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Blog entries on '11 December 2007'

Tuesday 11 December 2007

George Saunders on Daniil Kharms

Via Three Percent: "It's a few days old now, but the New York Times review of Daniil Kharms’s Today I Wrote Nothing is worth checking out. Saunders does a good job of explaining how Kharms isn’t simply an "absurdist," but an author who basically objected to the essential artifice of fiction:"


All of us who write fiction have, I suspect, felt some resistance to this moment of necessary artifice. But for Kharms this moment hardened into a kind of virtuous paralysis. I imagine him looking out his little window there in St. Petersburg, seeing people walking around out there in those Russian hats, and just as he’s about to invent some “meaningful,” theme-causing things for them to do, he freezes up, because per his observations, such meaningful, drama-exuding things do not happen so tidily in reality.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Tuesday 11 December 2007

The Quarterly Conversation

The Winter issue of The Quarterly Conversation is online. It includes The Literary Alchemy of César Aira by Marcelo Ballvé and Scott Esposito on Enrique Vila-Matas (which winningly begins, "In these seemingly anti-literary times, authors tend to do all they can to support literature; Spanish novelist Enrique Vila-Matas is the first I've seen to treat it like a disease").

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Tuesday 11 December 2007

Richard's reading biography

Wonderful post (following Lars) from Richard over on The Existence Machine about his "reading biography":


...how would I ever find the time to read all the classics, while also following through on Modernism, on post-Modernism, and keeping abreast of current fiction (for some reason this seemed really important to me)? Plainly, I could not. Worse, I felt then that the time had long since passed when I'd be able to internalize these crucial patterning texts, so that I could usefully notice and understand a linguistic or structural allusion. Or be able to truly understand and assess a given work's achievement. I worried about the sequence in which I should read books, to allow for maximum pleasure and understanding. To a huge extent, I wanted, yearned, helplessly, to have already read the classics. I wanted somehow to be able to simply plug into my brain, Matrix-style, Homer, Sophocles, the Bible, Ovid, Virgil, Dante. . . I didn't doubt that there were still people who read the classics for actual pleasure; it simply did not occur to me that I could be one of those people. I didn't feel guilt or shame about this. I felt fucked.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Tuesday 11 December 2007

The Death of the Critic

I read Ronan McDonald's The Death of the Critic last week and liked it well enough. I've seen it dragged into debates about print media versus the blogosphere, but really it has precious little to say about the blogging. The vast bulk of McDonald's book is taken up with the history of the critic (and owes much to John Gross's The Rise and Fall of the Man of Letters). It is an interesting romp, and McDonald is good at showing how Eng.Lit.'s permanent worries about its own ontological status (is Eng.Lit. a proper thing to study? how does one study it?) and criticism's growth and mutations have been closely tied together. After blaming cultural studies for killing the critic -- the critic as public intellectual that is -- he ends his book with a guarded call for a new aestheticism. Along the way, McDonald has some warm words for F.R. Leavis which I was glad to see.


Anyway, over on Todd Swift's blog, McDonald did have this to say about blog stuff:


I know there are excellent critics working on the internet and I hope that they get the recognition they deserve. I feel that blogs have unleashed a wave of energy through the criticism of the arts. And I certainly don't endorse the caricature of blogging as amateurish and semi-moronic.

But there are dangers in the blogosphere too. My chief concern is that the talented critics writing therein will end up being swamped out by the mediocre and banal. The open door policy of the web allows in much talent, but also much dross. The small circulation magazines of the modernists had the advantage of also being few in number. I do think that there is something to fear in the volume of comment that the Internet affords. It makes it easier to miss the good stuff. And to point out that some critics have had authority in the past is by no means ot endorse 'tyranny'. It is to say that we need to read the best criticsim, just as we should be reading the best poetry.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Tuesday 11 December 2007

Malcolm Lowry: Modernist

Ellis Sharp on Malcolm Lowry:


Lowry’s problem was that those he had professional dealings with in the world of publishing couldn’t read. His theme was that of a writer who no longer believes that fiction communicates a truth. Out of that perception emerged his writing, in a form which shattered orthodox narrative: the drama of a writer’s struggle. And what purer narrative could there be than writing about writing?

Posted by Mark Thwaite
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Books of the Week

Montano's Malady Montano's Malady
Enrique Vila-Matas
New Directions

The narrator of Montano's Malady is a writer named Jose who is so obsessed with literature that he finds it impossible to distinguish between real life and fictional reality. Part picaresque novel, part intimate diary, part memoir and philosophical musings, Enrique Vila-Matas has created a labyrinth in which writers as various as Cervantes, Sterne, Kafka, Musil, Bolano, Coetzee, and Sebald cross endlessly surprising paths. Trying to piece together his life of loss and pain, Jose leads the reader on an unsettling journey from European cities such as Nantes, Barcelona, Lisbon, Prague and Budapest to the Azores and the Chilean port of Valparaiso. Exquisitely witty and erudite, it confirms the opinion of Bernardo Axtaga that Vila-Matas is "the most important living Spanish writer.

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Castorp Castorp
Pawel Huelle
Serpent's Tail

Picking up on a throwaway line in The Magic Mountain, Castorp tells the story of Hans Castorp’s student years in Gdansk, long before the adventures in Davos described in Thomas Mann’s novel. Pawel Huelle skilfully creates a credible scenario for this influential period in Hans Castorp’s development, imagining what happened when the rational German student was exposed to the Slavonic eastern edge of the Prussian empire. He comes across people, events and ideas that anticipate some of the encounters he will experience in years to come, including an enigmatic Polish woman who becomes his obsession. Set at the dawn of the twentieth century, Castorp faithfully recreates the atmosphere of central Europe as the storm began that would lead to two world wars. Beautifully written, full of humour, mystery and eccentricity, this is a moving tribute to a masterpiece of European literature.

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Heidegger's Hut Heidegger's Hut
Adam Sharr
The MIT Press

Beginning in the summer of 1922, philosopher Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) occupied a small, three-room cabin in the Black Forest Mountains of southern Germany. He called it "die Hütte" ("the hut"). Over the years, Heidegger worked on many of his most famous writings in this cabin, from his early lectures to his last enigmatic texts. He claimed an intellectual and emotional intimacy with the building and its surroundings, and even suggested that the landscape expressed itself through him, almost without agency. Heidegger's mountain hut has been an object of fascination for many, including architects interested in his writings about "dwelling" and "place." Sharr's account -- the first substantive investigation of the building and Heidegger's life there -- reminds us that, in approaching Heidegger's writings, it is important to consider the circumstances in which the philosopher, as he himself said, felt "transported" into the work's "own rhythm." Indeed, Heidegger's apparent abdication of agency and tendency toward romanticism seem especially significant in light of his troubling involvement with the Nazi regime in the early 1930s. Sharr draws on original research, including interviews with Heidegger's relatives, as well as on written accounts of the hut by Heidegger and his visitors. The book's evocative photographs include scenic and architectural views taken by the author and many remarkable images of a septuagenarian Heidegger in the hut taken by the photojournalist Digne Meller-Markovicz.

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Poem of the Week

Sonnet (on the Death of Mr Richard West)

In vain to me the smiling mornings shine,
And reddening Phoebus lifts his golden fire:
The birds in vain their amorous descant join,
Or cheerful fields resume their green attire:
These ears, alas! for other notes repine,
A different object do these eyes require.
My lonely anguish melts no heart but mine;
And in my breast the imperfect joys expire.
Yet morning smiles the busy race to cheer,
And new-born pleasure brings to happier men:
The fields to all their wonted tribute bear;
To warm their little loves the birds complain.
I fruitless mourn to him that cannot hear,
And weep the more because I weep in vain.

-- Thomas Gray
Selected Poems (Bloomsbury)

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Word of the Day

adultescent

An adult whose activities and interests are typically associated with youth culture. more …

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January's Books of the Month

Walter Benjamin's Archive Walter Benjamin's Archive
Walter Benjamin
Reading Joyce Reading Joyce
David Pierce

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