Friday, August 31, 2012

Knowledge + taste = meaningful judgment

The excellent Daniel Mendelsohn, sings his creed at Page-Turner on the job of a critic.  (The title for this post is his formula, not mine.)
I remember, too, something that Vendler wrote, years later, in a piece about a volume of Merrill’s work that was published after the poet’s death, at the relatively early age of sixty-eight—about how, now that Merrill was gone, he wouldn’t be around to show her how to grow old. I read this with astonishment. So this was what poetry was for: to show you how to live. As for Kael, the sheer extremity of her enthusiasms, the ornery stylistic over-seasoning, the grandiose swooping pronouncements, made it clear that there was something enormous at stake when you went to the local movie theatre.
A thoughtful, instructive, and balanced essay

Sunday, August 26, 2012

A Winter's Tale for the End of Summer (Books - Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin)

In the waning days of summer, I have been energetically immersed in reading, but not so inclined to write.  I can probably blame it on all the writing I'm doing at the lab.  That's as good an excuse as any.  You should be able to read some sort of mention of The Rational Optimist, Consciousness, and Winter's Tale one of these weeks, if that's what you're pining for.  And I should be done with Eric Kandel's The Age of Insight soon.   The last one is a book after my own heart on the subject of neuroscience and Viennese art, no really.  I intend to finish it soon, even if only to have read it prior to visiting Vienna in a few weeks.  Now that I have started my fingers going, maybe I'll share less of a coherent review than some disjointed thoughts about my re-read of Mark Helprin's Winter's Tale now, prior to my book club showing up here to eat fruit and cheese and discuss it.   

What a passionately lyrical saga Mark Helprin has fashioned in Winter's Tale (Harcourt Brace & Co., 1983) .  It is a moralistic tale, a love story, a fantasy, and an absolute love song to a fictionalized late 19th century New York City.  I was aware as I read of how highly literate the narrative voice is, even while being thoroughly submerged in the lightening-fast 700 pages which are romantic, imaginative, and often thrilling.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

An antidote to summer - the useless poems of Gennady Aygi

Some snowy poems as an antidote to the dog days of summer.  Jamie Olson writes informatively on the dissident form and ordinary content in his review of a new translation of Russian poems Into the Snow: Selected Poems of Gennady Aygi.  Sounds enticing.
The difference between Aygi’s ars poetica and Mandelstam’s lies in the way the two poets represent poetry itself. Both of them believe that other aspects of experience lack something essential, but while Mandelstam implies that the aesthetic power of poetry can fill that gap, Aygi dismisses even his own art as powerless. If a dissident is one who rejects the dominant ideology, then for Aygi that rejection applies in some sense to poetry as well.
On Berfrois.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Tracing the moral decay of politics (Books - Echo House by Ward Just)

Ward Just is justifiably ranked among the top writers on American politics in fictional form.  Some consider Echo House (Houghton Mifflin, 1997) his masterpiece.  It follows a family of Washington insiders, as they are now affectionately called, from the 1940s to the 1980s.  It is not my favorite of Just's books, that place would have to be reserved for Forgetfulness, but it is a solid novel partaking of a solid tradition chronicling succeeding generations of a family.  The Washington Post characterizes Echo House as the story of the "decline" of the Behls and certainly they don't maintain their grip on power through holding office, but I would frame it as their evolution, as they adapt to a morally decaying political context.