Two lucid and intelligent books, A.O. Scott’s Better Living Through Criticism and Arthur Krystal’s This Thing We Call Literature, explore the same complex theme: criticism as a public art and a public service, performed, however, by critics who speak for themselves, addressing individual readers, not a collective public. Both books draw maps of the disputed border between popular and elite culture and find ways to cross it without pretending it doesn’t exist. [Read more…]
Camilla Grudova’s story collection The Doll’s Alphabet, was published earlier this year in England, and it has already garnered comparisons to Angela Carter, Margaret Atwood, Leonora Carrington, Ben Marcus, and Franz Kafka. To this list let me add another name: George Orwell. Not the dystopian Orwell of 1984 or the allegorical Orwell of Animal Farm but the down-and-out, grubby-oilcloth Orwell of The Road to Wigan Pier and Keep the Aspidistra Flying. Grudova does mermaids and magic, but she also does moldy, dingy, scratch-and-sniff interiors that reek of cabbage and old shoes. [Read more…]
In the 2004 film, The Libertine, Johnny Depp, playing the Earl of Rochester, delivers an acidic opening monologue, which begins, “Allow me to be frank at the commencement, you will not like me. The gentlemen will be envious and the ladies will be repelled. You will not like me now and you will like me a good deal less as you go on.”
The ego, as a mouthpiece for rebellion, as an exiled priest dispatching its sermon-of-self from a rogue pulpit, creates itself through voice. In the “Letter from the Editor” section of Elizabeth Ellen’s new novel, Person/a, the author states: “… I write this letter to you, dear reader, as both editor and author of this novel, with full awareness and with full admission that if there is a ‘Monster at the End of this Book,’ that monster is I. I am that monster. Let this then serve as an introduction.” [Read more…]
Ernest Hemingway: A Biography by Mary V. Dearborn Reviewed by John Biscello
Can I believe myself as others believe me to be? Here is where these lines become a confession in the presence of my unknown and unknowable to me, unknown and unknowable for myself. Here is where I create the legend wherein I must bury myself. — Miguel de Unamuno.
Perhaps no other 20th century writer has invited more scorn, worship, lampooning, lionization, and soapbox scrutiny than Ernest Hemingway. Or rather the “legend” of Ernest Hemingway. His name became not only synonymous with American literature, and a laconic style of writing, but also with a specific he-man persona that wore its balls on its torn sleeve. [Read more…]
In his New York Review of Books commentary, excerpted below, Martin Filler speaks to the wealth of new material out on Frank Lloyd Wright, including two current exhibitions and four new books. You can read the full review in the August 17 issue, or read it on site at nybooks.com
Few things are more satisfying in the arts than unjustly forgotten figures at last accorded a rightful place in the canon, as has happened in recent decades with such neglected but worthy twentieth-century architects as the Slovenian Jože Plečnik, the Austrian Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky, the Austrian-Swedish Josef Frank, and the Italian-Brazilian Lina Bo Bardi, among others. Then there are the perennially celebrated artists who are so important that they must be presented anew to each successive generation, a daunting task for museums, especially encyclopedic ones that are expected to revisit the major masters over and over again while finding fresh reasons for their relevance. [Read more…]
No more should Black English be presented largely as a dialect that leaves out this and reverses that, with specialists then wondering why the public continues to think of it as a cluster of errors and isn’t impressed that the errors are systematic. Rather, Black English must be introduced via a collection of ways in which it is more complex than Standard English, not less.
People respect complexity. People like simplicity in their music and in ways of preparing food, but in terms of grammar, not so much. Some people involved with presenting Black English to the public might wonder just what such a collection of complex features would consist of, other than the shadings of verb usage I just mentioned. The simple fact is that specialists in Black English have not been primed to seek out those features that outdo Standard English in complexity. Systematicity will intringue and stimulate academic linguistic analysis, but the public isn’t having it, so we must change the lens.
Below I will discuss five things in the dialect that demonstrate that anyone speaking Black English is doing something subtle and complex.
1. Up what?
I once had occasion to ask a black American with a solid command of Ebonics what up means in a sentence like “We was up in here havin’ a good time:’ [Read more…]
Consider the parts of speech. In Latin, the verb has up to 120 inflections. In English it never has more than five (e.g., see, sees, saw, seeing, seen) and often it gets by with just three (hit, hits, hitting). Instead of using loads of different verb forms, we use just a few forms but employ them in loads of ways. We need just five inflections to deal with the act of propelling a car — drive, drives, drove, driving, and driven — yet with these we can express quite complex and subtle variations of tense: “I drive to work every day,” “I have been driving since I was sixteen,” “I will have driven 20,000 miles by the end of this year.” This system, for all its ease of use, makes labeling difficult. According to any textbook, the present tense of the verb drive is drive. Every junior high school pupil knows that. Yet if we say, “I used to drive to work but now I don’t,” we are clearly using the present tense drive in a past tense sense. Equally if we say, “I will drive you to work tomorrow,” we are using it in a future sense. And if we say, “I would drive if could afford to,” we are using it in a conditional sense. In fact, almost the only form of sentence in which we cannot use the present tense form of drive is, yes, the present tense. When we need to indicate an action going on right now, we must use the participial form driving. We don’t say, “I drive the car now,” but rather ‘I’m driving the car now.” Not to put too fine a point on it, the labels are largely meaningless. [Read more…]
Meridel Le Sueur’s The Girl, written in 1939—the year in which World War II began, the Manhattan Project got underway, and The Wizard of Oz and Gone with the Wind premiered—had to wait nearly forty years before its publication date in 1978. If it hadn’t been for John Crawford, the founder and publisher of West End Press, whose goal was to “print works by American writers neglected by publishers in the ‘mainstream,’” this small masterwork may have remained an unknown treasure collecting dust in Le Sueur’s basement. [Read more…]
Joe pushed open the door and a bell sang.
Max followed Joe into Red’s.
The men’s dark hats and trenchcoats were beaded in snow.
Joe took off his hat and waved it profusely, air-drying the moisture that had accumulated on it. He put the hat back on and surveyed the diner.
The place was empty except for two customers.
An old woman, wearing a green hat that fit her head like a woolen conch shell, was seated at a table in the far corner. Arms gelatinously splayed on either side of the table, she was hunched over her bowl as if divining messages from it. When Joe and Max entered, she raised her eyes and stared at them with listless gravity.
At the counter, which was lined with red vinyl stools, sat a rumpled, doughy-looking man with an eyepatch.
Snow in April, Joe piped, as if announcing the title of a hit song. [Read more…]
Doctor Walker was a cold incisive surgeon; he went by the book. He was one of the first that created to-do lists and this made the operations run smooth. The scalpel has no heart. He was a sort of literalist. And Bob, as they called the anesthesiologist, came always rumpled with the same plaid shirt everyday and seemed to click the gas just at the right time to put the patient under the spell. There was an ether about him. [Read more…]