.00 pm. It is taking place in the Institute of Commonwealth Studies (28 Russell Square, London, WC1B 5DS). The lecture will be followed by a reception. All are welcome, and admission is free, but please let igrs@sas.ac.uk if you would like to attend.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Wednesday 07 March 2007

Jean Baudrillard RIP

The sociologist and philosopher Jean Baudrillard died this Tuesday in Paris, at 77 years of age. Born on July 20th 1929 in Rheims, a translator of Bertold Brecht, politically near to the Situationists and Guy Debord in the '60s, Baudrillard taught sociology at the University of Nanterre from 1966. More English-language details can be found at the NY Times and the NY Sun; French-language responses include Robert Maggiori's Jean Baudrillard au-delà du réel and Laurent Wolf's Le pourfendeur d'images (via the literary saloon).


I've always enjoyed reading Baudrillard's work. My favourite? Probably a book from 1978 called In the Shadow of the Silent Majorities. What I got most clearly from this was the critique of the entirely erroneous idea that the Left could speak for -- or on behalf of -- "the people" in any way:


Written in 1978 and first published in English in 1983, In the Shadow of the Silent Majorities was the first postmodern response to the delusional strategies of terrorism. At a time when European terrorists were taking politics into their own hands, Baudrillard was the first to announce that the "critical mass" had stopped being critical of anything. Rather, the "masses" had become a place of absorption and implosion; hence the ending of the possibility of politics as will and representation.

The book marked the end of an era when silent majorities still factored into the democratic political process and were expected to respond positively to revolutionary messages. With the masses no longer "alienated" as Marx had described, but rather indifferent, this phenomenon made revolutionary explosion impossible, says Baudrillard.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Tuesday 06 March 2007

Postmodernism

The other day, I noticed a snide and cretinous wee remark from pro-war leftist Norman "normblog" Geras concerning something Dylan Trigg had said in my recent interview with him. Far more interesting and noteworthy contributions to the debate about "postmodern relativism" and its attendant issues comes via Sign and Sight:


French philosopher Pascal Bruckner accused Ian Buruma and Timothy Garton Ash of propagating a form of multiculturalism that amounts to legal apartheid. His fiery polemic unleashed an international debate (here). Buruma and Garton Ash were quick to answer. In a subsequent piece, Paul Cliteur criticises the "postmodern relativism" of Buruma and Stuart Sim. Sim answers [here].

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Tuesday 06 March 2007

First chapter of A Voice from Elsewhere online

The first chapter of A Voice from Elsewhere, Charlotte Mandell's latest Maurice Blanchot translation, is now online. The book, as you'll have noted, is one of my Books of the Month this month:


A Voice from Elsewhere represents one of Maurice Blanchot’s most important reflections on the enigma and secret of “literature.” The essays here bear down on the necessity and impossibility of witnessing what literature transmits, and—like Beckett and Kafka—on what one might call the “default” of language, the tenuous border that binds writing and silence to each other. In addition to considerations of René Char, Paul Celan, and Michel Foucault, Blanchot offers a sustained encounter with the poems of Louis-René des Forêts and, throughout, a unique and important concentration on music—on the lyre and the lyric, meter and measure—which poetry in particular brings before us.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Monday 05 March 2007

Thanks (IPG and Roehampton)

Last week was very busy, so today I'm just trying to catch up with myself. On Thursday, I spoke to some third-year Creative Writing students at Roehampton University -- thanks to them, and to their tutor Susan Greenberg, for being such gracious hosts and such an interested audience.


On Saturday, I spoke to the delegates at the Independent Publishers Guild about blogging. Hopefully, they got a little something out of my rather rushed speech! Again, thanks to the IPG, and its members, for inviting me down to speak and for being such a friendly and welcoming bunch.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Please let us know about any literary-related news -- or submit press releases to RSB -- using this form.

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Serendipoetry

Omens, after Alexander Pushkin

I rode to meet you: dreams
like living beings swarmed around me
and the moon on my right side
followed me, burning.

I rode back: everything changed.
My soul in love was sad
and the moon on my left side
trailed me without hope.

To such endless impressions
we poets give ourselves absolutely,
making, in silence, omen of mere event,
until the world reflects the deepest needs of the soul.

-- Louise Gluck
Averno (Carcanet Press)

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Word of the Day

The Dord, the Diglot, and an Avocado or two

Pre-order Anu Garg's new book: The Dord, the Diglot, and an Avocado or Two: The Hidden Lives and Strange Origins of Common and Not-So-Common Words (ISBN 9780452288614), published by Penguin more …

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October's Books of the Month

The New Spirit of Capitalism The New Spirit of Capitalism
Luc Boltanski; Eve Chiapello
Horizons Touched: The Music of ECM Horizons Touched: The Music of ECM
Steve Lake, Paul Griffiths

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