Happily Never After, or, The Rubbish Tower

08.9.2008 | Robert Latona | Literature, Unfairly Forgotten | 20 Comments
“I want to say something to you or write something about you that would be as beautiful in itself as the life I would have led with you had you loved me.” —Paul Potts in Dante Called You Beatrice.

"Hemingway.... That Shit!" Reconsidering The Sun Also Rises

06.23.2006 | John Bruce | Literature | 8 Comments

I must have studied that novel in at least two classes as an undergraduate. In fact, looking at my beat-up copy from back then, I have a sinking feeling that I even had to teach it one year in freshman comp. That was when I had to go over it carefully enough to explain to students what was good about it, and I always had the nagging suspicion that whatever it was, I’d missed it.

(Not) Dreaming of Taras

06.15.2006 | Yevgeniya Traps | Literature | 46 Comments

I think of Taras because he loved me when it was easy to love me.

I wore my hair in two braids, a thin whippet of a smiling girl, not unlike a very young Therese: her smooth brow, her lovely cheekbone, her innocent abandon, the pretty white shirt collar, her little ankle socks.

I am no longer that. But what is Taras? I project him on the walls of my memory, a voyeuristic image, a dried rose hung upside down in the attic, stripped of meaning, withered. I do not any longer know what he is or where he is or how he is.

I think of him but I do not dream of him.

But I dream of Kiev.

Literature for the Age of Unease: Reading Pynchon Today

“If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don't have to worry about answers,” runs one of the Proverbs for Paranoids in Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow. That weird little morsel of advice, offered thirty years ago, remains relevant today, with American society careening with a grim surety towards the Pynchonian vision of freedom as an illusion and democracy as a script already written by those clever enough to recognize the fault lines of exploitation.

Unread and Underrated: Henry James's The Princess Casamassima

04.21.2006 | John Bruce | Literature | 3 Comments
The portrayal of political conspiracy in the novel has imaginative force enough to do what it needs to do. But The Princess Casamassima isn't, as far as I can see, primarily about revolution. It is perhaps James's fullest depiction of society and the full scope of life that he saw around him. Revolutionary conspiracy is part of the picture, though James understands both the fecklessness on one hand, and the utter cynicism on the other, of radical politics, and he doesn't offer them as a viable way to parse out what a careful observer sees of the world in its complexity and confusion.

Ern Malley and The LeRoy Legacy

04.13.2006 | Jeremy Axelrod | Literature, Media Affairs | 2 Comments
The acceptance and effusive praise of these poems was supposed to embarrass all hoodwinked readers and editors, proving that the School of Obscurity read meaning into randomness. More important, it was meant to expose how destitute in meaning modern poetry had become. But it didn’t. Despite the considerable sensation created by the hoaxers’ unveiling, the Ern Malley poems did not lose legitimacy. For many sophisticated readers discovering the nonsense-intentions of the authors didn’t undermine the art at all. Nobody stopped drinking champagne from the glass slipper, and Malley remains at least as compelling as LeRoy. For in the effort of critiquing modern poetry, McAuley and Stewart had in fact created it.

Citizens of Limbo

04.11.2006 | Robert Latona | Cultural Affairs, Literature | 5 Comments

So how, exactly, did Richie end up where he did? Or me? Or anyone? In Richie’s case, the bottom line might be that he just isn’t into body hair. I’ve seen odder specimens, with odder reasons for being where they are, drift in and out the slipstream in the course of 30 plus years of slogging it out in Spain: alcoholics, remittance men, second-home owners, English teachers (hey—if it was good enough for James Joyce….) Vietnam draft dodgers gone potbellied and gray, people who get on and off yachts, Army brats and many, many lost souls with too much money or with no money at all.

From Salmagundi, No. I.-Saturday, January 24, 1807

03.31.2006 | Trad Anon | Literature, Partisan Reader | 1 Comment

s everybody knows, or ought to know, what a Salmagundi is, we shall spare ourselves the trouble of an explanation—besides, we despise trouble as we do everything that is low and mean; and hold the man who would incur it unnecessarily, as an object worthy our highest pity and contempt. Neither will we puzzle our heads to give an account of ourselves, for two reasons; first, because it is nobody’s business; secondly, because if it were, we do not hold ourselves bound to attend to anybody’s business but our own; and even that we take the liberty of neglecting when it suits our inclination. To these we might add a third, that very few men can give a tolerable account of themselves, let them try ever so hard; but this reason, we candidly avow, would not hold good with ourselves.

Sponge Cakes with Gooseberry Fool? Evelyn Waugh was odd.

03.6.2006 | Lincoln MacVeagh | Literature | 7 Comments

During the German bombing campaign of 1943 Waugh asked that his eldest son be sent to London, while at the same time ordering his library removed to the country for safekeeping. He joked about the decision in his diary as follows, “It would seem from this that I prefer my books to my son. I can argue that fireman rescue children and destroy books, but the truth is that a child is easily replaced while a book destroyed is utterly lost…”

Ann Marlowe, the Memoir, and the Self-Made Man

02.22.2006 | Tony Dokoupil | Literature, Media Affairs | 7 Comments
Me Books are distinguished by the fact that the first-person voice is the only voice in the text, and “I-I-I” is tacitly believed to be the only seat of authority from which to report the world. That serial memoirists own this seat of authority is perfectly harmless until the touching letters from readers, the millions of dollars, the Bestseller mantles and the cover medallions aren’t enough. They want to pretend that what they publish is more than eloquent journal writing; that it’s cultural commentary; that their accidental adventures in addiction, divorce, death, and disease can be activated into episodes of accidental ethnography.

Lambert Strether Meets Whittaker Chambers: Lionel Trilling’s The Middle of the Journey

01.23.2006 | John Bruce | Literature | 3 Comments

The Middle of the Journey can be summed up by saying that Trilling took a story that had strong elements of political drama, personal betrayal, hotly contested ethical debate with more than a little Jewish flavor, even the fate of nations, and did everything he could to try to fit it into a world not much different from James' The Ambassadors.

© 2006 Hanna Mandelbaum

Still Bothered by Black Hole

01.5.2006 | Max Bean | Literature | 2 Comments

Black Hole is such a weak specimen of comics art that its critical acceptance can only be seen as an indication of a deep lack of sophistication on the part of comics criticism. Black Hole is not merely inferior to its highbrow comics contemporaries, from David Boring to Jimmy Corrigan; it pales even in comparison to the late eighties Silver Surfer Marvel comics that I used to collect out of the back-issue boxes in comic book stores as a kid, with the ads for Chips Ahoy cookies or the latest Nintendo game on the back page.
A critique of Black Hole necessarily entails a critique of the contemporary comics critic; and, in as much as the critic is both the mouthpiece and the teacher of the culture, we thus set out to critique the attitude of American literary culture towards the medium comics.

The Death of Fiction, or, It Writes Itself

06.13.2005 | Tony Dokoupil | Literature | 2 Comments
I lamented declining fiction sales, found the devil in technology, bemoaned marketing, and called the office the soul’s igloo. Finally, I resorted to pronouncements about the death of spontaneity. I eulogized imagination. Lit a candle for empathy. I framed it all, as precedent would dictate, in quotes by Roth and Amis and Wilde.

Our Man on Dahlberg, Absolution and the Lady Barber

05.9.2005 | Robert Latona | Cultural Affairs, Literature | 2 Comments
Lizzie was just as luckless in her affections. Fruit peddlers found she would much rather believe their solemn pledges than finger the squishy produce.

Outing Dad and Other Sins of the Familial Biography

04.26.2005 | Robert Latona | Cultural Affairs, Literature | 3 Comments
Turns out dad led a double life, keeping company with a mistress who bore him three daughters that were farmed out to a governess and to whom he paid sporadic but sincere paternal attention in the guise of dear “Uncle Bodger”. Upon this discovery, the son asks, if Ackerley Sr. had one secret life, why not two? And why shouldn’t that other one have been gay enough to turn tricks way back when dad was a young, good-looking and penniless trooper in the Royal Horse Guards, where the younger Ackerley found easy pickins for pickups.

Extremely Cloying and Incredibly False

04.20.2005 | Harry Siegel | Literature | 4 Comments

Back to the Fortress of Brooklyn and the Millions of Destroyed Men Who Are My Brothers

04.18.2005 | Jacob Siegel | Literature, NP, Urban Affairs | 2 Comments
Jonathan Lethem’s The Fortress of Solitude was heralded as an Important Novel. Yet no critic or essayist has confronted it’s central theme: an exceptionally candid obsession with blackness in the white mind. Mingus, the central black character, is the story’s only true love, blackness its only beating heart. This is the most important work on race in 50 years — since Invisible Man — and no one has bothered to notice.

Bellow and the Communion Wafers

Bellow had made a bitter jab at multiculturalism, asking who the Tolstoy of the Zulus might have been. He made plenty of other irritable gestures disguised as grand pronouncements, or maybe it was vice versa. But no effort to dismiss his comment really worked for me. It stuck in my mind like a burr: “If you don’t give literature a decisive part to play in your existence, then you haven’t got anything but a show of culture. It has no reality whatever.”

Canadian Bacon -- An Appreciation of Robertson Davies

11.9.2004 | Robert Latona | Literature
How the author of World of Wonders would have relished the fact that nearly a decade after his death, Massey students have made a fixed ritual out of touching the nose on his bronze bust before defending their doctorates. The authorial snout has become quite shiny, one hears.

The Fruitful, Consuming Paranoia of Philip K. Dick

10.24.2004 | Sam Munson | Literature | 2 Comments
As Dick grew older, ingested various drugs in ever-larger quantities, and indulged his compulsive passion for catastrophic relationships with women, his fantasies grew ever more bizarre, and ever more insistent on the illusory and adversarial nature of reality.

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