Weekend Content

The Quarterly Conversation: Issue 14

Some items you might have missed:

  • Carter Scholz, writing in the tradition of William Gaddis and Richard Powers:
    • Scholz’s familiarity with his material has led some readers to assume
      he is a disgruntled nuclear physicist. But his background is in science
      fiction, not science, with a record of published shorter works
      stretching back over 30 years (representative samples are collected in
      the 2003 collection The Amount to Carry). He has also collaborated with Glenn Harcourt on the novel Palimpsests (1984) and with Jonathan Lethem on the collection Kafka Americana (1999), a set of re-imaginings of Kafka’s life and works. . . . Scholz shares with Lethem a love of the more speculative genres, and of
      their antecedents (Borges, Calvino, and of course Kafka). With Richard
      Powers
      he shares an enthusiasm for building his works around scientific
      ideas, and with the Don DeLillo of Ratner’s Star he holds in
      common an irrepressible impulse to satirize the scientists responsible
      for them. But he departs from his contemporaries in the way he melds
      his observations of the descendental world of scientific practice with
      a reverent sense of the scientific vocation.
      The result of such a melding is an alternately satirical and
      spiritual book. The harsh skepticism that Scholz the satirist brings to
      weapons science is not unlike the skepticism William Gaddis brings to
      business and law in his novels J R and A Frolic of His Own.
  • Tranquility, favorably compared to Andrzej Stasiuk’s novels:
    • There are certainly other writers who employ nonstop misery (Elfriede
      Jelinek comes to mind), but I think there’s a particular brand of
      humorless brutality to Bartis’s that sets it apart. For one thing, its
      ceaseless ferocity gives it a power, even a certain beauty. It’s not
      written to shock, or merely for the sake of writing in this manner.
  • And my review of essays from Michelle Cliff, carrying the torch of Jamaica Kincaid in things Caribbean, feminist, and postcolonial:
    • Though the essays lack the poem’s packed intensity, they do borrow from its logic; many of them strongly resemble collages, and in their heavy fragmentation meaning is established as a series of inter-referencing elements, not as a linear progression. This is most clearly felt in the piece “Cross-Country: A Documentary in Ten Jump-Cuts.” It begins with Cliff leaving the Tehachapi Loop, a 19th-century engineering marvel outside of Barstow, California, in which a stretch of track brings trains back to the exact point from which they started, only 80 feet higher so they can surmount a hill and continue on their journey. It is a fitting jumping-off point for an essay that rambles around the United States of America and then promptly ends where it began, albeit better for the journey.

Favorite Book Covers of 2008

The Literary Saloon has commentary on the Best Translated Book of 2008 longlist:

Among the striking things about the longlist are, of course the omissions; Chad listed a few honorable mentions yesterday, but more noticeable is the large geographic/linguistic blank areas — most notably Far East Asia. Not a single Chinese, Japanese, or Korean title — indeed, nothing from anywhere in Asia until we hit the Mediterranean ! (I lobbied for Beijing Coma by Ma Jian and Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out by Mo Yan, but practically all these other titles appear to have had considerably stronger support — and, after all, I haven’t even managed to put reviews of either of those fat novels up.)

       Note also: only one Arabic title, and no Russian titles (the Serge is French). One African title.

       On a case-by-case basis much of this can be explained — practically nothing in translation came out of Africa (or sub-continental Asia), the Russian and Japanese selections were arguably relatively weak (though I thought Lala Pipo was worth considering), etc. etc., but it still is fairly striking, if not outright shocking. (Especially from among the Arabic and Chinese titles, I’m surprised more didn’t slip in.)

Tchaikovsky, Souvenir of a Beloved Place

Symphony 3

Piano Concerto (soloist Vladimir Horowitz)

The Threepenny Review, Interpreter of Lives by Javier Marias.

The Threepenny Review, Notes on Sontag by Phillip Lopate, an excerpt from his forthcoming book, Notes on Sontag:

My favorite book of Susan Sontag’s—not necessarily her best book but the one I like best—is Under the Sign of Saturn.
I like it partly because it is free of the aggressive, badgering tone
of her aesthetic polemics, and is instead a fairly unified suite of
sympathetic biographical portraits of male melancholics, her heroes of
the intellect (Paul Goodman, Antonin Artaud, Roland Barthes, Walter
Benjamin, Hans-Jurgen Syberberg, Elias Canetti), with the one gender
exception being Leni Riefenstahl in "Fascinating Fascism," which is not
at all sympathetic but brilliant in other ways. I don’t think it is
incorrect to say that Sontag was essentially male-identified; she wrote
much more sympathetically and readily about men than about women, which
landed her in trouble at times with feminist critics. Nor would I put
it past myself to have liked these biographical essays of luftmenschen so much, partly for the reason that as a male reader I identify more strongly with them.

The Nation, Trilling’s Sandbags: Lionel Trilling’s Critical Essays:

All this may seem puzzling to those for whom Trilling is little more
than a name, especially those who have grown up since his death, in
1975. It may be hard to understand why he was, a couple of generations
ago, one of academia’s most cherished culture heroes, one of the few
saints of modern literary criticism. It may be harder still to make the
case for why Trilling, in his antique, mannered way, might matter now.
But if so, there can be few better places to start than with a
reconsideration of his most celebrated book, The Liberal
Imagination
(first published in 1950), reissued with a brief, deft
introduction by Louis Menand, thought by some to come as near as anyone
can to being Trilling’s successor today.


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