The first essay – "The Story of Adam and Eve" – summed up everything I knew about the Hebrew myth in a couple pages then astonished me with a book I dThe first essay – "The Story of Adam and Eve" – summed up everything I knew about the Hebrew myth in a couple pages then astonished me with a book I didn't know existed:
In the 1st century CE, The Life of Adam and Eve may or may not have been written in Hebrew or an undetermined Semitic language. It survives in Greek, Latin, Slavonic, Georgian, and Armenian versions, and was translated or adapted scores of times throughout the Middle Ages.
Weinberger explores the variations from translation to translation, each of which brought something unexpected to the story – "the Armenian, Georgian, and Latin versions open with Adam and Eve starving" – a horrifying premise, although it's implied in the original. ("In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.") I'm deeply familiar with the first three chapters of Genesis; my grandmother had me memorizing Scripture when I was 8. Weinberger makes the myth strange again, and weirdly specific. "Most of the sources say that Adam and Eve spent a total of three hours in paradise, though some say six."
The Ghosts of Birds, like Weinberger's earlier collections, enacts a kind of scholarly magic, part erudition and part poetry. Some chapters are improbable lists, extracts or summaries of books from the ancient East or the pre-Columbian Americas. A few pages from John Wesley Powell's 1869 exploration of the Colorado River capture the naturalists' amazement at what they "discover" as well as their hubris: like American Adams, the explorers bestow names on a landscape that has been inhabited for thousands of years: Beehive Point, Ashley Falls, Whirlpool Canyon, the Canyon of Desolation. It's how the West was won.
The collection concludes with a Bibliography ("The Cloud Bookcase") that has nothing to do with the book, books which themselves seem to appear, morph and disappear.
Diagrams Illustrating the Mystery of the Cultivation of Truth, the Mystery of the Supreme Pole, and the Mystery of the Primordial Chaos by Anonymous (12th century) Contains only diagrams with no explanations.
Gradual Enlightenment by Ma Tan-yang (1123-1184) Contains poems where the first character is deliberately omitted.
There's also a Glossary – with, again, no obvious relation to the book before it.
Panglukhu. Cloth to cover the head, payable to a cuckold by the man who has slept with the wife.
I love these aleatoric catalogs, a compound of Whitman, Borges and Dada. But it's the essays I prize most. My favorites in this book include the review of two recent translations of the I Ching and "American Indias" which explores the Western fascination with (and ignorance of) India. In an interview from 2005, Weinberger was asked how translation might energize English. He answered, "There’s interesting prose being written in English, and it’s not all imitation Carver (or, more exactly, Carver-Lish). I’ll avoid a list, but one could start with the writers in India and the Indian diaspora—collectively, more or less, the source of the best novels in English these days." The last paragraph of "American Indias" picks up this thread.
Classical Indian poetry, with its millennia of texts, its many languages, its oceanic vastness, remains the largest blank on the Western map of world literature. But beyond literary history, beyond the many pleasures of the individual poems, it could serve the function of translation at its best – that is, as inspiration. Here are ways of writing poetry that do not exist in our language, but, transformed, could.
Weinberger is an ideal guide to the Library of Babel: all the books ever written, all that can be imagined. A reader's euphoria....more
Mark Lilla's interpretative essays are always worth reading but for me the most interesting part of his new book is his Afterword.
Narratives of progre
Mark Lilla's interpretative essays are always worth reading but for me the most interesting part of his new book is his Afterword.
Narratives of progress, regress, and cycles all assume a mechanism by which historical change happens. It might be the natural laws of the cosmos, the will of God, the dialectical development of the human mind or of economic forces. Once we understand the mechanism, we are assured of understanding what really happened and what is to come. But what if there is no such mechanism?
Reactionary thinking, in despair or disgust at the present, imagines a lost golden age that we must regain. Sometimes the Fall from grace is quite convoluted, as in the philosophical speculations of Leo Strauss or Eric Voegelin or Alasdair MacIntyre. Sometimes it's dangerously simple. For American conservatives the golden age was the postwar imperium destroyed by "the Nakba of the Sixties;" for reactionary Russians it was the Stalinist colossus; for right-wing Europeans it was the confident civilization now imperiled by immigrants from North Africa and the Middle East.
"But it is in the Muslim world that belief in a lost Golden Age is most potent and consequential today." Lilla's final paragraphs are likely to be the most controversial section of his book, although he is careful to point out that this manifestation follows a common pattern in human history. Lilla offers more skepticism than assurance. Human beings crave certainty, a defining arc of meaning, a collection of stories that explain us to ourselves – even if these stories suggest that we're making them up as we go along....more
A perfect book. Published by Saint-Exupéry in 1931, overshadowed by Wind, Sand and Stars and of course The Little Prince, Vol de Nuit lives up to theA perfect book. Published by Saint-Exupéry in 1931, overshadowed by Wind, Sand and Stars and of course The Little Prince, Vol de Nuit lives up to the poetry of its title. Like a full moon emerging from storm clouds, a lost world reappears in its short passage: the romance of early aviation, the pilots who risk their lives every time they ascend – but also compressed luminous scenes of flights over the Andes or the plains of Patagonia. The drama, such as it is, hinges on the tension between duty and life, expressed specifically in the thoughts of the middle-aged Rivière who pushes his young pilots beyond fear, even though the fear is mostly his own.
Alma Classics has just published a new translation by David Carter, an edition I admit I bought purely for the cover. It did not disappoint....more
99 nightmares, some so short they're over in a sentence so you don't have to dream them. God is mocked along with everyone else including animals and99 nightmares, some so short they're over in a sentence so you don't have to dream them. God is mocked along with everyone else including animals and philosophers. Williams toys with our ravenous love of story, tossing out one poisoned tidbit after another. Some fall flat, some strive too hard, some are laugh-out-loud brilliant. The cover image by Michael Sowa is a perfect pairing and the designer (Diane Chonette) deserves a prize.
As soon as I'd closed the book I looked at the reviews here, curious to see what goodreaders have made of it. I especially enjoy the comparisons: LewiAs soon as I'd closed the book I looked at the reviews here, curious to see what goodreaders have made of it. I especially enjoy the comparisons: Lewis Carroll, Cocteau, La Fontaine, Ronald Firbank, Giradoux, Julien Gracq, E.T.A. Hoffmann, Sterne or Mervyn Peake, Mikhail Bulgakov and Charles Addams. Yes, yes, and yes. I was reminded of Angela Carter, particularly the opening of the marvelous "Courtship of Mr Lyon"
Outside her kitchen window, the hedgerow glistened as if the snow possessed a light of its own; when the sky darkened towards evening an unearthly, reflected pallor remained behind upon the winter's landscape, while still the soft flakes floated down…
Or some of the ominous tales of Rachel Ingalls. The fusty confabulations of Edward Gorey; the sorrowful twisted landscape of Gombrowicz's Pornografia. And maybe some echoes from the short tales of Michel Tournier. – But yes, most of all Bulgakov, the blizzards from A Young Doctor's Notebook and the gigantic cat from The Master and Margarita.
In fact, Guigonnat isn't any of these. Those lovable eccentric acrobats in the ancient castle are capable of anything, especially the She-Daemon.
I don't like it when Daemon vanishes into the twilight. There have been dreadful rumors – children have disappeared. I don't really think she eats them, but a blue silk ribbon was found on the snow, and, farther off, a little, roughly-carved wooden toy. But in any case – and I am quite sure of this – she doesn't attack animals.
Barbara Wright's translation hits the black keys exactly, providing many a low chuckle that disturbed my own gold-eyed daemon, who'd pick up my vibe and grumble and chirrup from the next room: enough!...more
I'll come right out with it – after Madness, Rack, and Honey: Collected Lectures and Trances of the Blast, Mary Ruefle's prosy musing in My Private PrI'll come right out with it – after Madness, Rack, and Honey: Collected Lectures and Trances of the Blast, Mary Ruefle's prosy musing in My Private Property is only so-so. The proportion of snoozers to wry wit is about 10 to 1. There's a series that start with colors of sadness: "Gray sadness is the sadness of paper clips and rubber bands…" "Pink sadness is the sadness of white anchovies." None make a bit of sense, even metaphorically. (The payoff is the Author's Note at the back of the book.) The title piece starts off with a bang – "It is sad, is it not, that no one today displays any interest in the art of shrunken heads." – but it ends with a whimper.
I got a kick out of the antic Pause on menopause.
In other words, you go crazy. When you go crazy, you don't have the slightest inclination to read anything Foucault ever wrote about culture and madness.
(Men get manopause; it's merely dispiriting.)
I'll share another one because it made me laugh.
When I was young, a fortune-teller told me that an old woman who wanted to die had accidentally become lodged in my body. Slowly, over time, and taking great care in following esoteric instructions, including lavender baths and the ritual burying of keys in the backyard, I rid myself of her presence. Now I am an old woman who wants to die and lodged inside me is a young woman dying to live; I work on her.
Lavender baths! I remain a Ruefle fan.
Parting praise: for Wave Books which published this book as well as the two before. This is a handsome, well-crafted little book, a pleasure to touch and behold.
When I read The Dinner I'd never heard of Herman Koch – whose book became "an international bestseller" and was made into a film. I picked up Dear Mr.When I read The Dinner I'd never heard of Herman Koch – whose book became "an international bestseller" and was made into a film. I picked up Dear Mr. M with delicious expectations … and down down down they went, to the final tainted hiccup. This is a dinner worth avoiding.
More generous readers might regard this novel as a satire on authors who write international bestsellers, on literary lions, on the savagery of civilized society; or they might celebrate it as a clever capriccio of crime fiction. For me it was a slog. Its three protagonists are miserable men, almost indistinguishable in their misanthropy, misogyny, and rancid reflections. Its plot is a distended puzzle of twists, turns and disappearances that exhausts all interest. What remains is bitterness – not the shocking cruel hilarity of a writer like Edward St Aubyn, but the residuals of bile.
And then you had someone like C, who was somewhere in his eighties too by now but tried to wear his seniority as boyishly as possible, like a pair of worn-out sneakers, ripped jeans, and safety pins; he liked to be seen in recalcitrant clothing: no sport coat, let alone a tuxedo; just a T-shirt with a V-neck that revealed a landscape of sagging sinews, razor burns, and three or four snow-white chest hairs. Halfway through this landscape, which shifted from red to dark purple on its way down, C's Adam's apple looked as though it were trying to break out through the skin, like an oversized prey – a marmot, a rabbit – that has been gulped down by an overly rapacious python and become stuck in its gullet. Behind the lenses of his spectacles his dilated pupils floated in the whites of eyes that were no longer completely white, trashed as they were by any number of broken capillaries; they reminded her most of some raw dish, something on a half shell, an oyster, something you had to slurp down without looking.
I like "recalcitrant clothing" but as so often in this book the mashup of metaphors loses energy in its elaboration. Recommended only for the overly rapacious....more
A fine, unexpectedly moving novel rescued from oblivion by NYRB. I have nothing to add to the appreciative reviews already posted, some of which are sA fine, unexpectedly moving novel rescued from oblivion by NYRB. I have nothing to add to the appreciative reviews already posted, some of which are small masterpieces themselves.
As always, anyone picking up a NYRB classic should skip the introduction or the back blurb and just jump in. Pelecanos gives the whole plot away. Fortunately I only read a couple paragraphs and stopped in time. Those introductions work best as afterwords. ...more
Seeing Dard described on the front cover as "the undisputed master of French noir" and on the back as "the literary descendant of Simenon and Céline,"Seeing Dard described on the front cover as "the undisputed master of French noir" and on the back as "the literary descendant of Simenon and Céline," I could only be disappointed. Bird in a Cage reminded me of a minor film noir you'd find only at a festival: interesting as an artifact, predictably tense, drab and desperate, forgotten as soon as you leave the theater. Fans of Gallic grimness will find more satisfaction in Simenon's bitter books or the recently translated novels by Pascal Garnier. Judging by this book alone, Dard is a distant third....more
Raine brings a bristling British pragmatism to his "look at poetry" –
the most important question you can ask of a poem is, What does this poem mean? I
Raine brings a bristling British pragmatism to his "look at poetry" –
the most important question you can ask of a poem is, What does this poem mean? It is not the only question to ask of a poem, but it is the one without which all other questions are likely to be misdirected.
It's evident that he's itching for a fight. After all
Many academics (and some poets) prefer to concentrate on local effects – assonance, rhythm, poetic micro-effects. If they do address the question of meaning, something interesting happens – commonly they find current critical preoccupations asserting their presence in the poems. As it might be, the body, the inadequacy of language, political sub-text, political encryption.
For anyone who's followed the fortunes of criticism over the last century, that last sentence is packed with little bombs, or laughs, depending on your sensibility.
Definitely Raine enjoys his own cantankerous micro-effects, poking fun at critics who can't scan the meter of a line or those reduce a poem to political platitudes, but the pleasures of this book are elsewhere: in Raine's passion for poetry itself. This book is for the few who prize poetry and enjoy a feisty conversation instead of worship, confession or the banalities of deconstruction. How does one really understand a poem? "By having taste, by having a feel for what is likely, by an ability to read." In short (here he's quoting Eliot) "there is no method except to be very intelligent." That's great, although it leaves me out. No matter how often it's explained, I still can't retain the difference between an anapest and a dactyl....more
I'd never read the Maigret books before Penguin started re-issuing the series with fresh translations and stylish covers. Now I grab each one as it apI'd never read the Maigret books before Penguin started re-issuing the series with fresh translations and stylish covers. Now I grab each one as it appears, although I'm reading fewer. Inevitably a certain sameness stares back from the page. The chief character remains enjoyable, the multiple mordant views, the swift sketches from French society at particular points in the past century, always light up my imagination – but there is a law of diminishing returns as with even the best series. (I think the only instance in which I read every book by an author one after the other and didn't weary was when I flew through the flight of Jane Austen's novels. It's risky; this approach will ruin Dickens.)
All to say: this is an enjoyable evening's read. Keep a bottle of white wine handy, take a sip every time Maigret does....more
Stranded by work for a few days in LA, I picked this up at Book Soup and it got me through a couple hotel nights. It's the third in Wilson's new serieStranded by work for a few days in LA, I picked this up at Book Soup and it got me through a couple hotel nights. It's the third in Wilson's new series. I haven't read the first two, and probably won't. There were a few great scenes in Stealing People but the main characters remained abstract and unconvincing throughout, in particular his villain/ness Siobhan, an improbable updated version of Steig Larsson's Lisbeth Salander.
Wilson has the chops, no doubt – but for my taste he's never improved upon his quartet of Bruce Medway novels set in West Africa. ...more
A modest, engaging set of lectures, with a fine introduction by John Casey. I was surprised to learn (but I know very little about Salter) that his woA modest, engaging set of lectures, with a fine introduction by John Casey. I was surprised to learn (but I know very little about Salter) that his worst-received book was the one I liked the most – Light Years in its 1983 North Point Press incarnation. I'm almost persuaded by Casey to hunt down the short story collections....more
If anything could make me hate poetry, it would be The Hatred of Poetry. Lerner's little book is ponderously dull, troubling itself about the impossibIf anything could make me hate poetry, it would be The Hatred of Poetry. Lerner's little book is ponderously dull, troubling itself about the impossible "universality" of the perfect poem – a paradox without piquancy.
You can only compose poems that, when read with perfect contempt, clear a place for the genuine Poem that never appears.
If there is a hateful way to approach poetry, this is surely it. I, too, dislike Poetry when it comes with a capital P.
Fortunately there are some bright moments among the pallid pondering. "For the avant-garde, the poem is an imaginary bomb with real shrapnel" - which is Lerner's version I guess of Marianne Moore's "imaginary gardens with real toads in them." I learned the difference between "virgule" and "virga" – and a dashed snippet from Emily Dickinson had me hunting down the exact meaning of "Gambrels." Most promising for me is Lerner's praise for his teacher Allen Grossman and fellow poet Cyrus Console: I'm looking forward to reading True-Love: Essays on Poetry and Valuing and Brief Under Water.
Last night I sat down with the tiny book Written on the Sky: Poems from the Japanese, Kenneth Rexroth's translations of Japanese poems, some over 1000 years old, and marveled at their miniature beauty. In the short time it took me to read them, I was healed of my miserable mood. Not once did I wonder if these poems were genuine or universal because they couldn't be anything else....more
The title is provocative, even disturbing. How can anyone hate music? Some types of music, sure – but music itself? Even the archetypal misanthrope NiThe title is provocative, even disturbing. How can anyone hate music? Some types of music, sure – but music itself? Even the archetypal misanthrope Nietzsche insisted "Without music, life would be a mistake." But Quignard is serious.
The confusion coagulates when one discovers that Quignard founded the International Festival of Baroque Opera and Theatre at Versailles; that he's the author of Tous les Matins du Monde, the novel made into a film of the same name with a resplendent soundtrack. But then, in 1994 according to the translators' afterward, he "abruptly decided to renounce all his professional activities" – and two years later published this stringent, enraged little book, now beautifully translated by Matthew Amos and Fredrik Rönnbäck.
I read The Hatred of Music two months ago. I'm still not sure what to make of it, only that it's the most opaque, most fascinating book I've ever read on music. I'm tempted to call it a mystical text because it demands (or did of me) an intense participation on the part of its reader, who must allow its apophatic logic to emerge behind the words, at some cost. Call it Orphic initiation. Each chapter offers a "treatise" on some aspect of music. The third treatise- "On my death" – is very short. It begins: "No music before, during, or after the cremation." Yes, he's serious. He hates music. But this doesn't mean what it seems to mean. There is something ascetic and terrifying behind this passion.
I refuse to summarize or quote further. Alex Ross wrote a fine review for The New Yorker, but if you mean to read this book, I suggest you read the review after. Translating Quignard's meditation into a streamlined argument risks eliminating its texture and the hard insights that emerge page by recalcitrant page. He that hath ears to hear, let him hear....more
This sparkling trinket of a book is worth hunting down. It manages to be malicious and tender, comic and despairing, pretty much on every page. The plThis sparkling trinket of a book is worth hunting down. It manages to be malicious and tender, comic and despairing, pretty much on every page. The plot is a pretzel, turning improbably back on itself, weaving characters together with masterful glee, reminding me only of Kate Atkinson's Case Histories. Or James Hynes's Next, of course. Treat yourself....more