Spufford makes a courageous fist of putting his glimpse of the transcendent into words. A pivotal moment came in a cafe one day, when he heard the slow movement of Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto while ruminating on a row with his wife. He describes the music as coming from a world where sorrow is perfectly ordinary, but there is still more to be said. “I had heard [the piece] lots of times, but this time it felt to me like news. It said: everything you fear is true. And yet. And yet. . . The world is wider than you fear it is, wider than the repeating rigmaroles in your mind, and it has this in it, as truly as it contains your unhappiness. . . There is more going on here than you deserve, or don’t deserve.”
Archive for the 'Uncategorized' Category
Seems like it was just yesterday that I was singing you that song about Don Quixote and his teeth. As a matter of fact, it was just yesterday. Yesterday of last year.
Well, tonight I was reminded, as I leafed through a 2004 copy of the New England Journal of Medicine, that the Man of La Mancha was not the only literary character to have dental problems.
In a letter to the editor, bearing the catchy title, “What Made Hanno Buddenbrook Sick?” our correspondent Howard Fischer, M.D. of the Children’s Hospital of Michigan observes:
One of Hanno’s two most serious health problems is dental in nature. His gums repeatedly become inflamed and form abscesses. Tooth eruption is painful. His permanent teeth come in “all wrong, crowding each other.” He requires multiple dental extractions (presumably of deciduous teeth) to accommodate the eruption of permanent teeth. The other critical problem, as already suggested by the presence of the gum abscesses, is recurrent infection. The adolescent Hanno says that “a wound that heals for other people in a week . . . takes four weeks with me. It just won’t heal, it gets infected, gets really ghastly, and gives me all kinds of trouble.”
Dr. Fischer goes on to speculate that Hanno suffered from “The hyper-IgE syndrome, formerly called Job’s syndrome, [which] is “characterized by recurrent staphylococcal skin abscesses, pneumonia with pneumatocele formation, and extreme elevations of serum IgE.”
Note that the title is not, “What Killed Hanno Buddenbrook,” but rather what made him sick. That’s because we know what killed Hanno, from Mann’s famous chapter-opener: “Typhoid runs the following course.”
Anyhow, back to teeth. Mann scholars have observed that dental problems are a recurring theme in Buddenbrooks and that dental health is treated by Mann as symbolic of mental and moral health.
Hanno’s frail constitution was deeply disappointing to his father Thomas, robust and capable inheritor of the four-generation family business. Hanno is generally understood to personify The Artist, and even to represent Mann himself; the tension between Hanno and his father embodies the tension between the artist and bourgeois society.
And how, then, does Thomas die? Falling face-first into a snowy street, after a harrowing tooth extraction.
I confess that I did not fully appreciate — until Mrs. Jones began reading passages aloud to me — how hilarious Moby-Dick could be:
They say that men who have seen the world, thereby become quite at ease in manner, quite self-possessed in company. Not always, though: Ledyard, the great New England traveller, and Mungo Park, the Scotch one; of all men, they possessed the least assurance in the parlor. But perhaps the mere crossing of Siberia in a sledge drawn by dogs as Ledyard did, or the taking a long solitary walk on an empty stomach, in the negro heart of Africa, which was the sum of poor Mungo’s performances — this kind of travel, I say, may not be the very best mode of attaining a high social polish.
Great article in the TLS by the poet David Wheatley marking the centenary of the birth of Flann O’Brien. I hadn’t heard of “Speak English Week” or “Myles Away from Dublin,” so always something to be learned about The Master.
O’Brien has long been seen as part of a literary trinity whose two other members are Brendan Behan and Patrick Kavanagh, but in the final contribution to “Is It About a Bicycle?”, Frank McNally reminds us that he more naturally belongs in the company of Joyce and Beckett. O’Brien had a difficult relationship with Joyce, coming to resent the older writer’s assumed influence on his work, while on his only meeting with Beckett he disparaged Joyce as a “refurbisher of skivvies’ stories”. Lines of succession are rarely simple and, as critics have noted, O’Brien’s work relegates parents almost entirely in favour of uncles and brothers, while its principal model of parent–child relations is that of a character intent on destroying his author. Yet for all his resistance to appointed lines of succession, his canonical status is beyond dispute: the carnivalesque exuberance of At Swim-Two-Birds, the disturbing vision of The Third Policeman and the comic riches of “Cruiskeen Lawn” are the work of an undeniably major talent. If Joyce and Beckett are father and son, as McNally insists, O’Brien is the holy ghost of Irish modernist writing.
Cool event in Chicago on Wednesday of this week …
Meet “en personne” the celebrated French author (In French and in English)
Thursday, May 05, 2011
54 W. Chicago Ave. entrance
Members and students with ID $5, non-members $10
Pierre Assouline, the celebrated French author, has published 6 novels and 10 biographies (Simenon, Hergé, Gallimard, Cartier-Bresson…) but he is even better known for his blog, La République des Livres, in the newspaper Le Monde. Come and listen to Assouline speak about the state of contemporary French literature as well as his own achievement as an author and a bloggeur.
Pierre Assouline’s latest novel Vies de Job, was published chez Gallimard in the spring 2011.
Listen to the interview (in French): click here.
Read a critic from his book (in English): click here.
Pierre Assouline will be in conversation with author Aleksandar Hemon. A native of Sarajevo and a resident of Chicago since 1992, Aleksandar Hemon has written several works of fiction, including The Lazarus Project, a finalist for the 2008 National Book Award. Hemon, a MacArthur “genius” grant recipient, also served as the editor for Best European Fiction, a new annual publication of stories from across Europe.
For more information about Aleksandar: click here.
This program is possible thanks to the Cultural Services of the French Embassy and the Jean Bodfish Brown Fund.
I’ve always enjoyed literary criticism which applies specialized knowledge in a scientific or technical domain to further elucidate a literary work. My favorite in this vein is Herbert F. Smith’s 1965 classic, “Melville’s Master in Chancery and His Recalcitrant Clerk.”
I recently found a new one: “Don Quixote’s Countenance Before and After Losing His Teeth,” from the February 2009 issue of the Journal of Dental Research.
Here’s the argument in a nutshell:
We must ask ourselves why Don Quixote had a permanently sad expression on his face. Was it hunger, a constant companion of the gentleman throughout his adventures? Was it pain?
As we will attempt to show, it was the lack of molars and incisors.
From Alice Neel: The Art of Not Sitting Pretty, by Phoebe Hoban, p. 19:
Even then, she had her own aristocratic way of doing things. When an old-fashioned art teacher criticized her naturalistic method of painting hair, suggesting she simply color it in, she told him, “Well, that isn’t the way the hair goes. I don’t want to put in a tone.” When he told her, “Before you conquer art, you’ll have to conquer yourself,” Alice retorted, “That’s not for you to say because you are only my beginning teacher.”
From poems by Gottfried Benn, translated by Michael Hofmann, in the March 2011 issue of Poetry.
I have met people who,
asked after their names,
shyly—as if they had no title
to an appellation all to themselves—
replied “Fräulein Christian” and added:
“like the first name,” they wanted to make it easy for the other,
not a difficult name like “Popiol” or “Babendererde”—
“like the first name”—please, don’t burden your memory overmuch!
I have met people who
grew up in a single room with their parents
and four brothers and sisters, and studied at night
with their fingers in their ears at the kitchen table,
and grew up to be beautiful and self-possessed as duchesses—
and innerly gentle and hard-working as Nausicaa,
clear-browed as angels.
I have often asked myself and never found an answer
whence kindness and gentleness come,
I don’t know it to this day, and now must go myself.
William Clark’s spelling is one of the delights of reading any account of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. An Indian tribe, for example, is described by Clark as “Durtey, Kind, pore, and extravigent pursessing national pride. Not beggarly.”
An extravigent number of mosquito bites on this summer evening brought to mind Clark’s famous “19 variations on the spelling of mosquito.” Seeking a list of all 19, I looked in vain in Stephan Ambrose’s excellent Undaunted Courage. Thankfully, a quick Google search turned up a partial list on a blog entry written by Frances Hunter. Hunter’s account made me laugh:
Clark in particular raised spelling to the level of performance art, and never was he more creative than when writing of one of the Expedition’s greatest pests, known to us as the “mosquito.” Clark came up with no fewer than 19 variations, including mesquestors, misquestors, misquitor, misquitoes, misquitors, misqutors, misqutr, missquetors, mosquiters, mosquitors, mosquitos, muskeetor, musqueters, musquetors, musquiters, musquitoes, musquitors, musqueters, and musqutors.
From “Conclusio ad Diversos,” the final chapter of Notes on a Cellar-Book, George Saintsbury (1920):
As one looks back over such a life there are many things that one regards with thankfulness. It is good to have walked by oneself five hundred miles in twenty days and one pair of boots (never needing the cobbler till the very last day) without any training and with a fairly heavy knapsack. It is good to have seen something on this and many other occasions, sometimes alone, sometimes in company, of the secret of the sea and the lessons of the land from Scilly to Skye; from the Land’s End to Dover; from the Nore to the Moray Firth; from Dartmoor to Lochaber; and from the Weald of Sussex to those Northumbrian lakes that lie, lonely and rather uncanny, under the Roman Wall. It is good to have attended evening chapel at Oxford, then gone up to town and danced all night (the maximum of dances with the minimum of partners), returning next morning and attending chapel again. It is good to have prevented an editor, some time before Pigott caught the Times, from engaging in negotiations with that ingenious person as he had intended to do; and to have actually silenced a Radical canvasser. It it good to have been always like-minded with the old and not the modern law of England, to the effect that ‘collective bargaining’ can never be anything but collective bullying. It is good to have read Walz’s Rhetores Graeci, and the Grand Cyrus, and nearly all the English poets that anybody ever heard of; also to find The Earthly Paradise, at a twentieth reading in 1920, as delightful as it was at a first in 1868. It is good to have heard Sims Reeves flood St. James Hall with ‘Adelaida’ til you felt as if you were being drowned, not in a bath but in an ocean of malmsey; and to have descanted on the beauties of your first Burne-Jones, without knowing that a half-puzzled, half-amused don stood behind you. Many other things past, and some present, have been and are—for anything, once more, that has been is—good.
But I do not feel the slightest shame in ranking as good likewise and very good, those voyages to the Oracle of the Bottle and those obediences to its utterance, taken literally as well as allegorically, which are partially chronicled here.