Links of the Week

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. Some of the links to PDFs change or disappear, so if something interests you download it quickly.

 Virginia Woolf with father, Sir. Leslie Stephen

Virginia Woolf’s The Voyage Out [PDF] published in 1915, though conventional in form, carries all her later themes.

Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway: Invisible Presences [PDF] by Molly Hoff.

Italo Calvino’s short story The Adventure of a Photographer [PDF]. This is from Calvino’s Difficult Loves collection.

Italo Calvino’s Borgesian, enchanting collection of stories Cosmicomics [PDF].

Mary Ruefle’s essay On Fear captures perfectly the distinction between feeling and emotion.

Jonathan Culler’s Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction [PDF] is one of the best of the VSI series, and a rock-solid theory primer.

The highly recommended Companion to Philosophy and Film [PDF] embraces “both the philosophical study of cinema and the investigations of films’ philosophical dimensions, implications, and pedagogical value”. If nothing else read Kovác’s Andrei Tarkovsky (p. 581).

Friedrich Nietzsche’s The Antichrist [PDF], (the title might be better translated as The Anti-Christian), is Nietzche’s onslaught on the decadence of Western Christianity.

Anton Chekhov’s Letters to His Family and Friends (trans. Constance Garnett) [PDF]. These are beautiful.

Franco Moretti’s The Slaughterhouse of Literature [PDF].

Decompression Zone

After several days living in the dappled shade of a forest comprised mostly of ancient giant redwoods, I’m unable, or unwilling, to return to London. I find myself in need of a decompression zone, so have elected to stay for a few days a flat in a small cathedral city. Once a bishop’s wardrobe, this small and moderately cosy flat is in a peaceful close next to the cathedral. These unusually sultry days are spent reading, writing and walking by the river at the end of the large garden. In the still evenings I listen to the choir’s evensong and am accompanied by regular tolling of church bells.

I’m under the spell of Reiner Stach’s Kafka: The Years of Insight, which I finished late last night, and so unable to settle with another book at the moment. While staying at his sister’s farm, Kafka wrote fragmentary notes that have become known to Kafka readers as the Zürau octavo notebooks. Stach writes that these fragments “consist mainly of compactly formulated notes that focus on religious and philosophical questions on good and evil, truth and falsehood, and alienation and redemption.” Stach also writes that “there a few comparable examples of this form in world literature: Valéry’s notebooks (a mother lode of this type of writing, which, however became accessible only after 1945 [and therefore not to Kafka] and, of course, Pascal’s Pensees.”

Serendipitously this sends me back to Valéry’s Notebooks. I bought the first volume with me, together with Calvino’s letters, though I am finding the latter inaccessible, perhaps because such a passage of time has passed since my Calvino obsession.

The Kind of Guy

In this passage from Calvino’s Letters, before he has published a first novel, Calvino reveals his dedication to veracity:

They want articles all over the place and I write them because it takes half an hour to write an article. To write an article not to do an article. To do an article you have to read books, find ideas, roll up your sleeves. In addition I’m the kind of guy who goes from the maximum of superficiality to the maximum of fussiness in a trice. For instance, I want to cite a certain name in a particular sentence in a particular article. Let’s say: Chesterton. Because it sounds good at that point. Chesterton and an adjective. “Olympian like Chesterton.” Or “tormented like Chesterton.” But I’ve never read a line of Chesterton: I don’t know whether he’s Olympian or tormented, whether he has anything to do with what I’m writing. So what do I do? I roll up my sleeves and start looking until I find Chesterton’s works. And I read them. All Chesterton’s works. And I read them. And everything that’s been written about Chesterton. And I read that too. So I write in that particular sentence: “Olympian or tormented or cataleptic or schizophrenic . . . like Chesterton.” That’s it. Meantime two weeks have gone by for three words.

Back to Calvino

Italo Calvino: Letters 1941-1985

Italo Calvino: Letters 1941-1985

I know Michael Wood as the author of Literature and the Taste of Knowledge and Yeats and Violence, both works of literary criticism that I liked very much. Wood both selected the letters in this edition and writes the introduction, saying that the letters reveal not Calvino’s “real self” but his “plain self”: “We eavesdrop not on his secrets but on his devotion to clarity.” (Jonathan Galassi recently reviewed this book for NYRB).

Along with the second volume of Reiner Stach’s Kafka biography, this collection of Calvino’s letters is one of my two most eagerly anticipated books of 2013. Leafing through the index I can see fairly extensive referencing of Barthes, Borges, Kafka, Primo Levi, and Elsa Morante, but also that pretty much every writer I have time for gets at least one mention.

Pursuing a reference to Dante, I came across a lengthy letter addressed to literary critic Mario Motta. I quote a tantalising section below which precedes comments about Kafka, Dante, Conrad, Chekhov and Hemingway

[..] I notice that I’ve started classifying historical figures, writers, cultural movements into “paradisiacal” or not, As happens with these juxtapositions invented on the spot (which also have their own auxiliary usefulness, as long as one doesn’t dwell too long on them), the system always works out: the “paradisiacal” ones are all those I systematically distrust, the “non-paradisiacal” are those from whom I believe I’ve gathered some concrete teaching.

How many paradises there are, for instance, in recent literature! What can be more “paradisiacal” than Surrealism? And psychoanalysis? And Gidean irresponsibility? But even more significant, it seems to me, is the fact that the most coveted myth in modern literature is a regressive paradise: memory. And what can one say about the gelid paradise of the Hermeticists: absence?

Of course, the letters have disarmed me and demand my immediate attention.

Links of the Week

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.

From the Gallery of Lost Art, Lucian Freud's painting (stolen) of Francis Bacon.

From the Gallery of Lost Art, Lucian Freud’s painting (stolen) of Francis Bacon.

The Tate’s Lost Art Blog.

The Society of Authors list 50 outstanding translations from the last 50 years.

Marjorie Perloff’s essay Hugh Kenner and the Invention of Modernism.

In this scheme of things, Kenner’s bête noire was, not surprisingly, Bloomsbury. For him, the Bloomsburies were not Modernists but late or post-Victorians whose innovations—including the rejection of conventional plot and characterization—masked perfectly traditional English values.

A Guardian guide to Arvo Pärt’s (one of my favourite composers) music.

From Love Dog, Masha Tupitsyn’s superb film blog: Faces #3 (Charlotte Rampling). “Charlotte Rampling’s face did not express or show anything until it had lived through at least 50 years”.

Courtesy of Biblioklept, Guide for New Readers of Stendhal’s Charterhouse by Italo Calvino (Collected in Why Read the Classics?).

Brief reviews of Chantal Akerman’s films.

AV Club interview with Chantal Akerman.

Spectacularly intimate: a MUBI Notebook interview with Claire Denis.

From the Bookslut archives: A Soul Turned Inside Out: Clarice Lispector, Hélène Cixous, and L’Écriture Féminine.

Adam Palay: An Interview with Richard Powers.



Links of the Week

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.

The term ‘mansplaining’ is genius and deserves to be listed in the OED. This is where I first came across the term.

Julia Kristeva’s Powers of Horror, Essay on Abjection.

Martha Nussbaum – How to write about poverty.

The Myth of Matriarchy: Why Men Rule in Primitive Society by Joan Bamberger.

Politics and the English Language an essay by George Orwell.

Charles Bukowski’s so you want to be a writer.

The David Lynch mixtape.

Franz Kafka: The Meaning of Life is that it Stops.

Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker and the surprising physical reality of this world as he sees it.

The ideal way to read Marx’s Kapital is with David Harvey.

One of my favourite Desert Island Discs with writer Al Alvarez (friend of Plath and Hughes).

On Fear – a wonderful essay by Mary Ruefle (the distinction between emotion and feeling is perfect)

Julia Kristeva’s essay – A Freudian Approach: The Pre-religious Need To Believe.

Adam Kirsch on The New World of William Carlos Williams.

Italo Calvino’s 14 Definitions of What Makes a Classic.

Living by Fiction by Annie Dillard

Perhaps it’s me. Annie Dillard’s Living by Fiction is well-crafted. I agreed with her assertions. It is just a little like the fashion for nouvelle cuisine that was all the rage when this book was published. It leaves you hungry for more. Even this Dillard excuses in the introduction explaining that despite her critical training and competence “as a careful textual critic, I have flung this sensible approach aside in favour of enthusiasm, free speculation, blind assertion, dumb joking, and diatribe.”

That I was to read Living by Fiction was inevitable after Amateur Reader (Tom) wrote, “Pale Fire and Ficciones, which she, like me [and me], simply assumes are essential and inescapable Tower of Babel-sized landmarks of 20th century literature, terrain-defining books.”

Dillard writes lovingly about Postmodern fiction, which she chooses to label contemporary modernist, meaning writers like Robert Coover, John Barth, Nabokov, Borges, Italo Calvino etc. After some time analysing technique and style, Dillard debates the value of art and worth of literary criticism, before proceeding to her main argument: “Does the World Have Meaning?’ Approaching this question by asking whether fiction has meaning because “it traffics in knowledge,” she concludes with uncertainty. As I do.

There are one or two terms that fail to translate from American English. The word she uses repeatedly is nonce, as in “for the nonce.” In American English this means “for the time being.” I’m glad I looked it up, much the clearer.

>Authors’ Club Best First Novel Award

>

I have been thinking about something I read recently in Moyra Davey’s book The Problem of Reading:

Woolf laid out some of her core ideas about books and reading. A great proponent of voracious, indiscriminate reading, everything from “bad” contemporary novels to the forgotten memoirs and letters one discovers buried in secondhand bookstores. Woolf would concur with Calvino that to really appreciate the classics one must come at them from the vantage point of contemporary literature. It is only then that one can experience “a complete finality about [the classics] . . . a consecration [that]. . . we return to life, feeling it more keenly and understanding it more deeply than before.”

This quotation was posted before but I think it is valid (who am I to argue with Woolf and Calvino). I read very little contemporary fiction outside of the well-established authors I buy reflexively. So I may intersperse my reading with some riskier books.

This list of the Authors’ Club Best First Novel Award may offer a suggestion or two:

Forest Gate by Peter Akinti – reviews from Guardian and Indy

Choke Chain by Jason Donald – reviews from Indy and The Scotsman

The Finest Type of English Womanhood by Rachel Heath – reviews from Guardian and Indy

An Equal Stillness by Francesca Kay – reviews from Guardian and Indy

All the Colours of the Town by Liam McIlvanney – reviews from Guardian and Indy

Among Thieves by Mez Packer – reviews from Guardian and Indy

A Pathless Land by Robin Porecky

The Rescue Man by Anthony Quinn – reviews from Guardian and Indy

Designs for a Happy Home by Matthew Reynolds

The Earth Hums in ‘B’ Flat by Mari Strachan – review from Guardian

After the Fire, a Still Small Voice by Evie Wyld – reviews from Guardian, Indy and Granta interview

>After a Confession Never to Have Read Austen

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The iterative prefix ‘re-‘ in front of the verb ‘read’ can represent a small act of hypocrisy on the part of people ashamed to admit they have not read a famous book. To reassure them, all one need to do is to point out that however wide-ranging any person’s formative reading may be, there will always be an enormous number of fundamental works that one has not read.

…………

. . . reading a great work for the first time when one is fully adult is an extraordinary pleasure, one which is very different (though it is impossible to say whether more or less pleasurable) from reading it in one’s youth. Youth endows every reading, as it does every experience, with a unique flavour and significance, whereas as a mature age one appreciates (or should appreciate) many more details, levels and meanings.

Italo Calvino – Why Read The Classics?