Monday, January 2, 2012

"When I brought up Jorie Graham, he claimed to admire her too"

1. Sam Anderson (NYT sentence-of-the-day guy) does a year-in-marginalia -- a form that is distinctly more natural for me than a Year in Reading (or a Month in Swindon); I particularly liked this Bolano passage:
And only then did I realize how eagerly, how recklessly he was exposing himself to the sun. He wasn't using sunscreen. And he knew he was dying and he was lying in the sun on purpose like a person saying goodbye to someone very dear. The old tourist was bidding farewell to the sun and to his own body and to his old wife sitting beside him. It was a sight to see, something to admire. It wasn't a dead body lying there on the sand, but a man. And what courage, what gallantry. 
2. Stephen Haven (a.k.a. Heaven-Haven) describes a dinner in Beijing with the wonderfully named Chinese poet Duo Duo:
Duo Duo said, “No, that is not the difference. The difference is something else. British and American poets always have to ‘tell the story,’ and at the end of their poems they sum the story up. In France and Germany poets don’t do that.” Duo Duo said he admired Rilke, Paul Celan, Apollinaire, Rene Char, André Breton. [...]  Maybe that is why modern, Continental poetry comes through better, because it is more powerfully built on imagery, especially when the imagery is surreal. Maybe Frost’s long narratives are untranslatable, I said, because they are so subtle [...] We talked about American and British poets Duo Duo admires. He said he loved Roethke, Charles Wright, R.S. Thomas, Ashbery, Mark Strand, Whitman, James Tate, James Wright, Dickinson. When I brought up Jorie Graham, he claimed to admire her too, and Hart Crane was also an important poet for him, many years ago.
3. Mark Lilla's review of The Reactionary Mind is awful in an exemplary way. (He thinks the book is awful in an exemplary way too, and perhaps it is; I haven't read it.) The book (by all accounts) argues that conservatives throughout history have really been driven by the desire to justify oppression and oppose equality. The review asserts that this is obviously incorrect because conservatives have disagreed with one another -- a non-sequitur if there ever was one; as if it weren't possible to disagree about the correct way to justify oppression -- and then goes on to restate a bunch of conventional tropes about conservatism and liberalism. (This story is evidently preempted by the argument of the book under review, which is that the metaphysics is a smokescreen for interest-group politics; but it is not clear if Lilla sees this. -- "Sees" is, incidentally, a palindrome like "eye" and its cognates.) However, I thought this antithesis of Lilla's was thought-provoking and not obviously wrong:
The quarrel between liberals and conservatives is essentially a quarrel over the nature of human beings and their relation to society. The quarrel between revolutionaries and reactionaries, on the other hand, has little to do with nature. It is a quarrel over history.
(I think the correct way to read "history" -- given the context of the rest of the article -- is as "large events"; i.e., you can unpack the claim as saying that reactionaries and revolutionaries are people whose views on politics hinge on the moral significance attached to specific historical events, rather than on a theory of human nature. It is not entirely implausible that some such distinction is behind some intra-left or intra-right squabbling. Lilla's attempts to apply this schema to contemporary politics are pretty weak, however.)

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