The July 2012 Harper's has a lot going for it, but a most enjoyable surprise for this reader was a previously unpublished, because censored, essay that Albert Camus wrote in 1939 -- November 25, 1939 to be exact. France and Britain are technically at war with Germany, but so far there has been no direct engagement on the field. Germany has invaded and overwhelmed Poland and has neutralized the Soviet Union by concluding the infamous non-aggression pact in August 1939. The west waits anxiously. In this context a "free journalist" defends freedom of the press and protests the work of the censors. The piece was not signed, though it has been attributed to Camus. Le Monde published it in March 2012. It was written for the Algerian newspaper Le Soir republicain but it never appeared there. It is not entirely clear why the French authorities suppressed it, but they appear to have been instinctive ironists. Here is a central passage. As translated by John Cullen. <<< . . .as a rule, a mind with a taste for applying constraints and possessed of the means to impose them is a mind impervious to irony. We don't see Hitler -- to take only one example out of several -- employing Socratic irony. Conversely, when it comes to weapons that can be used against the too powerful, irony remains unparalleled. It completes refusal in the sense that it often allows its user not only to reject the false but also to say what is true. A free journalist in 1939 hasn't got many illusions about the intelligence of those who are oppressing him. In regard to humanity, he's a pessimist. Nine times out of ten, a truth proclaimed in dogmatic tones gets censored. When presented in an amusing way, the same truth gets censored five out of ten times. >>> Therefore (Camus reasons), a "free journalist in 1939" must employ ironic means. "Truth and freedom, having few lovers, are demanding mistresses." The fact that the piece (published in Harper's under the title "Rules of Engagement" and characterized as a "manifesto") was censored does not invalidate its thesis, nor does it convict the author of being "dogmatic." -- DL
Leslie McGrath's recent post about the similarities between writing and cooking reminded me of this passage, by Charles Simic:
If not in bed, my next writing-place of choice is the kitchen, with its smells of cooking. Some hearty soup or a stew simmering on the stove is all I need to get inspired. At such moments, I‘m reminded how much writing poetry resembles the art of cooking. Out of the simplest and often the most seemingly incompatible ingredients and spices, using either tried-and-true recipes, or concocting something at the spur of the moment, one turns out forgettable or memorable dishes. All that’s left for the poet to do is garnish his poems with a little parsley and serve them to poetry gourmets.
-- Charles Simic, New York Review of Books, February 10, 2012
You can love both, of course, and we do, but it is fun to compare these peerless singers, and one of our friends may have nailed it. "Billie makes me feel like things are only going to get worse," he said. "Ella makes me feel like things are looking up." The reflection occurred to us today while driving on a spidery network of roads that have "High" in their name -- Highland, Highgate, with different suffixes, "place" and "road" and "avenue" -- and we were in no hurry and were trying out the new Siirus-XM satellite car radio. And then we heard Lady Day's cover of a happy Irving Berlin song from Top Hat, "Isn't This a Lovely Day to Be Caught in the Rain?" She made this cheerful tune sound like a dirge, albeit one with a kick -- DL
<<< Kaminsky knows how to survive in the magazine business: start a magazine that almost nobody can understand, and become the darling of the academy >>>
from "No R," a story by David Lehman, in The American Scholar. Click here to read this three-part story that wowed the crowd at KGB Bar in February 2013 when Lehman read it aloud.
And remember what Jorge Luis Borges said: "I respect translators, and my stories have sometimes been greatly bettered by them. One of them told me so himself. Besides, I am so fond of English that I like anything better in English than in Spanish." While the relevance of this quote to "No R" is not obvious, people of good faith can figure it out. Borges also declared unequivocally that Robert Louis Stevenson "is the most wonderful writer of all English writers, after Shakespeare."
The pseudonymous Stanley Bing is the businessman ("executive vice-president of corporate communications") and wit who writes the consistently entertaining and smart "While You Were Out" column on the last page of Fortune magazine.
"We're Forever Blowing Bubbles" in the June 11 issue is an excellent example of Bing's style. (After writing that sentence I think I will put on a Crosby song before continuing. OK. "Did You Ever See a Dream Walking?" Bub-bub-bub-boo.) The column is arresting and quotable and I wanted to quote the whole of the second paragraph, not only because of the individual points made, but because of the vast distance between the short paragraph traverses .
But rather than give you the whole paragraph, let me turn it into a prompt: I will quote the first and last sentences of the graf and ask you, dear readers, to fill in the middle. The middle consists of five sentences, four of them short. How does Bing get from
<< Men all used to wear fedoras. >> to << But I can't believe that in the future everybody is going to continue to want to share things. >>
There then follows a very fine passage about what's wrong with "sharing."
OK, for the multiple-choice part of the endeavor, who ridiculed the verb "to share" by writing, "'Let me share this knife with your throat,' suggested Mack." 1) Matthew Arnold 2) Arnold Stang 3) William Matthews 4) William Meredith 5) Meredith Wilson
<<< Democratic literatures are always crawling with authors who see literature as nothing more than an industry, and for every great writer there are thoiusands of retailers of ideas. >>> Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America (trans. Arthur Goldhammer)
As one who maintains that the multiple-choice exam retains its potency for the poet who favors unusual or ad hoc forms, I have created the Freud Quiz, a series that continues and now numbers some thirty entries. But as a sort of aphoristic aphrodisiac, this versatile form begs to be applied to other subjects. Let's start with hell. Oh, do not ask, "What is it?" Let us go and make our visit.
(1) "Other people" (Sartre) (2) The title of the first section of Dante's Divine Comedy (3) Cowering in a trench in Flanders beside the dead bodies of two fallen comrades (4) Having to listen to the music Sasha Frere Jones praises in The New Yorker (5) "Myself" (Milton) (6) A book of poetry consisting entirely of unedited traffic reports (7) A substantive formed from the Anglo-Saxon helan or behelian, cognate to "hole" (cavern) and "hollow." (8) The edifice at the end of the road paved with good intentions (9) An empty place populated by devils (Shakespeare) (10) "What You Make It" (Breathe Carolina, 2011)
So what does Van Gogh's "Kartoffelessers" ("Potato Eaters"), the image above, have to do with it? Well. . .