Where does the Blogger’s Code (you know those self-appointed men that harangue from street corners) stand on updating old posts? I’d never thought much about it, except to correct typos, until I read One Activity You Should Do On Your Blog Every Day. Then I forgot about it for a few days.
Today I’ve been reading Lev Losev’s Joseph Brodsky: A Literary Life and reflecting on the subject of genius. Losev writes:
“Genius” is not a scholarly term. Its common use is mainly emotive: “You’re a genius!” For me, “genius” is first and foremost a cognate of “genetic.” A one-in-a-million genetic makeup creates a person of unusual creative potential, willpower, and charisma. It may offend our democratic sensibilities to admit that such rare birds are so different from the rest of our common flock, but in fact they are.
That’s a definition I can accept. It lead me to search Time’s Flow Stemmed for how often, in a delirium of enthusiasm for a book I’ve just read, I overuse the term. My search led me to an old post on Aristotle’s hypothesis that mastery of metaphor is a sign of genius. Revisiting led to the sacrilegious act of updating an old post, then to an act of time travel, linking from that old post to one four years later.
Brodsky, almost certainly a genius, in an essay about artistic creativity said, “The lesser commenting upon the greater has, of course, a certain humbling appeal, and at our end of the galaxy we are quite accustomed to this sort of procedure.” Brodsky’s phrase: that the lesser cannot comment upon the greater. This pinpoints my intuition about most literary criticism, that however brilliant the critic, there is always something important left out.
For if the difficulties of translation can be anticipated (and the question of deconstruction is also through and through the question of translation, and of the language of concepts, of the conceptual corpus of so-called “western” metaphysics), one should not begin by naively believing that the word “deconstruction” corresponds in French to some clear and univocal signification. There is already in “my” language a serious [sombre] problem of translation between what here or there can be envisaged for the word, and the usage itself, the reserves of the word. And it is already clear that even in French, things change from one context to another. More so in the German, English, and especially American contexts, where the same word is already attached to very different connotations, inflections, and emotional or affective values. Their analysis would be interesting and warrants a study of its own.
One of Derrida’s major concepts and the one by which Derrida’s thought is often linked is that of deconstruction. A friend could not find a satisfactory equivalent in his own language, so in his Letter to a Japanese friend Derrida provides arguably his most lucid explanation for his choice of word.
When I speak of this writing of the other which will be more beautiful, I clearly understand translation as involving the same risk and chance as the poem. How to translate “poem”? a “poem”?…
Many of these links have been tweeted in the past, but here I can tag and categorise them for future reference. I hope you find some of them interesting too. Please feel free to discuss in comments or on Twitter.
In her poem Zelda Helen Dunmore writes, “Some visitors said she ought / to do more housework, get herself taught / to cook / Above all, find some silent occupation / rather than mess up Scott’s vocation”. Vivienne Eliot and Jane Bowles would have recognised the sentiment. In Heroines, Kate Zambreno extricates these muses of modernism from the asylum, and their one-dimensional role as wives of Great Authors, and breathes life into them as intellects and, though often blocked and suppressed, artists.
Kate Zambreno has a fresh way of approaching literary history. There isn’t a flaccid, dull page in Heroines. The language is in your face, conversational, idiosyncratic, but informed by years of research and reading. Part diary, part polemic against the treatment of depression, part defence of sentiment in the face of the school of New Criticism. It is also an incitement to fill all sorts of reading gaps. My wish list expanded considerably by the end of the book.
Go to the bookshop, or order online, or however you procure your reading material, but read this book. If you are in doubt you can read an excerpt. It might just be the best book I’ve read this year.
I am choked at coming to the end of Heroines, and for several days will be found reading Kate Zambreno’s blog archives.
Unavoidable, while reading and thinking about this book, is the mental picture of Tony Judt paralysed with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), a dire disease that paralyses the body but leaves the mind intact. In this state, worsening as Timothy Snyder and he finished the book, Judt “talked” the twentieth century.
Structured around a series of long conversations between Snyder and Judt, the book is an intellectual autobiography that begins with Judt’s early (lapsed) Zionism and Jewish trauma in Europe, and progresses through European intellectual history before and after Judt’s birth in 1948. The book ends with a brief but rigorous analysis of the failure of American politics towards the end of the twentieth century and beyond.
Whether or not one agrees with Judt’s opinionated meditation on Europe’s intellectual history in the twentieth century, the book offers much to think about. His detailed examination of Eastern Europe, in particular the failure of the West to understand so much about the region and its nuances, is enlightening and leaves me with a yearning to fill the gaps in my comprehension. I sincerely recommend Thinking the Twentieth Century, both as an intellectual autobiography and an eloquent, rich European history of ideas.
Brought up in the Far East, educated in four countries, I’ve never quite mastered the art of being English, despite a spell in a very traditional boarding school. This is clear to me particularly during a certain type of conversation. Tony Judt in his immensely moving Thinking the Twentieth Century describes an English conversation so elegantly.
… how to conduct an English conversation that is never too aggressively political; knowing how to modulate moral seriousness, political engagement and ethical rigidity through the application of irony and wit, and a precisely calibrated appearance of insouciance.